08 Jun Thoughts from Thought Industry’s Dustin Donaldson — part 1a (response to Radical Research ep. 32) & 1b (‘Mods’ demo release liner notes)
Hello all, Dustin Donaldson (Thought Industry) here.
I thought that it might be interesting to address some of the comments that were made by the hosts during Radical Research episode 32 (Thought Industry).
I only got as far as the 42-minute mark, and then I realized that I already had more than enough to address than I had further time to spend on it…
Special thanks to all of the Thought Industry fans for your support over the years.
Really glad that our music and ideas have meant so much to you.
The following images are all from my personal files.
Radical Research – “…METAL BLADE was thinking outside of the box… “
In the case of Thought Industry, I really don’t think Metal Blade deserves much credit at all.
They were not very good to us. In fact, they (excluding Marco B, who was aces) were mostly downright unhelpful, even attempting a shocking, direct sabotage at one point.
I’ll relate a few bits of that story here, ending with the shank-tale.
To really understand this, one needs to think about the big picture first: Even though the ‘Black Album’ hadn’t yet been released (in fact, Newsted called me quite a few times from the studio while they were working on it, to give advice to me/TI re: Metal Blade), Metallica were already quite huge in early ’91. As far as I know, Thought Industry is the only group that, at that point in time, was directly recommended to a label by a member of Metallica. He personally took it to them, in fact. Jason flat out told me that- if we signed the deal and our record turned out well so that he wouldn’t be embarassed by doing so- he would gladly publicly endorse us. Of course, this is GOLD for a record label and a new artist. To have someone of that visibility (and seen as part of something so vital, fresh, and cutting-edge) champion one of your acts is hard to come by, and makes doors in the press, tours, etc open much more easily. Everyone’s job gets potentially easier and more fun.
Ultimately however, they never really played the Metallica card. I think they signed us mostly due to Jason’s suggestion, and just didn’t really care about us. They certainly never acted like we mattered much to them.
In the beginning- other than surprisingly unfair, major-label-style business terms (yet at a 1/20th of a major-label budget)- everything seemed acceptable enough with The ‘Blade.
However, it wasn’t long before I realized (I almost exclusively interacted with the label on behalf of TI) that they just didn’t seem to ‘get us’. Everything they suggested was just ‘off’ in some way, beginning with their producer suggestion (I won’t name him, but he did some high profile Metal Blade records in the mid-to-late ’80s). This was in response to my having stated that I had recently talked to Steve Albini and Al Jourgenson about maybe doing something. MB basically had no idea who they were/what they did (I mentioned the Pixies and Big Black, which was useless. And of course, this was a couple of years before Nirvana’s In Utero. But Ministry and all of the satellite groups were omnipresent by then, so it was surprising to me that AJ was outside of their radar).
See next week’s installment for more on this, but I had recently met Dave ‘Rave’ Ogilvie when Skinny Puppy had come through on tour, and he took one of our demos with him. Later, when I realized that this would be a perfect working relationship for what would become Songs For Insects, the same blank response transpired- no idea what his talents were (I told him that Rave had worked on Rage For Order, and that helped a bit), and the inappropriate traditional-metal guy was pushed again.
(Of course, we ended up doing it with Rave- which, in the world that Puppy inhabited, was also a major coup. They didn’t work with just anyone, and were also seen as exceptionally artful and forward thinking- almost too much so. I’ll remind the reader that after TI, Rave went on to spearhead what is, besides grunge, the most notorious other style of mid-’90s rock music- Industrial Metal- working with Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, etc. More recently, he even had a massive number one pop song with “Call Me Maybe”.)
But this isn’t the point of the story- it’s just necessary background to highlight the general incongruity going on between the camps, and how they couldn’t seem to see that we were shooting for something new, and pretty high.
The next battle was Dali and the overall packaging. When I brought it up, it was “Who? uh… It’s weird… Looks like it will be expensive… Why do you need this?… We know somebody else that can do freaky album covers like that…” etc. It wasn’t a really big problem though, and eventually they started to get why it was a good, bold move, how it made the label look a bit more sophisticated, etc. In the ’70s, it was quite common to have covers without text and band logos (see Hipgnosis, for example), and it has been common again for the last decade or so. But it wasn’t seen at all in the early ’90s, and metal is notorious for its logo-fetish, and so MB would not let (SFI or Mods) happen without the band name/logo represented. For me, this really marred the cover design, and I went round and round with them on the subject. But, packaging-wise, the burn was about to come.
I put together the design, which originally included full color images as backgrounds, including a full color image of the eyeball on the CD itself. All of the colors were chosen to specifically work with the front cover (y’know- comprehensive design). Most notably: the back of the CD case, along with the song titles, displayed a strange band photo. This photo was of the group covered in mud and goo and what appeared to be a spider-web-like material. This photo was chosen to be included for two reasons: one, it was intended to infer the group as psychedelic larval bugs (an American flag was also in the shot but didn’t really ever correctly translate through the lighting, and therefore couldn’t really be seen. Remember, the title Songs For Insects is a direct reference to Mao and the Chinese Communist revolution, and recall also that the Dali piece is subtitled ‘Premonition of Civil War’). The second reason this mud-photo was chosen to be on the outside cover, was so a distinctly contrasting narrative could come into play when, after first seeing the back, one opened the case and encountered the comparatively tranquil and clean- almost mystical- band photo inside. It was never the design-intention for the lone band photo that everyone knows to be the total representative of the group.
Imagine my shock when the promo discs arrived (exactly like the one you have), and all of the background images and disc were now incongruously black and white. The back cover mud-photo had simply been removed. We were never consulted or notified. It just appeared that way to the public as a finished package.
(Unfortunately, I don’t have that specific photo anymore, but here are two outtakes from that session that I recently found. Photos by Bob Girard).
Would you believe that almost the same exact thing happened again with the package on Mods?
That tale will be left for some other time.
Anyway, quite a few things like this (of varying degrees of importance) occurred over the next couple of years, but we knew that something was seriously wrong when the following went down:
In the lead up to the release, we kept asking MB if they had any ideas for touring packages or booking agents. Nothing ever seemed to go anywhere, so we were left to find something for ourselves. By complete chance, the week that SFI was released, Skinny Puppy asked us to play a few shows (initially) with them in the MidWest, which then continued on, uninterrupted into a full North American tour across the summer.
We were playing to 1200 to 2000 people a night, and got a great reception (surprisingly, as their faithful audience were notoriously unreceptive to openers). Although reports from MB were extremely positive, with talk of brisk sales and very positive press as a direct result of the tour, we never saw any real promotions for us (posters, flyers, etc) by the label in the markets. We were just sort of on our own.
It was during this tour that the shocking act of sabotage by MB happened. We were already about 17 shows into the trek, and everyone in the bands and crew had gelled and were grooving along happily. I was dealing (as defacto TI manager) with all of the interactions between Puppy’s management (who were paying us directly). In general, Puppy’s management were not impressed with MB, especially because The ‘Blade was apparently resistant to helping the effort by contributing financial tour support.
Anyway, I don’t recall exactly what the exact terms were- I believe that there was some- but in essence Skinny Puppy were really doing us a big favor in many ways, and some of it was financially. One day, right after soundcheck Pup Central said they wanted to talk to me, so I went to the office. When I got there, they bluntly said, “You guys need a new label.” Me: “What’s up?” Them: “They called today and tried to talk us into replacing you guys for the rest of the tour with (another Metal Blade band- not going to say who it is)! They even offered to pay us as tour support the same amount that what we’re paying you. We told them no way. You’re here by our invitation; it has nothing to do with their label or any of the other acts on it.”
It was not a fun time in the TI dressing room that afternoon in Miami, Florida, and we knew that from that day forward Metal Blade was definitely not looking out for our best interests.
Now, granted, it was a different time, and we were attempting to bring some quite foreign elements to the MB stable. But the reality was that there was so much substance in the TI package for them to talk up- so many easy sells- and they just didn’t, for some reason only known to them. MB always just treated us like we didn’t actually know what we were doing. In the end, we were really disappointed with them. They presented themselves as an artist-friendly ‘indie’ label, but their tactics and business dealings were straight major-label model. All of the traps but none of the advantages…
The final thing I will say for now on this subject is that right before the first album came out, I asked Marco at MB what the label’s sales expectations for SFI were. He said, “That’s funny, I just asked Brian (Slagel) that yesterday. He said he expects that it will sell around 5000 copies. He’ll be happy if it does.” I was stunned. I don’t really know why they signed us if they never believed in us at all. About one year later (late ’93), and in fact, the last time I ever saw an accounting from Metal Blade Records for Songs For Insects, it was at 19,500 copies. They made a lot of money on those early records (don’t know about the later ones), that’s for sure.
Ultimately, there was good that came out of it- because of the bad MB experience, I now knew exactly what to watch for and what not to do, and subsequently made satisfying, informed business choices from there on out (like owning my own studio/masters, signing nothing whenever possible, etc).
RR – “…stacking and layering of ideas… melding of influences as opposed to going from A to B to C with them…”
Yes, this is quite accurate in relation to our intentions and approach.
RR – “…influence on bass playing – it’s probably Metallica, Megadeth …thrash…”
Not by this point (SFI was recorded in 1991). I’m actually a bit surprised to hear this view, and I suspect that Brent would groan. For sure, he and I were early, committed listeners of the newly emerging metal scene of ’82-’88. Name it, and we likely had it on cassette (and probably were the only people on our side of the state that even had certain titles- Warlord? Check. Blessed Death? Yep. Exorcist, Sentinel Beast, Omen, Helstar, etc, etc, and, of course, everything less obscure than that stuff…). Yes, Desacrator played a good 40 or so thrash-metal-type covers through our first year (1987), but quickly wove in originals, as that is why we started the group. By ’89 you would be pretty hard pressed to find anything in our ‘current listening’ pile that could be strictly called ‘metal’. Intense and metallic in some way? Sure- Melvins, Voivod, Killing Joke, Swans, Ministry, Soundgarden, etc got played a lot in 1989, but it was mostly Alt/Indie (MTV’s 120 Minutes-type stuff), Psychedelic-era Beatles, rediscovered ’70s prog-art-Kraut-classic rock obscurities, and (non-dance) ‘Industrial/Ambient’. No thrash or straight up metal really got seriously listened to after ’88. TI did play with Sepultura on their first US tour in 1989 though- which was one of our first shows under the new name/stylistic shift- and it wasn’t a very good fit. Bottom line is that we were just bored with that kind of thing by that point. Anyway, this is all quite ephemeral really- it’s not like what we listened to had some 1-to-1 correlation with what we wrote, of course. (see next week’s installment for more on this subject)
RR – “…MORDRED…”
I remember hearing one song – maybe it was a video – around 1989 and thinking “that is exactly what not to do”.
Being influenced by things also works in the direction of things that you choose to exclude, of course.
Don’t know if anyone else in TI ever heard it, but certainly no one had any Mordred records.
RR – “…PRIMUS…”
If I remember correctly, in ’88 we had driven to Detroit to see Nasty Savage (the 2nd time they were listed, and when we arrived, found out that they had again cancelled) and ended up seeing Blind Illusion. After the show, The bass player gave Brent’s brother a cassette of his ‘real band’- Primus.
So we knew about them for a while before their albums. Truth be told, we were pretty impressed by them on the first couple of releases, but their sound itself wasn’t really influential to us. The thing of them being so singular and distinct was right up our alley though, and (among a handful of other groups at the time) gave us a feeling that the acceptance of doing something far outside the box might be coming down the pike. Didn’t expect their massive success though. I was a huge Residents fan, and therefore immediately recognized that they weren’t quite as original as everyone else thought, just pulling from some very obscure sources and (excellently) integrating them into an apparently new form.
As an aside: in 1996(?) my phone rang and it was Kirk Hammett on the other end. “Les just called me and said Herb quit, and asked me if I had any recommendations. I told him you. Interested to come and play this weekend?” Me: “Yeah, I’d definitely come and see how it goes.” KH: “OK, only thing is that Les already has someone in mind that he definitely wants, but the drummer doesn’t think he’ll be available to join the band permanently. They’re discussing it, but if the guy wants to do it, he’ll definitely get it…” DD: “No sweat, let me know.” Two hours later, Hammett calls back: Brain Mantia joined Primus. I didn’t go play.
Interestingly, that was the second time that Mantia and I had crossed paths, but the first time was when he got my gig- due to a phone call mix-up. I had just moved to San Francisco after leaving TI/MI; there about three weeks (Fall of ’94). Saw that Godflesh were playing, and went down to the venue early to say hi. When I walked in, the guys saw me from the stage and started yelling “There you are! Where have you been?! We’ve been looking all over for you!” Me: “What? What’s going on?” Them: “We wanted you to play drums on this tour- we couldn’t find you, we called everywhere and no one seemed to know exactly where you were! We had to get somebody else.” I then looked at the empty drum kit on stage, and said “Who?”
Justin Broadrick: “A guy named Brain…”
Weird thing is that to this day I have still never met the guy, haha!
RR – “…MIND OVER FOUR… peers?… wrote to each other?…”I was aware that they existed, and that they were generally described as a kind of Alt-Metal thing, but i remember checking them out (maybe 1990?) and being uninterested.
My recollection was that there weren’t any songs there, just a sort of vibe… Never met them, and nobody in TI had any of their records.
RR – “…Type O Negative…”
One day I got a call from a promoter in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Do we want to play there with a band called Type O Negative? I had just seen their video a few days before, and thought to myself, “Well, this bill is not a perfect fit, but it’s better than most other offers.”
We all piled into the van and drove the 10 or 12 hours for the single show, which ended up being a useful one after all. Pete and I had a pretty good time with each other after we unexpectedly found out that we were mutually interested in Laibach and Laurie Anderson. At the end of the night, we all said our goodbyes and talked about playing together again some day. Nevertheless, I was quite surprised when a couple of months later my phone rang and Pete Steele was on the other end, asking if TI might want to join Type O on a tour of the US. The timing was a bit of a relief, because Mods had already been out for a couple of months, and there just weren’t any appropriate national touring offers coming in for us. Fast forward a few weeks and TI was driving to D.C. for the first show (of about 30, I think).
On the Mods/Type O tour, we were doing a heavily stylized cover of the Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride” with a strong emphasis on Chris’ effected, fretless guitar. “What if My Bloody Valentine played it at half speed?” is how I broached the idea to the guys. In the middle of the tour, Motley Crue asked Type O to tour with them a few months down the line (?!). Imagine my surprise when, while that latter tour was happening, a friend of mine from Atlanta called and told me that she had seen Type O and the Crue the night before, and that Type O had played our dreary, dreamy version of ‘Ticket To Ride”! A few weeks later when Peter was back in Brooklyn, I called to give him a sarcastic earful for ripping us off.
His no-apologies response? “It’s a great idea, and you guys weren’t around to bust us. Thanks.”
I liked the guy.
RR – “…probably tuned in to what MR. BUNGLE was doing… …more just shared similar influences as the guys in MB…”
First part: No. I knew that Patton had another band outside of FNM called Mr. Bungle, but we didn’t actually hear them until their debut.
Songs For Insects was already recorded (Early Fall, ’91) when Brent called me and said, “I just got a record you have to hear…”
Second part: Exactly.
In late ’97 two of the Bungle guys and I rented a house together in SF, and lived together for many years. The rest of guys were around fairly often, and I was consistently amazed at how similar our tastes were, and how some of the same very specific things were big favorites amongst us all. In fact, I’ve never met another group of artists (that I didn’t actually grow up with) that had such a similar arc of musical history, as well as the type of life experiences that surround it. There is just too much to name here, but I’ll drop one: early Oingo Boingo…
RR – “…the one influence I hear throughout the entire discography… XTC…”Being in a University town, we definitely heard them fairly often, but no one had any records. Brent might have had something, but he never said to me, “Man, I’ve just been listening the shit outta this XTC stuff, and here’s a new song idea…” 🙂
RR – “…Neil Gaiman…”
I sent Neil Gaiman the TI demo when there were maybe 10 issues or so of The Sandman. At the time this was a trailblazing series that really helped kick off the newly-emerging ‘serious comics’ revolution, but wasn’t popular yet. This letter was his first reply. The postcard was his reply after I hit him back, telling him about our Metal Blade deal.
RR – regarding the album title choice of ‘Mods‘ arising as a result of “…not being able to decide on the name…”
See the ‘Mods Demo’ section below.
RR – “…Dali covers… I have no idea if they got permission”
Both Dalis were officially licensed, paid for and appropriately credited in the liner notes.
RR – “…hooks are like an anchor…”
Agreed. When there is an actual song or legitimate compositional structure at the heart of it all, you really can do almost anything you want. Any manner of throwing-in-the-kitchen-sinkery has a chance of working.
RR – “…Bulldozer… the only instrumental?”
This will be addressed in next week’s installment.
RR – “…Horsepowered… Midwestern noise rock tradition… Skin Graft …AmRep…”
Yes, TI definitely shared a certain approach to gnarly attitude with this scene (although, interestingly, not on “Horsepowered” in particular, as far as the actual music itself is constructed- See the ‘Mods Demo’ section below). I don’t think Skin Graft was actually around at that point (?) but AmRep-type bands came to Kalamazoo very regularly- in fact, I am pretty sure that the label considered KZOO as one of its most important non-major-city markets. Large crowds would turn out and the bands would get paid well. Brent is really quite responsible for that in many ways, as he was the booker at the venue in town (Club Soda) that all of those groups would play- almost always on Monday nights, which is what he booked. He brought the bands, and would put the good local bands as openers. We subsequently saw everybody come through there at some point- including many of the NYC and West Coast noise-rock scene cornerstones.
RR – “scrabble boards…”
We had already completed a photoshoot for the Mods album with the same person who had done SFI, but I felt that it just wasn’t right, somehow. Something was still missing, so a few weeks later, I booked a new one with a guy in Detroit who my then-girlfriend knew well. However, as the day to take the shots got closer, I was still at a loss for a satisfying visual idea that, to me, accurately captured the atmosphere of Mods.
“Of course, who needs to have a solid idea?” I thought,”You’re just getting your picture taken, so go with it and an appropriate setting will likely reveal itself at the location when we arrive.” But leaving the results up to the whims of the moment again? That’s what we had recently done, and it just didn’t hit the spot. Now, nobody loves capitalizing on chance more than I do, I assure you. Taking massive risks in the moment has lead to some of the most important and profound experiences in my life. But if you play around with synchronicity long enough, you will learn that there are different levels of ‘random’, and that there is a big difference between directionless random and prepared chance. So I was up for whatever might happen, but I still thought that it would be wise to prepare something concrete to fall back on, just in case. It was a long drive to Detroit, and the photo work wasn’t cheap.
It was now the night before the shoot, and still nothing. I had been lying in bed for quite a while, not sleeping. I must have done a bit of time-travel at some point though, because suddenly an anxious snap jerked me awake. In that moment, the photo that you see on the album was crystal clear in my mind- colors, room, table, camera angle, scrabble board.
On the way to Detroit, I attempted to translate the idea to the initially-baffled band members, who slowly began to play along. The group collectively assembled the playing tiles on the board layout in the car. I brought along some self-referencing band stuff- TI flyers, the old TI demo, etc. When we arrived to the photo studio, I began describing the idea to the photographer, who immediately understood. Within minutes he had assembled a fake wall/corner/table scenario, and off we went…
Here is the photo by Bob Girard originally intended for Mods:
RR – “Not enough eyes and ears saw/heard them…”
Thanks, Metal Blade!
-Dustin Thomas Donaldson, Siwa Oasis, Egyptian Sahara Desert, June 2019
Throughout all of the disparate musical things that I’ve done, and no matter where in the world my travels have taken me in service of them, it seems that a Thought Industry fan is never too far away. Inevitably one of the primary questions I get is about unreleased material. As far as studio recordings go, there aren’t any — from my days in the group, anyway.
However, there are demos.
The following text is from the liner notes that I wrote to accompany a possible release of the demos for Mods Carve The Pig: Assassins, Toads, And God’s Flesh.
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus agreement by the members on a release of these recordings (as of now, at least), so I decided to give these words and images to Radical Research to post for the interest of TI fans, in the case that the package never sees the light of day
It’s “The ’Blade”.
Publicist/A&R Marco Barbieri, in fact.
“Brian (Slagel) wants demos of the record before you go in.”
Me: “Uh… We’re going in the studio in just three weeks from now. We are still writing and rehearsing… Will disrupt the flow… It’s a bit late… Irrelevant now, isn’t it?”
Marco: “Maybe, but he wants them.”
Consider, reader, that this was late Winter/early 1993. There is no such thing as a consumer computer that can handle much more than editing a single stereo file at this time, let alone run a DAW, slathered to the moon with plug-ins. So making demos in those days was down to three choices:
1- Pay current rates to go into a proper studio.
2- Record it live directly onto cassette somewhere outside of Studio Valhalla.
3- Pull out the old Tascam 4-track and waste a week making hissy, lo-fi versions of your tunes with no proper monitoring, compressors or EQ’s and with a bunch of crappy, borrowed mics on everything — mostly of the type designed for vocals. The guitar player becomes the recording engineer while the drummer and bassist try to achieve greatness. Now switch, etc! Ugh.
Note that in all three scenarios the final destination is invariably a cassette tape.
These days everyone at least has the potential ability to be a bedroom producer, but in those days, the only place to get practical experience or education on audio engineering and production was directly at the source — the aforementioned Golden Halls where the big and expensive Rock Button™ gets pushed, by someone outside of the band, making more money than you.
We had done the 4-track thing many times before, of course. Songs For Insects has such demos lurking in the vaults, for example. They were always unsatisfying to me, and while not totally useless, never really seemed to help illuminate the piece in any way. It was always just “we’ll play it better and it’ll sound better when the real time comes.”
The basement of the Kalamazoo house that Christopher and I (and earlier, Paul as well) rented was the group’s defacto music space at this time, and we were already spending enough time down there, so I was unenthused about the directive coming from above, and (correctly) assumed that the rest of the group would share this annoyance.
Me: “Any money for this so we can go in to a basic local studio (the high-end studio being hours away) and bang this out?”
The ’Blade never seemed to have any money for anything that we needed (The full story of MBR and TI is an epic in itself, but the telling of that tale requires a different venue than this one). Of course, they ‘needed’ this, but wouldn’t help us get it for them.
I said to Marco, “I’ll talk to the guys and call you tomorrow, but I’ve got to tell you, I believe that any demos we do for this will not really help you guys understand what we’re attempting on this record. It is a really unusual one so it will require a real studio production. Lots of overdubs and effects and layered vocals on top of some pretty unique musical ideas…. I’m just warning you, demos are not going to capture it, and it will likely just misdirect you on what you think you’ll be getting.”
Now, Marco, to his great credit, clearly tried very hard to understand me throughout the years we worked together. He was patient and fun and played good cop/bad cop all day long between TI and The ’Blade. It was clear to us that the rest of the staff had no idea what TI was really about, and maybe Marco didn’t totally get it either, but I always felt that he at least believed that WE knew what we were doing.
The usual ‘trailblazer’ blessing/curse stuff….
Anyway, it was settled. I knew that we had to do it, that there was no money to do it properly, and they didn’t seem to care that it might actually negatively impact us by distracting us from what we were already doing.
That left options 2 and 3.
A quick phoner to Brent followed.
As usual, he and I were swearing and mercilessly cursing The ’Blade within seconds. It took about 30 more seconds to come to the decision: Call the local ‘Indie venue’ and our local front-of-house sound man and see if they could spare a couple of hours at a weird time in the next couple of days so we could get in there and get it over with. The Club Soda was as accommodating as usual and said, “of course”, but our relief at leaping the first hurdle went immediately south when the next words were “How is tomorrow morning at 9am?”
Now, maybe some of you like — or even need — to hear Mods Carve The Pig: Assassins, Toads, and God’s Flesh at 9 in the morning. I suppose that it could be helpful on occasion — getting caffeinated on your way to work, when lifting weights, harrassing bus drivers, whatever. It is not unimaginable to me. However, this experience could not be further from actually having to physically PLAY ‘Mods’ at 9 in the morning. In basically one take. Oh yes, dear reader, it had to happen this way, and it did. The document that you have blasting in your headphones as you read this was performed on only a few hours of sleep. In the case of myself and Brent, this is assured. I expect that Paul and Christopher weren’t exactly all tucked in at the stroke of the Witching Hour either. Of course, we were living this stuff every minute by this point, so a psychic dry-yank from bed straight to the chainsaw lobotomy of “Horsepowered” was just ‘another day, another dollar’ for us, right?
As you’ll hear, some of the song sections were still fairly new to some members, and all the parts weren’t fully in check. As usual, Brent had scratch lyrics at best (even in the actual sessions for our records, lyrically everything was subject to constant revision, sometimes even up to the exact moment of the final take). Of course, this indecision has the ability to impact the course of the melodic phrasing at any time, examples of which the diehard ‘Mods’ fan will doubtlessly note in this recording. Here you will hear a sleepless man yelling his head off while half-aimlessly inventing lyrics on the spot (or just simply mumbling in time) as his co-horts rend musical reality limb from limb. All well before breakfast, and all for the benefit of a record label who likely never even finished playing the damn cassette in its entirety. Truth be told, if I wasn’t already familiar with the finished album, I certainly wouldn’t listen to this all the way through either. The music of TI was always designed for revealing itself over the process of repeat listens.
Let’s take a brief and incomplete look at the songwriting process.
For the majority of the works on SFI, Brent would usually bring, invariably to me first, anything from single parts to a more or less ‘complete’ structure of some musical thing. What I mean by this, is that the main musical parts and most of the structural arrangements were often already in place when he showed me what he had. This implies that he already thought that I, and subsequently the others, would approve of it in some way, and would be interested in developing it further. This was almost always exciting due to his creativity regarding rhythmic, melodic, and chord structure conventions. Sometimes, but rarely, there would be almost no changes or addendums necessary, whether in tempo, more/less parts, etc. “Third Eye” is the perfect example. The song was complete when it was presented, and the rest of the group simply added our musical voices.
But unlike SFI, ‘Mods’ was generally more massaged into shape by the group, with some pieces coming out of group jams (“Boil”, “Patiently Waiting….”, “Worms Listen”, etc) and subsequently hammered into their final form. “Republicans In Love”, “Jane Whitfield….” and “MI Jesus” are examples of ‘Mods’ tunes brought in by Brent as basically complete works, with me as the first sounding board.
Of course, many ideas never got beyond this stage.
To make this a bit more clear or real to the reader, we’ll use “The Date Rape Cook Book” and “Horsepowered” as examples. A phone call from Brent usually kicked it off: “Whatcha doin’? Want to work on something I’ve got?” Not too long later we’d be bothering neighbors, playing yet another strange thing over and over. Now, if one actually learns the main stringed-instrument riffs to “DRCB” and slows them down to about half — or more — of their final tempo, they reveal themselves to be, at their core, not unlike (or, actually, quite similar to) certain early ’80s herky-jerky New Wave radio staples like “My Sharona”.
Go ahead, try it.
Now, add our natural aptitude for immediate boredom by playing something like that for more than about 3 minutes (no matter how much we respect and love that stuff), and in comes the mania. Tempos and time signatures are usually the first recipients of abuse. For example, after Brent showed me the initially quite-slow basic riff to what would become “Horsepowered”, it likely went something like this in my mind: “Naked City covering ‘The Girl You Want’ would be interesting…”
That’s the sort of starting point for how some of this stuff begins and how it evolves once it’s brought forward and he and I begin to stretch it out together. Can’t polish a turd, so solid songwriting foundations are crucial — if you have that you can go anywhere you want with a piece, and Oberlin excels at such a thing, almost always initially offering something of quality. Now bring in the group dynamic, and certain chord structures evolve, rhythmic feels get tightened, tonal colors and effects are introduced…. All that’s really left from there is Madman Poet Wordvalanches and a specially picked and trusted outsider to oversee the Production.
(As an aside: I knew that Brent was a better vocalist than many of our studio recordings actually captured him as. This was through no fault of his own. Attempting to make major label opuses on major indie budgets is a fool’s challenge, and since the vocals are usually amongst the very final things recorded, when the money and sheer vocal-cord energy runs out, so do the takes. The vocals on Songs For Insects — all 1,110 of them — were done in just three days. Ridiculous and insufficient, but that’s simply all that was left, even after rushing all of the instrumental performances.)
So anyway, a single phone call from our record label was how we found ourselves on a chilly spring morning in an even chillier empty rock club, “sleepily” setting up our gear with John Huff, the lone sound engineer. “What are we doing exactly?” he asked.
I expect that the reply was something along the lines of “Likely wasting our time for the next hour and a half or so in an attempt to achieve a representation of something that can’t possibly be captured in the way we are approaching it, etc.” Regardless, we fired up the TI muse and let loose, not really caring about minor mistakes or “don’t exactly know what I’m doing in this section yet” slop. Who’d ever hear this recording anyway? In fact, I recall only playing a couple of warm-up songs before hitting record; just enough to get the audio levels that John was happy with.
One thing that was already definitely decided upon for the album at this stage was to ‘hard pan’ the two guitarists in the left and right stereo channels, so that is what you will also find here. Christopher is pulling double duty on keys, so you will often hear his guitar drop out as he attends to those in real time. Of course, none of his deliciously inventive fretless-with-an-Ebow overdubs are present, and equally absent are my ear candy sound-effect details that Ken Marshall would masterfully weave into the band mix on the final studio master.
The recordings that you are now listening to are from that original cassette that was pulled out of the deck, and so there are no ‘versions’ or ‘take two’s’ anywhere in sight. I don’t say that so as to give the impression that we thought that it was all so great that we didn’t need to do it better — we never even listened back to it while tracking it; we just didn’t care about it at all. Later on that evening, i put it in the deck to make a copy for The Blade.
But something interesting happened there while doing so. Listening to the songs unfold, one after another, it hit me that this release was much more rhythmically streamlined than SFI. I quickly began to see this difference as perhaps too stark in relation to our debut, with all of its stop/start time-signature shiftiness. That was a large part of our sound, after all. Simply put, it now felt to me like it was missing something just flat out ‘mathy’.
I began writing out on paper a triplet-based, addition/subtraction number fest. I eventually began to see that as now the opening section of a (possibly) instrumental piece of three distinct parts : 1- Math frenzy with “power-riff” guitars; 2- Unknown/To-Be-Determined in a group setting (an offering by Paul subsequently became the anchor); and the 3rd as a complete rhythmic opposite to part 1- a “four on the floor” groove with interlocking guitar rhythyms, woven through with effects.As I further played around with the idea, King Crimson’s “Lark’s Tongue In Aspic (Part III)” somehow came to mind, striking me as a sort of subconscious compositional relative to the piece.
I went to bed that night feeling strongly about the seed that I had.In the basement the evening of the next day, I brought the idea up to the group and we roughly but quickly assembled what would become “To Build A Better Bulldozer”, the title at Paul’s suggestion. Three weeks later, it was tracked during the rest of the proper studio sessions for ‘Mods’. Obviously, it couldn’t be with you here in the speakers now, because, as I just told you, it wouldn’t be brought to life until the day after this demo was recorded. We had already recorded a studio version of “Gelatin” and sent it to the label for a pre-‘Mods’ 7” vinyl release, so it wasn’t played that morning either. We could have, of course, but we knew that The ’Blade already knew the song, and so I just told ’em to imagine it somewhere on the final release.
It was around this time — after having already chosen and secured the rights for the second Dali cover (I had again selected 2 or 3 potential candidates and showed them to the group for a democratic decision) — that I hit on an idea for the title of the record. I called Brent. He said “Weird, I was just going to call you — I have one too”.
I was always interested in the myriad historical techniques for altering consciousness, and the subsequent effect that certain individuals who had done so could, and did, have on society at large. The phrase “Assassins, Toads, and God’s Flesh” jumped out at me from one of the many books I had collected on mind control and the consciousness revolution of the 1960’s. ‘Assassins’, outside of its modern, typical consensus-reality usage of a murder for political reasons is actually derived from the word hashassin — the method of payment purportedly used for the guards and killers of an old mountain-based Islamic sect. ‘Toads’ is a reference to the reported hallucinogenic properties attainable by licking a secretion found on a certain rare species of the lumpy amphibian, and ‘God’s Flesh’ is the title given to a certain special mushroom used in sacred ritual by indigenous South American and Mexican natives. I liked the tension inherently found within reference to groups of people outside of mainstream consciousness and ‘normal’ society, while simultaneously suggesting a surrealist modern world of political murder and name-brand religion.
“Haha, yeah, that’s great!” laughed Brent, immediately ‘getting it’. He then relayed his title offering. I was immediately stunned by the serendipitous conceptual congruency apparent in his equally unwieldy suggestion. “Holy crap,” I said. “That is great! Weird and catchy. Strange how similar they are in an interior way….”
We discussed at length how the elements played around each other — the visually style-based Mod movement in the ’60s; authoritarian violence; the psychic freedom seemingly afforded by LSD and other drugs; socio-cultural utopia movements; how it was an interesting conceptual continuum from the politics of SFI, etc. We mused for at least an hour about how the title would be played against the chaotic but melted cover image and the song titles/music itself. We liked ’em both, so what to do…?
The reader must remember that this was the era of ‘Alternative’ and ‘Grunge’, a strange moment in pop-culture time when certain elements of ’70s and ’80s underground music were whirlpooled together and took hold of the mainstream. Almost everything was musically stripped down at this time, with most groups and their consumers following a sort of semi-interchangeable trend of almost meaningless one-word band names and song titles. So, the obvious solution for Thought Industry and our new album title? Bold but artistically self-congruent commercial suicide.
Earlier that day I had gotten up and sent copies of the tape to two destinations: The ’Blade, and Ken Marshall, our ringer producer for the album.
Yes, Ken was not our first pick.* Mods was originally to be helmed by David ‘Rave’ Ogilvie again, and all arrangements had been happily made and finalized. However, just a couple of weeks before the ‘demo call’ from Marco, Rave called and shocked me with the news that he had to bow out — he had been offered a lot more to tour as the front of house sound engineer with a band who had been asked to join the Lollapalooza fest, and he simply needed to do it for financial reasons. “But don’t worry,” he said, totally sure of himself, “I’ve arranged for a great replacement.”
We all knew Ken from touring with him the year before, as he was Skinny Puppy’s stage tech, and I knew of his top-notch engineering work from such artistic successes as the Tear Garden’s The Last Man To Fly. Without reservation, on a personal level we all liked the guy alot — especially for his almost unbelievable positive energy — but to do our whole new record? Really? Rave reassured me, “Trust me. He will do a better job than I would. Believe me.”
Well, whatever the outcome might be, the fact was that there was really no other choice at this point. Telling the guys this news was going to be no fun, but selling The ’Blade on it was definitely not making me look forward to tomorrow. The label acted as expected, talking about cutting the budget back, and suggesting all manner of by-the-books ‘LA metal’ knob twiddlers instead. It was apparent that they still perceived us to be some sort of sub-Dream Theater-meets-Fates Warning ‘Overbrushed Hair and Tasty Licks’ fantasy-prog-band-but-with-weirder-style or something, and so we knew that no matter what, Ken would be infinitely better than some of the names being thrown around by Metal Blade. After speaking many times with Ken at length, I became fully convinced that Rave was right and that Ken was the guy. I dug in and said to MB, “We are going to do it with Ken Marshall.” It was definitely the right choice. I doubt that any of us in TI have ever regretted it for a second, and I doubt that you, dear listener/reader, do either. He was really quite incredible during the sessions. His ethic and physical drive were impressive and inspiring. He woke up every morning just after sunrise, smiling and positive, and began inhaling his preferred herb while he ate a single apple, which carried him until lunch. We would arrive at the studio and discuss what would happen that day, and each person would inhabit their role, with Ken as a force of almost supernatural can-do verve. 11 days later, when the tracking sessions were done and we had reached the mix stage, the process got amended slightly. Now we would meet in the morning as before, to discuss the general mix direction, but with him asking us to leave until noon. At that time we would return, and he would eat while we listened to the rough mix of that days tune. Suggestions for refinement and such were undertaken, and he would get back to it, with the next listening and tightening scheduled for 5pm/dinner, where we would do the same thing again, as we honed in on the final mix for whichever song was in our sights. Often, additional overdubs and effects were tracked during these times. Ken Marshall was an enormous piece of the magic of the studio version of ‘Mods’ that you all know, and I will always remember the final night in the studio, where, after the final sequencing, we all laid down in the tracking room with the lights off to listen to the entire record on the big monitors.
As a final bit of detail into our general creative process, consider this: Brent and I were always into the experience of albums. The arc and journey of groups of songs coming one after the other was interesting to us, and so we were always discussing running orders and how their potential differences could affect the overall experiential impact. Going into the Mods sessions, he and I both had running order lists, and naturally we began comparing them. As usual, they were quite close, and it seemed like the running order would be quite easy to come to. However, the difference between imagining what finished works will be and what they actually are can be quite huge. “Horsepowered” is the example here. At one point during the final mix of the song, only Brent and I were in the control room listening. I don’t recall Christopher, Paul or Ken even being in the studio. Brent and I were just laughing out loud at how ridiculous the track was by its end, how ludicrously over the top it seemed, when suddenly a real problem appeared to me — where does this song actually fit on this record now? It seemed to have no definite place anymore; it consistently interrupted the flow of any place I could imagine it slotted into. I said this out loud. Brent: “Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing.” The clear solution hit us both at the same time, and in the same way. “It is absolute commercial suicide (again!), but it just simply doesn’t fit anywhere except as the very first song,” someone said. “Oh well, fuck it — that’s where it’ll go,” said the other. “Bulldozer” was already clearly the closer, and so it was settled. I admit that we both knew that while it was ‘casual listener suicide’ that same fact made it the best choice for the long view of the album’s life.
It was at this time that he and I also found out that we were again thinking along the same lines about “Encounter with a Hick”, which was then subsequently nixed from the final release. I actually like it just fine, but at the time it seemed to make the record too long, among a few other minor points against it. Of course, it is found here on the demo, since we fully intended for it to be on the final release. “Republicans In Love” is also missing the atmospheric outro sound-piece that is found on the album, as that was a semi-spontaneous studio creation based around effects-processed cymbals, fretless guitar, and my trusty mini-cassette recorder.
Another address to a memorable album moment that is noticeably M.I.A. here: the spoken word intro to “The Date Rape Cookbook”. In 2017, this seemingly prescient spiel about the freedom-eroding dangers of PC now probably appears to many as almost like something coming from the voice of a mythic Ober-damus. However, the fact is that the current scourge of the mind-virus known as ‘ThoughtCop – Where You’ve Been Trained To Just Police Yourself!™ plaguing the planet is nothing new — it has now just reached epidemic proportions. Anyway, this intro section for the album version of the song is another completely prepared chance creation. We knew that we wanted something to be in that opening spot for the piece, but the reality solidified quickly when it came time to actually fill the space. Out came the hand-held recorder, filled with all manner of random audio captures. Ken set to work on turning it into ear candy, while Brent, standing in the vocal booth with pencil in hand, scratched furiously onto paper. “Hey, what do you think of this?” said the disembodied voice through the control room monitors. It was a version of the now familiar “Isn’t it amazing how this new political correctness…” oration-statement. “Love it!” I sent back into his headphones. “I think it’s even more amazing that you think you know what you’re saying!” I jabbed, as laughter ensued, “but it’s missing something…” Actually, it wasn’t really missing anything. It was just too directly objective. It needed subjectivity — distance for the listener, in other words. More refinement of the basic statement occurred over the next minutes by Brent. Meanwhile, i ‘played’ the tempo of the cassette recorder while its trippy effects settings were being honed through outboard gear. Ok, all set- we were now ready to track the statement. Suddenly, Brent said to me, “Hey, what was that you said a few minutes ago?” I reiterated it, but somewhere in the retelling and him saying it back out loud it went hilariously wrong… or right, actually. What you hear on the song is the very next words out his mouth, as Ken just happened to hit record in time to capture it.
In the Fall of 2011, I was going through some deep old vaults of material looking for something else and ran across this cassette. Curious, I took it down to my studio to check its pulse. All good! From there, it was sent through a vintage API mixing desk, EQ’d to take off the ‘old cassette dull’, and captured to ProTools. It cleaned up pretty nicely, so I edited it into the album’s final running order, placing “Encounter With A Hick” in the spot that “Bulldozer” would come to occupy on the actual release. Feeling a bit inspired by hearing the songs again, I then built up the cover images that you see here. The band photo is from the original photo session that was intended to be used for the album, but was scrapped in favor of one from a new session — the one found inside the official release of Mods Carve The Pig: Assassins, Toads, and God’s Flesh.
Siwa Oasis, Egyptian Sahara Desert
*Actually he wasn’t our second pick, because Rave wasn’t even really first. About 6 months earlier, I was in discussions with Jim ‘Foetus’ Thirwell’s management to have him produce our as-yet-untitled second album, but there were a few things out of order with him at the time, and I let it slide, eventually contacting Rave again. That would have doubtlessly generated interesting results, but I think we can all agree that it all worked out for the best as it stands.