“Nothing will inspire us as much as hearing some really shitty techno track that everyone is saying is the bees knees.”
The ID:UD staff recently sat down with none other than Vancouver industrial legend Chris Peterson to talk about his band Decree‘s relentlessly brutal, misanthropic new album Fateless, released after a seven year gestation period. Chris’ pedigree speaks for itself, from his involvement with numerous and varied bands and his tenure as one the Vancouver industrial scene’s elder statesmen. Chris had plenty to say about the creative process, the state of electronic music and what the future may hold.
ID:UD: What were the origins of Decree?
Chris: In 1989-ish when Rhys went on his first Front Line tour, John McRae and I who were also in Will with Rhys didn’t want to sit around, so we decided to do this noisier thing. We did a lot of crazy noise sessions, super low-budget, straight to cassette. Rhys had all the nice gear and he took it with him.
ID:UD: You’ve had a lot of projects on the go over the years, obviously. You’ve had FLA, Revelstoker, Will, Phudgepackerz, Unit 187, and Decree. What was the motivation behind a new Decree record in particular now?
Chris: We’re bad at putting out records. I’m not sure why it took so long to get this one together, apart from all the Front Line touring. As far as motivation goes I just had wanted to put it out as much as possible for a while but have always had limited time. Hopefully we’re getting better at getting records together and can put one together in two or three years next time instead of seven.
“The process is just building up, tearing down, rebuilding, over and over again.”
ID:UD: What was the process of working on Fateless like?
Chris: It was a really long process. Here’s an instance which maybe explains why we’re not able to release stuff as regularly as other purely electronic artists do. To take a look at just one song, like “Faded Glory”, there was a time three years when Ross told us that he had access to this great junkyard, so we all just went in there and goofed off, recorded, banging on shit. We’d take a sample from that and it’d become a starting beat for the whole piece, and Ross would come in later and do some guitars overtop of it, then more field recording again. Those are just different moments that happened over years. You don’t start a song and finish it, you start a whole bunch of things, they’re all mini-essays: you throw out what you don’t need and then you add on more, then you throw out more. The process is just building up, tearing down, rebuilding, over and over again. You can’t do that within a month. You’re like “Oh, I have this piece that I recorded five years ago that’d work great in here.” It’s a strange, long, long, long process.
ID:UD: How did the current band lineup coalesce? Is it a catch as catch can thing while you’re making the record with each person bringing something to the table, or is it less planned?
Chris: Everyone’s different. Sean the singer might come in with a sample from some obscure eastern European composer from god knows how long ago. He has a knack for finding really great recordings and a sample like that can really start things off: again we’re building and tearing down and off we go to the races.
As for the current lineup, Sean was a friend of Rhys’ who was around in the Will days and when we met we all liked the same music, but he was a very quiet and well-read guy who wasn’t into any scene. We got talking to him; he loved great classical stuff like Shostakovich and Penderecki. He was kind of a librarian for some of the Will samples. When things went to shit with the first Decree lineup, which was John and Jeff Stottard, on guitar, it just seemed natural to bring Sean into it because he seemed interested but never had a platform to try something new. And Ross was around from the Mysterons days, which goes back to the late 80s, early 90s, we were just doing fun stuff together, surf, psychobilly, crazy stuff. He just forced his way in because he liked Decree. He was like, “I’m coming over, we’re recording something!” He’s like a bull in a china shop that guy.
ID:UD: What was the role of the 187 guys on this record? We noticed a credit or two in the liner notes, was there anyone else involved beyond the core three of you?
Chris: There was no involvement from 187, it was just Ross and myself that have any commonality. Once again Ross barges his way into a band with Unit 187; how that started was me doing some remixes for Unit 187 and them really liking them, then there was the Capital Punishment album. Me and Todd finally worked on writing some pieces together, Ross probably just heard me working on a track of theirs and just said “Bullshit on that, kill those guitar samples, I’ll play on top of that!” and Todd loved it. Ross barged his way in once again. So, yeah, no 187 involvement in Decree, they just borrowed us.
ID:UD: When we first heard the record it made us think of Godflesh and Swans, maybe a little of Whitehouse; that big huge wall of noise, very dense. Was that a conscious decision or did it just grew organically out of the way you were working?
Chris: Yeah, I was always into that stuff, like Cop Shoot Cop and Foetus, Neubauten, I just really love the intense stuff. Yeah, it’s conscious in that we’re into heavy material, but we don’t go “Let’s make a song that sounds like so and so” or anything, you just take your influences and they’re always going to be in the back of your mind when you’re working. The thing with intensity and that wall of noise is not to be so overboard with it that it’s just gratuitous or uninviting. With Decree I hope that we have some kind of rhythmic element or something to latch onto and behind the noise there’s still stuff that takes you to another place. If you have just white noise and feedback, anyone can do that, and I don’t know what does for you except give you a headache after a while. It’s funny like with Whitehouse, but it’s also limiting how much you can enjoy that and what it’ll really do for you. We’re trying to create the rollercoaster effect. People love getting the shit scared out of them, like a horror movie, and after the ride are like, “I wanna get back on, even though that scared the crap out of me!” I wanna create that enjoyment of the process of something getting blown up or ripped apart.
ID:UD: It’s thematically a pretty intense and angry and misanthropic record, maybe even by Decree standards. Was there something in particular that prompted that?
Chris: I’m smirking because secretly there’s a lot of loathing in there; us three combined just look at different parts of what’s going on musically right now and we fucking hate it. *laughs* Nothing will inspire us as much as hearing some really shitty techno track that everyone is saying is the bees knees. Like, “Oh my god, this is so fucking annoying, let’s tear down this shit and make something really heavy.”
ID:UD: In conversations we’ve had with you before you’ve talked about being a programmer first and foremost, but this record never feels like it’s really rigid. It doesn’t feel like a really straight-forward, step-sequenced record. How do you reconcile the organic feel of Fateless with being a very technically-oriented guy, somebody who really takes time to program and create sounds in a studio savvy way?
Chris: I guess I’d say now I’m more of a producer than a programmer. I’m hoping to branch out into that more and produce other people as well. Like we were talking earlier about how long the songs take, it’s because we are going looking for organic elements that are elusive and you have to do a lot of recording to find the gold in the mountains of material you’re sifting through. I like that you don’t hear a lot of programming per se and that you can’t hear the pages turning, as someone once said about sequencing. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors and that’s why I think production would be a good way for me to go now. It’s about creating illusions and environments. That’s what you should be noticing more than the machines making the music. The good magician doesn’t really want to give his secrets away or have the illusion shattered. I pride myself on working my ass off on making sure that we have something that is unique to us.
Sometimes it’s like “I know what this track needs” and I’ll run into an alley and throw a mic into a garbage can and beat the crap out of that, take it back home, recycle it, chop it up, program it, but still blur the edges, keep some of the faults. Then the drummer Matt Pease’ll come in and play something over it, but he’ll only tighten it up so much before it starts losing any feel it has, when it’s stumbling a bit instead of being perfectly mechanical you get the feel of it being a little more drunken belligerence or violence that way.
“You just grab your little recorder and find some trouble to get into.”
ID:UD: How much of the album was recorded at home?
Chris: I was living at the office of a print shop for about four years or so, so home was fantastic for recording because we could make so much noise. Now that I’m stuck in this apartment, it’s a lot harder. It was all home done, except for going out to scrapyards or the trainyard, with people giving you heck like “Hey, get out of there!” *laughs* You just grab your little recorder and find some trouble to get into. I’ve always done that since the days when they finally put out a pro Walkman with Dolby C. That was something we had fun with when we were in Will and I’ve never lost that. Let’s just go out there and find something and wreck it and then try to get away with it.
“You should be able to hear when something’s thinner than piss on a plate.”
ID:UD: Do you find that the new technology is feeding into that DIY approach? Is it way too easy now for people to make electronic music now that the means are cheap, like every Mac coming loaded with Garage Band and so on? Is there a middle ground that has to be found between the extremes; easy access versus tools being put into the hands of musicians?
Chris: The genie’s out of the bottle. There’s truth to it, it’s very easy to “do” music now. Your phone has more power than anything I used to make most of the records I’ve worked on, they were done on Ataris and ancient sequencers. It’s easy for me to look down on it since it used to be so much more difficult to do things, you had to be more creative at the beginning then you do now. It was kind of a filter, you’d have to really want to get into it and figure stuff out to get anything that sounded presentable to people. Now you can do it on your phone. I can hear the difference, but a lot of people don’t, and that’s when you start losing your faith in people. Geez, you should be able to hear when something’s that empty, thinner than piss on a plate, just generic, a gerbil could make it if you just connected the right sensory input devices to it and let it run around. Oh, the whiskers control the bassline, and it hits that thing to trigger a sequence. *laughs* I don’t wanna sound like a snob, but it’s polluted the stream. Now it’s even harder to sort through it, it’s even less special now that anyone can do it. I don’t know where it’s gonna go, the party will end at some point and you’ll find that there will be backlash people who wanna listen to stuff that’s more organic, more about ideas and not about machines.
ID:UD: It seemed like a lot of people online were anticipating the Decree record for those reasons. That it was gonna be a record that put the lie to a lot of fudge-it, paint by numbers sort of music. Has the reception been along those lines?
Chris: Yeah, people being appreciative is the common theme amongst the few people who like us, that we take the time to make this home cookin’ style. Not just the instant potatoes way. There are people that can hear the difference and that’s good. The people that have that nice new stuff have the audacity to say they’re performing live, and they’re dancing in front of a keyboard with a laptop, they’re not playing anything. You read good reviews of their shows, I never name names or anything but it’s putrid and it gets back to what we were talking about earlier, that anger fuel. It’s not a jealousy thing, it’s just that it seems obvious to me, yet completely accepted by others. That’s not cool, that’s not digging deep to give people some imagery, some art. Art in general, when I look at paintings I’m not a big fan of abstract stuff, that look like something I could do or a kid could do, I wanna see something with some real thought and passion in it, that willingness to give people something to grab onto and invite them in, to understand what you’re trying to tell them.
“There’s always someone at a show you can lock into, that one maniac that’s just totally getting into it…”
ID:UD: Are you guys going to be playing some live shows then? What does a Decree live show look like?
Chris: Sure as hell hope so. We did one in Edmonton and that was it. Some guy taped it and wanted money and it was like, we can’t give you any money, we’re broke just putting this shit together, how about you give me a copy and I’ll give you a credit for taping it. We had another friend, Jason Filipchuk who I’ve worked with on and off, who toured with Front Line once, he did keyboards and bangin’ on drums. I had my noise devices, largely did drumming, just kick & snare stand-up percussion, and Ross was doing bass and guitar with Sean screaming his ass off. I’d like to keep it a four piece if I can, just have another versatile person that we bring in as a guest percussionist/noisemaker. I like standing right up front with my drum kit, staring at people. There’s always someone at a show you can lock into, that one maniac that’s just totally getting into it and gives you good energy while you’re playing. Expect me, Sean, and Ross up front just pounding away at it. We’ll see, we had some offers to do some 187 shows out in Quebec, that band is a little easier to put together then Decree, the music style is easier to convey live. It’s a little simpler. Everyone’s got kids, well, I don’t but Sean has a kid, Ross has two kids, Todd has two kids, Johnny has two kids…between 187 and Decree it’s like the Walton family. *laughs* It makes it tough but if we could just do little two week missions where you go off and do Eastern Canada and come back or down the West Coast, keep it simple, no month long tours or anything. I’m pushing for it all the time, I just need to get some answers back from the other guys.
ID:UD: After this long hiatus does it feel as though Decree is going to be a continuing project? Is there anything on deck that you’re doing as Decree?
Chris: We just feel like we’re getting better at writing quicker, better at working together all the time. One of the songs on the album, “Bloodthirst”, when I was mixing that we were still finishing the song. It’s like, “Oh we need another piece.” We had some rough stuff worked out but we were literally adding tracks while mixing the rest of the album. That made us realize we could put ourselves a bit more on the spot, we can get better at speeding the process up and not feeling like we’re compromising anything. We’re definitely looking forward to getting rolling on the next one, this one seemed to give us enough positive feedback. That motivates everybody, there’s hope for a few people noticing we’re out there and showing up to a gig. With the live stuff we’re just gonna push as hard as we can now; I don’t have any plans to be touring with Front Line Assembly.
ID:UD: What’s the current status with you and Front Line Assembly?
Chris: I’m open to working with them in the studio on songwriting but yeah, just sitting out the last two tours, getting married…I was thinking to myself, I’m in my forties, you’ve got to really pick your spots on where you want to invest your time and energy, and think about how you want to be known and what you want to be known for when you’re gone, even. That’s made me really happy to stick to mostly my personal projects. Producing for other people is fine, that doesn’t mean you’re going away for two months and all that stuff. That’s a young man’s game and Bill’s got a nice army of young guys with him there. They can do that, I want to make some commitments to myself and the people I really care about. I don’t really see myself getting distracted by that stuff right now.
ID:UD: Outside of Decree have you got anything else on the go right now?
Chris: We’re working on a Unit 187 remix album. Todd came up with the working title of “Transfusion”. We have a bunch of guys working on remixes for that and a cover we’re doing of “Slave to my Dick” by the Subhumans. Todd’s got a punk rock background, so it’s like, let’s try that on, it’s a nice bonus track for a compilation. There’s some remix work for Die Rostigen Löffel. He’s neat because he liked the 187 stuff and got a hold of me through Todd. The first song he sent me was an electro guitar piece, all in German. I was like okay, this has got some edge to it, but the next piece he sent me was what I love about old German stuff, like Pyrolater or Der Plan, Conrad Schnitzler, he has some of that going on. He found the perfect person to work with, I’m adding some Doepfer synth, he’s all happy about it. Other than that just kicking things around, me and my wife [Kerry Peterson of Stiff Valentine – ed.] are talking about doing some fun experimental work together with a broader range of influences, jazzier sides and some ambient trippy sides in a David Lynch inspired way. I think I’m mostly pushing myself towards working live. Just gotta push those family farts I’m working with to get up on stage and do this again. I know the Chicago thing [the Wax Trax Retrospectacle at which Unit 187 played – ed.] really inspired Ross, that lit a fire under his ass. That was his first gig outside of Vancouver, never mind playing with a band that was a joke concept like the Mysterons who we played a ton of shows with here, that was all he’d done. I knew if we’d get him to Chicago or somewhere he’d get a taste of it and want more. The other guys, well, we’ll get ’em going.
ID:UD: What are you listening to right now?
Chris: Before you came in I was listening to ’40s radio on iTunes. I like some big band stuff and loungey stuff. God bless Youtube because you can fire in anything you remember from the 80s and be like, oh my god someone loaded that up! Put in Belfegore “All That I Wanted” or whatever and there it is. Pretty erratic, but it’s either going to be ’80s industrial or something pretty awful like The Birthday Party. Awful in a good way. *laughs* We always put on “Junkyard King” at one point in the night when we’re partying.
“I’m not really impressed with too much going on, I’m a snob.”
ID:UD: What’s your sense of what the music industry looks like right now, indie or major? What roles do you think labels might play in the future?
Chris: That was a more exciting conversation a while ago when mp3s were changing the music business. We still have the record labels around, we still have people who like CDs and real product and we’re still in this middle zone where nothing’s been set in stone as to where it’s going. I think if they had high quality downloadable material that would open up more of a thing for independent people. Right now if you can only get mp3s, people are starting to get that they sound like shit and want something better. I don’t know if you can say record labels are dinosaurs because they still have PR people and whatnot, everyone’s just being a lot more creative how they do things and that’s good. I like how even though we were saying how easy it is to do music I still like that the doors open for any independent musician to start their own label and market their own product. Power to ’em, that’s good because you will have a few diamonds in that rough. That’s all working out, I’m like everyone else just seeing where it’s all gonna land. In the meantime we’re still putting out CDs. I’m not too concerned, I’m not one of those cutting edge people who’s current with what’s going on in music. I rely on people to come up to me and say “Hey, you gotta check this out!” I’d rather focus on my own stuff or listen to really old obscure material. I’m not really impressed with too much going on, I’m a snob. *laughs* Even with the whole label versus independent controversy, I’m just not paying much attention to it, I’m just happy to be on the labels that I am on and that someone wants to put it out, cover the costs of mastering and all that. You’re lucky if someone wants to do that. Otherwise it’s a little expensive.
ID:UD: You’re working with Artoffact right now, how’d you hook up with those guys?
Chris: We’ve had conversations off and on through e-mail, and it was very sporadic. It just timed out when the album was getting closer to completion that I thought well, I’ve been talking to guys like Richard from Urceus Exit and other people who’ve worked with them and they were all saying the same thing, that they’re nice guys and I’ve been…let’s say “unsatisfied” with some of my work with foreign labels where you don’t have the communication you’d like. So I thought with a Canadian label, let’s give this a try, I’ve never signed directly to a Canadian label before. It feels like that’s a more grassroots move for me to do than being on a roster like Metropolis’ where it’s just band after band after band. You just get lost in that sea, so I wanted to be with someone that’s more energetic and enthusiastic about promoting you. So far so good, thank you Artoffact! There’s a few independents in the states like that too, talking to Dave from Wax Trax II, he’s pretty passionate about what he’s doing. I’d rather work with people like that than a larger label that just throws it at the wall and sees if it’s gonna stick and if it doesn’t, thanks, see you later.
ID:UD: Obviously you know and are friends with the Vancouver people like Craig from Landscape Body Machine, Richard from Urceus Exit, the guys from Left Spine Down. Do you see yourself as a paternal figure to those guys?
Chris: I’m like a dirty uncle actually. *laughs* It’s just everyone that I’ve met that’s been good enough to come up and say hi, like Craig or Jeremy [Inkel from Left Spine Down/FLA – ed.]…I always want to help people get a one up on things, and maybe offer them a direct connection to Vancouver’s industrial history. With Jeremy he was just a super young guy at the time, talking to me about music and how he was doing it, so anyone that comes up to me, I want know what they’re doing and I want to help them out. I guess I am kinda more grassroots than I think. It’s like, we have something in common, let’s see if we can help each other out. If I can get you moving in any direction that’d be great. Craig’s obviously doing fine by himself, but to get him onstage with that one shortened American Front Line tour that still felt like…anything I can do to get you more exposure, more people looking at you on the world stage and get you out of the Vancouver thing. Because you can preach to the converted here in Vancouver all you want and it’s a very isolated situation here, you can be a very popular band here in Vancouver and you go to Seattle or Edmonton or anywhere else in the world and no one knows who the fuck you are at all. Because of the opportunities I had, if I can invite anyone else to the world stage, I’ll do it for sure. Dirty Uncle Chris comes through once in a while. *laughs*
Holy shit, this was such a great interview!!!
That festival in Chicago Unit:187 played was actually the WTII Records Minifest 2. Good interview!
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