“We’re bringing a lot more inspiration and a lot less fear to the table…”
Rarely does Our Thing get a band like Alter Der Ruine, which is why their seeming demise at the beginning of 2012 was such a blow. The Arizona based group had in the course of their existence evolved from making fast, noisy, and beat-laden instrumentals into a funky mutant electro powerhouse, renowned for their energetic live shows and left of center sensibility. As such the announcement of their dissolution felt like the loss of a unique and special band who still had so much more to offer. Fortunately, 2013 has led to a resurrection, with ADR returning to the stage in a new live incarnation and to the studio to write the follow-up to the one-two punch of their Son of a Bitch and There’s Always One More Son of a Bitch albums. I Die: You Die caught up with Mike Jenney and Mike Treveloni the day of their first show in over a year at Sheffield’s Resistanz festival to talk about their break-up and reunion, the evolution of their sound and the rewards of being predictably unpredictable.
ID:UD: Without wanting to rehash the statement you made when the band broke up (but with a year’s perspective) we were curious about what changed that made it possible for the three of you to work together again.
Mike Jenney: It’s fun again. I think we just needed some time off, at the time we weren’t even loosely friends.
Mike Treveloni: We were kind of at each other’s throats.
MJ: The whole thing was that we took two and a half years or so of writing non-stop and didn’t release anything. We had a pretty serious identity crisis.
MT: We had released pretty much an album a year. After Giants From Far Away we felt we had set the bar pretty high with that one in terms of what we could do and where we wanted to go. We started experimenting all over the place. That’s where we got all that material for two albums, but in doing so we set a deadline of a year, and somehow it took three years. Once we passed our initial deadline we started getting really tense, like “We need this done! It should be done!” And the longer it went on the more tense things got, we were fighting, it was not fun. We were touring and playing all the time, and it wasn’t something we liked doing, we were just doing it. It was completely not how we started out.
MJ: We’re jamming now, which is something we never used to do. Our practices were real scripted, and now Mike and I are just having fun playing live together again. We were even talking today about how inspired we are to work on the new album, take some of the stuff we have loose and where to go with it. We’ve got some good concepts. We’re friends again. *laughter*
MT: The fan interest too. When we announced we were done, the amount of support we never knew was there was like “whoa”. We knew we had fans, but never knew we had that many. Even Resistanz, the fact that they had enough interest to have us play us was really cool. That swayed us, that people like what we’re doing.
ID:UD: During the period where you were ostensibly not a band anymore there was still work coming out. Always One More Son of a Bitch came out as well as a ton of singles. For an inactive unit there was a lot of material being released. What was it like working during that period?
MJ: One of the problems was he had promised way too many remixes. A lot of bands were like “Hey assholes, remember when you said you would do that remix for us?” *laughter* I think I wrote more material during that period than in the previous couple years. I was like, I’m gonna do my own projects, do my own thing but most of it wasn’t as good without Mike.
MT: After we broke up but Mike and I were still writing together we decided to do something completely different. We started this really different moody, 80s synth thing. We have like five songs, it’ll probably end up being new Alter Der Ruine. *laughter* It was weird because we announced we were done, but we were still working together, so it just kind of worked its way out that way, like let’s keep writing.
“…in our heads we thought people were gonna hate this, they’re gonna hate where we’re going.”
ID:UD: Do you think the experience of having broken up, but not having really stopped working together has coloured the new material? Was there a sense that you had gotten out from under the weight of expectations for Alter Der Ruine?
MT: That was a lot of the stress from those two albums (Son of a Bitch and Always One More Son of a Bitch), in our heads we thought people were gonna hate this, they’re gonna hate where we’re going. We were noise and fast hardcore shit and now we’re doing synthpop? We’re gonna lose all of our fans! We started side-projects, “This isn’t gonna work for ADR so it’s a new band!” before being like, fuck it, it’s all ADR.
MJ: Both of us have spastic, glitched out personalities where it’s hard to focus on one thing for too long. We get really bored with stuff, if a song goes nowhere so we write another one. Then two months later we decide it was cool and finish it. We constantly listen to different stuff and are inspired by different stuff, so it veers off in different directions. And then you end up with an album that doesn’t make any sense. *laughter*
MT: At this point that’s kind of our signature I think, to not be samey. As far as the break-up colouring where we’re going, yeah I think it has. We’re bringing a lot more inspiration and a lot less fear to the table, were with our other stuff we were pretty reserved. If we wanna do a piano ballad, we’re doing it. Our creative levels are way higher.
ID:UD: Do you find there’s a weirdness to being predictably unpredictable? Like almost a counterintuitiveness?
MT: I’m thrilled that’s our band. I like that, but weirdly I don’t see us that way. I think our stuff is pretty straightforward.
MJ: It’s all relative to where we’re at at the time. We’ll go on electro-house kicks for two months, and then it’s all new wave after that. I don’t think either of us were ever cut out to write one way. I listen to and like other bands that are good at having one signature sound, but that’s not us.
ID:UD: A lot of classic industrial is very changeable, records from the 80s often had distinctly different sounds from song to song.
MT: I like bands that evolve as the go along. If a band sounds completely different on one record I might hate it, but down the line it might seem like their best album.
MJ: I never saw the point of saying the same thing twice. What’s the point of releasing another album that sounds exactly like the previous two?
ID:UD: Playing live seems like it’s a major part of what Alter Der Ruine is.
MT: I think you can hate our music, but see us live and still think it’s fun and enjoy our show. Our live experience is what sells us more than anything else.
MJ: The dynamics really changed with that. Resistanz is the first show since the early days when we were guys with laptops where we’re doing a two-piece. We were apprehensive about it because of expectations, like it might look weird. VNV does it, but they’re VNV. Mike and I throughout the years have been good about playing off each other and reading each other. We’ll play differently every time, I never play the exact drumline or fills the same, Mike sings differently.
MT: You can see us having fun, we want to put on the show we would want to see.
MJ: At least for me, I’ve had a big evolution with playing live, sometimes our music was weird and unrelatable at some points, but we our show was the connection with fans. I really feel it when people are into it. I makes me play better and try stuff I would never try.
ID:UD: Does that feed back into the writing?
MJ: We take it into consideration. At one point we were like, “We’re a party band, let’s write party music.” Kind of off-topic, but with this new album we’re working on, this is gonna be the first album that really shows who we are as people.
MT: To be fair the last album was serious, but it came across like “Woo! Jam along to this!” But there was a lot of personal issues in those songs. They sound like party songs, but like there’s a song about being a raging alcoholic and so on. The new music is gonna totally match some of that stuff. These songs are about something, and we want to create that mood musically.
MJ: With the new thing, it’s like, here’s my life in my thirties now. I’m not as crazy as I used to be, I’m not as wild. I’m trying to make that connection with fans from an album perspective. It’s been a rough couple of years, I think we’re finally gonna write a comprehensive album about it.
MT: “This song is called ‘Taxes’!”
MT: “Where’s the money for my mortgage payment?” *laughter*
ID:UD: Pushing off from that, it’s oft-repeated but also largely true that not many people make a living from industrial. So if that’s off the table, what are your goals with ADR?
MJ: Travel for sure. Playing festivals is one of the greatest things you can do in this scene, you get to see your friends and interact with fans. We love playing live period.
MT: The fact that it’s brought to us this point, like playing in England, is amazing.
MJ: It’s the experience that so few people will get, it’s a crazy small number of bands that get to do even what we get to do.
MT: At this point, we rarely make money on shows, especially the ones we travel to, so what the band does for us is basically afford us discount travel coupons. We got to go to Germany for like, a hundred bucks, that’s a pretty good deal.
MJ: It’s just the passion of doing it too. This next album is probably the greatest creative outlet I’ve ever had. I think I’d go crazy if I wasn’t doing it.
ID:UD: So for that record, do you have a plan? Is it still just writing, or is other stuff in the works?
MJ: Well, I think we’ve already written the best song we’ve ever done. As far as a complete vision of a track, with a mood shift that takes you on a journey as you listen. We’re focusing a lot of efforts on sound design, trying to make it as layered as possible, put together as many styles as possible. We’re gonna be doing a lot more live recording of things.
MT: We want to add a live element back to it. You’ll hear mistakes, we’re not gonna be quantizing everything, and recording live instruments, to make it a more human sounding record, not just robot rock.
“We’re not afraid of being ambitious with it now. We aren’t gonna short sell it.”
ID:UD: So when it comes together, what are you thinking for release? Stick with NGP? Self-release?
MT: We have a lot of thoughts on that. NGP is awesome, they’ve been real cool to us. We’ll deal with it when the time comes.
MJ: Roger [Jarvis] is a great friend. He’ll be straight with us, so if he thinks it’s outside what he does, he’ll tell us.
MT: The cool thing is, he wants people to put out the album they want to put out.
MJ: He’ll always do what’s best for us. It’s an awesome safety net to know his concern is our best interest.
ID:UD: So for the future, are you sitting down with more of a direction than you have in the past? Less maybe?
MJ: More of a plan definitely.
MT: We actually have some idea of what we wanna do. We’re not afraid of being ambitious with it now. We aren’t gonna short sell it.
MJ: We just don’t want to take three years to do it. We have really good workflow now, with the way the line-up is now it makes it really easy to work. The inspiration is there, it’s what we had lost somewhere along the line.
MT: It’s just easy now, no more going to work in the studio for seven hours just hating it.
ID:UD: So what is the workflow now?
MJ: Largely we used to write together. We tag teamed, one of us would start an idea, and then the other one would work on it with the other person there. That was to always make sure everyone had fair input. Now we’re just focused on writing a good song. Mike has a couple ideas where it’s like, I don’t even need to be involved. We’re just doing what’s best for the song.
MT: We used to always try to give everyone a chance to put something on everything. Even if it was 99% done we’d still be adding stuff so everyone was on every song. It wasn’t necessary.
MJ: By doing that we’re finding that the tracks are a little more minimal, but they sound bigger. From a technical standpoint, there’s a real space between instruments. We’re mixing it from a perspective, not just looking at it as a wall of sound, but, like, we’re in the room with it, you can hear that.
ID:UD: Are you afraid, or has it crossed your mind that you might end up in the situation that precipitated the break-up, of not enjoying working together?
MJ: It absolutely could. We’ll take it as it comes, but I’m confident that this is the best place we’ve been in years.
MT: We have our heads on kind of straight. Which might also means the music might suck. *laughter* “We’re all relatively sober now and have lots of ideas! Here’s the worst thing we’ve ever done!” *laughter*
MJ: If there was an album that we were gonna lose all of our fans, it’d likely be this one. This is the first one where we’re actually giving people a 100% view into us. Hopefully it’s not shitty.
Alter Der Ruine’s catalogue is available on Bandcamp, watch this space for news of the forthcoming album as it becomes available.