Interview with Mark Spybey of Dead Voices on Air - conducted by Telephone - May 3, 1996

Photos by Jester Copyright © 1998

Jester: Your right in the middle of preparing for the European tour right now?

Mark: Yes, We just finished rehearsing, and we are playing a warm up show as part of a thing called Music West. It's on Saturday night with Lydia Lunch. (5/4/96)

Jester: Exactly which bands will be performing on the tour?

Mark: Download, and we will be performing a couple of Dead Voices on Air tracks, but essentially it will be a Download show. The opening bands will be Twilight Circus in Dub, and Haujobb. We'll be playing all over Europe in June.

Jester: You'll be coming back to North America in July?

Mark: Yes. We are in the process of hooking up with a promoter in the United States. As of this point we don't have a definite tour status, but we are working on it. The tour will probably start in mid July and finish in August.

Jester: You've been very prolific in the past several months with three Dead Voices on Air albums, as well as participating in two Download albums as two Download EPs. Why the sudden and massive release schedule?

Mark: Actually, there is another project called Propeller which was released in January, it adds up to too many. It was completely coincidental. It was timing. It just came to fruition at pretty much the same point in time. If you factor in the other material from the family of bands which I am working with right now you have the two new Skinny Puppy albums, a new Tear Garden, Doubting Thomas, it adds up to more than ten albums released in a year, and to be honest, we kind of like the pace. The fact that we can make music this quickly in generally unbeknownst to fans. The process that I use for Dead Voices on Air is not that dissimilar from Download. We rely on a great deal of improvisation. We are all sort of akin to the whole process of improvisation. If you write music in that sort of basis, you don't have to sit down and write a vocal track, think about it for two months, stroke the dog for another two, and then actually get around to recording it. I think we are proving the fact that you really can make music that quickly.

Jester: Is part of it because a large majority of the material was written in the downtime in writing the final Skinny Puppy album? Rumors suggested that cEVIN had over twenty hours of Download material on tape and he was sifting through it to release the albums.

Mark: We are using little bits of that library, but the majority of the albums are new material, and twenty hours is a conservative estimate on the amount. When Dwayne, cEVIN, Philth and myself got together, we record all sorts of beautiful and great music. We did dig through and cut pieces from the music collection for "The Eyes of Stanley Pain", but the majority was written over the period of a month. It's not as if we go and filch through the collection, even if we are, then all of the material really has been recorded in the last fourteen months. For the band it's new, but by the time you actually get an album released, it has been months and months. What is beautiful is that you can listen to the new music and Dwayne is probably on every track. It's within our grasp and we have the technology to be able to incorporate some of his music, so we use it.

Jester: Do you have a day job outside of writing and performing music?

Mark: I must say that I do have a real occupation. I'm using time off from my day job from my music right now, but yes I do. It has been an interesting journey and exhausting for all concerned to find time to do everything. Holding down two jobs is not an easy thing as anyone will attest to, but if you want it to desperately want it to work, you will do so by any means necessary.

Jester: Is there any other older Dead Voices on Air releases besides the three recently released albums, and the cassette on G.R.O.S.S. Records?

Mark: Yes.

Jester: Do you find it mind boggling that it all came to fruition so suddenly?

Mark: Not really. Dead Voices On Air started four years ago. I started by going through the process of trying to find a record label and it worked out very well for me. I'm of the Halfer Trip philosophy, that is you have the material available you really ought to release all of it. We unfortunately tend to base our mind set on the rock music field. The bands who tend to take years between records. One of my favorite bands, Kraftwerk, seem to take decades between records. But, having said that, it's is just the way we work in this field. If you heard us live, you'd understand what I'm saying. You really need to see Download perform to truly understand where all the music is derived.

Jester: Of the three labels you've worked with, Cleopatra, Invisible, and Nettwerk, which do you have the best relationship with?

Mark: It's difficult to understand where you are trying to go with a question like that.

Jester: I think part of it is the rumor mill on the Internet accusing people of switching labels for money issues, or poor management. We as the audience don't understand why someone might choose to work with more than one label unless you've had a bad experience.

Mark: We have no hard feelings at all towards any of the labels. Once you get to this type of position of releasing records like we are, it's all fairly clear from our point of view, but as for the rumor mill discussing what I do with my personal life, or how I feel about a record label, I'm not interested in talking about it. You take, which you need to take with a major pinch of salt, because there are some seriously disturbed people writing on that forum. The kind of people who throw abuse at other people, and making false accusations. It is absolutely mind boggling that any type of facts come out whatsoever. So, I treat it like water off a dogs back, and it doesn't bother me at all. For the record, I've heard those types of absurd rumor myself, which are all just not true. If you want to deal with a record label, the logical reason is to choose one which you are close to geographically. I'm a five minutes walk away from Nettwerk, which is pretty damn close. It's all very humble and simple, but as usual, people will take and beat it around the bush until it becomes totally untrue. It really is a shame that this is the type of society that we are living in.

Jester: Apart from the negative aspects of the Internet, have you had any positive experiences from it?

Mark: Sure. I've met some really good people through it. There are times in your life that you meet people and they change you. I think over the past year, I've meet three people over the Internet that I feel really privileged to know.

Jester: Do you write you own web pages, or does someone else?

Mark: Something else does, although the Subconscious page was done by Anthony Valcic. The Download pages are all done by fans. I regard them as labors of love because I known there are bands in my time that if I had the ability to write web pages, I most certainly would have done it for them. Mostly because of what the music meant to me. I think it is a great honor for people to do those sorts of things. It is very flattering.

Jester: Could you elaborate a little about your two years experience with Zoviet France and how it lead you to eventually move to North America and begin your own solo project. The only information I have was that you had played with them live a few times.

Mark: I played with them for their first ever two live concerts. Before I joined them, they had never played live before. I have a lot of good things to say about Zoviet France. They clearly stand out as the something like the Halfer Trio who have been out on a limb for over ten years now and having been producing music of consistent standards. They have been doing some really good work within the genre and I learned a great deal by being a member. People leave bands for all sorts of different reasons. In my own mind there is no reason to discuss them with anyone. I have nothing bad to say about anyone, and I communicate with all of the remaining members as much as time allows. As far as I am concerned, good luck to them.

Jester: On "Shap", the album seems to been stylistically a great deal different than your previous two releases. It seems to be a collection of shorter, non cohesive tracks quite unlike the other two.

Mark: Historically you have to put the albums in this order because this was the order in which they were recorded. The oldest album is "New Words Machine", which was written in the winter of 1992. "Hafted Maul" and the cassette album on G.R.O.S.S. came next recorded about same time. "Shap" was recorded in May of 1995. I don't really go into a studio with Dead Voices On Air, or rather I haven't been. For all intents and purposes, I am making music constantly. As a result, I've been through all sorts of different changes in my own mind about how I want my music to sound like. I'm not a very conceptual type of person. I don't enter into a position where I dictate how I am going to write my music. The only two things that kind of stand out. The first is just before writing "Shap" , I entered into recording an album by Propeller whose purpose was to record tracks which were as short as possible. I've always liked the idea of disposable music. The idea that you can utilize all the elements that you want within as short of time as possible. It all goes back to bands like Wire, who were thought to be pretty outlandish when they released their first album with twenty-one tracks on it. At that point in time, 1997, it was considered absurd. The beauty of it was that every single track was an epic within itself and it told it's story as plain as day. Through that kind of method of working with Propeller, I entered into "Shap". I no longer felt as on "New Words Machine", that I needed twelve to seventeen minutes to try get my ideas onto a track. The other thing that influenced me at the time was that I had started working with Download. I was using a great deal of vocals quite by accident. I had started to get into chant and different kinds of emotional music. I think there are all sorts of choral references on "Shap" from music over the ages. I wanted to sort of dissect my music. I've always been a really big fans of the Hare Krishna guys who run around the street who plays all those Tibetan style instruments.

Jester: I was trying to understand where some of the lingual derivatives that you were using for you vocals, and coming from a Latin background, I was getting nothing. I was curious as to how you developed you lyric sources, and what they were.

Mark: Your comment interests me a great deal, because I respect it because as a listener you sit down and you try and take in elements. Trying to decide what the musician is saying and trying to make some sort of sense of it. It starts to kind of resonate from your own background, so if you are from a Latin background such as yourself, you start and try to look for some of the words. I could for instance say that something like 'Attalal' from "Furnace" by Download, the final ten minutes is basically all Latin. Or at least Latin sounding words. I have an encyclopedic desire to include all sorts of different sounds into my work without it trying to make literal sense. The words on the new Download album and EP, although we are not printing them, are all in English. Real English. I also use a lot of Olde English which was something I was into about the time "Furnace" was released, and has been something I was always interested in. I'm from the north of England, as you can probably tell from my ridiculous accent, and the language there is very rich because it includes all sorts local cultural references. In the case where I am from includes the fact that centuries ago that we were invaded by Norwegians. We also had a sort of rich Celtic influence in the north of England as well as Roman. Linking all those things together, you have a pretty heavy brew of languages to pull from. I also believe that when you start to use made up words as languages that the sounds that you actually use or create are going to be derived primarily from your background. The fact that I am from the north of England is going to come over in the sounds that I am actually creating. It's a bit like a chemistry set, mixing together all the elements, not really sure what the end product is.

The best poetry in my opinion is the one that is the most abstract. Because it is actually forcing me to try and ignore the fact that there really isn't any literal significance to my lyrics, or makes me try to understand what the author is trying to say. I am more inclined to the first because I believe that words are actually a very powerful thing. The meaning of words are often not literal, instead happening at a deep emotional level, probably unconsciously. We certain try and make sense of words in a very complex, holistic sort of way. The educational system of the west puts so much emphasis on the desire to understand what other people are saying. We all want very concrete, literal translations of what people are trying to communicate. It makes all of the peripheral things having to do with language redundant. Having said that, having a mundane conversation with all sort of different people on a completely mechanistic level is dull. I was always really impressed with my brothers ability as a child to be able to translate the lyrics of pop singers. I would listen to a song and have no idea what they were singing about and thought it was great. It made a great deal more sense than actually knowing what was being said. It didn't really matter, I didn't want to know the real lyrics, they were boring. The way that the person was saying those words as well as the intensity of the emotion behind them are way more important than the lyrics themselves. That is the kind of standpoint that I have.

Jester: You'd rather have the listener understand the emotional context of your lyrics as opposed to the literal context?

Mark: Absolutely!

Jester: You have quoted Joesph Beuys in all of your liner notes on all of the Dead Voices On Air albums, and I was curious as to who he was to have such a profound influence on you?

Mark: I've always been interested in visual arts. When you walk into an art gallery as I often do and you see someone's work that just blows you away and you can't explain why that is happening. Then that person takes on a significance to you. You want to read about them, see more of their work and you want to understand the artist personally. That happened to me with Joesph Beuys in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1986. I walked into an exhibition in a very small and tattered gallery which was a retrospective of Joesph Beuys because he had died earlier that year. For some reason, I hadn't ever encountered his work before then and when I saw it really hit me like a large object falling from the sky. He was an artist we really wasn't trying to conceptualize the works that he was creating, he was just doing it. So you would have these objects in glass cases that were seemingly unrelated and this man was able to stop all those normal, logical processes that we have and just create the art, not caring about what people said. The more I learned about him, the more excited I became about him. He was a German artist who died in 1986, in his early sixties. He was a airplane pilot as a young man in World War II. He crashed in Poland and apparently because of the coat he was wearing and the fat that he was able to eat, he survived even with the wounds that he had suffered. Years later two of the elements that he use a great deal in his art were fat and felt. This man did things like encase an entire art gallery in felt. He made huge sculptures out of wax and included butter and lard. He became a kind of fairly notorious figure within the German and international art world because of some his work that was considered ahead of his time. He had a large impact upon the creation of the Green Movement in Germany.

The single statement that he made had more impact on me than any other artists ever was, "Everyone was an artist. By that he meant that literally everyone. Not just the fortunate people who are able to go and call themselves artists, but you and I. The fact of the matter is that the only reason why we don't call ourselves artists is that fact that it is a term reserved for people who are privileged and have an educational background. That made a lot of sense to me, not only am I a working class person from a very strong working class industrial area of Britain, but I was actually working at that point in time with people who were in long term psychiatric hospitals. These people were incredibly creative, imaginative and way modern than any type of academic artist that I came into contact with. I would go into art galleries and be disgusted with the quality of the work. Then someone who had never painted before in their life would pick up a brush and create something that was astonishly beautiful and so true to form. Real, honest, simplistic, but moving art. That was Beuys to me. He destroyed the notion that that only technically trained people can call themselves artists.

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