Can You Hear The Music?: A Series of Questions to Overcome Musical Xenophobia and Techniques to Appreciate Music in Different Ways

A cult is a cult is a cult.

All followers think they are the chosen ones – the only ones who get it and truly understand what their messiah is saying. Admittedly, in a world full of doubt and spiritually vacuous consumption, it is nice to discover something to frame our experiences and it can be a relief to find answers for yourself at that time. But it’s also useful to recognise that we are born to flux and flow, not to stagnate and rot.

Blood, Milk and Blooms

Blood, Milk and Blooms

Solve: Breaking the problem into pieces

If you find yourself hero-worshipping the same artist for a lengthy period of time, I challenge you to ask yourself why. If it’s because the values and inspiration you have an affinity for ring true to your experience, ask yourself what other, better, deeper, more wonderful things are waiting to be discovered. Spending hours inside an art gallery filled with beautiful things is fine for a while, but what’s waiting for you in the great outdoors?

Do you only listen to one or two types of music? Why? What feelings and values do they represent? Have you thought about understanding these in different ways, through different music? Or does your favourite music have the monopoly?

There are always going to bands that you just don’t like. I have many in my shit-list but in my defence, they’re all bands from diverse genres. Regardless of how my bespoke critical faculties limit them from being good, I still recognise that they have value for other people – and that all music in itself is a vehicle for our fundamental human right to express ourselves.

For those of you who have made a particular kind of music a focal point of your existence, it can be easy to forget that other genres have value. Fans tend to gravitate towards scenes, to form ghettoes, to join cults. I get it. Communities are safe, and like ugly ducklings, we can feel like we’ve come home. But what does it say about your need to belong? Is your self-worth dependent on belonging to something for the sake of it? “I care about hardcore but I hate the scene,” said Zoli Teglas. Not only can I identify with that, I can apply it to many of the other scenes I move through (but that is a topic for another time).

Be honest: is there anything about your sub/culture that you don’t like? Is it catty, is it elitist? Is it too-serious or not serious enough? Is it monotypic – made up of a majority of people from the same gender, ethnicity, spiritual affiliation, political persuasion, sexual orientation, class background, and/or lifestyle choice? If so, why? Is it because outsiders find acceptance difficult, and are you part of the problem or the solution? Do you judge people who don’t fit in, and why? Is the fact that they’re not wearing the right uniform really a threat to your enjoyment of the music? And do you realise that everything you profess to rebel against might just be the same shit you are perpetuating in your judgements?

 

Set: Experimenting with content

Listen to music that you hate, and try to find something good about it.

Listen to music you don’t understand and try to find out the appeal.

Listen to aggressive music and feel what arises in your guts – is it a cathartic release of anger? A distillation of rage?  Is there beauty in the ugliness? Maybe you find it ridiculous or maybe it scares you. Does it make you uncomfortable, do you hate it? What does this say about anything you may be suppressing?

Listen to something challenging, perhaps some discordant noise or psychedelic jazz. Does it frustrate you that you can’t figure it out? What does this say about your love for the safety nets of rules and law and order? What do you fear about chaos? What untapped potential lies in that tangled fertility?

Listen to some heartfelt love ballads and some melodic eulogies for the fallen. Are you uncomfortable with how it makes your heart hurt? Listen to the despair and longing in that voice. Do you remember ever feeling like that? Does it make you cry? Is this okay – are you accepting of your heavy feelings? Or do you want to skip the song?

Listen to something mainstream, something not cool in your reckoning, or something the hipsters are hyping up. Are you contemptuous of its formulaic simplicity, of its overtly vacuous overtones? Or can you appreciate that silliness and lightness inspires frivolity and just letting troubles go? Does it make you stop thinking and just move, and isn’t that rad in its own right? Or does there have to meaning in music, does its profundity have to be spelled out and hand-fed to you? What does this say about your lack of imagination? What does it tell you about your need to define art only on your own terms, and not wonder about the myriad of other operating systems out there?

Listen to some politically-charged punk rock. Does the energy sweep you up or do you resist it? Or does it just make your ears hurt? What does this say about your ability to let go, and what does this say about your judgement on the validity of dissenting voices? Does it sound like a battle-cry, a call to arms? Does this inspire you to make a difference in the world, or a lifestyle change? To educate yourself and others? Ian McKay once said“At least I’m fucking trying! What the fuck have you done?” How would you answer him?

Listen to some socially-conscious folk music. Is it just whinging, or might they have a point? Where are they coming from? Do they have a right to express their frustration in a creative way, or only in a way that you see fit? Does this raise questions of how unyielding your condemnation can be for those you don’t understand or agree with? Or does it make you feel guilty that you’re ignorant and apathetic? Perhaps it makes you despair that the world is too fucked up and too far gone. And so, will you turn the song off and ignore the message, or will you have a go regardless?

Listen to some hip-hop. Is it ugly because of the way the lines are delivered, or is it beautiful for its passion? Do the beats make you nod in appreciation, the bass pumping your heart to its own beat? Or is it too repetitive? What does this say about your attention span? If, to you, it all just sounds like bullshit gangster drivel, I would suggest that you’ve bought into the mainstream music industry’s marketing ploy. Dig deeper. Find the real stuff.

What about electronic music – is it exciting, does it make you dance? Or is it just annoying doof-doof repetition? Can you see the value in loud repetitions as a vehicle for ecstatic dance, as a tool for embodied transcendental meditation? Is it not ‘real music’ because it doesn’t utilise the generic holy trinity of bass, drums and guitar? Or is it clever and creative because the artist invents new sounds from recordings and manipulations and distortions? If you think they’re not ‘real’ musicians because they don’t play popular instruments, please consider that many deejays are proficient multi-instrumentalists who want to push the envelope and evolve.

Listen to some authentic music from another sub/culture – one you don’t know much about (yet). Can you get a sense of the people, of the place, of history? If there are vocals and they’re in another tongue, can you intuit a meaning from the timbre and the way the singer releases it to your ears? Do you feel contemptuous; do you think the music is too simple or too strange for you to enjoy? Does this say something about your belief that only your sub/culture’s music has reached the epitome of artistic integrity?

Do you see foreign music as spiritual and moving even if in all likelihood they are just singing about mundane life? Does this tell you that perhaps you romanticise the Other too much? That you look outside for the spiritual, and can’t see it in your own backyard?

If in any of these you find yourself drawn to artists of one gender or sexual orientation, try something different. Does it give you a glimpse of another worldview, a tangible way to dance a thousand miles in another person’s shoes? Do lyrics that are too soft make you uncomfortable? Are you ill-at-ease with your untough side? Why do other lived realities really make you squirm?

Do misogynistic lyrics make you angry or uncomfortable in any way? What about racist or homophobic or other discriminatory language? Listen deeper. Does the artist really believe what they are singing, or are they providing a valuable social commentary by playing devil’s advocate?  Is it just for shock value, to generate controversy? If so, is there any value in that? Can you use them as an example to generate a dialogue about narrow and harmful paradigms? If they are dead serious, would the artists profess these values in the street individually, without the support of an incestuously like-minded band? Would they shout it in a crowd of those they seek to vilify, without the safety of the stage or recording studio for protection? If not, they’re likely just agent provocateurs – too weak to walk the talk.

Listen to music from way before your time. What kind of world did it emerge from? Was it ground-breaking or was it in the spirit of the age? Does it transport you back to an imagined past, or does it make you cringe? Is it surprisingly good, and what does that say about your assumption that your generation has a patent on epic music?

Listen to music your parents love. What was the soundtrack to their youths, and how does this inform your understanding of their lives before you were thought of? What was going down when you were conceived (pardon the pun), and does this put you into context?

Listen to music by very old and very young people. What are they concerned with, and can you relate? What gravity do you give these issues; can other generations relate to your weighty troubles?

Listen to the first album you ever bought. Does it still excite you or does it embarrass you? Why? Listen to the music you loved when you were rebellious, when you first took drugs, when you first made love. How does the music frame your experiences? Are the memories painful or nostalgic? Do you feel like a kid again – carefree – or is your younger self a stranger to you now? What does that say about your complicity in the world’s efforts to tame and to mould you, to clip your wings and to weigh you down with its responsibilities?

 

Setting: Experimenting with context

Do you really listen to music, or do you just use it as background noise – the soundtrack to your life? Can you choose an album and do nothing but listen to it, or do you need to hear it whilst working or exercising, doing chores or socialising? Try it. Put something on; feed it through superior speakers or headphones and just listen until it’s done.

Do you hear things you’ve never noticed before? Is there more to it than you previously assumed? Do you get lost in the layers: the high and low; soft and sharp; shallow and deep? How do they harmonise and fit in, or not? Do you find yourself swimming against the tide and overanalysing it, or do you float in oblivion? What pictures does it paint in your mind, what feelings does it invoke? Can you synthesise this and create your own music in response? Can you draw or talk or write about what you’re holding?

If you don’t usually dance or headbang, try moving and just going with what feels right. What does embodying the music do for your interpretation of it? Do the endorphins add more depth to your enjoyment? Does your whole body feel like another instrument; does the music play you instead of the other way around?

If you usually move, try being still. How does it enhance your listening when there are no other distractions? Is your whole body an extension of your ears? How does being anchored affect your listening? Try the same with your eyes opened and closed, singing along and being silent.

What music do you like to make love to, what do you like to fuck to? Do you prefer it aggressive or ephemeral? What does this say about your sexual expression? What would happen if you changed it up a bit?

If you usually go to gigs with friends or a partner, go alone next time. Is it out of your safety zone? Do you need familiar faces around you, or is your own presence enough? Did you have fun, and will you do it again?

Are you always drunk and/or high at gigs? Try going straight. Does the music sound different? Do you hear new things? Are you still having fun, and can the music be enough? Do you remember more the next day, and does the feeling stay with you longer; does it settle in deeper?

How do you discover new sounds? Through friends, or festivals, or do you do your own research? Do you allow the media to dictate for you?

Do you look at the influences of your favourite artists? What bands inspire them, what is their heritage? Look at their label mates, bands they’ve toured with, scenes they grew out of and bands they’ve come from. Look at their side-projects and collaborations. All music is connected through time and across space.

Who does your favourite version of that cover song you like? Is the original the best? Is the new interpretation blasphemy or is it tits?

Are you fiercely loyal to an artist, a genre, a scene? Can they do no wrong in your eyes/ears? What happens when they say something you don’t agree with?

Do you appreciate style changes in bands, understanding that everything eventually evolves? Or do you resent experimentation, believing that your favourite band’s sole purpose is to cater to your tastes that are stuck in time? Do you love all albums from a particular band, or are you able to wipe the stars from your eyes and be critical of less grounded efforts? Are you suspicious of them selling out, or do you empathise with their struggle between the rock of artistic integrity and the hard place of trying to pay the bills?

Do you get obsessed with an album, playing it over and over and over until you know the lyrics, every tempo change, the ins and outs by heart? Have you ever considered that this takes away its power and mystery, or do you need to have everything all figured out? What does the obsession do for you? Does it validate your worldview? Or does it close you off to other music and therefore other ways of experiencing life at the same time?

 

Coagula: Picking up and synthesising the pieces

We all go through phases: they reflect and are a reflection of our internal states. Musical phases mirror our desires and our values, but surrounding yourself with nothing but reflections of your validations, and staring at your own likeness for too long is essentially just masturbation. Are you self-serving, narcissistic? Are you wanking to your own image?

What phase are you in now, and what does it say about what’s going on in your life? What are you grateful for right now? What kind of person do you want to be, what do you want to change about yourself? Can you open up your ears and your mind? Can you shift your parameters to include different things?

Fuck oath you can. There’s a whole world of music out there waiting to be discovered. Go and play!

– Defender Of The Faith, 03.04.2013

ROLLING STONES – CAN YOU HEAR THE MUSIC?

Limp Wrist

photo by Bad Bitch#1

photo by Bad Bitch#1

Last Friday night Bad Bitch#1, Tater Tot and I had plans to go to M.I.A. at The Enmore; it is the reason why I cut short my holiday on the Coast to drive back early to Sydney. However, we doubted the outcome of this plan as we supped upon cider in Newtown that afternoon. I looked up tickets and realised that when including booking fee, credit card fee and other such bullshit Capitalist profiteering, M.I.A was going to cost us around $95 a pop. I do understand the expenses involved for bands touring to our fair island. In Europe and the USA, a band can theoretically perform >ten shows along a ten hour stretch of road and be able to sell a decent amount of tickets. In Straya, you drive ten hours, petrol is some XP€N$IV $H1T and you may only come across one or two townships on this journey  that could support you. That said, $95 is bullshit no matter how you look at it. And personally, whilst I like M.I.A and I have confidence that the show would have been rad, the pricing deeply offended my punk rock sensibilities.

But lo! After digging around within the internet, I was stopped in my tracks by the news that Limp Wrist were playing that night. In my summer-addled mental state of weeks past, I had misguidedly thought that I had already missed their Australian tour over NYE. Armed with the knowledge that they were indeed going to smear their scat all over the Annandale that very evening, my despondency went into retirement and party animal excitement reared its ugly head again. The best part? $25 a ticket, with Hard-Ons supporting. There was no contest in my mind, and with steely determination I quickly convinced Bad Bitch#1 and Tater Tot to come to the dark side.

And so, I went to this gig with my gal pals , something I’ve only done once before. In the fourteenish years that I have been going to gigs, it’s sometimes been me riding solo, or oftentimes with all dude men, but usually with a majority men and a smattering of womenfolk. There has been one exeption last year, when Bad Bitch#1, Lucy Graves, SJA and I all went up to see The Drones at the Hi-Fi in Brisbane. It was a killer gig and an even better drive home. Bad Bitch#1 was driving and she had a stroke of genius when she put on Sing Sing Death House. We cranked it and shouted, growled and screamed every word, full bore, until the last chord. Never have I partaken in a more righteous singalong; the only one that comes close is when Grogan, Coen, other youthful metal kids and I formed the All-Australian Backseat Metal Choir on our way to some mini-metal fest years ago in Brisbane. I dig the cliché that went down post-Drones – ‘twas truly a vagfest made even more devotionally feminine with our vocal worship of Dory Belle Brody Dalle.

Before Limp Wrist, we boozeth at mine and walked to the venue. I had had a cunt of a week with no reprieve, but as soon as I walked into that pub and was surrounded by ugly-beautiful, real-smelling humans of all shapes, sizes and colours, my mood lifted heaven-ward. The relief was palpable and it reminded me that no matter what goes down, punk rock will always have my back. Although we missed Glory Hole, by all accounts they were a worthy first support. We only caught the last two songs of Shit Weather and I was pleasantly surprised by my maiden experience of them. I was worried that my gals would be resentful of me instigating this game change so late in the plan – having had their hearts so set on M.I.A. – but they convinceth me that they were pumped also and so my heart began to rest easy.

Hard-Ons were fucking grouse. It’s been a long time since I saw them at Cooly Hotel back in 2004 or 2005. That night, I was drunk as shit and thrashing intensely and the bass player commented on my DRI shirt, which led me to reason that somebody with such good taste in music was worth following. I also meant to go to their last tour but Blackie went and got himself bashed, silly bugger, and I didn’t go see his replacements. But last Friday night, it only took me two songs in to realise how fucking good Hard-Ons really truly are. Once they kicked into their raucous thrashy shit I was sold. I looked over at the gals and could see that they were pumped also. No guilt, no regrets!

Ray Ahn (bass) was piss-funny as usual and went in to some righteous ranting between songs. My personal favourite was when he spoke of the new plans for corporations to offer civilians outer space holidays. He surmised that with Tiger and Jetstar lowering their prices to an affordability that the average Aussie could accept, we were well on our way to having a bogan exodus to the moon. In light of this, he predicted a surge in Schapelle Corby-esque bud-smuggling in boogie-board bags. Let my judgement be known: Raymond Ahn is a genius of the highest comedic calibre.

Limp Wrist took the stage, resplendent in short shorts, leather, demin, biker hats and chains. They are the death of the newest and shittest incarnation of Turbonegro; Limp Wrist are true queer and true punk and they put their money where their fleshy, salivating mouths are; outgaying all imposters for life! Music-wise, these cunts are fast and filthy and would be a proud addition to any hardcore fan’s collection. I stood up the back with my gals, getting drunker and sweatier and more infected by the energy raised. I reached the point of maximum annihilation a few songs in when I realised I was at the hardcore show of the year (big call, I know, but I defy you to prove me wrong any time soon) and I was standing at the fucking back of the pit. What had become of me? I felt sad, old, pathetic and a traitor to everything I stood for. “Fuck this,” I said to myself, “I’m from Tweed!” and with my resolve set, I pushed my way to the front and centre as easy as you please. I was swept up in the energy immediately and got lost in the filth and the fury of it all. It was rad to be at a gig where there are no fuckwits showing off their ninja moves with serious faces, just a sea of stinking bodies sweating torrentially all over one another, purely smiles and loose-limbs and non-self-conscious oblivion. The pit was tight enough for crowd surfers to roll over every couple of minutes, and when someone fell down they were not down for long. Such is the beauteousness of violent but loving punk rock pit-politics.

A few times we had the privilege of supporting Martin’s hefty weight on our downtrodden arms, but he wasn’t heavy cos he’s our brother. I was pumped when he pulled me up out of the crowd to sing in his face and my unholy voice reigned supreme momentarily, but never to be forgotten. The first time I crowd-surfed, I pulled myself up onto the stage, did a sick ninja kick and then sprawled out into the worshipping arms of my Sisters and Brethren in the pit. I was floating on a sea of love and went back for more a few songs later. The second time, I again approached from the stage and did a sweet forward somersault into the writhing mass of flesh beneath me. I felt like I was fifteen again and that is the most elite feeling in the world. Punk rock is the elixir of youth, and relearning my unshakeable faith in the strength and camaraderie of my fellow thrash lords makes it an honour to be human. “I Love Hardcore Boys / I Love Boys Hardcore” was played last, and my heart swelled with euphoria to hear my favourite song live at the end of such a phenomenal set.

Afterwards, I saw Blackie and told him how much fun I had, then thanked him. He thanked me, to which I countered, “No! Thank YOU!” and he tried to thank me more so I told him I’d fight him if he kept trying to lay the blame for such awesomeness on my unworthy conscience. Lucky he thought it was funny; a lesser human could have been offended in light of recent events. I bought a Limp Wrist shirt and the merch dude suggested I get it signed by Martin who standeth nearby. I had no pen, but he gave me a very sweaty Hairy Bear hug and let me wipe the cloth over his perspiring arse, which is a far-superior stamp of approval in my opinion.

Outside, Bad Bitch#1, Tater Tot and I were yarning with some dudes about the gig and such forth. I was engaged in conversation with a tall and smiling messy-haired skate rat, and we speaketh of unknown rad bands that we thought the other should know of. We swapped phone numbers and have since sent suggestions and files to and fro. I would like to thank him for the heads-up on The Mentally Unstable who have been getting a solid work-out the last week, and I hope that Gravelrash was a worthy exchange for him. Tater Tot had her mojo rising and pashed one of the dudes with a full assault and left him gasping. She later jumped into a cab full of these boys for round two. Bad Bitch#1 and I pissed our jeans laughing at her antics, then we all went across the road, sunk more piss and regaled each other with tales of fighting from our teenage years.

In summary, short and sweet: that was a faultless night, filled with good company old and new, and a fucking epic start to this new year. Limp Wrist and Hard-Ons, I thank you from the bottom of my cold, black heart for creating such fond thrash-filled memories. Much love!

– Defender Of The Faith,  12.01.2013

The Casualties

Jake Kolatis & Rick Lopez from The Casualties

In October 2011, I interviewed Jake Kolatis and Rick Lopez from The Casualties just before their show at The Hi-Fi Bar in Brisbane. We sat and had a yarn about touring, recording and the 99%. They were nice blokes and great interviewees – open-minded, funny, thoughtful and intelligent. Here’s the resulting clip:

This was my first video interview. It was for Australian Hysteria Magazine and was done in collaboration with Infected Monkey.

Metal Battles and Traffic Jams

Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks

One weekend a few months ago, I made plans to visit my Dad at his place in the outer suburbs of my city, about half an hour away from me. Being the procrastinator I try hard not to be (but unfortunately am on lazy Saturdays when no work needs doing and I just want to sit in the sunshine and write), I left at 11.45am in order to pick him up at midday. The main road from my house to the highway was moving slowly because of the abundant number of fellow Saturday drivers. This was compounded with the eighteen thousand sets of traffic lights that punctuate the relatively straight run towards the city’s west, like unnecessary semicolons; in an otherwise flowing sentence.

At around the quarter way mark, I was perched up in the fastest-moving right hand lane and I cranketh my iPod via the radio on my shitty twenty-year-old speaker system. Everything sounds harsh – simultaneously tinny and bassy – through these ancient Magna artefacts. There’s no point in listening to beautifully layered and complex compositions through them because the EQ is non-existent, and all nuances are lost in the crude translation of my speakers. Early hardcore with down-tuned guitars or filthy black metal or balls-to-the-wall thrash are adequate though. Sure, it’s not the ideal way to listen to anything, but through a five year process of trial and error I’ve surmised that the only shit that sounds halfway decent in my car is dirty, hard and heavy rock and roll. I proceeded at a slow crawl along this congested track thusly, skipping anything too complicated and letting loose all that was raw enough to take the narrow range of my speakers.

Early Mastodon was crackling through my car when I noticed him. He was in the car in front of me and it appeared as though he kept looking back at me through his rear and side mirrors. As a paranoid type, I dismissed the thought for a little while. However, I was soon certain that he was in fact looking at the blood red Slayer sticker dripping down my front windscreen. I observed him beginning to jerk his head and drum upon the steering wheel, throwing a sly cymbal crash out the window every now and then with his invisible stick. He then started headbanging in a form that my Brother in Hell and I have termed ‘old-school anger thrashing’.

My Brother and I are both fond of any old-school headbanging style, and oftentimes we have admired Metal Lords at gigs engaging with the musical assault with such direct, intense and no-frills approaches. My Brother is old-school himself, favouring dramatic power stances and a rotational direction of the neck for maximum windmilling of the hair, one fist usually held aloft unyieldingly to penetrate the air. I’m more of a mover and shaker, letting the energy take me where it will – sometimes front and centre of the pit to absorb the band’s stage presence from close quarters, or rarely up the back to take in the atmosphere of the gig holistically, but usually in and amongst Sisters and Brethren in the pit – thrashing, jumping and fist-pumping proudly, furiously banging the head on the end of my long and sinuous neck in triumph.

As I observed this fellow Metal Lord in front of me, he took his hair from out of his ponytail and shook it out brazenly (all the better to headbang with, my dears). I was amused no end, watching him lock into whatever song it was that he was cranking. I wondered what it was that was causing him to move so joyously. Whilst I understand the principals of ‘each to their own’ and other similar Crowley-type rhetoric, I must confess I am a fairly judgemental cunt when it comes to metal. Fortunately, I love most styles and can appreciate everything from the most serious of Opeth to the most ridiculous of Manowar. Yet I do draw lines, and respect has been lost by many an otherwise cool person simply by talking enthusiastically about music that I deem shit. Was this guy as legit as he was making out, or was he wasting valuable thrash energy on unworthy offerings?

To find out, I snuck into the left lane and crawled up beside him, turning my own music down. Luckily, his passenger side window was open and I could clearly discern Meshuggah’s Bleed blaring out of his far superior speakers. This was good; all was right with the world and this Metal Lord was okay in my book. His song finished just as Darkthrone’s Witch Ghetto clicked over on mine. I cranketh, and Fenriz’ dirty voice carried past me and to the ears of Metal Lord next door. He looked over and nodded his approval and we both sat, silently thrashing as we waited for the lights to change. I could see him fiddling with his console in preparation for his next turn. His selection was Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell – a classic and decently heavy song, even if a somewhat obvious and safe choice for a Metal Battle. Nonetheless, I nodded in appreciation and we listened to it the whole way to the next set of lights.

What was I going to do next? Nothing cheesy. No fucking around. As I skipped through each iPod suggestion in anticipation of Dimebag’s last solo, I was getting worried that Anselmo’s final “oorgh!” was closing in. However, relief and pride filled me as Amon Amarth rode into battle to save the day, swords blazing With Oden On Our Side. I glanced next door and Metal Lord was clearly as pumped as I. We sat there in unity, headbanging appreciatively on that hot Autumn Saturday, separated by metal vehicles, yet united by a love for metal that is true and good.

Soon, a gap in the traffic appeared and I burned off down the road opportunistically. As I looked back in my rearview mirror, I saw that Metal Lord had thrown me the horns and I returned in kind, saluting a worthy metal brother with the triumphant sounds of Viking bloodlust and violence renting the air.

Defender Of The Faith  – 19.09.12

Power Serj

I had a yarn with Serj Tankian a few years ago, for Australian Hysteria Magazine. I’m still pumped on it. It went a little something like this:

Photo credit unknown

 

Hello…hello?

Hi ‘Dot’!

 

Hi! How are you Serj?

Good! How are you today?

 

I’m alright mate. What are you up to?

Oh, just been working all day, out at the house in Los Angeles…besides interviews doing some, y’know, phone calls and all that good stuff…not a bad day.

 

Cool…sounds good.

I didn’t have to drive into the city…

 

Yeah…that’s always a bonus…

What about you? How’s your day going?

 

Oh not bad…I’m just trying to do this, and I’m on holidays so I’m enjoying that…

Cool! Enjoy…

 

Oh I will! So, I have a question. You have evolved such an eclectic and somewhat mellower style these days. Do you still have that manic metal maniac inside of you?

The manic metal maniac? (laughs) You know, at times I do, but to be honest with you I’ve never fully identified myself with one type or genre of music or anything that goes along with it, you know? When we first started people used to call System Of A Down a “metal band” and then later they’d call us a “nu-metal band” and then they started calling us a “rock band” and then an “Armenian-American political schizophrenic band”. You name it, we’ve been called everything and after a while you know, it’s like, either you continue making the same type of music and sticking to that category which is totally cool, or you can kind of just evolve as an artist and do what you’re supposed to do and let everyone else figure out what that moniker should be.

 

I’ve been listening to you throughout the years in all your various projects and the thing that strikes me the most is the way I still feel. On one hand, whether it’s with System Of A Down or your solo stuff, your music feels so soothing almost, but also instils in me a deep sense of anxiety. You mentioned the word schizophrenic before and I think that’s what your music is in the truest sense of the word; I usually feel like headbanging and pirouetting simultaneously.

(Laughs) Pirouetting, I like that, that’s awesome. That’s a good combination there. That’s what we’re talking about, the diversity of emotions, and the diversity of actions, and you know, the diversity of the music that complements it. Why not break the door down with an orchestra instead of an electric guitar and then end it with a clean acoustic guitar or something like that? There are no rules here. They’re not for us.

 

There are so many layers to your music, every time I listen I find something new and it’s nice to get lost in that kind of music for a change. Instead of spoon-feeding us, you take our minds for a walk – for some exercise, if you will.

Yeah, I’m with that too. Some of my favourite records are ones where I put it on and there’s something really compelling about it but I can’t put my finger on it and my mind doesn’t define it immediately. It’s not easily digestible, so I have to go back and listen and listen and listen and every time I listen I find something new in it. It’s like it takes me on a journey, it makes me feel different than any other record. I think those are the records we keep on going back to, and [Imperfect Harmonies] is such a record and I have to say that it definitely takes you on a ride.

 

You seem really contemptuous of the power that religious institutions wield, not so much of the spirituality itself, and you refer to Darwin and scientific themes – would you call yourself an atheist or do you “believe”, or are you not sure, or isn’t that important?

I wouldn’t consider myself an atheist because I believe that everything is connected, whatever you want to give that name. I like calling it the Spirit-That-Moves-Through-All-Things. But I mean you can give it any name you want. But at the same time I don’t believe in the typecast god of the Judeo-Christian faith. I don’t know where that lands in that spectrum.

 

Maybe it’s too important to be classified in that way.

Yeah.

 

It’s hard to tell whether you’re deriding or revering the idea of god. Can you talk a little bit about how you feel, or how you’ve changed in this sense?

The idea of god?

 

With the idea of god, in your lyrics, it’s so hard to tell whether you’re mocking that idea or if you have reverence for it…

Probably both. I personally don’t like the word ‘god’ just because it’s so abused. People have done so many horrible and nasty things in the name of god from all religions. So I have a hard time identifying with the word god. I like the Native American term much better – the Spirit-That-Moves-Through-All-Things, coupled with the Creator – it’s two different things. It’s a more balanced energy. It’s a different way of looking at things and if you look at what that means it says so much more than ‘G.O.D’, you know? So I think that there are a lot of things lost within modern religion because all organised modern religions were created within the city of civilisation, and therefore they all only know one type of existence. They were all created in the last ten thousand years, not over millions of years. Whereas indigenous religions were before that, and I think our indigenous past and our spirituality from our indigenous past contain the intuitive secrets of our existence that we have forgotten, and now we’re trying to relearn them through science, through logical means, through quantum theory, etcetera, which is fine, if we can only combine those two energies – the intuitive wisdom of the past and the kind of logical/technological strength of the present – we could really not just survive on this planet, but definitely make our home a better place.

 

That sounds exactly the way your music is, and it’s in those themes of nature and also that really high-tech futuristic stuff and the marriage of them. When you talk about ancient religions, not so much religion but spirituality, I suppose [I can identify with] that Native American spirituality. I’m from Australia and I’m an Aboriginal woman and there are so many similarities in these cultures, in the way we hold the Earth for example.

Absolutely. You know, for years I did informal studies on indigenous cultures including Aboriginal people, the Maoris, the Native Americans, and other different kinds of tribes and what I came up with is that because they were all nature-based cultures, they all contain a lot of the same truths without necessarily being in physical contact with each other.

 

Not a dogmatic truth, but a more interchangeable truth.

A universal truth.

 

For a lot of indigenous people around the world, those exact ways that our Elders knew are lost because a lot of our Elders didn’t get to pass that knowledge on. With music such as yours, it’s ecstatic; it doesn’t have rules, and it’s almost like we’re finding our way back.

That’s interesting…yeah…I think it’s important. This record for example has both classic elements that make it feel like it’s an olde worlde record and it also has very modern elements with the electronics and the kind of new touches and tastes. I think that it plays on that balance, you know? It’s quite interesting.

 

Yeah…it’s full of contradictions and counterpoints; from the title, to the suit you wear on the cover, to all the different musical styles going through the album. It’s an amazing balance that you’ve created, almost on the edge of a knife.

Thankyou. It points itself that way. (laughs) You know, you reminded me of something. Years ago, the indigenous Hawaiians, before a child was born, the women used to go into the forest and they used to sing a song for the child. They used to try and figure out what song that child had. Every child was connected to a song. That’s really beautiful, I think there’s something really beautiful about that; I mean, names are okay but I think to have a song representing you and that being your song from the day that you are born until the day that you die is quite special. If they ever wanted to punish someone for doing something harmful, if someone for instance stole something, they wouldn’t punish them physically, they would literally put that person in the centre of the village and go around him and they would all sing that person’s song and remind that person of who he is. Very powerful.

 

Almost like a sonic totem…

Yeah! Uhuh…yeah.

 

It sounds very interesting…I mean I don’t know much about the Pacific Island cultures but it sounds like something I’d like to look into more…I heard you became a vegetarian a few years ago, why not vegan?

I became vege in ‘98 when we first started touring with System because the food was so crappy on tour. Plus I think my body was starting to change, I was hitting my late 20’s/early 30’s at the time and so it was not just a conscious decision of mind but also my body. My body felt better with a lighter fare. Right now I’m actually a Pescetarian. I do eat fish, but I don’t eat any other meat, just veggies and fish. Why didn’t I do vegan? To a certain point I was vegan, there were points where I cut out dairy for a while and then it came back. Dairy never bothered me so much, I’ve never been lactose intolerant or anything. It’s a personal choice.

 

What kind of activism have you been involved with for the fight of animal rights? Or has it been more of a solo stance?

I’ve been involved with a few campaigns with PETA and some other organisations. You know I’ve been involved in so many different causes from Labour rights to genocide recognition – so many different things. Mostly to have anything to do with animal rights I’m more of an advocate than an activist. I haven’t gotten as involved as some people who have put their money where their mouth is for that cause.

 

I was reading a little bit about this museum project on your website and it sounds like a psychedelic feast for the senses! It sounds rad.

(Laughs) It’s still in fruition. We’re still kind of writing everything out and coming up with interesting exhibitions, single exhibition concepts around a whole museum theory. It’s gonna be quite interesting, it’s gonna be very dramatic and theatrical, and it’s also going to be very interactive. It’s going to interact with a lot of your physical senses and the goal is to reach the beyond. In fact, we’re thinking of calling it ‘The Beyond’. It’s something we’re going to start with one city, probably Los Angeles since it’s easier for us to do stuff here, and then go on from there and hopefully it does well and we can tour it to different cities. You know, it’s a way of having an exhibit that’s got complete musical scoring sound, and interact with your vision, your touch, your sense, your smell, even your taste. We want to give out a piece of something in front of each of the exhibits so you walk in with a taste in your mouth.

 

(Record label chick: “Okay last question, you’re time’s nearly up”)

 

Your label, Serjical Strike Records, supports new artists who probably wouldn’t be given a chance by other labels. Who are some new bands that we should be listening to?

There’s a band called Viza, and you can find them on myspace.com/visa, they haven’t changed their name, they used to be called Visa, like the credit card. They’re really interesting. I took them on tour in Europe and I helped them finish their record and they’re quite a unique kind of punk rock mixed with Mediterranean and Eastern European influences. They’re also very funny and kind of have this old school communist sound and it’s just a very unique entity, so I think they’re really cool. Fair to Midland is making their second record. We’re finishing up a distribution deal for their second record right now. That’s really it happening. We’re focusing a lot of our efforts on my projects, as there are so many of them right now.

 

You’re a busy dude!

Yeah, definitely.

 

Well thankyou a thousandfold.

My pleasure! Thankyou. That was a great interview. I loved your questions.

 

That was actually my first interview ever.

No shit!

 

No shit.

Wow. Cool, well youre in the right place. You didn’t ask the typical stuff, and you allowed us to kinda get out of the kinda regular music questions and kind of really think about things and you know, learn from each other in our conversation, so I appreciate that.

 

Thankyou. I appreciate it too. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Thanks! You too.

 

Thanks man, bye.

Bye-bye.