Interview with Lars Fox of Grotus, conducted via phone by Kevin Congdon, August 11, 1996

Kevin: How did your two month tour across country go?

Lars: It was really bad. It was hotter than hell and the van kept breaking down. There was barely any advertising and hence, barely any turn-out.

Kevin: Was that just because London wasn't interested in advertising for a lesser-known band?

Lars: I actually have no idea what's up with London as far as supporting us when we're on tour. Whenever you deal with these big labels, they just tell you whatever you want to hear - it's always a sunny day, everything is great, etc. And when it comes down to it, it's all fucked up.

Kevin: So why did the band decide to move to London from Alternative Tentacles?

Lars: We love Alternative Tentacles, and they're good friends of ours. But at the time, we couldn't find our records anywhere; we were in New York City and couldn't find it. When we signed with London it was 1994; it was a time when it seemed like an indie band could go to a big label and not get screwed or get completely neglected - it was a more optimistic time. Now there's no way in hell I would make that move. There was a lot of good reasons to do it when we did it, all of which have pretty much dried up and blown away now.

Kevin: But at the time you thought you would get better distribution or more support?

Lars: Yes, and the idea of a major label is appealing; you're going to get decent gear, they give you money to live on, your records will be available places and there will be publicity for them. There's just a lot of things, like you get to actually record in a studio instead of a living room. So that's pretty much why we decided to do that, but it just got pretty botched up.

Kevin: Did you get any reactions from older fans that you were selling out, since you had moved to a bigger label?

Lars: No, not really, because anybody who really knows us, knows we're not even capable of selling out.

Kevin: What about that less than praising review for your album "Mass" that was in a recent issue of Alternative Press?

Lars: That made me really pissed actually. It was really weird, because those people were totally supportive of us three years ago -- we slept at their houses when we played Cleveland and we had long conversations with them; and they put us in these issues that had nothing to do with our music, like a big photo spread for the anti-fashion issue. So it was a huge stunning slap in the face when they ripped us pretty much on the basis of one song; I don't think the reviewer listened to anything on that album aside from that one song, because that's all he talked about. And it's actually a weird song and there's nothing else like it on the record. The guy was dissing us for being Industrial, which oddly enough we're not; it seemed like the guy had something personal against us. With our earlier records we were really lucky and got a lot of good press. With this one we got almost nothing whatsoever; I think we got maybe five articles written about us in magazines. So it was really a huge and strange shock; we didn't know if London's publicity fucked it up or if people just hated our record. But the funny thing was, most of our fans who write us a lot of letters we're saying "The record's great." To us, it's not very different from "Slow Motion Apocalypse," it's just recorded a lot better.

Kevin: Have people mentioned what they really like about the album?

Lars: A lot of people really like the bluesy songs. There are some people who say they like "Slow Motion Apocalypse" better, but they still like "Mass" a lot. Our whole idea from the beginning was that we wanted every record to be really different from each one; we wanted to evolve constantly. But within the context of that, there still is a consistency of what we do; the vocals are going to be the same, we're always going to use samples, we're always going to use lots of drums and six-stringed bass.

Kevin: Are you happy with the evolutionary stage of the band at this time, making a few improvements with each album?

Lars: For us, it's not so much our improvements in our ability to work in a recording studio, because that's a natural evolution that everybody probably goes through; I'm talking more of our stylistic approach. The first record we made "Brown" was really mechanical and so after that we wanted to then make our music more human, more of a merging between machines and human beings. And then we made an EP "Luddite" that kind of went too far [on the human factor]; so then we wanted to go back halfway between [the last two albums] and that's where "Slow Motion Apocalypse" came in. At that point we were all listening to a lot of ethnic music and we really wanted to stretch the vocabulary of "alternative" music. In the years between "Slow..." and "Mass", lots of people who used samplers started using ethnic instruments; I'm not saying they jumped our idea, it probably occurred to a lot of people at the same time. And we were around people who were using these kind of samples, so we were thinking we better do something a little bit different next time.

Our natural musical background, which has always been present in what we do, although it's been buried sometimes, is to be bluesy, because I sing that way. I don't know why, but the singers that always appeal to me have these big burly, nasty voices. Adam, our guitarist and sampler, plays the six-stringed bass, which is a really bluesy-sounding instrument; so without even trying, those kind of bluesy songs plopped right out of us. Our first idea, instead of the Indian-oriented record which is what "Slow..." ended up being, was to do a Latin-oriented one. We wrote a few songs in that vein, but for some reason that identity just kind of disappeared and the bluesier aspect came forward. My favorite thing that we have evolved into at this point are the sort of bluesy songs we're doing now; they're just the most fun to perform live and I think they sound the best too.

Kevin: When the band first started up, what was the reasoning for going for more of an organic feel to the music?

Lars: Well it wasn't when we first started out, because at that time, we didn't know what the hell we wanted. We had all been in rock bands and at that point we considered ourselves to definitely be interested in doing something that was decidedly not rock. We were all guitar-rock burn-outs and we decided to make music with samplers that was totally based around the sampler rather than the guitar. So the first album is the sound of three guys sitting with headphones on in a living room apartment in San Francisco. It was very mechanized sounding and I think that's where a lot of the so-call Industrial music sound comes from; it's two computer nerds with headphones on poking buttons -- and I love that shit, don't get me wrong -- but I think that a lot of the characteristic of the genre comes from the frustration of not being able to rage your head off because you're in an apartment. We began performing live, and to our surprise we did really well. We had all been in bands that went nowhere, and all of a sudden Grotus starts having lots of people coming to see them and it was really, really weird. So we started thinking "maybe we should get a drummer, so we don't have this drum machine making all this noise." So we got a drummer and decided "okay, now we can sound more organic." That was were the evolution towards sounding more organic came from.

Kevin: How did the remixes on your "Handjob" EP come about with Sascha (of KMFDM) and Jack Dangers (of Meat Beat Manifesto) and the "Opiate for the Masses" EP with Trans Global Underground?

Lars: "Opiate for the Masses" was the first one, which was a remix of songs from "Slow Motion Apocalypse." We played with this band in England called Fundamental, who are this really great Hip-Hop band and they have a side project, Trans Global Underground, which is their techno thing. They said, "we'd really like to remix you guys, because you sound like a heavy metal version of us." So we just mailed them a tape of our samples and they mailed us back a tape three days later totally finished, the whole record was totally done, it was awesome. And we put it on and we were totally blown away, we loved it. The funny thing is, I don't even like techno personally, the other guys in the band do, but I don't like it that much, and I really like those remixes. It was like if you made a jigsaw puzzle and you gave it to somebody else to put it together and all the pieces could be intermixed in different ways. When we listened to that record, it was like we were hearing ourselves with completely fresh ears. We really liked the whole remix idea after that. Adam has become good friends with Jack of MBM, and he was doing lots of remixes for a lot people and had said he would like to do one for us, so we were honored to have him do one. We have the same manager as KMFDM and we thought it would be cool if Sascha could try one, so he did and it was pretty interesting.

Kevin: Is there any one remix that the band likes over the others?

Lars: Everybody likes different ones. I loved the "Opiate for the Masses" ones, but they're all cool. The ones that Jack and Sascha did, each one of them is very much Jack and Sascha, so there's a little less Grotus identity. But to a certain extent, the whole remix thing is a bunch of crock, because on some remixes of bands' songs there's one original sound. Like if you listen to Jack's remix, there's barely any Grotus in there; there's the vocals and one or two sounds of ours, and the rest of it is all stuff he put together. The whole thing cracks me up and it's really a big scam in a lot of ways. It just fleshes out records that there's not that much to, it kind of becomes filler. And somebody who really had almost nothing to do with a record now has their name on it. Again, I loved the "Opiate for the Masses" remixes, but really, it's not very Grotus and if someone went out and bought this expecting to hear the Grotus sound, they'd be going "what the hell is this?"

Kevin: How do you go about collecting and incorporating the tremendous amounts of samples you use in your songs?

Lars: Usually it's Adam or John, our bass player; they both come up with a lot of stuff that basically become our songs in the sample form. A lot of it is sort of like research, you have to become sort of a sound librarian. You listen to something and go "wow, that was a cool little millisecond of feedback. I'd like to take that and slow it down and loop it backwards and run it through a flanger." You get enough of those things together and you get a rhythm and you end up having a bunch of patterns that imply certain chord changes or certain moods that the lyrics can come from. Lyrically, it's from whatever I'm reading at the time or whatever I'm thinking about at the time, which kind of filters through.

Kevin: So do you usually write the lyrics after the music has been created?

Lars: Yes, because I want the lyrics to be about what the song sounds like it's about. I've been in bands before where I would write the lyrics and then we'd write songs around them, and to me it always sounded like we just stuck some lyrics into an unrelated song. Doing it the other way, letting the mood of the song really dictate what the song is about is definitely the better way for us.

Kevin: So is that the same kind of process for choosing your video samples; you create the song and find some footage that seems to fit the song?

Lars: After a song is written and we start practicing it for live situations is usually when the video ideas start coming up. I tape tons of TV and catalogue it; I do the visual sampling and Adam and John do the audio sampling. I'll go through my stuff and find something that looks like it will be cool and huge on stage and has some vague association with what the song is about. A lot of our songs, just because I'm this kind of person, are about TV and about the criticism of technology, so a lot of that stuff is readily available on TV. But I don't know what the next record is going to be about; but it needs to not be about TV, we have enough songs about that.

Kevin: So does it take quite a bit of time to get the video footage together for a live show?

Lars: Yes, and that's actually why we don't do too many one-off shows anymore. There was a time when we were all in S.F., and we'd play like once a month. And it's just so much fucking work. So now we just do tours instead of individual shows.

Kevin: You mentioned that you toured Europe fairly extensively after "Slow Motion Apocalypse" came out and the great reaction you got over there. Why do you think you have more acceptance over there?

Lars: I think a lot of it has to do with Alternative Tentacles, our old label, which is a really strong label overseas; it's highly, highly regarded, it's like Touch & Go is here in the states. Jello Biafra is an icon over there, probably because on the whole, people over there are politically more sophisticated. People are also more "artsy-fartsy", so with a band like Grotus, more ears are opened to us; whereas here, it's a little more about identity and fitting into categories.

Kevin: How do you come up with your stage persona - what appears like a combination of cheesy entertainer and a disassociation with the audience, like your in some sort of meditation?

Lars: It just kind of comes out. All the songs are about a specific thing, so when we're performing them, I think about what that song is about and what the personality of the song is. Or if there is a character going on, what the character's trip is - like psychotic or cheesy, like faking the enjoyment of something. When we perform, I don't really feel like I'm there; I feel like some other thing takes over, I call it "getting out of myself". Sometimes I can't get out of myself, and those shows suck. It's more of a cathartic, crisis kind of thing, then meditation; it's a feeling of I'm this casual observer buried deep in my head somewhere and my body's doing these things and I'm responding to external stimuli like the music, but at the same time, I don't feel like I'm in control of it.

[Interviews] [Sonic Boom]
Last Modified: