Interview with Eric Cook of Gravitar conducted via e-mail March/April 1996

Jester: How did you get involved with Mason Jones and Charnel Music to release your first album and 7"?

Eric:? We were familiar with Charnel from some of the other material they had put out, and I became familiar with Mason from his writings on the NM-list mailing list, and He seemed to be friendly and approachable, and it was obvious that we had some crossover in musical tastes. So...we just sent him a tape, more to get an unbiased outside opinion of what we were doing than anything. He liked it, and things just flowed naturally from there. (Some of that material from the 1st tape we sent him wound up on the 1st CD on Charnel, incidentally.)

Jester: Do you play any of your recorded material as it exists in it's original form live or you you primarily stick with improvised versions when you perform?

Eric:? Ah! I guess that depends on how you want to define "original form" and "improvised". All of it is improvised to some degree. That is, all of the material is loose enough for us to change the interpretation of it every time we play it. And that is a fairly distinct goal of ours...At this point, I'm not sure if we _could_ play the same thing in the same way multiple times. We've just been working in the opposite direction for long enough now, that it would be counter-instinctual. (Actually, I lie. I know we could play things the same way twice. We still have to fight against that at times.) But to answer the question: we stick with improvised versions. All of the recorded material are improvised versions as well. On the 2nd album, we were fortunate enough to have a wide selection of recordings to work with, allowing us to put some songs on that were, in essence, the first "version". ("Why is it so Hard?", "Krug Calling Rettick", in particular were composed "in the studio").

Jester: How did you come up with the name 'Gravitaativarravitar' for the new album? I noticed that it appears to use some type of reflection technique based upon the name of the band, but perhaps you can explain more.

Eric:? First came the garbled "logo" that appears on the cover of the new album -- the title is just an attempt to "English-ize" it. It was created by Harold Richardson, our old guitar player. I suppose I could go into some long justification of the name, talking about self-reflection, or something, but in all honesty, we picked it because we thought it looked interesting, and because it didn't have any specific meaning. (Though since people keep asking about the title, I suppose I should make up a more glib response to use for this question in the future, eh?)

Jester: Along the same lines, what exactly does the title of your debut album mean? "Chingu Su Corazon", Something of the Heart would be my guess.

Eric:? It translates, more or less, into "Fuck your heart". Geoff came up with the title, and I believe it had some personal significance (though not literal!) for him at the time.

Jester: Has the change around of the band line-up affected the band in any serious detrimental way, or have the new and remaining members filled the void of the departing members seamlessly?

Eric:? Well, there is a change, of course, and a certain period of readjustment whenever you bring people in, or shuffle people around. But for the most part, I think change as a whole is good; this one in particular has been. Not without downsides -- we had a few opportunities and projects fall by the wayside as we were reworking the songs with the new lineup for a few months. But now that we've gotten past that stage, we're more productive than I think we've ever been in the past. And Harold, the departed member, seems to be fairly active working with Mr. and Mrs. Velocity Hopkins, and some other local people, so perhaps the "split" was good for him as well. Similarly, the sound might be slightly modified, but we all have a clear conception of the group, and what we are shooting for, so it's less of an apparent change than you might think.

Jester: Who all have you performed live with besides, Crash Worship, Tekachi and not breathing? Have you picked up any undue musical influence from performing with any of these artists?

Eric:? Probably the most noteworthy ones, aside from those mentioned above, have been the Ruins (amazing bass-drums duo from Japan), Slug, the Laughing Hyenas, and Princess Dragon Mom (and their variations). As far as "undue" musical influence...we did cover a Tekachi song near the end of the tour we did with them. The Ruins were definitely an influence, especially Yoshida's drumming on me in particular. I know that Slug has been a great source of inspiration for Mike, both in his singing and guitar playing. Probably the biggest influence has been the PDM/Time Stereo people, though perhaps not as much on the music side of things. They just have an amazing sense of, more than anything, and a remarkably small amount of self-consciousness. Both of those elements have been great inspirations, both on our live shows, as well as our overall approach to what we're doing.

Jester: What kind of audience response do you get from your live shows versus fan response to your recorded material?

Eric:? Live shows are always largely dependent on whether the audience has an idea of where to put us in context or not...We're too "rock" for some straight-out noise fans, and too loose and unstructured (in a traditional sense) for some of the rock bills we get booked on. But it's pretty much been consistently positive, even if a little off the mark. (One reviewer referred to our "obvious" Bauhaus influence, which seemed fairly bizarre to me..)

Jester: How is the underground music scene in Detroit? I am originally from Kalamazoo myself and I've seen the music scene balloon to obscene proportions in the past few years since I left and I was curious if other Michigan cities were seeing that same type of change.

Eric:? In some ways, it seems to be getting larger. I think it is definitely a very positive environment, with many quality bands (in a variety of styles), and clubs and promoters that make an effort to book more "experimental" bands. It's friendly. We like Detroit. (For the record, we're spread out across SE michigan -- I'm in East Lansing, Mike is in Ann Arbor, and Geoff is in Detroit. But Detroit definitely seems like "home base".) It's interesting to me to see the interelationships (or lack thereof) of different circles of bands within one "scene", or between the different cities in Michigan -- there's a lot more cross pollination between Detroit/Lansing/Ann Arbor, for example, than with those towns and Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo. That may just be my perception of it though, and completely off the mark.

Jester: Does Mason keep you up to date on the sales figures and fan feedback on your releases? If so, how have you fared relatively well all things considered?

Eric:? Mason is very good at keeping us informed of sales, reviews and feedback. He's very professional at what he does, and we appreciate it. Sales have been fine, though it's not as if we're going to quit our day jobs and live off of the royalties! (That's not a goal, btw...we have a pretty clear conception of what the size of our audience is.) More importantly to us, the rate of sales has consistently been on the rise, both from album to album. It's nice to know that more and more people are hearing us.

Jester: Any plans for another cross country tour any time soon or will you be constrained for occupational reasons from doing so again for a while?

Eric:? Well, occupational reasons are going to keep us from hopping in the van for 6 months on end, but a late-summer tour of another 3-4 weeks is tentative. We had a wonderful time in California last time, and would definitely like get back to New York and the east coast soon, so time and money permitting...

Jester: What is your opinion on the direction the underground experimental/avant-garde music scene is going both musically and accessibility wise in the eyes of the generally naive public?

Eric:? That depends largely, I guess, on what faction of the "underground" you want to talk about. Japanese Noise? Chicago quietude, ala Tortoise? The New York Knitting Factory scene? West coast Tribalism?

Jester: As in along the lines of noise sculpturing and nonsequitor guitar work in your case as opposed to the raucous feedback of Japanese Noise or the Tribal dance frenzy of Crash Worship.

Eric:? If I had to make a prediction, I suppose I would guess that the supposed "border lines" between sub-genres are going to blur further and further. Individual artists may stay "purist" in one direction or other, but general trends will be for these differing circles to influence each other further and further.

I wonder about the sustainability of audience interest for some genres, as people seem to become jaded at a quicker and quicker rate all the time. In one way, that might lead to better music, as it forces musicians to keep expanding upon themselves continually in order to maintain an audience's interest in them.

This is probably all just hot air though...I'm too involved in my own tastes and concerns to make any predictions that even I believe wholeheartedly. (And I would suspect that most people are in similar positions, regardless of any claims to the contrary..) My qualifications to guess where music is going to go are only a sliver (if that!) more large than my qualifications to guess whether double-breasted suits are going to be popular in 20 years.

Some of it is inherently self-limiting in audience at a certain point -- Merzbow's not going to "break it big" and be touring with the Red Hot Chili Peppers... But there's still room for growth, and perhaps more importantly, influence. It may be indirectly, but the things that are going on today, the techniques and lessons, both in the US and abroad, will definitely be filtering their way into your children's music in some form or other.

Jester: Do you think that your genre of music is going to have the same kind of profound influence that people like Monte Cazazza, Z'ev, and Boyd Rice had upon the modern electronic industrial scene?

Eric:? Which genre are we? Not to be difficult or anything, but I'm unsure... I know your magazine deals mainly with the "electronic industrial scene", but I don't see us as being part of that continuum.

Jester: I'd probably place you in somewhere in the pseudo experimental guitar genre with the likes of people like K.K. Null, and Jim O'Rourke.

Eric:? In answer to your question though, I would say again that you will definitely see the influences of todays "underground" music in your children's music collections. Which artists or genres will specifically influence the music to come, and in what ways is anyone's guess. It's all a large continuum, and what one person takes as the holy writ of inspiration, another person may take as a negative blueprint -- "Good god, we don't want it to sound like that freaky crap our parents listened to!"

Jester: What exactly is the goal, reasoning, justification for you making and performing your music? Is it something deep and personal about communicating your messages to a diverse audience, or is it for something altogether more simplistic?

Eric:? Each member has their own different agenda, with some overlap that allows us to get along and work together. At the simplest level, it's just a matter of wanting to make the music that we wanted to hear. (Self-gratification?) On a more personal level for me, it's a context where I can explore and work out some of my personal ideas about music (the combination of music and "sound/noise", the mutability of rhythmic ideas in a rock setting, and some other things.) As far as communication with an audience, we feel that the material we work with is of a high enough quality to be of interest of others, at least on an emotional/visceral level. There's no, say, political message, or "statement on our post modern world", or anything as premeditated as that.

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