I’m not shocked by gun violence anymore – isn’t that a shame? Last weekend in Chicago, fifty people were shot. Ten were fatalities. It barely registers. Summertime in Chicago? Of course there’s going to be gun violence. This is what we do. Every year Memorial Day Weekend sparks a meteoric rise in shootings – many rationalize it by saying it’s confined to specific areas of the city, which is true by and large, but can be a veiled nod to our city’s abhorrent history of segregation – the South and West sides, specifically. You’ve no doubt heard the linguistic crystallization – “Chi-raq” or “Killinois.” A dark fog rolls through the city, and the obscuration is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.
The way of Chicago is symptomatic of a much larger issue – American gun violence. You can’t miss it. It’s as American as apple pie. As American as privatized healthcare. The only thing worse than it is perhaps the polemic behind gun rights activism. Even a cursory look through the National Rifle Association’s website is terrifying. Spend a few hours on NRA TV, and you’ll be met with hysteria, paranoia, and lies. The threat of background checks slowly transforms into rhetoric from The Turner Diaries – I think of the book’s beginning where Earl Turner recounts the government coming after guns he and his group have hidden in the walls of their house. The lefty government is coming after you!
The reality is that very few people who advocate for gun control advocate for the dissolution of guns. And to be clear – I’m not for it, either, especially where it concerns hunting equipment. In my book, hunting animals for sport – as long as they’re also consumed – is way more ethically sound than the majority of ways we get food. I am, however, all on board for background checks and scrutinized handgun regulation.
The NRA is opportunistic and vampiric. One of the most disturbing parts of David Cullen’s excellent book Columbine is seeing that the NRA descends en masse upon the territory after the spree shooting, almost like they’re doing damage control. It ties my stomach in knots. Hadn’t that area been through enough? Then to hear Heston talking about “From My Cold Dead Hands…” I can only imagine living through that. They should be ashamed for that episode alone, but it gets worse. I likely don’t have to point out more specific instances to you.
The cassette From My Cold Dead Hands was written and recorded in one night back in March or April – I can’t remember. I had just finished reading the book I linked above – Columbine – and had finished Sic Semper Tyrannis a week or two before. My best work vomits out of me – it’s like I can’t stop it. I get all this disgust built up in my stomach, and it spills out. I feel strongly about this release – I think the closing song “The Conqueror Worm” is perhaps the best track I’ve recorded as Spring Break, and the one that most clearly illustrates the childishness of gun rights rhetoric. It’s also a very sad song because there is a movement towards the tragic in this dialectic as much as there is inevitability.
At any rate, I’d like to thank Alex Ford for his belief in my vision and his support.
Tulsa Noise Fest starts before Tulsa Noise Fest starts. Months before the lineup is public, the noisy side of social media begins sharing posts and excitement about what’s to come. Artists who’ve performed historically are tagged, memes of absurd instruments and situations abound, and eventually the schedule and roster begins to trickle out. In 2019, sixty-six artists performed at Tulsa Noise Fest from the queer, introspective RAGK to the trauma-soaked Ritual Chair to performative titans Pedestrian Deposit to harsh noise veteran The Rita to even yours truly. Put together by Tulsa’s Nathan Young and Stilwell’s Matt Hex, and with the assistance of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, Tulsa Noise Fest was a lot of – well – a lot.
I had met both Young and Hex while playing Tulsa last September. I was playing as Reverent, and Hex played as Bonemagic, a seething combination of black metal, synth-wave, and noise. Young was in attendance, which is how we first bonded over our mutual love for Japanese music. A couple months later, I profiled Bonemagic on Bandcamp, talking with Hex about noise, growing up in Stilwell, and personal trauma as creative catalyst.
A couple weeks before Tulsa Noise Fest 2019, Young reached out to see if I’d be interested in doing a write up on the event, saying the fellowship could put me up at a hotel in exchange for writing a piece. I was coming through on a twelve-day solo tour under my own name, so I told him that unfortunately I would only be in town for a day – Saturday of the event – but after ten days of being alone on the road and driving three thousand miles, a hotel room would be pretty nice. The exhaustion you get from touring alone is unlike anything else – psychedelic and emaciating, an asymptotic relationship to complete absolution. Good for your discipline and character, bad for your health.
The Tulsa Artist Fellowship put me up about a block away at the Fairfield Inn, but I parked in the lot dedicated to the Fest since I had my store in tow. The fest is as much a meetup as a series of performances – most folks who attend are artists, many from out of town. Noise is a fragmented but deeply connected circle. Even small towns commonly have a resident noise artist jacked into the DIY network. This is something I’ve discovered both from touring extensively and from doing way too much mailorder. There are people all over the globe – read: in the most remote corners of the globe – who go crazy for this shit.
Tulsa Noise Fest functions as a convergence, mostly of North American noise practitioners. People come from Miami, California, Washington, New York, Illinois, and so many more locales. All of this is to say that as soon as I stepped out of my car, I ran into about fifteen people I knew and more that I had connected with from the internet. Within minutes, I had met many with whom I had corresponded for months if not years online – Derek Rush of Compactor and Johnny Cash of Breakdancing Ronald Reagan, to name a couple.
Saturday’s festivities began at 5PM and lasted past 1AM. Whitey Alabastard set things off with one of the more kinetic, absurd sets of the night, beginning upright and concentrated, and ending flailing on the ground with a contact mic in his pants. Following that, Rush Falknor laid it down with a varied set oscillating between the controlled and the chaotic. For this gig, he broke out his reel-to-reel, adding a rich sonic element to the frenetic performance.
An early stand-out was the Developer vs. Human Fluid Rot set. Robbie Brantley from HFR has been a good friend of mine since I lived in Miami. One of the most entertaining and enthusiastic performers around, and a fantastic human being. The face-off with Developer lived up to every expectation, wild, loud, and theatrical. As is custom for a Human Fluid Rot set, the audience interaction got rowdy, and eventually the crowd had lifted the table up above the performers’ heads amongst the bellowing static. The sound ended, Brantley yelled “Fuck you! Fuck you!” looking truly anguished, then broke out into a smile and started hugging people.
Another highlight was Misery Ritual’s physical, self-flagellating performance. Almost church-like, it had Kyle Ferguson performing with a contact mic in the mouth, rallying a crowd around his noise table before pummeling his back with chains. The Culled and Pyramid Dust sets were very, very fun. I’ve got to admit, I don’t listen to much cut-up or harsh noise at home, but when it’s done right in the live sphere, there’s nothing like it, and Culled are two of the best. Eric and Dan are having such a blast when they play, it’s contagious, and they never wear out their welcome, playing short, sweet sets.
Everyone crowded around for Bonemagic later – in some capacity, Hex knows basically everyone on the bill, doing a lot of the outreach for the festival, and when he plays in front of noise-heads, it’s like that bloodbath rave scene in Blade. I mean – no one’s dying, but vibe’s similar – heavy rhythms and synth swirls. Oh, and there is blood. During his set, Hex shattered two of the lightbulbs he was using as props and rubbed the broken shards into his forearms. Hex’s commitment to performance is inspiring, even when it’s self-destructive – if something will make for a better show, he will consider it, if not do it.
Ritual Chair AKA Hailey Magdeleno is making some of the most important noise these days, up-front about her experiences as a survivor. Her performance was profound and moving. She began sobbing even before uttering the first words, starting with looped electronics before climbing atop a wheeled table and testifying before the audience. Up to this point, chatter was a given, but everyone was quiet for Magdeleno.
Following Ritual Chair were most of the headliners – Crank Sturgeon, The Rita, and Sickness, each of whom performed in markedly different capacities. Sturgeon’s “shitty” performance was all about toilet paper, puns, and choreography – unsure if anyone would call the physicality of his show a dance, but it’s what came to my mind as I watched him. At one point, all that could be heard was a high-pitch, and Sturgeon nodded to the great composer and academic Pauline Oliveros, calling it the deep listening section. Towards the end he cried “You better lift me up” to the crowd, as he began surfing through the audience. He yelled “shit, shit, shit” as the set came to an end.
The Rita’s set was more static, though there was a physical element as well. The Rita is a project about obsession – sharks, stockings, and dancers being some of the recurring motifs in Sam McKinlay’s work. As music played, at times melodic samples, and at times harsh and static, McKinlay hung a poster showing legs in stockings and dragged a contact mic along it, both laying bare his obsession and cheekily alluding to its ubiquity in his work – in the top right corner it said “The Rita.” McKinlay’s low end was powerful, and made for a physical listening experience. I’ve rarely been so impacted by harsh noise, but the Rita’s was like taking a bath, getting a massage, or slowly shaving off your dead skin.
This was the final night of the three-night festival, and people were dog tired by the end of it, but ecstatic. As everyone retreated back to their beds or bottles or buys, it was easy to hear plans for next year getting formulated.
Additionally, Frataxin has just released a new cassette on the mighty No Rent Records. Check it out!
Jordan Reyes: Tell me about how you got into noise, industrial culture, and transgressive art? What about it drew you in? When did you begin creating within that realm?
Joe Satkowski: I started with noise, sort of glazing over industrial. Now that I’m older, I realize how foolish that was: I’ve been trying to get into industrial a bit more at this point certainly. My first proper noise album was Ejaculation Generator by Masonna, which really made me fall in love with harsh noise, although admittedly it took a few listens for my teenage mind to really grasp the album properly. Then Merzbow of course, C.C.C.C. and other Japanese noise at a young age really got me heavily into the culture. Whitehouse is responsible for drawing me in to the realm of transgression through confrontation. They were certainly the first, but watching videos of Con-Dom live and listening to his work more or less non-stop for a few months really kicked my ass ideologically: I knew this was something I had to pursue to my own end. I was in a noise rock/generally fucking weird band with my cousin for a few years. I wanted to take the sound more in the vein of Power Electronics, but she did not agree. We parted ways, and I started Frataxin in the summer of 2015.
JR: Can you explain a bit about your disorder Friedreich’s Ataxia – how it progressed over the course of your life, and how it has affected you?
JS: Friedreich’s Ataxia is a neurodegenerative, genetic, life-shortening condition, namely characterized by severe gait disturbance, imbalance of the trunk, severe Scoliosis, fatigue, and urinary incontinency, along with hundreds of other smaller symptoms. To put it simply, I am unable to walk unassisted. I use a wheelchair to get around more easily in public, but I am able to get out of the chair and remain mobile, with assistance of course, to get into a booth at a restaurant, for example. I was born with this condition. I am 25 now, and was only properly diagnosed at 16. I started to notice walking was becoming more difficult after my first spinal fusion when I was 13, I’ve had two more of those surgeries since then. I saw pretty much every neurologist in the tristate area (NJ/NY/PA) and all of them, in NJ and NY at least, misdiagnosed me at least five times. A neurologist in PA finally got it right, and I had my diagnosis.
JR: Why did you decide to call your project Frataxin? It’s an overt reference to your disorder – did you want people to have to wrestle with that?
JS: I was looking for a fairly original one-word name for the act, and thus Frataxin was born. It is an overt reference to my condition, yes. At first, I think I wanted people to grapple with a cripple screaming about past and present personal trauma. Now, my goal is to speak from a sort of Fascist body politic perspective: that is to say, Frataxin (or FXN) is the main mitochondrial enzyme that I am deficient in. Let’s say a normal person has 500 million of these enzymes, someone like me has less than 100. In essence, Frataxin has turned into this pompous neurological bully of a character, a Fascist-type supporting eugenics and anything to revolt against the inclusivity of disabled people in the modern world.
JS: To be clear, I don’t intend to support any political ideology with this project. I just find it funny that if a vast majority of people were truly honest with themselves, they’d admit that disabled people are not worthy of belonging in normative society.
JR: How do you write your lyrics? They’re very personal, and I know that I have personally been moved by them. What goes into the words, and what do you hope comes out of hearing them?
JS: Lyrics really just come to me. I’ll think of a concept, a framework of what I want the track to deal with. As I said above, earlier on the lyrics were more inwardly focused, now they’re more outwardly focused, attempting to produce more of a mirror for society. I want them to make people think.
JR: Can you tell me a bit about your label Uninvited Records? When did you begin the label and why? What goes into determining whether a release fits onto the label?
JS: My involvement in the label started as a partnership with several other people. The label was previously based in Queens, but my friend was having trouble getting to the Post Office regularly, and handed the distribution and creative control over to Kayla and I four years ago. We started the label with the hopes of releasing our own material and that of friends. As long as Kayla and I like the material, we’ll usually release it.
JR: What’s up with gorenoise?
JS: Good question. I understand that it’s not for everyone, and I like that I can do smaller editions of those tapes. It’s just a perfect blend of all the stupid shit I’m into: namely goregrind and noisecore though. Thematically, it really interests me, because it promotes a degrading medical reductionism, it’s also ignorant and disgusting.
JR: What’s it like working with a partner on the label aspect? How do you guys divide up the responsibilities? Does Kayla make music, too?
JS: I enjoy working as a partner on label stuff. Kayla does a little bit of everything, but she’s mainly responsible for the visual side of things. Kayla doesn’t currently make music.
JR: You’re a pretty big reader, something we’ve talked about at length – what are some of your favorite books? You’ve been on a little bit of a gothic kick lately, right? With Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Island of Dr. Moreau (two of my all-time favorites, I’ll admit!).
JS: Some of the best books I’ve read in the past few years are The Monk by Matthew Lewis, Thirteen Girls by Mikita Brottman, The Willowbrook Wars by David J. Rothman, The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung, and The Sluts by Dennis Cooper. I’ve been finishing up some course work for a class on Gothic literature, not such a big fan of the earlier stuff (with the exception of The Monk) but after some of the more overtly romantic novels, it interests me more certainly.
JR: What all is in the future for Joe Satkowski and Uninvited?
JS: I would like to continue recording regularly for Frataxin, as I’ve finally found a good studio space to record at: I want to continue playing shows, but it’s nice to release material that I’ve had written for a while with no effective means of recording. As for the label, I just hope people remain interested.
“It’s a little bit of a conversation with myself,” says Philadelphia’s Ben Rosenbach, the person behind electronic post-rock project Our Alarm Clock. It’s a solo endeavor he’s had for nearly a decade, although he’s written music since he was a teenager. He spent much of his formative years listening to and playing in Christian rock bands with his best friend, even before he became a Christian at 19. Faith and music have always been central to Rosenbach’s identity. In Our Alarm Clock, Rosenbach wrangles the ecstasy of worship-oriented music into a chimera of ambient music, pop, and post-rock – his new LP Time flies. Suns rise and shadows fall. Let time go by. Love is forever over all. is the crystallized result.
If the album’s title sounds like it came out of a fortune cookie, that’s because it did. Rosenbach laughs about that, musing on how these ideas come from the strangest places. That ethos carries over to his music – he’ll hear a riff or melody course through his head even at inopportune moments, and he’ll have to either frantically sing it into his phone, or run home to record it. A rushed lo-fi vocal recording soon becomes soaring synths and lush guitar work, surrounded by steady rhythms.
Well, maybe “soon” is an overstatement. Time flies… has been on Rosenbach’s mind for a few years at this point, and he’s methodically tweaked the stems until they’ve become precise and profound. Take lead single “A Sealed Up Secret Wish” for example, which begins as a meandering synthpop nugget that grows to titanic size, climaxing with explosive guitars and pummeling drums. When the wave eventually rolls back, the listener is left with the original piano riff that inspired the song.
When he mentions conversing with himself, Rosenbach’s specifically talking about “Sunrise,” one of the three tracks on the LP with vocals. The image is funny for a predominantly instrumental album, but it works, and applies to its thematic foundation – learning balance. “The words in the chorus on ‘Sunrise’ are existential,” he says, cheekily mentioning that he’s not trying to sound too much like a deep fourteen-year-old. At the end of the song, he responds with a plea to “stay and watch the sunrise.”
Much of Our Alarm Clock’s music has focused on finding balance and rest. Thirty-two years old and a father, Rosenbach explores a different landscape on Time Flies… than when the project began. By the time the final song rolls around, the listener has been taken through sublime peaks and more pacifying passages, never becoming obnoxiously nihilist or naively optimistic, instead stumbling upon its resting place somewhere realistic.
Like many, I hadn’t heard the term “incel” until April 23, 2018 when twenty-five year old Alek Minassian drove a rental van onto a Toronto sidewalk, killing ten and injuring sixteen others. He had no prior convictions or run-ins with the law, and was frequently described as being quiet, although socially awkward. In a Telegraph article, a secondary school colleague said Minassian’s behavior was “usually quite strange…. [He] made people feel uneasy around him,” but “never noticed anything violent.” A college acquaintance said Minassian was “extremely bright,” and he “couldn’t imagine him doing something like this.”
Shortly before Minassian acted, he posted a cryptic message to Facebook, a post that would beguile many, and send journalists to 4chan, Reddit, and incel forums: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!” In a few sentences – lines, really – Minassian revealed yet another seething, scary internet underbelly to an unsuspecting public.
There’s a lot to unpack in Minassian’s message, so let’s start with the most basic – something you may already know. “Incel” stands for involuntarily celibate, and refers to a segment of the male population who not only are unable to find themselves a romantic or sexual partner despite their desire for one, but believe that it is caused by factors they cannot control. “Chads” are sexually active men and “Stacys” are sexually active women, though if you spend more than a handful of hours on incel forums (There are a LOT of them, but incels.me and lookism.net were two preeminent ones), you’re sure to find much more detailed information – a lot of it reads like phrenology, the pseudoscience used in eugenics and as a means to rationalize slavery. “Chads” and “Stacys” are despised, largely responsible for the plight of incels.
There are hundreds of technical terms used by incels to unpack their existence – what caused it, what defines it. Incels frame their misfortunes through anatomical mistakes like their “canthal tilt” or “the angle of the lateral canthus (outside corner of eye) in relation to the medial canthus (inside corner of eye),” the shape of their chin, their weight, the presence – of lack thereof – of hair. Anything is fair game, as long as it keeps you from getting laid.
As upsetting as it is that incel culture creeps from the computer screen into North American streets, it never stops being tragic. It is utterly sad. Immediately following Minassian’s arrest, there was an influx of articles – most featuring bewildered writers and cultural critics unable to comprehend, many of which dehumanized the subculture, and quite frankly incensed them. These articles reinforced the fact that mainstream North Americans had nothing but hatred towards them – something incels have known all along.
One particular Vice article did something different – they spoke with an incel. Yeah, in general DEFINITELY take Vice with a grain of salt, but for some reason, they are very good at infiltrating right wing and reactionary groups. Elle Reeve from Vice went to an incel’s apartment after meeting through a chatroom and spent a day talking and getting to understand incel culture. From my experience, and by the article’s words, Joey is on the more manageable side of incels – he’s not sexually active, but his issues seem to stem more from simply loving digital life more than real life, whatever that means. He apologizes for the misogynistic jokes that the reporter sees on the chat forums – he feels bad that she is being attacked. Online, perhaps he will say and do one thing, but when faced with human beings, he is entirely different.
That seems fairly consistent with incels at large – that’s why when violence occurs from this segment, people are surprised. By and large, the rhetoric spewed by incels is just that – rhetoric. The big personalities in inceldom – and there is a social hierarchy in inceldom, trust me, the ironies don’t stop there – don’t end up violently attacking innocents, but there is this competitive circle jerk aspect to the movement. It’s like leg touching. Someone mentions a violent act in digital fantasy. Maybe it’s a rape. Maybe it’s murder. Maybe it’s mass murder. It begins as a joke, and people start dogpiling. Someone thinks this is a tacit affirmation of their fantasy. They take it into the physical realm, and people start dying.
Male rage has existed as long as males have existed, and there are many, many forms of it. With the advent of modern communication – the ease to rent a car, the ease to buy a gun in the U.S. – it has never been easier for males to enact their rage. Historically, this hasn’t bled into the realm of the beta male or, in the case of incels, the omega male. But technology changes everything. When swords were made, you could rely less on brute strength. When guns were made, you could rely less on reach and reflexes. When bombs were made, you could rely less on accuracy. When drones were made, well…you get the point.
It has never been easier to kill someone, and there have been many waiting for their chance. And even if incels at large are not murderers, it only takes one to cause permanent damage.
There’s a chilling note at the end of the Telegraph article on Minassian. 42-year old survivor Panna Patel recounts the attacker’s behavior as being “like he was playing a video game, trying to kill as many people as possible. He was looking people directly in the eye, making eye contact, it was so scary. He wasn’t remorseful at all.” There’s an obvious parallel between being behind the windshield of a car and being behind the screen of a computer. But in one scenario, the effect is wallowing in misery while riling up an agitated body, and in another, people are dying. At some point, the froth boils over from one into the other. I’ll let you determine which way that goes.
Last December while flying to France, I brought along a book by David Neiwert – Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump. The title says it all. The book works as a history, but moves quickly, talking through long-standing organizations like the John Birch Society and the KKK., but pinpoints the rise of the alt-right on the rise of private militias in the 1990s, which largely occurred as a result of government standoffs – Ruby Ridge and Waco – and a growing concern that the United States government was both anti-gun and becoming increasingly authoritarian. These beliefs can be traced back to various conspiracy theorists – see: New World Order.
Timothy McVeigh was inclined to fall in line with extreme right wing political ideology, and it became the gunpowder for his explosive predispositions, crystallized in the bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. PBS ran an excellent documentary on the Oklahoma City Bombing, which includes a lot of primary source material from McVeigh, and it’s as sad as it is harrowing. There is an unmistakable connection between gun shows and the spread of right wing extremism. McVeigh – like many right wing zealots – was largely radicalized by the rhetoric and ideas in The Turner Diaries, a book by White Nationalist and Neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce that established many of McVeigh’s beliefs, and became the jump off point for creating the bombs used in the Oklahoma City Bombing. You don’t have to go far to see how pervasive this book was in Radical Right conversations – Christian Picciolini mentions it explicitly as a major influence for his tenure in white power punk groups in his book White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement–and How I Got Out, as do many other contemporary neo-nazis. To his credit, Picciolini abandoned those beliefs and projects, since dedicating his life to deprogramming and de-radicalizing right wing extremists with organizations like Life After Hate and the Freed Radicals Project.
This is to say that when McVeigh was selling copies of the Turner Diaries at gun shows he was touching a lot of hands, traveling back and forth across the United States, establishing a rapport that continues in right wing extremist circles. This legacy continues fiercely today. It’s impossible to make a blanket statement about people who attend gun shows, but there is a loud segment of anti-government show attendees who just love America. The irony is not lost on me, and would be funny if it weren’t so legitimately scary.
What’s more scary is the fact that one radicalized person caused the deaths of 168 people in Oklahoma City, injuring 680 more, and destroying a third of a building because of a book and confirmation bias. While he was in the military during Operation Desert Storm, McVeigh had a profound realization after being told to execute prisoners – he was part of an unjust war. In fact, the United States was an international bully rather than an international savior. Ruby Ridge and Waco – for McVeigh – were corroboration that the United States government was a domestic bully to boot, and he wanted to hit them where it hurt.
These are anxiety-inducing times. Perhaps they all are. The amount of violence – domestic terrorism, school shootings – in our country is shocking, and it’s something I couldn’t put into perspective until I went abroad so consistently. Other countries don’t have this – this unending, outwardly-focused rage. Why?
There’s something telling in the fact that McVeigh and his cohorts were appalled when Clinton ennacted the Brady Bill in 1993, requiring gun manufacturers and sellers to conduct background checks on purchasers of handguns. Furthermore, they were incensed that the United States would ban assault weapons (1994). Why would you need assault weapons? Why would you be opposed to requiring these background checks? This contingent believes it is at war and as a result needs weapons for war. McVeigh – at one point in an interview – says the FBI is at war with the American people, but the reality is that McVeigh and people like McVeigh are the ones at war with the American people, and they’re in it for the long haul.
I met Billy and Terry from Buck Gooter in the flesh a little over a year ago. Billy had hooked me up with a Reverent gig in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where the primal industrial blues duo is based. I had never been to Harrisonburg, but knew that The Goot was a pair of true freaks after having connected online through ONO, my old label Moniker, and a love for outsider and self-taught art. Billy and I became friends immediately – we connected politically, artistically, and – obviously – socially. You have to consider movement and motion when you think about Buck Gooter. They’re always on the move, always creating something, always into some new crazy shit. Terry’s making his hallucinatory, vibrant art. Billy’s archiving or unearthing some new impossibly obscure artifact. When you’re friends with Buck Gooter, you’re friends with two of the most interesting people in America.
So when Jake Saunders of Ramp Local reached out to me to write a bio for the band’s one-sheet, I leapt at the chance. “Yeah, I’ll have it done tomorrow.” I think that’s what I said. It sounds like me, at least. Billy, Terry, and I got on the phone that evening, talked through tragedy, transformation, and the healing power of creative communion – heavy. I finished the bio the next day, and Ramp Local used it as part of the press outreach for Buck Gooter’s newest album Finer Thorns. You can read the one-sheet after the embed.
“Family deaths, trips to the psych ward, break ups,” Billy Brett, vocalist, synthesist, and percussionist for Virginia primal industrial blues duo Buck Gooter, lists out, touching on the various life stuffs that they’ve weathered. “My life got turned completely around [at one point], and the band stayed there, although I was kind of curled up in a corner,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve got all this baggage,” bandmate Terry Turtle, guitarist and vocalist, says. “Prisons, my friend murdered, and every now and then I have these meltdowns. I haven’t had one in a while, but I’ve been sober for two years, and it’s been the best time in my life.” Spend a few minutes talking to Terry and Billy, and you’re liable to hear something both shocking and inspiring. Despite periods of volatility, every week the duo meets to practice in a basement because Buck Gooter is a steadying constant for both Billy and Terry, and as the project has increasingly become their life’s motivating force, the creative process has become streamlined, and their material has crystallized into something relentlessly seething and profoundly moving.
Buck Gooter’s interpersonal dynamic is also moving. There’s about a thirty year age gap between Billy and Terry, but you probably couldn’t tell by the band’s balance. Terry’s a veteran musician, having spent decades playing solo guitar or in bands like Blacks Run Goats, named after the Blacks Run creek/sewer that runs through Harrisonburg, but after the death of a bandmate, Terry couldn’t find someone he could play music the way he wanted. Then he met Billy. In the short documentary “The Man Named Turtle,” Terry talks about the two of them meeting at Harrisonburg collective establishment The Little Grill. Terry’s worked at the grill for decades, washing dishes, an activity he loves. Billy had been immediately drawn into Terry’s visual art, hallucinatory amalgamations of personal experience and fantasy, displayed on the wall. Soon after, they became co-workers as Billy joined up at the Grill, and in June 2005, they made Buck Gooter.
Since then, Buck Gooter’s been unstoppable – following their first LP on Ramp Local, 100 Bells, Buck Gooter’s finally started to crest their head out of the underground, even garnering credit from Time Out New York’s Best Shows of 2017 We’ve Seen So Far. Finer Thorns is the band’s eighteenth album in fourteen years, and second on Ramp Local, but they’ve been hitting the road non-stop. It has certainly made an impact. The band has managed to gain the recognition of subcultural luminaries like Henry Rollins while touring in both the United States and Europe with A Place To Bury Strangers, Guerrilla Toss, and ONO – their live shows are possibly even more energetic than their breakneck recordings.
Finer Thorns is a crystallization of what the band does best. It’s their most refined record, but by no means should “refined” be confused with “gentle.” In some ways, Finer Thorns is a protest album, musing on the environment, violence, resource allocation, and colonialism- spoiler alert: they’re not into colonialism. From the outset, on opening banger “Peace Siren,” Billy’s manic howl is buffeted by melodic synth sequences, a crisp, pummeling drum machine, and distorted guitar, detailing the way music can be used to promote empathy and understanding. Other songs function as a damning cry, such as “Joshua Rising,” the first Buck Gooter song to feature a guest appearance. Travis, who fronts the gospel industrial band ONO, begins with the classic hymn “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” before the track sinks into a dirgeful warning and rallying cry to tear down the wall (read: borders). At the song’s end Turtle’s low, soulful moan has a few choice words on the U.S. president – “As the wall comes tumbling down/We’ll eject the smirking clown/Don’t need no racist fools around.”
I wouldn’t be doing the band justice if I didn’t touch on their sense of humor. The cover on Finer Thorns is hysterical for a few reasons. One – the “Gooter” patch on Billy’s jacket in the picture references Kenneth Anger’s monumental short film ritual Lucifer Rising, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking Buck Gooter doesn’t exactly scream chaos magick, but it also nods to a time that Terry bought a vinyl boxset of Bobby Beausoleil’s soundtrack to the film for $75 in a blackout stupor, and woke up with a head full of buyer’s remorse. Billy took the record off his hands. Two – the drawing beneath the lyrics on the back is one of Bryan Lewis Saunders’ daily self-portraits, and it’s one he made while attending a Buck Gooter show. Appropriately, it’s called “Daily self portrait #11,182 – Listening to Buck Gooter while blind. Day 4.” Or – God – what about the absurd, not-subtle-whatsoever lyrics to “Skunks are Cool” that you can read on the back, in which Terry calls skunks “so political with that perfect smell (oh yeah)?”
Doom and gloom, this record is not. But meaningless, it is also not. Finer Thorns shows a band that is working their ass off hard, saying something, and having a good time while doing it. Luckily, they’re taking us along for the ride.
I met Ryan Hall of Whited Sepulchre Records this most recent January. Hall and I had more than a few mutual friends, which is fairly common after you’re lurking in the musical underground for a handful of years. In addition to WS Records, Hall also operates the long-running experimental podcast Tome to the Weather Machine, and asked if I’d sit down for an interview. Could not have been a better experience – we talked through growing up with extreme religion, sobriety, Marilyn Manson. You can hear all that at this link. I played downtown Cincinnati bar MOTR with Human Program and my recent friend John Bender.
Hall and I began trading emails and texts shortly after. I became more familiar with his label, and decided to stock up on Whited Sepulchre Titles. The first record I listened to from the catalog was Midwife’s Like Author, Like Daughter, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. For those of you unfamiliar with the American Damage tape releases, much of it is experimental but melodic – take Chelsea Bridge’s Jo or Autumn Casey’s This Is No Dream. Midwife is the drone-pop solo project of Madeline Johnston, combining minimal, evocative acoustic orchestration – guitar, piano, etc – with her gentle sighing voice. The obvious sonic comparisons here are with Liz Harris’ work as Grouper, Julia Holter, but the lyrics in Midwife are more personal, more cathartic. “Your God hates me/he can’t feel my flesh/he leaves me panting like a dog/at the edge of your bed,” she incants on the second track “Name,” paraphrasing/referencing/reworking a Thalia Zedek song.
There is a deep, perpetual melancholy throughout Like Author, Like Daughter, and it drenches every plucked guitar string. Perhaps the most insidious part of the album is that it’s also so goddamn memorable. Johnston’s mastery of repetition and melodic hooks makes for songs that are sure to roll around your cranium for days. Few artists can wield a sadness so catchy.
It’s fucked up actually. I just went through a mind-numbing couple of days dredging up email contacts for sites where I hope to get some coverage for American Damage and American Dreams releases. We’re talking multiple hundreds, and I looked up every single person. A lot of it was a slog, I’ll be honest, but I also found so many people dedicated to just showing off music and art they were interested in. Total labors of love. For my money, the smaller, the better. I love reading individuals talking through their days, their experiences, their interpretations of art, and I think perhaps that is something lacking in a lot of music coverage these days.
I respect the journalistic side of music, obviously – I do some for a living! Analyses and histories can be invigorating and important, but what about creative or personal writing? What about talking through how music makes you feel, the stories it imparts, the effects that linger?
I think perhaps I will start doing some of that here. This will not be done with any regularity. It is for my amusement, and maybe to spotlight some titles I’m carrying at American Damage that I want to write about. Hey, maybe you’ll want to buy them afterwards. I’m not going to be stopping you, and I’m sure as hell not going to be complaining.