Interview with Stuart Argabright of Black Rain, conducted by telephone 12/19/96

Jester: Why was your first album not used as the soundtrack for the film Johnny Mnemonic?

Stuart: The people who financed the movie thought that Keanu Reeves was going to add star power towards the end of the production of the film. So they decided to get rid of all of the music that I had scored and they brought in Brad Fidel who scored Terminator. So they wiped out all of my music, had Brad write some awful music and the movie bombed anyway.

It was a very complex issue for me because I had done so much work to get the movie started in the first place. I introduced William Gibson to the Robert Longo the director, I found the first producer, I did a technical rewrite on the screen play, I did the first music edit and scored tons of material for the film. However once Hollywood got into the game they threw most of the work that I had been responsible for out the window. In the end they did pay us off rather well and let us use the original music on our own album. I must say though that the movie sucked and I was glad in a way that I wasn't involved.

Jester: I think a large number of people felt the same way with the number of satirical pokes I have seen made at the film by the media.

Stuart: I have seen many comments and articles that have gone out of their way to point out how much of a bomb and how horrible the film was and I really agree with them. However, there were some great cyberspace sequences that were done by Sony Imageworks. I really wish they had made it a five minute movie by compressing all of those sequences together but unfortunately they didn't.

Jester: Why do you use such an intense technological motif in your music?

Stuart: I have always been involved with electronic music and it just seems like a logical evolution. Particularly with Black Rain we are trying to push our music into something beyond industrial and mechanical motifs into biological and biotechnical areas. I think that the whole Industrial genre needs to be reinvigorated and perhaps reinvented.

Jester: How did you get in contact with Fifth Column Records to release your material?

Stuart: I met Jared and he had really liked the tape that I had given him. At the time I knew that Fifth Column Records was in its infancy so we hooked up and it has worked out pretty well.

Jester: Has Black Rain ever performed live?

Stuart: Yes. The group has existed since 1990. In the early years we used to exist as a four piece outfit who all stood on stage in all black. We played at a lot of small venues around Manhattan which included opening for G.G. Alin at his last live performance. Then we lost our rhythm section when they went to join a hardcore band and there were only two of us left in the project. We were both primarily electronic musicians so when the other members left we got heavily into soundtrack work. We composed the Neuromancer audio book for Time Warner as well as the Johnny Mnemonic audio book and some other CD-ROM scores. We have become really comfortable with the studio recording process and really didn't want to come out live with just two guys standing behind keyboards on stage. So we have been really hesitant to come out live until we are able to do it properly. Now with this album, and having more musicians involved with the project, we are finally moving towards the possibility of playing live again soon.

Jester: What does the logo that is in the background on the cover of both albums come from? It looks like I-Ching, but not really.

Stuart: Close, it is Chinese for Black Rain. It is also readable by Japanese. We pretty much marked up New York with that logo a few years ago. It was kind of funny because when Biohazard came to New York to film their video from the album "Urban Discipline", they shot the video on the waterfront in Brooklyn where we had been spray painting our logo. So on the cover of that album was our logo.

Jester: On the new album, you've changed styles a little bit, what motivated that move?

Stuart: I think it was mostly because the first album was more of a fluke because it was originally meant to be a soundtrack. This new album was designed to be something new, and not a collection of older music originally written for another purpose. We usually work in three different musical areas; songs, soundtrack type stuff, and some experimental music. Those seem to be the parameters in which we compose our music.

This time Shin & I decided to recruit people who we had worked with in the past to help out with a few songs. So we got ahold of REM-L-Z, an old school rapper who we worked with back when were in Death Comet. We also did the track 'Nanarchy' as sort of a fun flippant take on nanopunk. The song 'Nanarchy' was actually written prior to hearing that the Sex Pistols were getting back together.

We have been doing electronic music since the early eighties so we have been through a lot of genres. So we can pretty much pick and choose the type of music that we feel like doing. For example on the track 'Corpocyte', we went into a studio that used artificial intelligence software & granular synthesis to be able to express exactly those types of things.

Jester: How did you first get involved with releasing music?

Stuart: I was from Washington DC originally. I first got into music back when Punk was first starting in 1976 or so. I graduated that year and started a band before all of the hardcore stuff started. Punk rock was a very big motivator. Then I moved to New York and worked with a lot of international musicians. Later I moved to Berlin for awhile and got into electronic music. When I moved back to New York I wrote a big dance record called "Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight" in the early eighties. So it was a really natural evolution into the type of music I write today.

Jester: Have you had any type of musical training?

Stuart: No. It has all come from raw experience.

Jester: Where do you see your music going in the future?

Stuart: Seeing that I am already writing the next album. I'd say we are going to pin down a type of Ziggy Stardust guitar sound mixed with Industrial electronics. There will also be some large soundtrack pieces, particularly one about Tibet. We will also probably write some more songs with Satoru the guitarist from Ultrabide. We were only able to squeeze him in one song on this album but on the next album we will probably use him on 3-4 tracks. We are pretty much trying to avoid writing that standard Industrial music that we all know and hate. Personally, being an old school listener I was always into bands like Neubauten and DAF. You can definitely hear the DAF influence on the new album. We also want to do some experimental metal percussion again like we used to back when we were a four piece band. So we are trying to retain some of the older elements and push forward into some new territory as well.

Jester: What would you consider your biggest influences for your music?

Stuart: Everyday events. Turning on CNN and taking notes. There is no real music out there that I consider futuristic any more so I want to try and do that with my music.

Jester: Do you have any type of formal method you use when you are composing new material?

Stuart: After making records for so many years we really do use a rather carefully calculated method for making music. I've burned though a lot of the older methods and have really refined my techniques. I use a lot of William Burroughs cutup techniques as well as trying to write and conceptualize music that has continuity. I like to try and give my audience the experience that I like to get from music. I try and lead my audience along and expose them to new music that perhaps they might have never thought about. As song writers, Shin and I get together and follow a rather rigid method of programming since we have been working with drum machines and synthesizers since they appeared. We don't really have to rehearse because we don't have that live element, so we can just sit around and write new music most of the time.

Jester: In your free time what music and artists do you listen to?

Stuart: All kinds of stuff. Tricky, T-Rex, Drum & Bass, Underworld, Atari Teenage Riot, David Bowie, Prodigy, Chemical Brothers. I have a Japanese wife and she listens to a lot of Bosa Nova. Living in New York a lot of people pass through the city so events like seeing Tricky on the street sort of nudge me to listen to their music. Just walking out to buy a newspaper you will see or hear something unique or different. There is just a constant musical stimulus living here.

Jester: Would you like to possibly collaborate with other artists in the future?

Stuart: Yes. I have always worked with different people like Sean Young from Blade Runner, Judy Nylon an old Eno consort, Bill Laswell, REM-L-Z. I'd like to work with Dr. Octagon, a rapper from the west coast. I am putting together an animation project with William Gibson and Koji Morimoto who was responsible for Akira. So I am starting to stake out the soundtrack for that. It will probably have a track by David Bowie, U2, a few Japanese techno artists, Andrew Eldritch from Sisters of Mercy, just to name a few. Tricky would be a good artist to work with because he does whatever he wants and the labels be damned. It looks to me that a lot of the old label brotherhoods are starting to finally breakdown and artists are finally being able to work with whomever they want.

Jester: There has been a ton of talk in the media about how large labels are trimming down their rosters and how small independent labels are growing.

Stuart: I think that is a cyclical nature of music. The Mariah Carey's of the world are married to the labels for life. An article that I saw in the New York Times a few weeks ago said the music business was in the doldrums and then just last week there was another article about a feeding frenzy of labels trying to sign The Prodigy. What goes around comes around. Nowadays the record labels are the media and they are vertically integrated. The system is doomed to repeat itself.

Jester: With all this technology that you talk about in your music, are you online at all?

Stuart: Right now I am in between providers. I am looking for one of those free providers like Juno. I don't have any web sites up at the moment. Last year I did a web site for my wife who runs a lingerie company that did pretty well. We did a CD-ROM, catalog and web site for that.

I spent a large portion of this and last year trying to put together a web production company just like everyone else. I kind of backed up a little bit because I wanted to work on a lot of heavy content and I had gotten busy with Black Rain. I'd like to wait until the phone companies finally give us enough bandwidth to be able to put cool stuff up on the web and not have to wait for hours for it to download. I think the web is really an exciting thing but I tend to take a more extended look at it. In the future I will be working on a Black Rain web site either by myself or with Fifth Column as soon as I make time to do it.

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