“I think some people are finally starting to realize that being ‘industrial’ doesn’t mean you just sing about wars and how evil religion is.”
Our Thing needs more people like Matt Fanale. From the outset, his project Caustic has provided a refreshing blast of DIY energy and punk-style honesty to a scene badly mired in a cycle of flat, impersonal club music and duh-duh evil aesthetics. Beyond producing music that has spanned powernoise, EBM and industrial rock, Matt is amongst the most outspoken figures in North American industrial, both via his blog posts and his podcast, all delivered with rare good-humoured frankness and honesty. At the end of a year that saw the release of his excellent debut for Metropolis records The Golden Vagina of Fame and Profit, Matt was nice enough to answer our questions about being a personality in “the scene”, interactions with his audience and what the future holds for him both in and out of Caustic.
ID:UD One of the major factors in us coming around to your music was the incredibly personal nature of your 2010 release …And You Will Know Me by the Trail of Vomit, which had a very raw feel to match its subject matter. Similarly, your 2011 release The Golden Vagina of Fame and Profit had a polished sound that seemed to fit its profile as your first record for Metropolis. Is there a link between your creative approach to a project and how it will be released?
Matt: In some ways, yeah. I’ve more or less written most of my albums from a specific standpoint, like Booze Up and Riot as something to listen to while getting ready for the club, This is Jizzcore being written to play live, and so on. It’s just where I’m at in my head at the time, so it’s not necessarily a conscious thing – I usually figure it out it later on. On the last few albums I realized it pretty quickly, as Trail of Vomit was never intended to be anything than a personal album that people would want to listen to through their headphones. I wanted it completely lo-fi, punk, and raw as possible to convey what I was going through while writing it. I wanted to focus less on crazy layering like I’d done on previous albums and instead trying to keep it as sparse as possible when I could.
Golden Vagina was always meant as my “club” CD, and that decision was made as soon as I had the title. I wanted to make the biggest, shiniest Caustic album possible without compromising any of my ideas, and then try and get it out to as many people as possible. Signing to Metropolis was a part of that plan, as they had the promotional oomph to help me achieve my goals.
I’m still debating what to do with the next album, as I have a lot of ideas and a dozen or so demos and…well, we’ll see.
ID:UD We’ve spoken to Brian from The Gothsicles and Eric from Everything Goes Cold about the difficulty in using humour and satire without having them overshadow everything else a band does. Is finding that balance something you consider in your creative process? Is there an artificial line drawn between “funny” and “meaningful”?
Matt: I think it’s a hard line to straddle as any kind of artist. I mean when you think about it there aren’t many actors that can equally be accepted doing comedy and heavy drama, and it’s the same with musicians. I think the real problem is that people think that when you’re using humor as a way to convey ideas that a) It means you don’t take the art form seriously, which I know Brian, Eric, and myself do, potentially more than a lot of grrr-spit industrial artists pumping out the same old shit we’ve heard a million times already, b) That what you’re doing is inherently not “industrial”, which of course is ridiculous, and c) That serious ideas can’t be discussed using humor as a standpoint, which is simply completely freakin’ ignorant on their part.
Personally I think humor is far more difficult to do than just write angry stomp-stomp lyrics. I think for an artist, particularly in this genre, to be bold enough to try and make something good AND potentially funny means having to essentially sucker punch people and ultimately, in most cases where people are completely set in their ways, mess with their heads. What The Gothsicles, Everything Goes Cold, and bands like Boole (who probably do it better than all three of us, hence why we’re their love slaves) and I do is, in my mind, a lot more sincere than the rehashed, cliched garbage that pervades most of the scene. And that’s because we obviously aren’t doing this to become popular – it’s just what we do, and that distorted, cliched stuff is mostly what people want, which also ensures that we’ll always be marginalized by the mainstream industrial kids, and even though I’m sure we all wish we were embraced more I don’t think any of us are willing to compromise what we do just to have a few people who aren’t willing to give something different a chance in the first place. Honestly, that’s not the kind of fan I want anyway.
We’re not for everybody and people will like what they like, but considering how much we’ve all risen in stature the last few years I think some people are finally starting to realize that being “industrial” doesn’t mean you just sing about wars and how evil religion is. Pigeonhole us if you want, but it’s all on you for missing out on some great music.
“I can honestly say if I didn’t have a creative outlet throughout my life I’d have taken my head off by now.”
ID:UD You’re one of the most vocal and opinionated presences in the online industrial scene in North America, both via your podcasts and your blog entries on Myspace and Vampire Freaks. What role do you think that has had in the growth of your audience? Do you feel like your image as a personality in the scene factors into an appreciation of your music as Caustic?
Matt: In today’s marketplace the people with the loudest mouths (or constant touring schedules, which I can’t do) can create the most noise. It’s a pretty simple concept, but I realized early on that due to me having done so many jobs in the scene, from booking and promoting shows and a festival to DJing to making music, that I had a lot more practical experience than quite a few people, and because of that I have a fairly unique perspective. It also didn’t hurt that I’m effective enough as a writer and/or enjoy talking a lot, but by doing blogs and podcasts I’ve been able to expose different sides of my personality, and hopefully they’ve have inspired some people to get off their asses and get creative, as that’s 99% of the time what I’m ranting about. To me it’s not about talent or being the best or even sharing your art – it’s just about having fun doing it and having that as an outlet. I can honestly say if I didn’t have a creative outlet throughout my life I’d have taken my head off by now. It’s that precious to me. And I think a lot of people are scared to try something new, ESPECIALLY making music, and I think just encouraging people to start messing around with gear is a really positive thing. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing for YEARS making music. I still kinda don’t. But I’ve stuck with it and am really proud of what I’ve accomplished and think that if I can do it, anyone can.
I don’t believe creativity is competitive. I don’t believe there are too many people making music or blogging or drawing or writing slashfic. Everyone should be doing it, and let the cream rise to the top. I think that fosters good will towards what I do in some cases, but I don’t think it necessarily means someone will love my music. I don’t really care about that (although it would be nice), but I do really care about connecting with people and trying to be any kind of catalyst or, ideally, an inspiration for them to get off their ass and try something creative. Being creative brings me immense joy in my life, so I think sharing that and encouraging others to do it is the least I can do.
ID:UD A lot of your blog posts and the like do an excellent job of talking about the industrial state of the union, as it were, without lionizing the past or uncritically celebrating each and every new act. Putting aside the question of what sort of music or distribution models you think would benefit things, what would you like to see change as far as the way people (fans and musicians alike) think about or talk about industrial music?
Matt: I wish more people would take chances, as artists and as listeners. I think it’s become very much about style over substance, where the production values trump a lot of artists saying anything valid or actually individual, opposed from rattling off the same topics again and again. I mean really, you can learn any instrument enough to be technically proficient by practicing with it, but it doesn’t mean you can write anything interesting. There are definitely exceptions, but when every album is the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie in terms of emotional connection that, to me, isn’t doing the genre any favors.
Like I said though, people like what they like. I’m not egotistical enough to think that me bitching about a lack of substance or chances being taken in the genre means one fucking person is going to start caring about artists I consider original or interesting, although it makes me incredibly happy to see bands like Alter Der Ruine and iVardensphere getting recognized on a larger scale for the incredible stuff they’re putting out. Same with Surgyn and Aesthetic Perfection. Why? They all have a specific VOICE. When I hear any of those artists I know I’m hearing someone do THEIR thang, and there’s nobody else that can make a song like Daniel from AP or Scott from iVardensphere. It’s all too common that people think fitting in is how you’ll get success, but that herd mentality just means you’ll get to a certain level and nobody will remember your name in a couple years. Frankly I’d be embarrassed if that was me. If all you are is a copy of a copy you’re really doing it wrong.
I know I sound like an asshole here somewhat, but I have a deep, deep respect for this genre and its history and I think we’ve been sunk in a rut for quite a few years. I love people who bitch about stuff like dubstep being samey when most of the stuff on the dance floor these days is completely interchangeable and has been for years. I guess it’s easier to point fingers instead of realize that you’re part of the problem. Again though, people like what they like.
“I don’t think it’s unsupportive of the scene to expect people creating the music that drives it to stop half-assing it and create something that’s actually WORTH something.”
ID:UD As a webzine we often find it difficult to be critical of music or attitudes within Our Thing without worrying that we’ll come across as attacking an artist or label, or being unsupportive of the scene as a whole. As a guy who obviously has a lot of opinions and is pretty pretty forthright in offering them up, do you worry at all about stepping on toes? Do you ever step back and wonder if what you’re saying will be taken the wrong way?
Matt: I think and try and convey that my criticisms aren’t coming from a place of maliciousness, but of wanting better for our scene. With a handful of amazing exceptions the genre hasn’t had any injections of true creativity in a while, in my opinion. A lot of the most celebrated artists of a decade ago are riding the success of their past releases instead of making shit as good or better. I rarely name names when I’m ranting about things I think are stupid in industrial, and that’s for two reasons – I don’t want to ruffle feathers and start some stupid war with another artist, but mostly I want the reader to insert who THEY think I’m talking about. It makes for conveying the message better. On the other hand I’ll be the first to give props to artists I think are doing something interesting.
I’ve had things taken the wrong way at times, but the blogs are ideally meant to facilitate discussion and even if someone disagrees I welcome the debate. Sometimes I actually change my opinion based on the responses to my blogs. I’m not perfect and never claim to be and try to be the first to admit when I’m wrong, but at the same time I think the vast majority of artists in this scene are more concerned with acceptance by fans and think that’s the same as being a worthwhile artist. I’d rather have the respect of fellow artists, especially ones that have influenced me, than give a flying fuck about if I get a ton of play in clubs. I’d LOVE play in clubs, but critical praise is infinitely more important to me than pandering, and too many artists take the low road and do that now.
I don’t think it’s unsupportive of the scene to expect people creating the music that drives it to stop half-assing it and create something that’s actually WORTH something. I take this music very seriously and hold it to a pretty high standard. You don’t have to like what I say, but if you accept shit at face value and don’t constantly question it then you’re accepting mediocrity, and this scene is rife with that shit.
People wonder why there aren’t a lot of people listening to this music. The answer is simple: There’s no fucking reason to right now and hasn’t been for a long time. There are choice artists I absolutely love, but the rest, to me, is music I’d be embarrassed to admit I made.
With that said, I’m sure a lot of people would say the same thing about what I do, and that’s fair.
ID:UD There’s a pervasive belief in music that the quality of an artist’s output worsens when they clean up, with the implication that drugs and booze are essential to the creative process in some way. As someone who has been very open about your decision to quit drinking, apparently without slowing down at all creatively, can you speak to that idea? Does being sober affect how you approach music overall?
Matt: I think drinking or drugs are only good as long as they’re actually giving to you creatively, and they can, but at the same time when they start taking they take a lot more than they gave you to begin with. I can’t pretend that being self-destructive didn’t lend itself to inspiration for me, but stopping and trying to learn from all the hell I caused myself and people I love has inspired me even more. I was never afraid to be sober and creative – I performed improv comedy for a decade completely sober – but as an alcoholic being sober (in general and during shows) became increasingly hard to do due to a bunch of factors that I refused to deal with in an intelligent manner.
I never want to come across as anti-drinking or anti-drugs. It’s your body and your life and I wish to hell my brain worked in a way where I could just have a beer and not immediately want to down a keg of that shit, but it does so I had to quit. Luckily quitting opened up a new world to me that I’d completely forgotten about, and I feel like I’m finally living up to some of my potential creatively. I appreciate my life more than I ever have thanks to going through this and I don’t take it for granted. By the same token I do miss the fun of it, but the negatives far outweighed the positives towards the end.
I’m kicking harder than ever though, so that’s got to say something, right?
“I think that certain people really appreciate that we’re having a good time up there and some people just want me to wear vinyl and New Rocks”
ID:UD Your live show is pretty storied, and has notoriously both won fans and turned folks off of your music. It’s obviously important to you to put on a memorable show; how much of what comes out on stage is planned out beforehand, and how much is improvised? Is there a division between Caustic as an on stage character versus Matt Fanale the person?
Matt: The setlist and backing tracks are the controls, and the rest of show are all variables. We don’t rehearse, we don’t plan much out, and we don’t limit ourselves to just staying on stage and avoiding interactions with the audience. The audience is a big part of the show to me thanks to my improv background. I think that certain people really appreciate that we’re having a good time up there and some people just want me to wear vinyl and New Rocks and conform to the standards of what THEY think an “industrial show” should be like. I would never have gotten any traction with Caustic if I played by those bullshit preconceived notions. Plus I’d be bored as hell.
I love the chaos of a Caustic show and think it’s one of the reasons we stand out live. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I’d rather be polarizing and have some people love me or hate me than just be someone that’s not interesting enough for people to have an opinion about.
ID:UD You’ve pretty much run the whole gamut of release schemes for your music, from putting stuff out yourself to labels of various sizes, and several different online platforms. Are those options chosen case by case? With one album out on Metro and a few forthcoming releases, is it something you want to keep experimenting with in future?
Matt: It’s totally case by case. I wanted Trail of Vomit to be done as DIY and cheaply as possible to show that a release can be done that way and still be successful if marketed correctly. I wanted Golden Vagina, by the nature of its concept, to be put out as “big” as possible, and signing to Metropolis facilitated that. I just released a freebie album called Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never, so that was done right off my site with no strings attached as a gift to all my fans for Caustic having such a huge year.
Exploring different ways of distribution allows me to educate myself on the successes and pitfalls of each one. There’s no set model for success in music these days so I really enjoy trying as many methods as possible. It’s a fun challenge.
ID:UD You’ve collaborated with a ton of folks, both on Caustic material and on side-projects like The Causticles. Similarly you’ve remixed and been remixed by a lot of people whose music seems pretty far removed from what you do stylistically. How do those relationships get formed? Are there any artists you haven’t worked with yet you’re gunning for?
Matt: I’m more inspired by artists doing things that don’t sound anything like Caustic than by people that sound similar to what I do (and I pity anyone that does), and luckily I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to work with people I really admire. Unfortunately it takes a lot longer to get things done working with other people, but it’s nice relinquishing control to someone you trust to improve on what you’ve tossed them, or vice versa.
I also would rather hear a remix that’s vastly different than my original rather than a slightly tweaked version, regardless of how “successful” the remix is as a whole. That’s just more interesting to me.
Remixing really different artists is a good challenge too, even though I honestly think my success rate on those isn’t very high if I wanted to be critical of them. It’s hard to translate my ideas when I’m working with sounds that are so vastly different than what I typically work with. I learn a lot from each one though, so it’s a worthwhile exercise. Plus it’s cool writing something for a completely different audience than I normally have.
ID:UD Caustic is your project, but you’ve recently hinted at doing some solo work outside of that. What can you tell us about that? Are there avenues you feel limited to by Caustic?
Matt: I’m not revealing any details until I have a few tracks to offer up, but it’s a small change from Caustic. I’m realizing that thanks to being around a while Caustic has gotten some baggage and because of that I thought it’d be fun to try something that deviates a bit from what I think is expected of me. It’s not like it’s a folk band or anything, and honestly I was contemplating not even mentioning it and letting people find it, but I realized that’s stupid so I’ll be letting people know about it soon enough. I’m pulling in a pal or two to add some stuff to the music too, but it’s still technically a “solo” project right now.
I’m mostly thinking of it in the vein of all the Ministry side projects from years back. It’s a bit odd knowing I can and have done a ton of stuff working in different styles with Caustic so really there’s no reason to release music under another name, but I’m having fun working with a completely blank state with no real expectations at this point.
ID:UD 2011 was a banner year for you release wise. What are you gonna do to top it in 2012?
Marr:Outside of Metropolis re-releasing my first two albums as a 2CD called I Can’t Believe We’re Re-Releasing This Crap and trying to finish up The Causticles, Prude, and the first few tracks from my new project I haven’t got concrete plans for Caustic. Which means, y’know, I’ll probably still release something later in the year, but I’m giving myself some time to figure out exactly what I want to say with the new release. I have 12-15 demos in the works for a concept album which will most likely be broken apart once it’s finished, but I’ve been taking it easy and recharging for that project.
I’m just enjoying where I’m at right now. It was a good year, but I definitely have a lot more to say.
Caustic’s I Can’t Believe We’re Re-Releasing This Crap will be out March 13th. You can download Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never directly from www.tellmeaboutmyuterus.com and subscribe to Caustic’s Detox via iTunes.