In Conversation is a feature in which the senior staff talk about a record we’ve been listening to. Not exactly a review, it’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: two music nerds having a conversation about an album with all the tangential nonsense, philosophical wanking, and hopefully insightful commentary that implies. This time we’re gassing on about a long-anticipated debut from a Los Angeles industrial act who seem to be the name on everyone’s lips…
Bruce: Well, here we are. It’s been a year almost to the the day since we first heard 3 Teeth, and at this point it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the symbolic time between “Pearls 2 Swine” and the official release of 3 Teeth’s debut hadn’t been planned at least somewhat in advance. Before we get to the music, we have to acknowledge the absolutely masterful job that Alexis Mincolla, Xavier Swafford, Andrew Means, and Chase Brawner have done in building anticipation for their debut, both through a carefully dosed trickle of music (only three originals given wide release, but a slew of remixes), and through cagey promotion, taking both the form of tongue-slightly-in-cheek paranoid communiques (note the Robert Anton Wilson tome bundled with the digital promo of the record) and downright brilliant marketing: I have one of those adorable tooth-shaped USBs perched on my monitor as I write, and am tempted to heavily tag my place of employment using the logo stencil also thrown in.
That’s all well and good, but coupled with the strength of the actual material we’d heard previous to the album’s release, that sort of savvy turns into industrial geek catnip. The steely industrial metal of “Nihil” and “Pearls 2 Swine” have been murdering club floors out of the gate, and have been prompting floorpunch sessions around the apartment the likes of which I haven’t subjected myself to since I first heard “Fascist Jock Itch”. As a record, 3 Teeth has big expectations placed on it, and whether those are the product of the band’s own machinations or our own excitement seems like a secondary chicken or the egg question. So: it’s here, it’s been hyped (by us as much as anyone): how is 3 Teeth sitting with you?
Alex: Pretty good I’d say. As we’ve discussed, having had them close at hand for pretty much a year due to the steady stream of material preceding the album had built up some big expectations. It was nice to kick back and just listen to the whole thing from end to end and see if it actually fit together the way I thought it would. Surprisingly, I don’t think I had quite sussed the fact that 3 Teeth is almost a straight industrial rock record, heavy on the guitars throughout. It’s nice that even with all the exposure nothing had really coalesced in my mind as “their sound”, so actually getting to hear all the songs we know well (“Pearls 2 Swine” and “Master of Decay” are pretty burned into the grey matter at this point) in context gives them new meaning. In a lot of ways they’re quite different from the other artists in the emerging Los Angeles industrial community, focusing on a more metal-inflected sound than any of the acts they’re geographically linked with.
Your reference to “Fascist Jock Itch” is an apt one, because if I was gonna compare this record to something in terms of sonics it’d be Rabies. While not quite as crisp sonically as that album, there’s something in how the guitar chug is married to the rhythm programming that really conjures up that particular Puppy album. It’s grim and dark and not really ready for the club right out of the box (although some of the aforementioned tracks and maybe “Final Product” would do well I think), just a big ol’ threshin’ machine of distorted vocals, samples and blasts of processed guitar. Filing it next to recent efforts by Unit 187 wouldn’t be out of the question I don’t think. Were you surprised by all the gee-tar on display?
Bruce: Unit 187 is definitely an apt comparison (and heads who haven’t really should check Out For Blood), especially with regards to how the vocals are distorted and layered in amidst the guitar chug. Like you, I was a bit taken aback by how predominant the guitar work is: the album release of at least one track, “Nihil”, features plenty more six-string than the earlier DL version. Maybe that’s in part due to our appreciation for Swafford’s more purely programmed work as BITES, but either way it definitely ties the album together into a monolithic blast of noise; not something I’d have guessed from how close the band’s cards were played to the chest.
In spite of its tight focus as far as genre and component parts goes, I’m digging the range of moods and styles of tracks 3 Teeth finds. The plodding, imperial stomp of “Master Of Decay” is about as far removed from the classic, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste-style dry thrash of “X-Day” as is possible to get, but both are clearly tied to the history of industrial metal. Conversely, on the rare tracks where the guitars do take a step back, like the FLA-funk of “Unvieled” or “Antiflux”, the vocals and production seem to keep me firmly grounded in an ethos of paranoia and menace. In short, 3 Teeth seem to have an excellent idea of what 3 Teeth is supposed to sound like, even on their debut. No mean feat, perhaps, but also in keeping with the aforementioned focus on quality control and release schedules (I can’t help but notice that at least one pre-album track’s been nixed).
Switching gears, we’re posting this just a couple of days after the album’s proper release, and we’ve already seen a flood of reviews of the record from decidedly non-industrial sources. For better or worse, are we in for another round of what we went through with Youth Code last year: people from outside of the industrial world expressing surprise that the genre still exists and flailing with completely inapt analogies, while longtime scene folk fight amongst themselves about whether or not 3 Teeth have “paid their dues” or some other such idiocy? Longtime readers will know that we’re proud and happy to have Youth Code (along with ∆AIMON, to cite another beloved crossover success story) repping industrial music and culture to a wider audience; is something similar in the cards for 3 Teeth?
Alex: Without wanting to digress too much, it’s profoundly weird to me how many scene vets will lament how great things were back in the 80s and 90s when industrial had more mainstream attention, and then turn around and shit on anyone who gets any press from outside “the scene”. That said, I don’t think it much matters whether any sour grapes end up rolling their way. I mean I’m as big a mark as there is for our own site, but one feature on Terrorizer is worth a hundred articles on ID:UD or any other scene website for the purposes of 3 Teeth’s profile. It’s become really clear that the band knows how to get folks to hear their music, and given the high-quality of what they’ve done so far, they can sidestep any potential “hype over substance” accusations.
That brings us to what I think is another interesting point: 3 Teeth are definitely flying the flag of industrial and aren’t compromising their music for the purposes of getting over outside the scene, but still managing to do just that. You know I love industrial, but it’s a ghetto in terms of artists not setting their sights beyond its traditional boundaries. 3 Teeth is walking a fine line; they’re signed to a scene label and are tapping people like Caustic and Dismantled for remixes, but they’re also placing songs in upcoming science fiction films and getting features on big-time EDM blogs like Earmilk. They’re on some have-their-cake-and-eat-it-to, and that’s pretty notable in and of itself.
To tie all that into the sound of the album, I think it’s worth noting that for all the bombast and chunky riffs spread across the album, it stays accessible without sanding down the edges too much. There’s a deeply held conceit amongst a lot of scene heads that industrial is just too hardcore for the masses maaaaan, which this sort of record really puts the lie to. Which is not to say that the whole LP is just wall-to-wall pummeling (check out the lovely orchestral closer “Too Far Gone” for an example of this group’s range), just that harsh or amusical elements won’t necessarily stop this sort of LP from garnering attention. Do you think the lesson here is that the barrier between “the scene” and a broader audience is imaginary? Can this lesson be applied elsewhere, or is this scenario lightning in a bottle?
Bruce: I don’t want to diminish 3 Teeth’s canniness, but I don’t think what they’ve achieved in terms of riding that boundary is beyond the ken of others. I do think that in some cases that line about industrial being too underground so why bother can be used to mask a big-fish/small-pond type scenario (“Compete in the established marketplace, you pussy!“). Will every industrial band with larger ambitions get over? Hell no, but that’s the case for every other niche or genre-specific band. If there’s a lesson here I think it’s not to limit yourself; there’s nothing wrong (or “traitorous”) about reaching beyond a scene’s borders, and whether or not a general audience taps into what you’re doing, if your stuff is legit heads in your original neighborhood will still show up (the upside of the Youth Code story).
The other message buried in there is not compromising one’s own vision for the sake of success in a single scene. We’ve been talking about this a lot recently, but I don’t see much point in going to either a more accessible or noisier extreme simply in order to appeal to the small(ish), if devoted, locked-in industrial club scene. The rewards for putting out and touring albums you can’t be passionate about simply because it’s what’s expected are far too small. Either smash the glass ceiling or don’t sweat that your legitimately outre stuff will never even reach it, but don’t tacitly accept it as a baseline goal.
That’s all a bit of a sidebar and I don’t think it necessarily applies to 3 Teeth: again, part of what’s bringing up these questions is due to just how tight-lipped 3 Teeth were while building hype. None of the “new to us” tracks on the album break too far from the sounds of the pre-release tracks, but because there were so few of them there was no urge to triangulate or pigeonhole the band’s sound preemptively. Final thoughts on the album and where it sits in the industrial landscape in 2014?
Alex: Well, if I was being glib I might say that between 3 Teeth and some other upcoming releases (namely from Be My Enemy and Everything Goes Cold) we might be looking at a renaissance in guitar-oriented industrial, but I’m more inclined to lay back on the predictions for the moment and just see how this all pans out. I feel like the story of this record is one that’ll take on different aspects and continue to build a narrative as we see how 3 Teeth develop as a living entity who put out more music, do shows and so on. It’s an exciting album to me specifically because it has a “the future is unwritten” sensation attached to it, and I’d rather watch how they do what they’re gonna do than try to guess at where they’re going (as fun as that is).
If nothing else, I want to really emphasize that I think this is musically a really excellent album. Discussion of the record has really turned into a lot of different conversations about image and branding and how to interact with your audience in the internet era, and I think it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that none of that stuff would matter as much if they had laid an egg or blown their load on the pre-release leaks. The release felt like an event (I literally double-taked with excitement when I saw the CD for sale a few weeks early at Aftermath), and the quality of the music is commensurate with that. It’s good to see a band stick the landing, and even better to see people standing up and taking notice when they do. 3 Teeth are gonna get talked about a lot, and I’m pleased it’s likely to be as much about their music as anything else.
3Teeth’s self-titled debut is out now. You can purchase it digitally on Bandcamp, or on CD and vinyl via Storming the Base. They will be performing live at Calgary’s Terminus Festival on June 27-29th.