Only the most refined electronic music fan, however, will be able to drop the name NUMB when being asked what Vancouver is all about. Numb, for starters, is the brainchild of Don Gordon, a Vancouverite who cut his teeth in the pre-Skinny Puppy band Images in Vogue with Kevin Crompton. That band was one of the first electronic bands in the whole of metropolitan Canada; suffer it to say that they were not given mass acceptance and were often limited to playing gay bars at the outset. However, Don Gordon had shed that skin ages ago, taking a more inspired direction under the Numb moniker.
From the mid and late 80s to the present, Don Gordon has built an amazing repertoire of dark, supple music alternating between unmitigated agression and astute, brooding pieces of near orchestral quality. Ignoring the world of rock n roll and its over-stylized meanderings, Don Gordon and his cast of Numb players were more inspired by the likes of Coil and a wide range of literary influences.
In Numb's last two studio albums, Death on the Installment Plan and Wasted Sky, the work of finely tuned minds is evident in sudden crashes of white noise, basic industrial beats and synths twisted in new and captivating ways, plus genuine dynamics. Dynamics have been a key ingredient for Numb, adding a true emotional factor to the music: harsh samples and distortions ring circles around a calm organ refrain on one song, on another several minutes of violent pulse and static attack escalate, explode and end in a lull of mournful strings.
Enter now Numb's live show. The band toured extensively with their Vancouver brethren Frontline Assembly in 1996, where Don Gordon was augmented by singer David Collings. With Collings (also of The 4th Man) giving a posessed performance and lending his declamatory vocals to Gordons studied, in-control sound manipulation, the shows had a bracing effect. No frills or elaborate showers of lasers were on hand to detract from the sound (besides, FLA would provide those in spades later!), and the result was pure riot music. Their status as the opening act on the tour was indeed a setback, but it challenged the band to the point where every song played was played as if it was their last. Upon hearing that Numb was on their way to touring again, and in the stages of recording their next full-length album, I caught up with David Collings to discuss everything worth discussing. Read on..
Tom: Last year you survived a tour with industrial favorites FrontLine Assembly and the omnipresent Die Krupps (this was their 3rd tour on the year!) Any memorable experiences from this tour?
David: I'm still trying to figure out what the vibe of the tour was. Regrets, Ive had a few, but then again too few to mention. There werent too many hassles so I suppose the tour was a joy by default.touring is also great because you get to visit lots of places where you wouldnt want to live! The best part now is getting to hear all the idle misinformation spread across the I.R.C. in regards to the tour (David recalls an embarrassing bit about an I.R.C.-goer who claimed he jumped into the audience at one point repeatedly screaming to be whacked off.) I do apologize if I made anyone feel violated.
Tom: So did the crowd get what they expected?
David: Audience reaction was surprisingly more manic than I thought it would be considering industrial is becoming a dead dog these days. The audience was a mixed bag: some people were surprised that we were intense as we were. Others had the opposite reaction- at one point in Salt Lake City I climbed up onto the balcony, began dancing on some tables and was asked by some random asshole HEY, why dincha JUMP, man? Well, obviously because I didnt want to break my neck!!!
Tom: NUMB seems to be a band that marches on with flagrant disregard to the in circles and sub-societies of both the record industry and the music scene in general. How is this achieved?
David: Fairy dust. DARK fairy dust. Incidentally, were selling out tomorrow!
Tom: Explain a little bit about Don Gordon and his battle plan/work ethic.
David: As far as I can tell and am involved, Don wants Numb to be a twisted statement or allegory on the state of things today. His battle plan? He intends to continue and I intend to help the best that I can.
Tom: There have been a number of Numb cover songs lately; of saccharine pop songs turned into sharper and more unsettling music. How did these particular songs (a cover of Salt n Pepas Push It and a menacing take on the Mr. Rogers theme for an album entitled TV Terror) get chosen above the other destructible pop ditties out there?
David: Part of it was a matter of which songs we could get clearance for. My two main choices for the rap cover on the Operation Beatbox compilation would have been 1-800-SUICIDE by the Gravediggaz or the evil incarnate Ice Ice Baby were it not a clearance problem. When it came to the TV themes Don and I drafted a list of potential songs, but Don had never actually heard Mr. Rogers Neighborhood!! He phoned me up, asked me to play it for him, and his rendition was based upon having NOT heard this nugget of every American childhood in his life! So Don, perhaps feeling deprived, sought vengeance and made the song a wash of nightmare noise. I should congratulate Don on being very intuitive and making something out of nothing with that one.
Tom: You were slated to tour with Birmingham 6 in early 1997- how did you end up not going through with this?
David: Essentially at the last minute we realized that this tour was not all it was cracked up to be. We were in a position where we could pull out and be hated by everybody or just run out of money and crash and burn somewhere along the road. If we want to crash and burn well do it on our OWN terms.
Tom: As the lyricist for Numb, what influences do you draw from? What types of events make enough of an impact to be worked into Numb's lyric sheet?
David: To a certain degree, when I first wrote songs I had a specific germ of an idea what each song was about. Most of the lyrics are stream of consciousness at first, but develop their own unique meaning after repeated listens. Every time there seems to be a new meaning. I try to stay within the parameters of previous Numb material.
Tom: Do Don and yourself have any pieces of musical equipment that stand above the rest in forging music? Is there any electronic formula Numb follows?
David: Gear talk is not one of my fortes- I find too much technological reliance interferes with the writing process. Really, Ive taken an electronics course and synths all look the same when you take the lid off! Basically we try to avoid having the same songwriting process every time around. We try to trick ourselves into doing it completely different every time. Plus we try to keep running boxes through other boxes in ways that they havent been run through before.
Tom: The last several Numb albums have had a fine mesh of structured songs and more free-form, impulsive white noise. Will the new Numb material follow in that vein or are there new weapons to be added to the arsenal?
David: In terms of an audio signal, those are the two extremes of what you can do- its the entire audio spectrum. Really the only other way to go would be subsonic or ultrasonic. Were going to remain within the audio spectrum for now.
Tom: Recently youve played shows with some of the European icons like Dirk Ivens DIVE and Wumpscut overseas. Are there any differences in
David: The difference on how industrial a band is isnt really as dramatic from country to country as it is from individual to individual: the personal opinions are a lot more pronounced. Industrial fans can be a manically opinionated lot since most of them are involved with the industry in some peripheral way. Everyones a critic regardless of ego. Terms used to segregate the music change, but the attitude of fans and critics can maintain a wrongheaded arrogance that I love so much. Come to think of it, the Euro audiences are a little more well-dressed. Another difference is that Europeans still view industrial as the brave new wave while many Americans have just integrated it as another facet of rocknroll.
Tom: So tell us about Vancouvers public library system.
David: The public library is my home away from home.Its very easy to use and its a great place to go when youre feelin down and want to learn something. Plus the new library theyve erected here looks like the Pantheon.
Tom: What would be the ultimate goal of your music right now? Perhaps an urban underground revolution, or something more low key?
David: Frankly I think if Numb's music were to inspire a revolution it would be a very sick and confused one. Whether thats good or bad is up to the listener. So, YES to question #1!
Tom: If you could change anything about the underground lifestyle what would it be? Who would be the first people to get the boot?
David: Well, the idea of wanting to fix industrial music and restore it to its former glory is pretty fucking annoying. It creates an elitist mindset that industrial was originally rebelling against. I think the fact that its almost mutated into pop music is a good thing: now we can rot them from the inside out!! Another thing- almost everybody in the genre hates each other and I'm against all the in-fighting that goes on within the scene.
Tom: Name a few people youd like to duct tape to the P.A. at a Numb show while screaming into a contact mike.
David: Don't put negative ideas in my head. I'm easily