Interview with Don Gordon of Numb by Kevin Congdon at La Luna, Portland, OR 3/23/96

Kevin: Why don't you start by explaining why you've gone through so many vocalists in the band -- was it the because of the intensity of the music?

Don: It didn't start out that way. Sean, who was the first vocalist, is actually doing percussion now. It's not necessarily a case of parting with animosity with these people. What it has seemed to evolve into is like a case of slotting characters for a film, because every album is kind of a different headspace from the one preceding it and that's intentional. So it's a little bit like, "okay, who's going to be the lead this time" kind of approach. Blair Dobson (who was the vocalist for Christmeister) was exactly what I wanted, somebody who was a complete lunatic, and that's exactly what the album was. Whereas Death on the Installment Plan and Wasted Sky were different again, and I was going a bit for a in-the-head approach to the whole thing.

Kevin: So Conan Hunter (vocalist for DOTIP and Wasted Sky) was the person you were looking to cast for both of those albums?

Don: Well we did a lot of work together on DOTIP, but he wasn't around very much on Wasted Sky. He was barely in the studio long enough to get his vocals on tape and some of the preliminary sketches of songs, but for the most part he wasn't around.

Kevin: Do you have any input into the lyrics yourself or is it mainly the vocalist's duties?

Don: I have a lot of input, but it really depends on who I'm working with at the time. Sometimes you absolutely like what someone else is doing and I'll go "great keep it up", and others times it's "No, I'm head editor." The way I tend to work is not to sit down and go "okay dance track;" instead I will have sat down and done a ton of sampling, and then pull up my hard drive and randomly load some sounds and see what that leads me to. And once that leads to something, that leads me to something else and so forth, then that starts to find the character of the song. But at the same time there will be a lot of stuff you don't want, and when I'm working with the ideas themselves, they tend to be improvised as well. I don't tend to go in and manipulate every 16th note; I just sort of put a bunch of stuff in there and what you throw away is where the choices come from. So what you actually end up keeping is, in essence, a section of you editing your own raw creativity.

Kevin: Is it your intention to create pieces which have these schizophrenic personalities to them or is it just something that evolves as your manipulating?

Don: It's partially intentional and it's partially a reflection of my own personality; I'm easily bored.

Peter: What do all the dates on the inside cover of Death on The Installment Plan stand for?

Don: Nobody ever figured that out. They are the dates of executions of serial killers in North America. It goes back to the concept of government sanctioned death that was the part of the concept of DOTIP.

Peter: There are quite a few noisy tracks on DOTIP, but not as many on Wasted Sky. Why is that?

Don: That was intentional. When we were going into the studio to record Wasted Sky, I told the engineer I had been working with, Ken Marshall, "okay, we've gone down the noise road as far as we can go without turning it into pure noise. We could do that but it would be kind of boring, so why don't we try something else. Let's take it back and go up another road and see if we can get the same degree of angst but with something that's not so blatantly in your face."

Peter: For the song "Dead Place" from DOTIP, were you listening to any Skin Chamber or something similar? Because there seems to be kind of a correlation.

Don: For that record, in terms of guitar ideas, and especially for that particular song, the headspace I was coming from, was old, old Swans, circa Cop.

Peter: Do you plan on continuing using guitars in your work?

Don: I was originally a guitarist, so yes.

Kevin: Do you plan on using Dave Collings (who's has been doing the vocals duties for Numb while they've been on tour and also has his own band - The Fourth Man) on your next Numb release?

Don: We've done stuff together, but we haven't done a Numb album per se. We've be doing some remixes for other people. We've done the Operation Beatbox compilation on Re-Constriction. We just did something for Cleopatra; but it's not as Numb, it's got a female vocalist.

Kevin: So both you and Dave are doing the remixing?

Don: It depends on what it is. We just did one for Dive and that was both of us. Then I did some remixes for Christian Death and Deathline Int'l. I also did one with Ken Marshall for a Canadian pop band which was kind of amusing.

Kevin: What's your thinking about remixing; do you have people come up to you and ask you to remix or do you ask artists if you can remix their music?

Don: Up until now, I've been approached, and for the most part I have the control do to what I want, and that makes it fun because then it gets creative again. Whereas if you have to stick pretty much to the original, it's not a lot of fun. I guy I know in London was doing a remix for Talk Talk, and they might has well not have hired him, because they didn't really want him to change anything.

Kevin: What possessed you to cover Push It by Salt'n'Pepa on the Operation Beatbox compilation?

Don: Because that song will take a whole new meaning now.

Kevin: Did Chase contact you and ask if you wanted to cover a hip-hop song and you just chose one at random or did he give you a list of songs he wanted covered?

Don: I can't remember how that song came up actually. I remember Chase had thought of it, but I know I had always thought it was such a song ripe for mutilation. There are lots of songs like that where you go "boy, could I butcher this one" or "could I ever twist this into something quite sick." And it was one of those that just screamed out for sickness to be applied.

Kevin: And you've done some soundtrack work as well?

Don: Yes, but no Hollywood stuff. There was a version of Shithammer I gave to Greg Araki that was used in the moive Totally Fucked Up. There was one I did for a Czechoslovakian documentary last year that will never see the light of day in this country and some other things like that. I also did one for a play in Vancouver.

Kevin: Is soundtrack work something your interesting in exploring more?

Don: I have always been interested in it, it's just a very difficult business to get into. It's like Hollywood in the way of who controls it; every time you see the credits to a soundtrack, you always see the same names. It's not like pop music where you have life span of a few years. Jerry Goldsmith is still around and he's been doing it for about 30 years.

Kevin: Do you hope to get some recognition in the soundtrack business?

Don: I'll see what happens this year. I've got a guy who is actually to try and push some of my work for me, so we will see.

Kevin: Could you describe that gothic/techno side project you mentioned earlier? Is it more like a one time project?

Don: That's the project where we did the song for Cleopatra. I've got an album written, but it hasn't been recorded yet; it's just a case of sitting down and finding the time to do it. The song that we did was for a Siouxsie tribute that Cleopatra is putting out. We did a version of Skin.

Kevin: Did the female that did the vocals have a lot of input into the album or was she mainly there just to provide the vocals?

Don: She's one of those people who is incredibly musically. She doesn't play instruments per se, but she knows what's good and not good. She used to sing with Moev originally, so it all ties together. We did a project with her in 93 called Blood of the Lambs, a performance piece, at a festival in Vancouver. It was a fusion of electronics and performance art.

Kevin: Do you find yourself more accepted in Europe than over here in the United States?

Don: Englanders are like North America, except it's way trendier; they turn things over a lot faster. The continental Europe is very much into electronic music of all sorts, whether it be dance or other forms. For the most part, they don't have the same kind of club circuit -- where it's slog your equipment into the back of a van, play a bunch of bars all across the nation and get paid $150 bucks a night -- you don't get treated that way in Europe. If you're an artist and you actually have recordings and you're legitimate -- accommodations are taken care of and they pay you.

Kevin: Is that because electronic music is more accepted over there, or does that hold up for all types of musicians/music over there?

Don: It's partially because electronic music is more accepted. But also, I think it's due to the sense that artists have value in their society. In Berlin, you can see opera any night of the week; how many cities can you say that about in the U.S? And it's state-funded, but at the same time people will all turn out to see it.

Peter: Does the process for songwriting for Numb start with ideas on paper, or do you go to the studio with a drum beat or is it more of a case where everything is improvised?

Don: Some of the earlier songs started with a drum beat, like Bliss and things during the Christmeister period. You can usually tell the ones that are; Curse (from DOTIP) was written around drums. Whereas Revenant (also from DOTIP) was written around two samples that I had and I just started playing around those. We actually slammed that song together two days before it was recorded; the actual bits had been written months before. We had thought about it and then when we were actually in the studio, it was like "okay, let's do this one."

Peter: Do you tend to work really quickly on some songs?

Don: It really depends. The song Trial was all done in one evening; the whole thing was improvised. And then a few weeks later we mixed it, after we had finished mixing a "real" song -- one with vocals and structure and stuff. We had three hours left in the studio, so Ken and I pulled up all the faders and just went crazy for three hours and we nailed that song down. Seven Types of Ambiguity was written in an afternoon; we were just sitting around, and then it all just sort of came together. Others you sort of agonized over, others just go on and on and you just can't quite nail it. With Effigy, the actual baseline of the verses was written a year and half before it ever came together with the chorus, and then suddenly these things just came together and then it fell together in a day or two.

Peter: Do you have any plans to release any demos or alternative versions of songs?

Don: I'm not big on having a lot of second-rate material floating around. A lot of bands are like "release as much stuff as you can." I think it suffers, because the consumer ends up buying all these CDs and thinks "there's only one decent track on here;" I'm hoping we haven't fallen into that syndrome.

Kevin: Was there a lot of clamoring for Christmeister and was that the reason for its re-release?

Don: That one, for whatever reason, really sort of struck a chord in North America, more so than in Europe. Europe never did respond to it very favorably at the time. But I actually think it's going to do better now than it did originally over there. It's because the guitar-thrashy-industrial thing still hasn't really clicked there the way it did here. In contrast, the electronic-industrial sound hasn't clicked here the way it has there. That album came out at the right time because that's when that 2 Live Crew thing happened; and we were having all sorts of hell trying to get the album released, because nobody wanted to manufacture it because the lyrical content was questionable and there was the potential of maybe being held responsible to be sued -- so they didn't want to do it. So that in itself sort of helped fuel a degree of life to the release. But we were being distributed by BMG on that one, so that also got into a lot places that indie distributors have a hard time getting it out to.

Kevin: Who does the artwork for your covers?

Don: It depends. My girlfriend actually did the new Christmeister artwork. A guy in Europe did the Wasted Sky stuff that I didn't see until I got there and I didn't like some of it, so I asked him to change it. He did, but somewhere along the way to North American, the data got corrupted; so the North American covers are something that none of us actually intended. I didn't find out about until it was already on the market.

Kevin: Are you working on any new material?

Don: There's a bunch of stuff around. With this type of format it's not like "let's grab a beer and play some songs"; these type of songs aren't really finished until you actually record it. All the ideas are there when you go in, but all the processes happens when your mixing, and that's when you take it over the top.

Kevin: Why did you decide to do this tour with Die Krupps and FLA?

Don: It made sense. We haven't done any extensive touring in the U.S. It seemed like a good way to actually get in front of a bunch of people's faces. I refuse to go out and do the cheap bar scene; there's no point.

Kevin: Are you hoping to get a larger audience through this?

Don: Yes and I think our audience probably crosses over with Front Line's somewhat. It's not the same audience, but it's certainly a crossover.

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