Interview with Gravity Kills, La Luna, Portland, OR 11/23/96

Jester: How does it feel that after just over a year you have gone from being practically no one, to being on three album soundtracks, having a major label record contract, and headlining a tour?

Doug: We've probably been on one huge tour since before the album came out. First we opened for Sister Machine Gun, then toured on our own, opened for someone else, then our own tour again, then Sex Pistols and finally this tour. We have been around the country five times now.

Kurt: I remember just last year I was just looking at my daytimer and filling out all the dates and shows we would be playing and realizing how much of a complete unknown I was starting into this year.

Doug: Normally you would have a normal job and be able to predict what was going to happen to you over the course of a year, but in our case, we had no idea of where we would be going or where we would end up. In this business you can't make any sort of plans because it will inevitably get changed. The whole thing has been really bizarre. In the end I try and look at the whole thing like its just another job.

Kurt: He always says that and I never agree with him. I've worked a real job before for three years dragging myself out of bed at 6 am every day. This is a totally different kind of job. I'm not saying it is bad work, just a different kind of work.

Doug: Every day I get up and I love this job because I know it is all about music. I work five times as hard because it is something I love to do. It is so rewarding because it is about our music and our fans, not anyone else.

Jester: How has TVT Records been to you?

Doug: They have been great to us. They let us produce the record ourselves and choose who we wanted to mix it. We did all of our own artwork for the record. We choose all of the video directors for our videos.

Kurt: Whatever we asked for, we have gotten. In the beginning TVT might have been a little hesitatant about letting us retain so much control, but now because it has worked so well they pretty much trust us.

Jester: What was it like going from totally producing your own music to having someone like John Fryer mix your album?

Kurt: All he did was mix the final versions of the albums. If you compared the final mixes to what we had done previously, you would probably be unable to notice much of a difference.

Doug: The original demos were mixed in a bedroom and John had no real creative input at all in our music.

Jester: How did you arrange to get on the "Mortal Kombat", "Seven", and "Escape From L.A." soundtracks?

Kurt: There is no real mystery on how you get on soundtracks. Music labels get approached by film companies asking if they have artists which fit a specific mood or genre for a film.

Doug: For "Mortal Kombat" the studio was looking for bands that were somewhere between Techno and heavy Rock. We happened to fit into the style that they wanted. They ended up picking 'Blame' which was still only a demo that hadn't been professionally mixed. We kind of laughed but they took it anyway. For "Seven", New Line Cinema wanted us to score an introduction to the film. So we wrote a new song, but it ended up being dropped in favor of another track.

Kurt: So we put that track on the beginning of the album as well as a companion piece as the last track on the album. For "Escape From L.A." they chose us and flew us out to California to film a free video for us. Too bad the film really sucked.

Jester: When can we expect a new album?

Kurt: Everyone seems to want a new album and yet they seem to forget that we just released an album less than a year ago. It takes us like ten months to write a new record. People want us to both tour and release a new album and we have to find a balance between them.

Doug: We'll probably tour for this record for about 18 months and then begin writing the album next May. In a perfect world we would have the next album out in October 1997, but realistically it won't be until March of 1998.

Jester: I remember seeing you guys last December in Chicago at the Cabaret Metro. Have you really been on tour that long?

Doug: We actually flew out to Los Angeles the day after that show to film 'Guilty'. That was the night that my keyboard flew off stage into the audience. I just picked it up and put it back on and kept playing.

Jester: That brings up a question that many people have been wondering about. Do you really play your keyboard on stage or is it all on tape?

Doug: I play live, I just play sloppy. I've been getting much better the more I play. After 220 shows I better be finally getting better. After every show I ask Jeff how well I've been playing. Some nights he thinks that I've done really well, other nights, like in Chicago, he thought I played like crap.

Jester: When you play live, how much is actually performed live versus how much of the music is on tape?

Doug: When you play in a venue like this a lot of the detail that we put in our music that simply isn't going to come across live. So we end up playing more of the drums, bass, guitars type of thing. We do use a tape backup for some of the more elaborate loops and back beats. Obviously we don't have female vocalists on stage so those are sampled.

Kurt: Amusingly enough, we have played Portland three times, and all three times the backing tape has died part way through the show. So tonight we are hoping that it doesn't happen again but with our luck it probably will. All three times when it happened before it seemed like the end of the world on stage but we kept on playing and the audience really never noticed. We video tape every show, and when we watched the Portland shows the crowd never seemed to skip a beat when our tape died.

Jester: When you play drums, do you play to a 'click' to keep time?

Kurt: Yes. What we do is extremely common. If we didn't do it our live shows would not sound like the album and we certainly are not going to hire four more keyboard players to trigger samples. So I play along to the click and trigger some of the samples and sequences. Nobody seems to mind us doing it this way. I think of it more as a crutch anyways. I don't like it when you take it away and I feel safer when I have it, but realistically I could probably play without the click.

Jester: Has anyone in the band had any type of formal musical training?

Doug: I took nine years of classes as a piano major. I also had about a year of theory. No one else has had any type of training at all.

Kurt: What is funny is that I wrote all of the guitar parts for 'Blame' and the song was published in a guitar magazine. So when I looked at the music sheet in the magazine I realized that I could not even read the music.

Doug: It is all about how the music sounds anyways. You don't have to be able to read music to be able to know if something sounds good. Music is not from your head but from your heart. In some respect, I feel that people who are classically trained are too limited in their musical abilities. If you don't know that you are not supposed to write a song in a certain manner, you won't be inhibited from creating an experimental piece of music.

Kurt: None of us are great technical musicians but we are all very good writers. We are all very good at writing a style of music that sounds good to the ear. I consider us to be artists rather than musicians.

Jester: What inspired you to first compose and release music for other people to hear?

Kurt: It is different for everyone. For me it was when I was twelve years old when I played in a band in a high school talent show. I played a five minute drum solo as well as a cover of 'Shake It Up' by the Cars. When I got done, the whole room of 600 kids was just in awe. At that moment I knew music was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Every dollar I ever earned as a kid was spent on music gear or albums. All through high school I saved half of my gas and lunch money for music. I've always just loved composing music. It is an emotional outlet. Some guys are really into sports and use it as an outlet, for other people like me, music was always my outlet.

Jester: What will your live set be like? Will you just be playing tracks off your album and the three soundtracks?

Doug: Yes, but we also like to throw in a few surprises.

Kurt: Lately halfway through the set we have been asking for the audience to request our next track. So Jeff takes out a guitar and starts playing a requested track by ear. He can probably play by ear better than anyone else in the band. You can ask him to play something and he can figure out the guitar parts in less than twenty seconds. So he asks for requests and plays like a verse or two before we break into something else.

Doug: We are doing a cover of a rather old song tonight though. You probably won't recognize it unless you were really into English synth-pop in the early eighties. So listen closely and try to figure it out.

[ That night Jeff broke into a cover of a Depeche Mode classic, 'Personal Jesus', slightly altered to become 'Personal Demons'. Then they broke into a cover of a Human League track whose title I cannot place. Ironically enough it was a track old enough to have actually had Adi Newton of Clock DVA contribute to it prior to him leaving the band.]

Jester: What style or genre of music would you consider yourself?

Kurt: Techno-Rock. I would never consider us Industrial in any sense of the word. To me industrial was a label that described bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Einstruzende Neubauten and Throbbing Gristle. They created music from things they found in the environment which is totally different than what we do.

Doug: We take elements like a drum beat, mix it with very heavy guitar, add media sound bytes, movie samples and vocals and call it a song.

Kurt: While we do use some elements of Industrial music, I think it is too broad of a label to encompass us.

Doug: Who is really Industrial these days anyways? Is Garbage Industrial because they use funny loops in the music? Is Van Halen Industrial because they use guitar feedback on their last album? What a silly term.

Kurt: We just draw from sources that we grew up with from Industrial to Punk to Techno.

Jester: What type of method do you use when you sit down and write a new song?

Kurt: Matt and I generally put together the guitar, bass, drums structure first. Then Doug comes in and tracks it in the studio. When the song is essentially complete then Jeff comes in and writes vocals. We tend to keep him out of the whole musical process until the track is mostly complete. Then he comes in and writes very intuitive vocals without having any preconceived notions of what he is supposed to write.

It doesn't always happen that way, sometimes we are just jamming and decide to use a portion of the jam as the basis of a new song. As a result we are always recording everything we do in the studio because sometimes we end up playing something really good due to spontaneity and we want to be able to go back and capture what we just played.

Doug: We wrote both 'Never' and 'Down' that way. There is a definite division of labor and respect for everyones responsibilities but there really isn't a formula that we always follow. If there was a formula we would have no type of exploration. If there is no exploration there would be no point in writing music. So we end up writing music is a wide variety of different ways.

Jester: How much of you of your material is presets versus samples?

Doug: All of the keyboard parts are samples. There are maybe two to three preset keyboard bass lines on the entire record and the rest is all samples. Everything else is just a deconstruction put together in a digital editing studio by hand. We love taking samples from movies. The one scene in "Natural Born Killers" where Juliette Lewis hits her head on a door is used as a sample on 'Last'. We take sample source material from all over. We take it flip it around backwards and mutilate it beyond all recognition. To this date no one has been able to tell me where any of my samples have come from anyways. The whole fun of using samples in the first place is being able to bury, distort, clip, edit and flip them. In the past people have accused me of sampling from video games and while it is a very good idea I've never actually done it yet.

Jester: Where do you see the band going in the future?

Doug: Who the hell knows.

Kurt: We can't possible know where we are going to go. If you try and plan too far in advance you are doomed to fail. You can't do artwork until an album is complete. You can't predict what the character of the record until it has been written and that is what drives the artwork.

Jester: What artists do you listen to in your free time?

Doug: Yesterday we were listening to The Cars and David Bowie in the bus. I have a hard time listening to music without structure. I enjoy very well written songs. Robin Hitchcock writes perhaps some of the most perfectly structured music I have ever heard.

Kurt: Lately I have been listening to Underworld, Tool, Korn, and Chemical Brothers.

Jester: Anything else you would like to add in conclusion?

Doug: Please come see us live. After people see us play live I think that they finally understand us. There was this writer in Denver who just ripped our music apart and said that we had no identity from only listening to the studio album. Then he saw us open for the Sex Pistols and he retracted his entire review. He went back and said that it was all wrong that we were the best live show that he had seen in three years. I have a lot of respect for people like that. So I think that our live show is something that people really need to come and discover for themselves to truly understand us.

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