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Interview with Jason Novak of Acumen Nation - conducted via e-mail 1/19/98

Photos by Jester Copyright © 1998

Jester: What is the legal scoop on the whole name change phenomenon?

Jason: The scoop would be that this other Acumen, some blue grass band from Ohio, decided after two years of us hassling each other that they would go get a lawyer and file a suit against us. We both started using the name around the same time, so we tried to fight it. After six months and a few thousand dollars, we just said screw it, and added the Nation. We had already done a few Techno shows under that name for the project that is now known as DJ? Acucrack and wanted to move on with our lives. It hurt at first, but now I kind of like the Acumen Nation thing.

Jester: What were the legal issues about repressing 'Whisper to a Scream' on Newer Wave without Stellas vocals?

Jason: The legal issues were that sometimes you sign to a major label for a lot of money. Sometimes, you forget to tell this corporate giant about other songs that you contributed to and performed. Sometimes, even forgetting that you were fully aware of one of those songs appearances on an upcoming compilation. Sometimes this major label finds out about a release that contains the name of their new superstar and they get angry. Once in a great while, this new shining star will cover her ass by legally demanding that the said compilation stop it's distribution until her name and voice are off of it, to appease said corporate giant.

The makers of the song on the said compilation have no signed paperwork because, at the time, who would have thought? They have to go and make a new, mean, blistering 150 BPM version of the song for poor Don Blanchard, one of the few honest and lovable guys in this scene. Of course, thats only sometimes.

Jester: How did you end up getting signed to Conscience Records?

Jason: A friend had me send them a package, and, about five months later, we played a show at the Batcave in New York, and these people come up to me and say, "Hi, we are Conscience Records. We really liked your show and we love your music and we'd like to save you from the hell that is Fifth Column Records!"

Needless to say, we happily spoke with them, but, because of the legal issues, it took about a year for us to actually record the new album. It was a bitch to sit around for the first half of 1997 waiting for lawyers to do their thing.

Jester: Are you excited to finally have a single released to promote the album?

Jason: Absolutely! I've waited so long. It's definitely more of an EP. With eight tracks and over 40 minutes of music its a bloody album! I just wish it could be found in stores. I wish any of our music could be found in stores.

Jester: How did you arrange for such a diverse selections of remixers for the Unkind single?

Jason: It happened kind of fast. We were basically doing all the remixes ourselves, when the label called and said hey, try and find a few other folks to contribute. This meant they were actually willing to pay for them, a new and amazing phenomenon in our lives. We went through the list of people we know, which isn't very many I am afraid.

However, we are friends with the lovely Chris Randall and the mysterious Martin Atkins. We had this remix of 'Queener' lying around for over a year that our good friend Josh Randall from Institute of Technology had done. Marc Lacorte is always looking for something to play around with on his sweet sampler. We also got some help from Verbal, the East Coast virtuoso, who, by the way, contributes two drum and bass remixes of 'Ventilator' and 'Bleed For You' on our new single, due out at the end of March. It also contains a new, updated, evil version of that most hated song, 'Gun Lover' and some other shit. It is called 'If You Were' for those who are interested. These singles are cool if they reach the public. If its just a few writers and DJ's, well thats cool, but if I'm a fan of a band, I would like to have everything they put out.

Jester: How did you arrange the DJ? Acucrack / label thing with Slipdisc Records?

Jason: Jamie and I had started doing remixes for them, and actually were talking to them about Acumen, when the DJ? Acucrack thing came up. They quickly offered us our own label to put out electronic music, based on our remixes and the DJ? Acucrack material. Jamie and I looked at each other and said, "Sure."

The label is called Lost in Bass and right now we just have the "Nation State" single due in stores at the end of January, and our "Mutants of Sound" full length, due out the first week of April, which will be distributed by Mercury/Polygram, by the way, so that's nice.

Jester: What can we expect from the new DJ? Acucrack side project?

Jason: It is mostly pretty dark and melodic breakbeat, Drum'n'Bass, and Techno stuff. As usual I can't stand the ridiculous pigeonholing of musical styles, especially when they all come out of a machine anyway, so we try and incorporate different styles together. I hate going to a Drum'n'Bass night at a club, and listening to that shit straight for two hours. Why not mix it up a little?

Jester: Are you excited to be touring with C-Tec?

Jason: Yes. Marc Heal and Dave Bianchi are great friends from Cubanate, and I'd have to say that 242 was rather influential to me in the late 80's. I am also psyched to death about not having to tune a guitar, or listen to live drums in my face, not to mention an easy load-in!

Jester: What can we expect from a live DJ? Acucrack show?

Jason: Two turntables and a microphone? Actually one turntable, no microphone, CD player, minidisc player, DAT, two keyboards, a sampler and several effects units. Basically, I will be mixing a lot of our stuff in and out of other folks music on vinyl and CD, while Jamie lays synths, samples and drum loops on top of everything. We plan to hit three stages, opening with breakbeat, intermission with drum and bass, and climaxing with hard Techno. It should be fun and don't watch! I mean, not all the time. Jamie and I are not that pretty, and I hope people will decide to dance or move or whatever and not just look at the dumb knob-twiddlers. Make sure to call him Kidd Knobbs and me Lord Pickles. That should explain our T-shirts, by the way for anyone interested.

Jester: Was the inclusion of acoustic guitars on the new album based on your experiences from the all acoustic Acumen Nation sets in Chicago?

Jason: Not really. I think it came from actually having ten extra minutes to dick around in the studio and wanting some texture. On 'Cancerine' there are a ton of electric guitars on it, but the song seemed to need something to not only define it on the album musically, but stylistically as well. It sounded funny to have such a sweet tune played in the same hard style as the rest of the album. So, I cut out the drums and most of the electric guitars, added some Jungle programming and really thinned it out. Normally, I would have cut the acoustics.

Jester: The lyrics on "More Human Heart" seems to be very personal. Is that why most of them were not printed in the liner notes for the first time?

Jason: You are correct. That was my exact wording on the subject. It's funny, the more cryptic your lyrical content, the better it looks on paper, but the more personal, the more ridiculous it looks on paper. I realized how silly all this whining looked! Yes, they are more personal. I finally took the time to identify with my own pain, problems and whores who had screwed me over much like my wonderful contemporaries. Gone were the serial killers and amputation anthems, as well as guns and world sickness, and replacing them was my life. While it felt ten times better to write and record, I was a bit nervous of their nakedness on paper, so we stuck them on the web site.

Jester: I noticed that you were involved in some of the artwork. I wasn't aware that you were an artist. Why did you contribute to the artwork for this album and not for the others?

Jason: If you'll notice in the liner notes of our albums, this is the first album where I wasn't responsible for all of it. The Iron Lung Corporation release and the "Territory=Universe" album say Solaris Artwerks, which was just an alias for me in the graphics world at the time. I had the pleasure of designing all of our albums, and DJ? Acucrack and the Iron Lung Corporation as well. This changes on our new single, gladly, which was all designed by a fine New York artist by the name of Donatella Perriera.

Jester: Are you planning on trying to obtain the rights to your first two albums from FCR to reissue under the Acumen Nation name in the future?

Jason: Speak of the devil, its been done, and both albums will be released this spring, with their respective remix tracks tacked on at the end, as well as the elusive CD-ROM track on the "Territory=Universe" album. Of course, the distributor still has to attempt to put it in stores, but we'll see how lucky we get. This means that Conscience Records will have five Acumen Nation releases on the shelves; the new album, the two old albums, and the two singles. Not to mention Slipdisc will have both DJ? Acucrack releases out, adding the Iron Lung Corporation record to that, and we got quite a little catalog for a bunch of Chicago goofballs releasing records for only four years.

Jester: What is your favorite track of the new album? Why that track?

Jason: Thats tough. Production wise, 'Unkind' and 'Funny Thing Is' are my favorites because they turned out sounding so good. Musically I like 'If You Were' and 'Dreamheart/Crush'd' because its everything I've wanted to do on the album and still get away with it being Acumen. The complete five year old glee of getting away with 'fuckyerbrainsout'. I think it is a diverse record and I like all the tracks except for 'Ugly On The Inside'. I think that track is kind of silly.

Jester: What does the future hold for Acumen Nation / DJ? Acucrack now?

Jason: The future, I don't know. There comes a time I think when a mature songwriter stops and looks at his or her catalog. He notices how it is selling, and decides to stop bitching and realizes, hey maybe I'm not the best songwriter in the world, maybe its not the distributors fault, maybe people just aren't buying my music, maybe people just don't dig it that much.

Then you have to figure out what to do next. I would have thought by now that the whole collective of Acumen Nation / DJ? Acucrack / Iron Lung would have made enough of an impact to take us to the next level, whatever that is. So I am going to kick it old school, staying on the road between Acumen and DJ? Acucrack, whichever gets the better tour, Yell at the record labels and make more music. Then I will see if all these damn records we keep putting out are actually making people happy or not. We'll just have to wait and see. Maybe we will do a Jazz project next.

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