January 2011, New Zealand
Below is the full unedited text of an interview by Richard MacFarlane that appeared in edited form in the Christchurch Press in January 2011.
Richard MacFarlane: I first heard the storm veil / desert champion tape from you guys and it really blew me away, real electric, dirt road kinda vibe. that kind of 'lightning'/ravaged vibe is on the newer stuff you sent me for sure; is there a particular sort of energy you try and harness with metal rouge?
Andrew: I prefer to start with a blank slate and harvest whatever’s in the air, but there is certain kind of energy that we strike when things are going well. It’s a kind of energy that was there from the very first time we played (which was actually released on Tim Coster’s Claudia label), and although we don’t always set out to get there, often that’s where we wind up. I guess you could say that when things work well we’re releasing what is in us all the time rather than trying to harness anything outside of ourselves.
Helga: I agree that there was a certain energy there the first time we played that was already inside us, but we had talked a lot about bands and concepts we were interested in prior to playing so when we did finally play for the first time it felt natural and instinctual. When we started playing with a drummer we started to develop structures that were open enough for us to fuck around with and break them up if we needed to, so we were able to constantly renew and harness that energy.
RM: that sound seems most easily equated to the happennings on not not fun, i guess they showcase the "psych tonalism" you mention on a lot of their releases. do you hang out with those guys much in LA? (wait do you guys live in eagle rock as well? i went there when i visted late last year...)
Andrew: Britt and Amanda who run NNF are friends of ours and we hang with them quite a bit, but the words ‘psych tonalism’ were coined before I’d heard of NNF. I think when I wrote that phrase I was thinking more of bands that approached psychedelic music from a viewpoint of pure sound ecstasy rather than as a rock genre, people like the Taj Mahal Travellers and Angus Maclise etc. There’s probably a few people on NNF that fit the bill, but I think NNF has refined its vision considerably over the last few years and is probably concentrating on a kind of music that isn’t all that related to those kind of concepts now. NNF seems to be more sort of in a space where it is playing with the idea of where ‘pop music’ starts and where it ends – people who filter pop structures through underground production strategies – hazy borderline areas. So yeah, NNF are good friends, as are some of people on the label, but think conceptually we’re in slightly different zones. And no we don’t live in Eagle Rock, up until recently we lived in Echo Park (close to Eagle Rock). Who knows where we’ll live when we get back?
RM: why did you guys decide to come back here for a bit?
Andrew: Family, friends….I haven’t been back to NZ in over four years. I miss it. The land feels ‘right’.
Helga: I went to art school in Auckland and lived here for three years so it’s been nice being back and catching up with friends…and playing shows. I’m excited to see the South Island, which I was too poor to travel through the last time I was here.
RM: I just came back from a few years overseas too and christchurch seems to have changed HEAPS since i remember, i think partially earthquake-related but just in general. is there anything you guys have noticed being different since yr return?
Andrew: Everyone told us that we should get prepared for some sort of earth-shattering change, but honestly I haven’t noticed that much. The main change I can see is that central Auckland is becoming ‘cleaned up’ to the point of blanding out entirely. It’s like they want to make the central city into one giant shopping mall – it’s so clean and nice that it has no spine or teeth. Thank god K road is still soldiering on.
Helga: I’m bummed Brazil café is gone. It had the best coffee in Auckland. Also some music friends have moved to other continents or cities. It feels quieter, which I remember it being during the holidays, but coming from chaotic LA I think the ‘quiet’ is really accentuated.
RM: I was talking to heather leigh ages ago about jazz and her kind of improv which has that dirt road vibe too (ie the devil if you can hear me LP), talking about albert ayler quite a bit. is jazz something you guys are into? or into certain aspects of in terms of metal rouge?
Andrew: Yes. Hugely. Jazz was a decent portion of what I listened to in NZ, but it became a huge focus once I moved to the US where jazz records of rare genius are cheap and plentiful. Also moving to US gave me a greater understanding of what jazz means after seeing it in the context of it’s native culture. It made realize what a fucking radical proposition the music of many of the early free jazz players really is. The doors those people opened are immense. Obviously what we play is far from jazz, but we lift many approaches and concepts from it, sometimes consciously and sometimes less so. We don’t have the technical ability of jazz players, so often we’ll take a jazz concept and just use it as a kind frame or boundary – not something to play literally, but an idea to keep in our heads to help shape the music. Sometimes we’ll try and play in the style of a jazz musician who’s been on our minds, but because of our technical deficits or because you can’t necessarily play a guitar or a lap steel like a horn or a drum the idea gets misshapen, which is the process by which it becomes ours.
Helga: My knowledge of free jazz came later than Andrew’s and I can’t listen to as much of it as he does. I’m definitely more selective, but it’s still a huge influence on how I play. A lot of my vocal training has been listening to Linda Sharrock, Patty Waters and Sainkho Namtchylak. I prefer jazz that still has the energy of rock music. Like Fela Kuti who was mixing elements of jazz freedom with James Brown type funk. But then I also have a enormous appreciation for jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman, who I was privileged to see play in LA recently. I mean he’s legendary for crossing jazz lines to include non-jazz elements.
RM: what does "psychedelic" mean to you?
(sorry if that's broad/arbitrary, just had some interesting viewpoints on that recently from various people)
Andrew: I love the term psychedelic and will apply it to almost anything at the drop of a hat. I regard Metal Rouge as a psychedelic band, without a doubt. I like the definition that I first heard from Pete Swanson – that psychedelic means ‘mind manifested’. With that in mind, any art that is consciously trying to demonstrate some aspect of the workings of the mind can be considered overtly psychedelic. That means anything with a degree of improvisation to it is psychedelic. Anything that is willing to let in a lack of conscious control by the artist is psychedelic. I’ve heard it argued that all music is innately psychedelic. I also enjoy the idea of psychedelia as a prism through which things can be viewed. I enjoy viewing various musics that aren’t traditionally thought of as psychedelic through the lens of psychedelia. I think art that is truly psychedelic is always slightly frightening, maybe even slightly threatening because it’s beyond conscious control – then you begin to ask ‘who’s pushing the buttons’? Most people don’t know and aren’t prepared to know their own minds.
Helga: I agree with most of what Andrew said, although I don’t think that all improvised music is psychedelic. I think that if music becomes too academic it loses its ability to become psychedelic. Some improvisation falls into this trap. ‘Mind manifested’ is a great definition of psychedelic.
RM: there's a certain aspect to yr guitar wailage that calls back to some 90s sonic youth (more experimental jams) and yeah harry pussy and stuff like that; do you feel indebted to that very much?
Andrew: For sure. For me Lee Ranaldo’s ‘East Jesus’ and Thurston Moore’s (along with Tom Surgal and William Winant) ‘Piece For Jetsun Dolma’ were total revelations for me when I was in high school and were the doorways to a whole different world. I don’t think those albums (and some others of that era ‘Broken Circle/Spiral Hill’, ‘Not Me’ and ‘Klangfarbenmelodie’) have really received their due as serious music, probably because the ‘famous rock band’ baggage attached to them. I’m still slack jawed when I listen to either of those albums, it’s some of the greatest guitar music ever made. And yeah Harry Pussy are also an influence – was really happy to see Bill Orcutt finally receive his due as a guitarist over the last 12 months or so, but it mystifies me to think that people only really noticed how formally radical his playing was when he moved to acoustic. I don’t think you can really approach the guitar and drums the same way after hearing a Harry Pussy record. Hell, you can’t even approach recording the same way after hearing ‘Ride A Dove’.
RM: I think also there's a streak of violence or volatility in yr music that characterizes yr sound a lot for me, whether it's landscape responsive or something more politics-based ie war and current situations; is that something you explore actively or anything?
Andrew: Being that our music is largely (although often not entirely) improvised there is a violence and volatility to it in so much as there is violence and volatility in the world we move through. We keep a reasonably close tab on current events, political/corporate maneuvering etc and it effects our music indirectly. We do have titles that have political implications, but those titles are applied to the tracks after they’re done, not beforehand. In some ways the political landscape is an unavoidable player in the creation of any music/art so far as politics can shape the psychic environment in which a work is created and thus end being at least partially responsible for the shape of the end work. For example when I first moved to the US Bush was still in power and there was a kind of psychic pall of doom hanging over the country, everybody had their heads down. One way or another everybody making music during that era was dealing with that issue, whether they were aware of it or not. I think this happens with everyone, there’s just different degrees of awareness of it, or perhaps different views as to how important it is to acknowledge. Personally I find it pretty important – I like the idea of taking an abstract piece of music and seasoning it with meaning – making it ‘about something’. Sometimes that ‘something’ is in the air in which it is created. I’m not really interested in art that is just about other art, I’m interested in attempts to grasp a greater totality. So for me that means trying to somehow use my own music to understand some of the species-wide tragedies we’re involved in due to the lack of a just system of social organization. It’s probably not as effective as terrorism or lobbying, but it’s all I’ve got.
Helga: I don’t think we create political songs, but our political beliefs definitely find their way into our music…its hard for it not to when you’re aware of how your countries politics effects your society and the rest of the world. When Obama got elected a lot of artists in the states thought everything was cool and suddenly they had nothing to say. They thought all the problems were magically resolved and stopped giving a shit. There’s a real lack of punk-ness in the music that’s happening right now. The reality is that there’s tons of negative shit happening politically right now and even though I’m not about expressing my political views literally in the music I make, music is an avenue for emotional expression. As an artist I can’t separate my emotions from what I make, so even though I’m not making ‘political’ art what I see and hear around me manifests itself emotionally. I like to look at periods of history to see how the politics and culture of the time relates to the music and art that was being made. I wonder how this time period is going to look in hindsight?