Jester: Could you give me a little background history on your newest musical project Decree?
Chris: Decree was something that John McRae and I started back when I first was touring with Front Line Assembly as a live member. We had some time to kill some really cool equipment to use so we decided to do some stuff that we felt was closer to our hearts than our previous project Will.
You can get an idea of what early Decree sounds like by listening to certain Will tracks like 'Measures Remedial', 'Souls of the Valiant', or 'Kingdom Come'. John McRae and I conspired on those three tracks absent from other members of Will. So when Rhys went his own way we decided to move along in that directions because it was closer to our hearts and certainly less structurally confining. So Decree became a project that sort of tipped it's hat to the experimental edges of the music scene which were responsible for getting me into music back when I was sixteen.
Jester: So the tracks on the album span several years worth of compositions?
Chris: Yes, some of the tracks go as far back as the first Will album in age. So Decree has been around for some time but it was really only present as live recordings saved on tape until recently. Many of the live songs on the album are from that early time period. It was really fun to take those older tracks and combine them with the material that we recorded while renting a closet from Subconscious Studios.
Jester: Are there any plans for you to try and tour with Decree?
Chris: I would really like to tour. However, with the new twist of joining up with Bill Leeb and working on Front Line Assembly, it is certainly going to delay a tour. Yet in the long run it will probably be a good thing because it will give me more flexibility and exposure for Decree.
Unfortunately it is very hard to put a tour together when you don't have a video, or you only have a single album released when you are as underground as we are. Of course I do love the concept of going into the back of a small, sweaty club and performing a little musical freak show. It allows you to get really close to the audience and it forces them to get involved with the performance. Certainly, we don't ever want to be in a situation where people can be passively talking amongst themselves while we are playing.
So touring is something I really want to do in the future but it is going to have to be a real guerilla style effort. I'm looking forward to that day but it is hard to say when because I have a hell of a schedule right now. So right now I am guessing that it won't be until 1998. We definitely have to release another album first. I've been chipping away at something new, but having new material is a definite must just so that we have enough material to play in a live setting.
Jester: How long ago was "Wake of Devastation" released on OffBeat Records in Europe?
Chris: It came out at the end of January. So far so good, I've received some very nice feedback. Of course, Europe is great for those kinds of things because they are really into the music there and they don't treat it as an accessory to their lifestyles. Music is still art to a lot of people there.
Jester: I noticed that there are a lot of live tracks on "Wake of Devastation", where were most of them recorded?
Chris: When we were in Will, we all used to live together. We just had an S1000, an Alesis Sequencer, and a little 8 channel mixer and we wrote all of our material wherever we happened to live. Wherever we lived was always absolute bare minimum. There were situations where Rhys was sleeping on box springs while John and I were sleeping on the floor. The live tracks come from whatever type of home environment that we could find before we got kicked out and had to move on.
Our neighbors were always commenting about the horrible noise coming from our apartment. Usually it would be John screaming through a Pro-1 which was locked into a feedback loop or something.
Jester: Did you have to do a great deal of mastering on those live tapes just to be able to have them sound okay on CD?
Chris: Yes, when you slap music onto a digital format you always have to clip the music so that it fits into the constrains of the fidelity. I found a way to make it sound really hot on the mastering DAT from the original tapes. The mastering plant wasn't even sure if they could press the CD. I just told them to do it and as far as the sound of the live tracks they don't sound that bad.
Originally those tracks were recorded onto cassette, then transferred to Hi-Fi VHS tape. Hi-Fi actually has a great deal of saturation to it so all we had to do was a little EQing before we transferred it to DAT. However, I had not planned to put those tracks on the record. Originally, the first release was only going to be an EP, but the label urged me to come up with some new material. So grabbed all of the older live tracks and ended up with an album.
Jester: On the studio tracks, at times the music can be rather noisy and chaotic, yet they always retain a dynamic and fluid underlying structure. How do compose something that is so heavily layered with organic noise, yet still maintain some sense of a cohesive musical structure?
Chris: It is a combination of several elements. Like I mentioned before we were renting a rather small space from Subconscious. It was really just the size of a closet that you can barely reach across with a vault door in the back. We'd stuff John in the little vault with a microphone until he'd almost have an aneuryism. I'd just record hours of him screaming along to the base programming of the tracks. Then we'd also do late night voodoo sessions on home made instruments that we would destroy at the end of the evening.
Of course when you record anything at Subconscious there are always people hanging around who inevitably help at some level in the recording process. So as indicated in the liner notes, there are a handful of musicians who contributed to the final sounds of the album.
In the end, I would spend hours and hours compiling all the sounds on a Pro Mix, S100, and a hard disk recorder. I'd grab the best little parts of all the sessions so that everything you hear on the album is all sampled from original session material. All of the live material ends up being brought back into the real world with software that allows me to place each person's contribution into it's own little layer and mold into into a final composition.
Jester: You've mentioned that there were several contributors to the album. The liner notes suggest that 'Bitter End' was a track that Dwayne Goettel contributed to and was sort of dedicated to as well. Is this true?
Chris: Actually, Dwayne worked on 'Talons Grasp'. We took huge chucks of the instrumental portions that he wrote and then mixed it up at the end of the tracks. So the final portion of that track is Dwayne going crazy on the mixing.
However, the lines listed in the liner notes for 'Bitter End' are a silent nod to Dwayne. We all really miss him and he was there during most of the early Decree recording sessions. The day that Skinny Puppy moved into Subconscious studios was the day we set up as well. So we all shared a lot of the same energies, and when they were really bogged from working on the "Process", they'd take a break and hear some really fucked up sounds coming out of our rented space. We'd bounce off each other and exchange ideas with everyone. It allowed us all to get to know each other a little better.
'Bitter End' was kind of a dedication to Dwayne. Those live tracks are old prophetic letters from that dark place. 'Wake of Devastation' was just an album that had to be done. I know that it is a nasty little disc and very unmarketable. There was the whole knot revolving around Will, along with a lot of personal baggage, that just needed to be released. So now that we have done it, we can finally move along to something else.
As for other contributors, Cevin spent almost two years in the studio with me. So his character is very strong in the music. We'd spent a lot of time in a very relaxed manner trading ideas, or showing each other various edits, which gave me a lot of ideas for my own music. All of the other contributors are friends of ours as well.
Jester: Who did all of the artwork for both the Decree and Will albums?
Chris: John did that. John is the propaganda minister. He does all of the graphics and lyrics for our music and as such is the most visibly human component of the band. He puts together all of the people and the photographs on a very shoestring budget. We don't have a lot of resources available to us so we've always figured out how to make things when we could not afford them.
The piece on the back of the Decree album was done by a friend of Johns who makes a lot of found art pieces. Then John arranged a pair of his hooved drum sticks alongside it. John is a really interesting and eccentric fellow but it works and I like the overall feel of the artwork. I particularly like the coiled up snake that is under the CD tray.
Jester: How did you first get involved with music and why this particular type of music as opposed to something else?
Chris: I'm the youngest of six, three boys, three girls. Growing up I was just a kid in the seventies. I had the good luck of having an older sister who was especially clued in on the music scene. I was just a prairie boy in Winnipeg and my sister was out in Vancouver. She had become involved with all these people in the underground scene here, when there actually was such a scene. She knew guys like Cevin, Bill, and Ogre.
I came out one summer and met all these people and heard all of the music that they were making. Something just clicked and touch a spot inside of me that made me excited about this whole new world of sounds and images. Being around musical people like that, you could always ask them which piece of gear was the best for a certain task. Cevin told me to pick up an STD1000, so I went and got one and the first time I set it up, I knew that I was hooked. I didn't need much talking into after that experience. After that it was just a matter of acquiring more gear and attending engineering school.
All throughout school I was working on some experimental stuff and I ended up meeting John and Rhys who were in this art school band called Aborted. Once we all met, we dropped what we were doing and start working together. So Will became the first project that I was really involved with.
Certainly I had the good fortune of being around the right people at the right time in my life when it struck a certain chord and things fell into place. I was lucky enough to get a sense of purpose and kept on going.
Jester: What have you been up to for the past few years since Will and before staring work on Decree?
Chris: Lying low. After Will collapsed, I toured with Front Line Assembly in 1992. Then I felt like I was in a situation that while it was fun, it hadn't changed into something that required my creative input. My feelings were not hurt or anything but I did need to go onto my own journey. It did also take over two years to write all the new material on the album apart from all of the live material. I didn't want to rush into things like I had done with will so I want to pace myself.
You need to understand that I was really wide-eyed and naive from Will and touring, that when I stopped doing both of those things, I crashed hard. I withdrew and became a little introverted to get a new direction on things. I was deciding how I wanted to tackle the music monster in my own time. I was in no rush to go forward quickly. Besides, it takes time when you play by your own rules to make things happen.
As fate would have it, I got a bite on the Decree project and the album got released. Then I got a surprise phone call from Bill Leeb asking me to help him out with the new Front Line Assembly album.
Jester: What would you consider your favorite Decree track?
Chris: My favorite Decree track would definitely be 'The Last Day'. Part of it is because it's the newest track. There is also this really cool sound that comes from a BCS-3 synth that puts an image into my head of complete isolation. I just see myself sitting in an ice field going snow blind. I really like being alone, for god knows what reason, and I really value my isolation time. So I always come back to that image when I hear the first part of that track. The working title for that track was even 'Cold' before John wrote lyrics for it. Maybe someday we'll make a video for that track in the ice fields.
Jester: Is there anything you'd like to add?
Chris: Just that I'd like people to be patient. The next album will be an interesting journey for sure. Hopefully it will be a upward step after the venting experience of the last album without being any less intense.