2002 has finally seen the release of this Canadian bands debut album Trash Eighty, on the newly established and locally based label Klankboom Productions. This album conjures up a diary of all their best synthetic material to date, with the band claiming that the notable diversity of these musical compositions are purely resulting from their love of almost every possible kind of electronic music on the face of the planet
The following is an interview with the members of Mannequin Depressives Rod C. Dornian, Nebulous, Russ Magee and Scott Johns.
Interview conducted by Richard Hobbs for Hard Wired November 2002
|1.Can we start with a brief history of how the band formed?
ROD: Well, we all got together in late 1998, and then started recording and doing shows in 99. Before that I had been in a few different bands, but nothing really worked out with them. I always had this dream of creating what I considered to be the ultimate all-electronic band that incorporated a wide variety of electronic styles. I actually had a hard time finding the right people to work with; so many of the people I met wanted to make just one style of music all of the time, like Techno or Industrial. I needed to find open-minded people who just loved synthesizers and electronic sounds as much as I did, and who werent afraid to try new things. As soon as I met Nebulous at an Industrial nightclub in 98, I knew I had finally found a musical partner in crime; we were on the exact same wavelength. Soon after, I gave him a copy of one of my demo tapes, and he let me listen to some of his stuff. He seemed to like the structure and arrangements of my work, and I was totally blown away by his sound minimalist synthetic textures that really filled the sonic spectrum; and the actual melodies in the music were just amazing. My music was very beat driven, but it needed some sonic help; His tracks had an amazing sound, but he wasnt using any rhythm elements yet. It was obvious that we could really help each other out.
NEBULOUS: Prior to meeting Rod, I had met a talented keyboardist named Russ Magee. He and I had traded ideas a number of times, and we were definitely on the same sonic wavelength. One evening at a house party, I recall Russ telling me that we both had the audio gear and the know-how to start recording professionally. The concept of becoming part of a band only became a reality when I met Rod. After meeting Rod, all of the things Russ had told me came blasting back into my mind. Immediately, I knew that Rod would complete the puzzle. The group turned out to be an excellent combination, and it really put all of our skills together, including Russ guitar playing, live percussion, and our mutual love of digital sampling and analogue synthesizers.
ROD: I had also known Scott Johns for a while before hand as well, and I was actually a big fan of his early Noise-art / soundscape recordings. I saw him perform with one of his earlier bands once, and I had also witnessed a few of his performance-art pieces. He always seemed to be kind of like a cross between an artist and a mad-scientist. When I heard the news that his old band was pretty much done with, I took the chance to ask him to join MD.
RUSS: I met Nebulous many years ago. I actually don't recall us discussing music at all during that time, ironically. It was only a few years later (1997 or so) that we met again. I remember the party where I suggested we do some music. After that, we got talking about synths and realized we both were interested in it. I had been doing traditional piano for a few years prior to this.
2.What star qualities does each member input into the band?
SCOTT: Rods the sharp hair front guy, Jared's the aero-dynamic synth hack, Russ is the sex symbol and technical guru.
ROD: ...and Scotts the one who builds things. Not only does he build and customize instruments to use in the band, he also builds all kinds of crazy electrical things some of which are actually quite dangerous!
NEBULOUS: Actually, were all pretty eclectic, and tend to each take on a variety of tasks. However, Id have to say that for Rod, its his singing and pop-compositional skills, Russ is the wild keyboardist (weve nick-named him 'Russ-Wakeman' for a reason), Scott is a noise-art guru and excellent guitarist, and Im a bit of a New-age Electro madman with a tendency to custom design all of my analogue sounds.
RUSS: Its quite a mix. Rod definitely has a great skill for song structure he can get a song from initial inspiration to rough mix in a day or two if he's in the groove. Nebulous is really good at coming up with those huge Blow-Up-The-World(tm) sounds, and Scott pulls amazing noises out of some really unique home-crafted equipment. As for myself: I think I'm kind of like Nebulous, in that I love analogue and textures in sound. I'm still trying to grow in the composition and lyrical areas. Nebulous and myself usually end up composing huge ethereal stuff on the fly, at the end of every practice our minds can sync up pretty quickly on improvisations and it serves us well when playing live.
3.And the name Mannequin Depressives, how did it come about is it not a little misleading to some people . your music is far from sounding depressive, though some of the lyrics maybe dictate negative aspects?
SCOTT: I dont think were trying to mislead anyone with our name, but sometimes its fun to mislead people in other ways.
ROD: The name was never intended to mislead anyone. Its really just a play-on-words. Actually, I didnt want us to use that name at first. But we ended up having a lot of discussion about it, and we figured, if we were talking about it so much, then the name must have some quality that stuck in your mind.
The name also has an obvious link to the condition manic-depression. For some reason, Ive always had this fascination with various mental disorders. I think everyone has some kind of minor mental disorder to a certain degree, like manic-depression or attention deficit disorder. I think these disorders are something we can all somewhat relate to on a certain level.
Some people may think were making fun of manic depression with our band name; we would never dream of doing such a thing. We sympathize with people who are unfortunate enough to have any kind of disorder like that.
NEBULOUS: Actually, youve yet to hear all of our material. There are a number of compositions that are rather dark and brooding. Musically, we have our own violent mood swings. Even the so-called happy songs that weve done, still have a darker undertone. You might not notice it consciously, but its there. Itll become more apparent as our body or recordings increases. That, and youll likely see it cropping up in the other music projects that were involved in.
4.Tell us a little about your musical influences, this must be varied since your own musical style covers areas of synthpop, industrial, experimental and atmospherics?
ROD: Our influences are somewhat varied. We have some influences in common, and some influences that are personal that just happen to creep into the music we make together. Early New Wave and Industrial really influenced all of us. New Order, Talking Heads, old OMD, Cabaret Voltaire, Front 242, etc... Of course Kraftwerk, Can, The Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Neu! are also obvious influences who seem to have had an effect on pretty much all other genres of electronic music since them either directly or indirectly. We all also seem to have a soft spot for New-age music like Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, and stuff like that. Almost anything electronic turns us on musically. Skinny Puppy and Herbie Hancock are both brilliant in their own different ways.
Electronic music and music production really exploded in the late 70s and early80s; as a result, were very influenced by several artists of that period. Because of that, some people think were just an 80s nostalgia band. That doesnt offend us at all, but were more interested in drawing on influences from that era and seeing what unusual directions we can take them in.
Personally, Im heavily influenced by two distinctly opposite movements. On one hand, Im influenced by more experimental artists like Kid606, Dhomont, Mike Patton, DJ Spooky, Haujobb, and early Recoil (the first two albums still blow me away). On the other hand, Im also influenced by good old fashioned interesting song writing. Early Queen and The Alan Parsons Project, Robert Smith, Eric Clapton, Sparks, the list goes on and on...
Im not sure how much influence newer music has on me, but theres some good stuff out there. I like Radiohead and Fantomos a lot. Im just getting into Ladytron, and Mesh is pretty good. Nebulous got me into Project Pitchfork a while ago.
NEBULOUS: I remember the first album that I ever purchased. It was Fascination by The Human League. Other influences include Generation X, Simple Minds, Isao Tomita, Wendy Carlos, Vangelis, and a ton of other electronic musicians and bands from the late 70s and early 80s. Things changed around 1984, and I almost stopped listening. However, every once-in-awhile, I do get a pleasant surprise. I have to thank the Industrial movement for keeping the scene alive. Old Industrial features highly on my list of favourite music, and Im starting to see a bit of a resurgence in some of the classic electronic sounds and treatments. Speaking of classic, I have to say that Classical Baroque is definitely a big influence on me in particular, Beethoven and J.S. Bach.
RUSS: I have two older brothers, 5 years between myself and the next oldest; so as a young kid I was constantly hearing a range of 70s stuff that's technically before my time, I guess Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Rush (Hemispheres and A Farewell to Kings... beautiful!), Yes, Alan Parsons, Supertramp and such. There's an ethereal, mystical quality to some of the early stuff from these groups that I think is just so hard to match. Then I started picking up on the New Wave thing, like Joy Division, New Order, OMD, The Cure, Depeche Mode and such the quirky melodic progressions and simple, raw arrangements of that time are still quite unique. There are a few albums I listened to almost daily during high school The Cars, Heartbeat City, Icicle Works, Icehouse, The The's Soul Mining and Infected how does one classify those? I have a split-brain between Progressive Rock and New Wave I guess. I've absorbed a bit of Industrial and modern electronic from those around me, but to be honest I haven't really kept up with my music collection for the last few years.
SCOTT: Sonic Youth, Can, Kraftwerk, The Bordoms, Premature Ejaculation, to name a few.
5.Would you say that youre trying to cater for almost any electronic music fan out there?
ROD: Were not trying to, but it definitely seems to have worked out that way. We just happen to honestly love almost every kind of electronic music on the face of the planet.
I think in the near future more bands will incorporate a wider variety of styles. The younger people today have extremely varied and eclectic music collections that include Electronica, Punk, Rap you name it; and theyre going to want variety from the artists they listen to. Human beings have various emotions, and no one style of music will satisfy every mood you may feel. Were not intentionally tying to market to these kids, we just happen to agree with their philosophy on music and our stuff seems to reflect that.
The earlier drafts of this album were actually much more varied and eclectic in style compared to the final version. In comparison, the official version of Trash-Eighty is actually very streamlined, even though many people still find it extremely varied in style.
RUSS: I think it's unfortunate that the music industry has become so focused on marketing narrow styles to people. I think it's gotten to the point where bands are too paranoid about scaring their listeners somehow. You have to give listeners the chance to stretch. Maybe some of our stuff will be too 'out there' for certain people, but at least it isn't all based on a formula, using the same tempo and structures for every song. You have to give music a chance to grow on you. It may take a few listens, maybe even a few weeks apart, to really appreciate someone's music.
6.Youre the first band on the Klankboom label how did this partnership arise?
ROD: Klankboom Productions is a small local label that was just willing to take a chance on us. Interdimensional Industries, another local label, has also helped us out a lot.
Over time, weve actually become invloved with the Klankboom Productions label on a business level. I think its important for modern bands to understand the business side of the music industry these days. The competition is fierce, and you need all of the advantages you can get.
NEBULOUS: Weve got a really good relationship with the label, and were helping them with some other projects at the moment as well, including Voltage Control a semi-aggressive instrumental atmospheric Electro project whose second album will be released on the label early next year. You can check it out on the net... (www.voltage-control.com)
7.Canada looks like a good place for electronic music. From my perspective in the UK, Im finding out more new Canadian labels and bands than ever before so, being part of that scene yourself how are you finding it?
ROD: There seems to be a lot of good electronic music coming out of Canada right now, but theres not a large number of people supporting the scene here. Dont get me wrong, the scene here is great and the fans are awesome, its just not a really big scene.
From an artistic point of view, its a pretty exciting time for electronic music right now, in general. Im seeing more and more electronic projects breaking down the barriers of traditional musical styles and mixing it all up. Its great!
NEBULOUS: One thing to remember is that Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy, Malhavoc, and Noise Unit are also Canadian bands. When they were producing the majority of their works, the scene in Canada was also quite small. Yet, they did manage to persevere. I think were kind of locked into a perpetual underground movement. Mannequin seems to have the potential to bridge the gap between the underground and a wider audience.
RUSS: What encourages us a lot is that we've had people of ages ranging from 12 to 50 complimenting our stuff. It's unpredictable what people will like, so it's not worth worrying too much ahead of time. Exposure is an important thing, and it takes time to build. We know we have to do this over the long haul and work until our music begins really seeping into people's consciousnesses.
8.Can you elaborate on what this Trash-Eighty theme is all about?
NEBULOUS: Well, the title itself is a kind of dual-pun. On the one hand, it refers to the old 8-bit computer systems that shared centre stage with the music and pop-culture of the late 70s and early 80s. Trash-80 is the nick-name they used to call the old Tandy TRS-80 computers. In the UK, the equivalent machine would be the Dragon 64. Russ and I have rather lage collections of older computers, including TRS-80s, ZX Spectrums, C64s, and more.
SCOTT: A lot of people think that the title is a reference to 80s pop-trash. That wasnt really the intention, but its an amusing and appropriate interpretation.
ROD: This is also our first official album. So its basically a diary of the band and our best work since our formation in 1999 to now.
9.Whats the story behind the song Headspace. You seem to be dealing with a disturbed mind someone close to the verge of suicide maybe?.
RUSS: That's interesting I hadn't thought of it as sounding quite that dark. I guess it is an expression of someone in a bad state of mind, perhaps regretting something they did, waiting for it to pass. I think Rod said once, jokingly, that it was about a bad acid trip.
ROD: Its about having your head go some place you dont want it to, and having no control to do anything about it.
10.Am I right in my interpretation that Autofire sets a good example for preferably venting out frustration on video games rather than on another person?
ROD: Thats it exactly. I think you might be the first person to get that song right away.
NEBULOUS: Yep. Theres something to be said for computer-generated simulations. Better to frag a CG avatar, than a real person. You can reboot a computer -- but not a living being.
RUSS: ...and we wanted an excuse to make cool bleepy arcade sounds.
11.Looking in particular at the songs What Happened?, Break and Images they seem to portray yourself questioning why relationships are not working out (back to that negativity again) on reflection, are you saying that youre unlucky in love?
ROD: I dont think Im any more lucky or unlucky than anyone else, Im just very emotional and I tend to dwell on things. Writing songs about it is kind of like therapy, I guess.
NEBULOUS: I have to admit, I fixate on the same types of things. For many, its difficult finding a good match. Then there are the things that mess you up like the one that got away. Themes like these are so often repeated in history, that theyve become archetypes. Interestingly, the novelty never seems to wear off.
12.Returning to Break, this is quite a radio friendly track with a particularly commercial sounding melody. Could this be the next potential single for you?
ROD: Break was pretty much our first single actually. It was released back in 99 on our first ep. It got some decent radio-play, but it didnt really get beyond Canada. Weve been tossing around the idea of releasing a remix single, or maybe a live version (its quite different live). Well have to see what happens.
NEBULOUS: It should be noted that it didnt really get the chance to go beyond Canada. Distribution in the independent music industry is always a challenge. I dont think its too late for Break to serve as a single, or to appear on a different compilation.
13.Theres also a strange atmospheric piece Portal whats the inspiration behind this?
ROD: Were all kind of into science fiction, and I always thought it would be cool to do an alternate soundtrack for the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The version that ended up on the album has actually been edited down quite a bit. We had two different electro-acoustic / new-age style pieces that were both pretty long, that we wanted to include on this disc. We didnt have room to include both in their entirety, so we had to edit at least one of them down. The other track is the final track on the album, called Electronic Tonalities. This was a true live recording of a trippy jam session that we did, which was never edited down or manipulated in any way after it was recorded.
NEBULOUS: And if you listen very carefully you can hear a T.I. Speak and Math in the background.
RUSS: There is a lot of improvisation that goes on at the studio we just seem to naturally fall into it between sessions, and there's a lot of material in the same spirit as this.
14.I liked the feel-good dance appeal of Cyberdelic, is this your idea of what a perfect club hit should be?
ROD: Cyberdelic is mainly an instrumental I think vocals usually get in the way of a good dance track. It originally had lyrics, but the phrase "it's a lie" is one of the only lines still left in the song. When we play it live, we sometimes put more of the words back in.
15.Prior to the album release there were a couple of eps available. Were these versions of the songs different to what we hear now on the album?
ROD: Slightly. Some songs like Reach and No Fun have gone through some pretty harsh changes over time. Other tracks like Break and Images are pretty much exactly the same as they always were. Break, Images, and What Happened? were our earliest recordings; they were actually done in a reel-to-reel 24 track studio. No computer editing of any kind.
Weve re-recorded some of our earlier tracks for this album, but weve tried to keep it simple. We didnt really use any fancy production techniques. We just wanted to write some good solid songs and record them with electronic instrumentation. We intentionally kept things simple with a live feel. A lot of the keyboard over-dub parts were played and recorded in real-time. I think it adds a nice human element to the instrumentation; theres also a bit of guitar and live percussion. A lot of modern electronic music these days seems to be all pre-programmed, and it ends up sounding a little bit lifeless sometimes. I guess were just reacting against that. We like things to sound a bit rough around the edges.
16. MD has received a fair amount of college radio play. How beneficial has this been for you, and what other forms of promotion have helped to attract a bigger following?
ROD: College radio play definitely helps to increase exposure, which obviously helps with album sales. We also play live a fair bit, which is another form of promotion that has really helped us out, especially on a local level. The internet is obviously a great way to reach people all over the world as well.
RUSS: College play is extremely important for an indie band. Getting actual CDs out there for sale is important, too; the internet has made it possible for us to get products farther out than would otherwise be possible. But playing live really seems to have the most impact people see and hear you in person and are excited about it.
17. Are you all favourable of live performances Do you achieve a buzz from the experience or just feel relief when its all over?
SCOTT: Personally, I quite like playing live if the audience is into us. Its a lot of fun.
ROD: The biggest buzz I get is during the actual performance of the show; Im usually still pretty hyped afterwards, too. The only part I dont like much is the preparation before hand.
NEBULOUS: Im a bit of a control freak, and find it difficult to think of live shows as something to relax and enjoy. For me, its all about making sure that things go smoothly and that all of the technical details are taken care of. Hence, I end up going very much by the book during the show, followed by a definite feeling of relief when all the gear is packed up and the night is over. The studio is my real home.
RUSS: The week before a gig, I feel a bit nervous, but once we're setting up it's a great time. At our last live gig we had to chance to do a lot of improvised soundscapes between sets, which was well received. I feel playing live really helps you to keep your edge. It's a great feeling to see people having a good time with us, dancing or just listening.
18.Do you try and recreate the albums sound live, or is it rocked up more?
SCOTT: Rocked up more.
ROD: Its different from song to song. Some songs are very different from the album versions, while others are very similar. The live show does come across a little more heavy than the album though.
19.And how do your audiences usually react?
ROD: Weve been very lucky to have an awesome group of fans that support us. As I said before, the fan-base here is small but loyal. They really appreciate seeing a live show.
NEBULOUS: I really like the fact that our music is appreciated by both sexes. Its kind-of universal that way. Hopefully, we present an image that is enjoyable for the audience to take in. I know Im definitely a people-watcher, so I understand how fun it can be to both watch and listen to a live show.
RUSS: The audiences have always been very supportive. The places we play are often the types where people come expecting to hear something a little different.
20.So, where will we see the Mannequin Depressives name appearing next?
SCOTT: Hollywood, Berlin, Iceland.
ROD: Cereal boxes.
RUSS: Milk cartons (MD: Last seen 20/11/2002...)
21.Any further comments for the readers of this interview?
RUSS: OK, let me grab my megaphone here... (kidding). Don't let companies treat you as a consumer. I hate that word. You are not a tube, sitting there passively, accepting anything stuffed in one end, and passing it out the other for someone else's profit. Look actively for art you like, don't just take what big media corporations want to spoon-feed you.
Participate in creating your own culture. Culture is supposed to be something we all create together not some holy text passed down to us by a Privileged Few. If you don't like the music, or movies, or whatever out there, make your own! It's fun.
There are many, many organizations that want sole rights to define our culture for us. They would rather we couldn't afford the tools to make our own culture. Canada, for instance, has a 'levy' (a tax which goes to private corporations, not the government) on all blank CD-R media. This money goes directly to record companies, who are supposed to (but don't) redistribute it to all Canadian artists. So, indie artists who buy blank CD-Rs to use so they can sell their own music at a live gig, have to pay record companies for the privilege! Think about that for a minute. In January 2003, the levy increases from 21 cents to 59 cents per disc.
DVDs and the new SACD standard, which may replace CD audio, have copy prevention encoded into each disc. DVD players won't play a DVD that doesn't have the right key value encoded onto the disc. A movie producer has to actually pay a huge fee to get a valid key from the DVDCCA association onto their discs. Think how this locks the indie filmmaker out of the market.
We are in danger of being locked away from the means to create our own artistic works. The only way to preserve your freedom is to demand that devices like CD burners, DVD players and other new media devices let you create the same content that the big boys can.
...And support local bands! You can drink beer at the same time as hearing great music. What a deal!