Mannequin Depressives

Mannequin Depressives have managed to build up a small, but loyal fan base over the last four years, through their exposure from live shows, ep’s, college radio airplay and the wonders of the world wide web.
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
www.mannequindepressives.com


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 weren’t 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 wasn’t 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: Rod’s the sharp hair front guy, Jared's the aero-dynamic synth hack, Russ is the sex symbol and technical guru.

ROD: ...and Scott’s 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, we’re all pretty eclectic, and tend to each take on a variety of tasks. However, I’d have to say that for Rod, it’s his singing and pop-compositional skills, Russ is the wild keyboardist (we’ve nick-named him 'Russ-Wakeman' for a reason), Scott is a noise-art guru and excellent guitarist, and I’m a bit of a New-age Electro madman with a tendency to custom design all of my analogue sounds.

RUSS: It’s 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 don’t think we’re trying to mislead anyone with our name, but sometimes it’s fun to mislead people in other ways.

ROD: The name was never intended to mislead anyone. It’s really just a play-on-words. Actually, I didn’t 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, I’ve 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 we’re 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, you’ve 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 we’ve done, still have a darker undertone. You might not notice it consciously, but it’s there. It’ll become more apparent as our body or recordings increases. That, and you’ll likely see it cropping up in the other music projects that we’re 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 early’80s; as a result, we’re very influenced by several artists of that period. Because of that, some people think we’re just an ‘80s nostalgia band. That doesn’t offend us at all, but we’re more interested in drawing on influences from that era and seeing what unusual directions we can take them in.

Personally, I’m heavily influenced by two distinctly opposite movements. On one hand, I’m 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, I’m 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...

I’m not sure how much influence newer music has on me, but there’s some good stuff out there. I like ‘Radiohead’ and ‘Fantomos a lot. I’m 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 I’m 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 you’re trying to cater for almost any electronic music fan out there?
ROD: We’re 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 they’re 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. We’re 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.You’re 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, we’ve actually become invloved with the Klankboom Productions label on a business level. I think it’s 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: We’ve got a really good relationship with the label, and we’re 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, I’m 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 there’s not a large number of people supporting the scene here. Don’t get me wrong, the scene here is great and the fans are awesome, it’s just not a really big scene.

From an artistic point of view, it’s a pretty exciting time for electronic music right now, in general. I’m seeing more and more electronic projects breaking down the barriers of traditional musical styles and mixing it all up. It’s 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 we’re 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 wasn’t really the intention, but it’s an amusing – and appropriate – interpretation.

ROD: This is also our first official album. So it’s basically a diary of the band and our best work since our formation in 1999 to now.

9.What’s 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: It’s about having your head go some place you don’t 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: That’s it exactly. I think you might be the first person to get that song right away.

NEBULOUS: Yep. There’s 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 you’re unlucky in love?
ROD: I don’t think I’m any more lucky or unlucky than anyone else, I’m 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, it’s 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 they’ve 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 didn’t really get beyond Canada. We’ve been tossing around the idea of releasing a remix single, or maybe a live version (it’s quite different live). We’ll have to see what happens.

NEBULOUS: It should be noted that it didn’t really get the chance to go beyond Canada. Distribution in the independent music industry is always a challenge. I don’t think it’s too late for Break to serve as a single, or to appear on a different compilation.

13.There’s also a strange atmospheric piece “Portal” what’s the inspiration behind this?
ROD: We’re 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 didn’t 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?
SCOTT: Yes.

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 ep’s 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.

We’ve re-recorded some of our earlier tracks for this album, but we’ve tried to keep it simple. We didn’t 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; there’s 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 we’re 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 it’s all over?
SCOTT: Personally, I quite like playing live if the audience is into us. It’s a lot of fun.

ROD: The biggest buzz I get is during the actual performance of the show; I’m usually still pretty hyped afterwards, too. The only part I don’t like much is the preparation before hand.

NEBULOUS: I’m a bit of a control freak, and find it difficult to think of live shows as something to relax and enjoy. For me, it’s 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 album’s sound live, or is it ‘rocked up’ more?
SCOTT: Rocked up more.

ROD: It’s 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: We’ve 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. It’s kind-of universal that way. Hopefully, we present an image that is enjoyable for the audience to ‘take in.’ I know I’m 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!