Monday 14 January 2013

Interview: Caustic

Matt Fanale  The Man Who Couldn't Stop...

"It’s also 20 times crazier and more raw than anything I put on '[The] Golden Vagina...', so it was a palette cleanser of sorts.  I wanted to say “Welcome to the party, fuckers.  This ain’t 'Golden Vagina', Pt II”."

If the breakthrough success of his 2011 album 'The Golden Vagina Of Fame And Profit' wasn't enough, Matt Fanale of Caustic fame released another daring and exciting work in the form of 'The Man Who Couldn't Stop'. Perhaps even more surprising is that 'The Man Who Couldn't Stop' is a concept album based loosely around the novel Ulysses by James Joyce. That would be enough to raise more than a few eyebrows. Yet Matt has crafted an album that manages to balance dance floor appeal with genre pushing experiments.
As 2012 draws to a close and 2013 begins 'TMWCS' has begun making its way on to more and more critics top albums of the year lists, Sean Palfrey got Matt (The man who couldn't stop) to get in-depth regarding his latest work.

Intravenous Magazine: 'The Man Who Couldn't Stop' has been out for a little while now, how do you feel it has been received so far?

Matt Fanale: I think it’s been received better than expected.  It’s not an easy album in a lot of respects, being as long as it is.  It’s not really meant for listening in one shot, you know?  The way I figured it though, people listen to stuff on shuffle all the time so even if they only enjoyed ten or twelve tracks they still got their money’s worth.  Fortunately people have really embraced the ideas and the diversity of styles seems to have kept a lot of people on board with listening to it all the way through.

I kept referring to this one as “The complicated album”.  I’m glad so many people have given it a chance and hope more people keep discovering it.

IVM: 'The Golden Vagina Of Fame And Profit' was a break out album for you and completely shattered a lot of people's expectations for Caustic. How did this effect your approach to song writing for the new album?

MF: In the simplest terms, I proved to myself I could do it.  “It” meaning make that kind of album and do it with some degree of success.  It was actually a weird place for me to be, as I actually made an album quite a few people liked, even people outside of my normal (and awesome) group of fans.  When ' [The] Golden Vagina...' came out and was essentially an extremely calculated attempt to put together a “club album”, and I quickly realized when I started thinking of the new album that I didn’t want to repeat that.  Maybe it was partially out of fear that I’d “sold out” or maybe it was just because I hate doing the same thing twice, but I wanted a new challenge, and since I felt I’d built up some karma in terms of my fan base I thought I’d go all in and try something crazy as shit for me: A concept album…of sorts.

I also thought it was funny to basically say to anyone new listening to my music that “You thought you knew Caustic.  You were wrong.”

It’s always been a major part of my thinking artistically that people think artists that take chances (which, to me, just means making what I like) are automatically more transgressive than artists that try and shock.  Personally I couldn’t be more bored with artists that try and shock, but that’s just because I think it’s easy and generally a substitute for actual creativity.  It doesn’t mean it can’t be done well, mind you, but it’s just not my thing, and while '[The] Golden Vagina...' was calculated it was done so as an experiment and test to myself, as I didn’t think I could pull it off.  I did for the most part, so I wanted to use that confidence to create something I’d never heard before.

You only live once, and it’s not like I have to worry about selling a million copies, so why not do exactly what I want to?

IVM: The album once again features several collaborations with artists such as Android Lust and iVardensphere. Which was the most satisfying for you and is there anyone you approach but didn't make an appearance in the end?

MF: Given that I had so many collaborations on '[The] Golden Vagina...' I actually wanted to keep the ones on this album to a minimum, but when I came up with 'Bleed You Out' I thought it would be amazing to see if Shikhee was interested in doing the vocals, as I was looking to make something that people wouldn’t expect from me (which is generally what I go for a lot of the time) and I figured nobody would expect a club anthem from me with Shikhee on vocals. It’s just not what we’re known for, and I think we both enjoyed it more because of that.

With Scott and my collaboration it just worked out as a nice coincidence, as I’d read an interview with him where he mentioned wanting to make a trip-hop project in the style of the original Bristol scene, and that was the exact vibe I was going for with 'Ghost Like Swayze'.  I emailed him and everything just worked out great.  It was nice doing a trade with Scott as I’d done vocals for Myopic on his last album 'Apok', so now we’re even Steven and can go back to hating each other.

IVM: Looking back to your earlier work how do you feel the new album stands up in comparison?

MF: Honestly everything is night and day.  Unlike a lot of artists in this scene people can actually chart the evolution of Caustic they can hear literally my first (awful) track until now.  I’ve had some complaints that people miss my noisier stuff, and I actually do go back to it sometimes, but I’ve put out a massive amount of music since my first EP and have learned a ridiculous amount since I started so there’s no way I can look back and even want to make that music anymore.  It’s just not interesting to me, and that’s not because I don’t love it, it’s just already been done. It’s no challenge to make it again.

It’s a bit of an odd comparison, especially since I wrote a song “about” them, but if you listen to AFI’s first few albums and where they’re at now you can hear the same kind of evolution.  I didn’t start making music with the expectation to get where I’m at now.  How could I, since I didn’t know shit when I started?  I love and respect all of my albums, massive faults and all, as they’re all Caustic.  They’re all me, and people all have their favourites and even though I might wonder why someone loves my first album best I kinda love that they do.  It means I was doing something right and something was connecting with people beyond the stupid titles.

IVM: 'The Man Who Couldn't Stop' is loosely based around Ulysses by James Joyce and the eighteen tracks cover a huge range of styles and themes. Can you take us through your motivations, inspirations and influences track-by-track?

MF: I guess it’s important to note why I did this to begin with.  I’d had an idea brewing in my head for a few years in using Ulysses in some context for an album because I thought it was a ridiculous, completely overcomplicated idea…and it is/was.  I’d read Ulysses in college when I took a class on James Joyce, and was always fascinated by the complexity in it and the million references and interpretations you could glean from it.  Like Joyce I wanted to use another work of art — The Odyssey for him, Ulysses for me — to inspire a new work of art.  By the way, I’m not comparing anything I’ve done to the magnitude of Ulysses, by the way — it’s an unparalleled work of self-indulgent genius.  Mine’s…not that.

While directly following the story and its themes directly didn’t hold much interest to me because I simply didn’t think it would work (or end up being eighteen albums due tothe denseness), I found more inspiration in trying to pull elements or small ideas from each chapter of the book to write tracks based on them, adding my own references and relationships in the album between pairs/groups of songs, whether by direct link or, more often, to show a juxtaposition of them.  I also wanted to give a few nods to the overall structure of Ulysses by doing things like having spoken word intros to where the section breaks are in Ulysses (chapters 1-3, 4-15, 16-18).

One of the major themes in 'TMWCS' is of mirroring tracks (this was a huge influence on the “reflecting” effect in the album art as well), with titles and songs relating to each other in some ways (for instance, 'Failing at the School of Life' references school and youth while 'Fin (Again) Begin (Again)' is referencing the end of life in some ways. There are generally a few layers to each track: The song itself as a whole, the Ulysses (and by default Odyssey) reference and influence, the references to other works/artists in there, whether directly or stylistically, and then how the song may fit thematically with the whole album, since there are reoccurring images and words that pop up elsewhere at times.  Often there are several ideas coming through at once, but it’s really up to the listener to figure out which interpretation they want to take…or create their own.  I keep finding parallels myself as I listen to it and decipher it further, so please don’t take anything I say as “the definitive answer”.  The beauty of art is that the original intent can expand to mean much more depending on who’s interpreting it.  It’s all “correct”, regardless of what the song means to the composer.  Hell, 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police is about stalking an ex and I’ve heard it’s been the couple’s first dance at countless weddings.  So there you go.

There are also two basic story-lines, one about a failed relationship and one about an Occupy-ish revolution, completely separate from the Ulysses theme.  If you have the album art you get the track list of how they fit together, as essentially there are two concept albums WITHIN the concept album.  Soon they’ll both be added to, as well.

I called it 'The Man Who Couldn’t Stop' for a reason.  Actually, like five or six reasons, but I get into them more below.

As for the tracks…

'Failing at the School of Life' (based on Telemachus)- This is actually one of the few tracks I’d written lyrics for prior to quitting drinking, but felt right placing it in the album in the context. Like I mentioned above I thought it worked well as an introductory track in the sense that the title and images refer to the start of life and getting your ass kicked in school, but obviously in the context of your whole life.

It’s also 20 times crazier and more raw than anything I put on '[The] Golden Vagina...', so it was a palette cleanser of sorts.  I wanted to say “Welcome to the party, fuckers.  This ain’t 'Golden Vagina', Pt II”. I also loved how short and jagged it was in comparison to the relative elegance and length of 'Fin (Again)...'.

In terms of the Ulysses-ness of it, this chapter introduced the character of Stephen Daedelus, who, much like the song describes, is a bit of a loser who doesn’t have much direction.

'Laugh Like Mutants' (Nestor)- There were some themes and instances of anti-Semitism in this chapter towards Leopold Bloom, the novel’s main character, and it related to a song I’d written a bit earlier about the white power movement and how fucking stupid it is to me that people always scapegoat instead of taking the blame when they might have actually succeeded had they actually tried.

'Man-E-Faces' (Proteus)- There are a lot of themes of what identity is and people mixing up identities in the novel and how that confuse and cause harm in your lives.  'Man-E-Faces' is all about that and knowing who you are.  It’s also the name of a He-Man character who had three faces he switched in and out (maybe more- I just remember the action figure), so there’s a nerdy reference for everyone there.  I think this song is one of my favourites because it’s got so few elements but is the complete picture to me in terms of simple structure and power.  I also love it because it was where I really decided to start pushing my writing lyrically, which to me is one of the things I’m most pleased with in the album.  I still smile every time I hear the lyrics “Job had a very short list for Christmas”.

This one flowed out of me really fast.  It felt effortless. I wish all my music did.

'Bleed You Out' (Calypso)- Calypso in the Odyssey is a woman that held Ulysses hostage on an island, so this is a fairly direct translation, as it’s about a woman who gets a man in her grips sexually and won’t let him go. I had a few basic lines written for it and Shikhee improvised the rest. I was going for a modern Nitzer Ebb-y feel to it.

'Ghost Like Swayze' (Lotus Eaters)- This song is about getting high with someone you’re really into, and get more into them because you’re both high together.  Floating and wasting away the day.  It’s a huge love letter from iVardensphere and myself to the Bristol Wild Bunch trip-hop scene, with references to lyrics from Tricky and 3D, if I recall.  This isn’t what anyone expected from Scott and I, so I love it even more for that reason.

'Bury You Alive' (Hades)- This track’s a pretty obvious one about dragging someone to hell and destroying them.  I actually originally wrote it from the viewpoint of someone actually burying someone alive but realized it just sounded like a stupid terror ebm track, so I started it on a Suicide Commando vs Prodigy model, with more simple imagery which I think made it more powerful in the end.  I also love this track because I sampled my alma mater’s (UW-Madison) football cheer of “EAT SHIT! FUCK YOU!” for it.  Finding a loud “Eat shit!” on YouTube and then another clip of the “Fuck you!” was way too stupid, since they were all just videos that fans shot and only one side came across with the right volume.

'Bigger Better Faster NOW!!!' (Aeolus)- The part of this chapter that really resonated with me was the newspaper office where Bloom was going to buy an ad.  Like a lot of people I have an issue with people just buying the newest and best models of something so they can say they have it, not because the older model is even faulty or broken.  I’m not one of those people that hates consumer culture as much as hating how manipulative advertising is to make people think they have to buy the newest everything or they’re not keeping up with the rest of the world, so this is a fuck you to people who can’t think past the fact that commercials are written to prey on your fear and guilt so you’ll give them your money.

© Imago Mortis Photography

'PigEatBone' (Lestrygonians)- This may be the most directly translated chapter in some ways, as it actually uses a line of dialogue (“See the animals feed”) from Ulysses.  The song is similar to Bigger Better in that it’s attacking people who will say and do anything, including destroy people less fortunate than them, to make a buck.  I got arthouse with the samples too, as one was from Pasolini’s Salo (truly one of the most disturbing movies you could ever see) and a few others from The Cook The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (also disturbing).

'Stains on the Coattails' (Scylla and Chardblis)- Shakespeare, specifically Hamlet, is discussed a lot in this chapter, and it got me to thinking about how many people emulate their heroes to a fault artistically without ever developing their own style. It also related to a blog I wrote where I don’t think most people’s heroes would want to hear someone ripping them off, even if it was because they were so influenced by them.  It’s one of the more directly confrontational songs I wrote for the album, or at least it felt like it at the time.  I also peppered this with references to industrial and punk pioneers in the lyrics and the mantra of “respect it, dissect it, eject it, and go” is influenced from Pop Will Eat Itself’s “Sample It, Loop It, Fuck It and Eat It.”

There’s also a loop from Morrissey’s “Disappointed” hidden in there. Truly truly truly…

'Zen Castrato' (Wandering Rocks)- The symbolic “rock and a hard place, always ever changing” lyric directly relates to the Wandering Rocks chapter of The Odyssey, probably more than Ulysses.  In the Ulysses chapter there are nineteen vignettes about people in the city, so I decided to challenge myself and there are exactly nineteen “I’m through withs” in the rant.  It also starts off with a Red Hot Chili Pepper lyric, because I’m a dork.

I’ll also point out that in the original demo of this I sounded just like Chris Connelly.  Some people couldn’t believe I was the same vocalist on all of the (non-Shikhee) songs, but I wanted as much variety vocally as possible and pushed myself to try new techniques and manipulations with my voice.  It’s also because I figured people would get sick of me just screaming the same way for 75 minutes.

'Graver Guru' (Sirens)- This song’s title is another nod to Pop Will Eat Itself and their song 'Greebo Guru'.  I thought this was the dumbest idea I’ve come up with in a while (I hadn’t gotten into writing the upcoming Causticles album yet), where I messed with my voice to sound like some hip-hop girl from the streets, but rocking out dumb rhymes and references to other bands in the scene.  I probably don’t sound like some hip-hop girl, but that was what I was going for.  In relation to the chapter Sirens, I thought it would be funny to have the line “YOU CANNOT RESIST” in the song, and I’m making the comparison that that a DJ is a siren of sorts, calling everyone to the dance floor.

When people say they think this album could be considered pretentious I just think of how stupid the whole thought process for this track was. Yeah, not pretentious. Just intensely stupidly layered.

'We Never Learn' (Cyclops)- The whole chapter in Ulysses is set in a workman’s bar.  The original version of this song was more powernoisey and the demo went out as freebie track for my last Kickstarter, but I ended up halving the BPM and turning it into a 2nd wave electronic ska song.  Due to the Cyclops being a part of the Odyssey chapter I realized the myopic-ness of people in shitty circumstances (which I knew all too well) and how there’s no helping people who won’t help themselves.  I wrote this more as a celebration of being a fuck-up, which ends up being the weird source of pride for addicts, alcoholics, etc. who don’t want to deal with reality.  It also relates back to 'Laugh Like Mutants' and 'PigEatBone'.

'Internet Model'- (Nausicaa) This was maybe the track I was most worried about but most excited to put on the album, as it’s by far one of the least “Caustic” songs I’ve written. It plays heavily into the fantasy vs reality of relationships before, during, and after.  Originally it ended up having a bit of a Switchblade Symphony feel but Eric Oehler glitched it out a lot, and I had ideas of using a backing vocalist and was fortunate that my friend Dana was able to step in and provide some gorgeous textures to the track.

I also actually kinda sorta sang, which was…not easy.

'The Man Who Couldn't Stop' (Oxen of the Sun)- This may be the least related to the two texts that inspired the album, but in a lot of ways speaks about them in different ways.  'The Man Who Couldn’t Stop', as a title, refers to several things.  One is me, and this album, and how I wouldn’t just stop at 10-12 tracks like a “normal” album, and it’s also a reference to my not being able to stop drinking.  Another refers to James Joyce himself and how he wouldn’t stop adding layer after layer into the novel, showing style after style and reference after reference.  Another reference is to Odysseus, who wouldn’t stop until he returned home.  And yet another is where I got the title to begin with, from an underground 80s comic book story called Ed The Happy Clown, where “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop” was a character who literally shit nonstop until he drowned in his own crap (look to the album art and references in several of the songs to this wonderful subject matter).

This song, which was conceived and written as an homage to 80s labels Wax Trax and Touch and Go however, deals with the first and the last references mainly. It’s about overdoing it and the motivations and desperation that perpetuates it, which relates very directly to my life at times.  Conan Neutron of Victory and Associates added Big Black-y guitars harmonics over it as well, though vocally and lyrically I was also going for a bit of a Jesus Lizard vibe.

I also liked how I had the song cut off before it was over.  Klevar, Fanale…

'Suck Me Dry' (Circe)- This song both bookends the second “book” of Ulysses in the album, spoken word at the end and all, and is also a mirror of 'Bleed You Out', as the lyrics are in direct relation, from the male’s perspective, of the character Shikhee plays in the earlier track.  There’s even the repetition of the “begging for mercy” line. Originally the music was inspired by Suicide’s 'First Album', but I asked Dan from The Dark Clan to add some majorly reverbed Jesus and Mary Chain-y guitars over it to punk it up (note the Stooges reference in the lyrics).

Speaking of JAMC, the “plastic toy” line is out of Just Like Honey. I used to think they said “plastic toilet”. I also think I sound like Moby on his Animal Rights album in the breakdown. You probably don’t care, but if you’re still reading this I assume it’s at least a bit interesting still to you.

'Demon Seed Semen Deed' (Eumaeus)- In Ulysses there’s some discussion of Steven’s preoccupation with prostitution and it inspired the idea of a good ol’ manwhore song, but with a twist of him actually falling for someone as screwed up as him.  This is the opening track of the “concept album in a concept album” as it sets the tone for how well the relationship is destined to turn out.

'Collide With Me' (Ithaca)- If memory serves this was inspired partially by remembering the looks I got as a rivety kid from adults who looked down on me for wearing black all the time and thinking there was something wrong with me.  The chorus of “come collide with me” isn’t as much of a violent thing as a joining the fun thing.  A lot of the lyrics also relate to how I feel about my music in this scene, where I’m still the weird kid at the party a lot of the time.  What’s funny is that it’s maybe the most traditionally “industrial” sounding song on the album in many ways, as it’s got a very 242 feel to it which I love.

'Fin (Again) Begin (Again)'- eight minutes of repetition to represent the eight unpunctuality sentences ending the novel. The title references ending and beginning, but also Joyce’s last novel Finnegan’s Wake AND a stupid 80’s HBO movie called Finnegan Begin Again, which for some reason I remember seeing when I was a kid.  It’s all about the cycle starting over again though, so it eludes to the “Fail Better” ethos I’ve been pushing for a while in my blogs and on other albums.  I also really enjoyed starting the album off with a shorter, more breakcore inspired track and finishing with a slow, prettier, and significantly longer track.  Again, it’s the mirroring of tracks which adds some interesting dichotomies to the overall album.

IVM: The final track on the album 'Fin (Again) Begin (Again)' is a particular curve-ball that veers into dark ambient/neo-classical waters. Is this something that could could potentially feature more in your future work?

MF: Maybe, maybe not.  I never know exactly where my head is going to go but it has been nice getting such a positive reaction to the track in all of the reviews and from fans.  It certainly gave me a lot more confidence to try tracks like that more often.

IVM: Once again you chose to fund your album via Kickstarter. How was the reaction this time around?

MF: In one word: Insane.  I had hoped to equal my first Kickstarter, which was around $5,000, and instead hit $15,000 when all was said and done.  I’m STILL finishing up stuff for the backers, as I hadn’t in any way anticipated the response or how much I actually was going to need to do for everyone.  I refuse to half-ass it and just churn out everyone’s backing rewards, which meant unwrapping, signing, and writing a different message on over 250 CDs to backers.  I’m finishing off a lot of the fanfic stories this week for backers as well, and then I have to write seven new songs for different backers as well.

All well worth it, but I’m really looking forward to all of it being done finally…in a few months.

IVM: In a climate where major labels are pursuing file-sharers for breaching copyright your Kickstarter campaign managed to accumulate pledges of $100-300 at a time. What do you attribute this level of support to?

MF: I think it’s directly related to the relationship you have with your fanbase.  I make every effort to be available for people online and at shows and treat my social media sites — Facebook and Twitter especially — more like clubhouses for us all to hang out in and party.  I have an immense amount of fun doing this and try and make it as much fun for everyone else as well.

I also had no idea people would pledge that much in a lot of cases.  You kind of just set things up and hope for the best. I was (and still am) incredibly humbled by the support and faith people have shown in what I do. It makes me want to try even harder, as if my own perpetual drive to keep creating wasn’t enough.

IVM: It's evidently been a lot of work for you to fulfil your Kickstarter packages, but you've now finally completed this mammoth task. What will be on the agenda then for you going into 2013?

MF: As I mentioned I’m STILL finishing some stuff off, but 2013 will ideally be a year of side project releases, with Prude (the long gestating collaboration between myself, Jared from Chemlab, Howie Beno, Phil Infocollapse, and Marc Plastic), The Causticles (myself and Brian from The Gothsicles), CTRLSTIC (a 2009 live session with the CTRLSHFT kids), and Mutation (the live CTRLSHFT/Endif/Caustic show we did in 2006).  I’m also planning to release the last 6 tracks of 'The Man Who Couldn’t Stop', which will complete the two albums-in-the-album that I mentioned earlier.

Oh yeah, and I’m going to be a father this year, so I need to get as much of this done before I have to start changing diapers.  Luckily most of the side projects are nearly completed or already done, so it’s just a matter of getting the CDs pressed or finding labels to release them.  The Caustic stuff should be on Metropolis still though, as I don’t think they’re sick of me yet.

IVM: Finally, you shaved your beard off in the summer. What led to the decision to leave the “Fraternal Order of Beardy Weirdies”?

MF: I actually chopped it a while ago, but didn’t have any new press pictures taken so people didn’t know.  Mostly I just needed a change.  I could get into the myriad of reasons I just didn’t want it any more but the main one was I just needed to move on.  I went through a lot of shit with that beard so chopping it off signalled a new beginning of sorts for me.   A lot of this has.   And to anyone that misses it I could probably send you a lock.  I think I saved it somewhere.

And yes, that’s creepy.  But that’s how I roll, bitches.

Caustic's 'The Man Who Couldn't Stop' is available now from Metropolis Records. For all the latest news you can check out the official Caustic website.

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