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Interview Keith Arem with Contagion - conducted by e-mail - 10/14/97

Jester: How did you arrange to open for Front Line Assembly in 1992?

Keith: We were actually in the studio when we got a call from Front Line's booking agent. Bill and Rhys had heard the advance recordings and asked for us to be on the tour with them, even though our CD was not going to be released until 2 weeks into the tour (on the road we were constantly accused of "stealing" Biohazard PCB tracks - since no one had heard about the name change to Contagion). After the tour, Front Line asked for us to continue in Europe with them, however since our label didn't release the European version of the CD, they didn't want to finance the tour.

Jester: How did you meet up with World Domination Records and eventually release an EP (+remixes) as well as a single with them?

Keith: In 1989, we originally had several offers from I.R.S. Records and Antler-Subway, although we wanted to have stronger distribution - so we held out for a better offer. However, by 1991, we became pretty frustrated with the lack of understanding amongst larger record labels. At that point, we began talking to Dave Allen - who was gearing up to launch World Domination Records (a development division of Capitol). Dave had been working with Luc Van Acker, and was interested in doing something with us. Since they had the financing and distribution of Capitol - we were convinced this would be a good deal. The initial offer was for a 4 song EP, followed by 2 full length LPs the successive year. By this time, we had such a huge catalog of music, we offered to include several bonus tracks with the initial EP - as well as a couple of re-mixes. Unfortunately, many fans thought the CD was a full length LP (and I'm sure many stores sold it for full price), but it was not intended that way.

Jester: Why did the 'Scratch' single only contain tracks that were previously available on "Contaminant PCB"?

Keith: The 'Scratch' single was quite a joke. It was supposed to be out to radio stations a month before the CD release, but didn't in fact release until the same week as the album. The disc was going to have three re-mixes and a bonus track, but it never quite made it.

Jester: When can we expect future Contagion releases? Will they also be released through World Domination or another label?

Keith: We are currently in production on a new CD for next year. The LP will include several tracks from our recent film scores, as well a s many new tracks. We have been talking to several labels, including World Domination, although, with internet distribution and mail order, we may release the record independently.

Jester: Whose idea was it to film a music video for 'Scratch'?

Keith: We had always been very interested in filming a video for the record. Once we decided on Scratch as the first single, the label immediately produced a budget to begin filming. We filmed the video days before leaving for the FLA tour and we actually had to approve the edits while on the road.

Jester: Why did you effectively drop off the planet, musically speaking, shortly after your first tour? What have the various member of the band been up to the past few years?

Keith: Once we got back from the tour, we were asked to come back to headline in several cities. The record began selling pretty well, but after the Europe tour was vetoed, we wanted to get back in the studio. Soon after, we began scoring the film Skinner. That led me into scoring several other independent films as well as interactive projects. The label was having financial problems, and delayed our production on the second record, so I moved into more scoring and soundtracks.

By 1992, we brought in a management company to help get us out of the deal, so we could become free agents again. Once we got out, I scored several interactive projects for Sony, and eventually received an offer from Virgin to begin scoring their projects. In 1994 I became the Director of Audio for Virgin - and have been here since. In 1995, Jack and Dave left to pursue the Pinch Point project. Mical joined Virgin in 1995, and is currently one of our senior engineers.

Jester: Now that Jack and Dave are working on Pinch Point, will they be involved in any future Contagion releases?

Keith: Possibly. We haven't discussed anything at this point, but it may happen.

Jester: How did you first get involved with making music? Have you ever had any formal musical training?

Keith: I began working with keyboards and electronic music at a very early age. I originally had formal music training in piano at the age of 6, but soon got into electronic keyboards and computers by late elementary. At 13, I started an electronic band called "Fiction" with my friend, Mike Fisher (now in Machines of Loving Grace). (We only had a Roland Juno-60, a Juno-106, a 727 drum machine, and a Apple II computer with sequencer). After high school I moved to Los Angeles where I started Contagion, Mike started Machines back in Arizona.

Jester: Why did you choose to get involved with electronic music as opposed to something else?

Keith: I think I was attracted to electronic music because I could create an entire piece of music without real instruments. I could hear elaborate sound textures in my head, but didn't have enough formal training to transcribe the parts out, so I began sequencing on the computer. I was always fascinated by film scores, but wanted to add more aggressive rhythms and textures - which led to my interest in "Industrial" type music.

Jester: Do you care to discuss the whole band name debacle with Biohazard that forced you to look for a new moniker?

Keith: The Biohazard PCB / Contagion fiasco was very unfortunate. We had formed Biohazard in 1988 - around the same time the speed-metal Biohazard began their group (had we taken our first deal with I.R.S. in 1989, we would have kept the name). We were very successful on the west coast from 1989-1991, but eventually learned of the name conflict with the New York group.

To avoid further confusion, we became BIOHAZARD PCB, however since both groups still used the international symbol for biological hazardous waste. This did not appease the record labels. We were assured that we would not have to change the band name for the CD release, however World Domination was apparently threatened with a legal injunction weeks prior to release. With no time to inform our fans, the label insisted we change our name - thus the switch to Contagion. Since Steven Gilmore's artwork was pretty much finished, the giant "PCB" remained on the cover This seemed kind of confusing with the original EP name "Contaminate", so we change the title to Contaminant PCB (We actually had wanted to change the name to BIOHAZARD PCB, but the label wanted nothing of it).

Jester: What would you consider your greatest influences to be? (musical, lyrical, etc)

Keith: Most of my early musical influences were been based in electronic projects: Yello, Cabaret Voltaire, Shriekback, Skinny Puppy, Tangerine Dream and Front 242. These were the strongest influences for me when I started the group.

Jester: A lot of people have accused Contagion of being a Nitzer Ebb clone. What is your opinion on the issue?

Keith: Based on some of the tracks from Contaminant, I can respect that opinion - although that does not really represent the Group's direction. I do have a strong respect for the simplicity and aggression of (older) Nitzer Ebb productions - and this was probably an influence for tracks like Ingest and Fight! We had also played a few times with Die Warzau - who I think may have influenced us even more. Those songs were written back in 89-90 when we were still establishing our style, and I think they contributed to our focus as an aggro-electronic band. However, by the time the Contagion CD was released, although our writing styles had evolved and incorporated other influences - the old school Nitzer Ebb records were long gone. I think the Ebb reference was spawned by people who didn't understand the record.

Jester: When you sit down and compose new material, where do you usually begin?

Keith: Most of my compositions are based on the sounds themselves. I tend to get inspired by a fantastic sample, or a great sound texture. I do often write songs in my head first, but I find that I move faster and create more intense rhythms when I start with the sounds.

Jester: Where did the sample "Who told you to think?" come from?

Keith: That actually came from the film Total Recall. There were much longer samples from this film in the original tracks, but the label wanted to eliminate most of the samples for legal reasons. The original release of Ingest from the "Infectious" pre-release cassette contains most of these samples.

Jester: Have you performed as Contagion since 1991? Can we expect live shows with the release of the new album?

Keith: We performed throughout 1991 and 1992 for the Contaminant PCB tour. The Front Line tour was from August - October 1992. Our last public show was in Los Angeles in 1993. We will probably do some limited shows for the next album, however we want to make sure we have proper tour support to back the shows.

Jester: What mood and style of music can we expect from the new album? Will it be more mellow because much of the material has been used previously in soundtracks?

Keith: The next album will actually be much harder and much slower than the last record. There won't be any of our score material featured (however several of the tracks were credit tracks or source cues from the recent films). There will still be a few dance tracks, but for the most part we wanted to create a record that was more interesting to "listen" to.

Jester: Why did you decide to start a side project called Digital White Noise?

Keith: Digital White Noise was started around 1990 for our "other" material. We were creating a tremendous of electronic music at the time - some of it wasn't really Contagion material. We decided to form Digital White Noise as a creative outlet for these miscellaneous tracks. Digital White Noise is currently an active side-project fro PCB Productions. Many tracks appear as source cues for the film scores, as well as a few interactive titles. We are also working on releasing a full length CD in mid 1998.

Jester: What would you consider your most favorite Contagion track?

Keith: I try not become too attached to my songs. We have written over 50 tracks for Contagion and Biohazard PCB, however very few have ever seen the light of day. Most of the songs are archived - waiting for vocal over dubs or something. Occasionally a song that was my favorite during writing, becomes an abomination during recording (e.g. 'Ingest'). "Contaminant PCB" represents an aggressive time in my life, so I tend to think of songs like abstract attitudes. When I get really pissed off you get 'Aggress'.

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