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Interview with Chris Randall of Sister Machine Gun - Roseland, Portland, OR - 12/7/97

Jester: In Interface Magazine you were quoted as saying that you had finally "sold out" with the release of "Metropolis" due in part to the request by TVT Records to include a track on the album that had 'single' potential. How do you feel about that now that you have time to dwell on the issue?

Chris: I didn't really sell out because I haven't become rich and famous yet, either that or my asking price was too low. In all seriousness, the interview in question occurred during the time period when TVT Records had sent me back into the studio to write a track with 'single' potential, effectively delaying the record until it was written. In the end, I wrote 'Think' which in my opinion is not an SMG song and does not musically belong on the new record.

When it comes down to it, if I had sold out, I would be all over MTV. I would be headlining this tour with a sold out venue, instead of opening for Prong with the venue only being half full. I would agree that SMG is a much more successful project that your run of the mill Industrial band, but by the same token, we are not KMFDM caliber either.

Jester: Will 'Think' be released as a single?

Chris: Unfortunately no. When I assigned all of the remixes, I picked people who normally don't mix my material. In fact, we played a radio show in Des Moines, Iowa with a Techno band called Cirrus who I eventually approached to do a remix of 'Think'. However, because I asked each remixer to not make the song sound anything like the album version, the remixes don't sound anything like the original tracks except for a few bits and pieces. While I really enjoyed the remixes, TVT said that they didn't hear anything that was going to get radio play, so they decided to not release the single.

Jester: Didn't you run into a similar problem with 'Hole in the Ground', except that you at least had promotional copies pressed to sell at shows?

Chris: The problem with that single was we shot the video, had the remixes done, and had the whole single ready to go when TVT Records balked on using the single in Mortal Kombat like they had promised. By not using the single in the film, and instead choosing to include 'Burn' which sounds like nothing else on the soundtrack, TVT really made a bad decision. While we did get a lot of new fans from that compilation, 'Burn' simply is not a radio song and as such received almost no airplay. So, as a result of the 'Burn' debacle, TVT decided to not release the 'Hole in the Ground' single.

Jester: Will you be on the new "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation" soundtrack?

Chris: No. The first compilation was just a one shot deal. My label isn't doing me anymore favors.

Jester: "Mortal Kombat" sold almost a million copies, what did you do with all of the royalty money?

Chris: While "Mortal Kombat" almost went double Platinum, bear in mind that there are three different kinds of royalties. There are performance royalties which come from radio play, which we really didn't get. There are artists royalties which the band who performs the song receives. However, those go to pay off my recording debt with is $750,000. Then there are mechanical royalties which go to the person who wrote the song. I did get all of those royalties, but it is not as much as one might think. For a song like 'Burn', I get 6.6 cents for a five minute song or 1.3 cents a minute, whichever is greater. If you quickly do the math, that comes out to only $66,000, but my publisher takes 20%, my manager takes 20%, and my lawyer takes 5%. In the end that means I made just enough money last year to function as a normal salary. In other words, I was able to pay my rent.

Jester: Did the theme of the new album hold true to the concept's derived from Fritz Lang's film of the same name like you intended?

Chris: Yes if you think of it only as a theme. A lot of people have said that it is a soundtrack and that isn't true. Ultimately, the album didn't end up as it was truly intended because I had wanted it to be able to run alongside the film. For starters the film is very long, much longer than an album could be. The films runs very slow, so the mood of the entire album would have been slow as well. What I ended up doing was to take the allegory that the film discusses and using it as a metaphor for my own experience with record labels. Thematically the album holds very true to that concept, but lyrically it is very vague.

Jester: How was recording this album different now that you have a full band helping you out in the studio?

Chris: For the first time I played all of my own guitar parts which is something unique since I am not that stellar of a guitar player. Having a full band around to help out definitely changed the overall construction of the music. In the past, I have done all of my own drum programming and basslines, so they have always had a very similar feel to them. With a bass player and a drummer around to do that for me, I could focus more on the melody and harmonics of the music more than I have done in the past.

This time I just gave Rich an idea of the bass line, and Kevin a really simplistic drum rhythm and they would fill in the holes. That being said, there are times when I have something very specific in mind and I make them play the song exactly. 'Admit' is an example of a song that I hummed to Rich and had him play note for note on the record.

Jester: How did Lisa end up contributing to 'This Metal Sky'?

Chris: I don't remember exactly whose idea it was, but I asked her to write something for a track on "Metropolis" and she spent a few months writing it. I wanted her do something that would be used as the opening piece to the record, which is where her vocals ended up being used. Unfortunately a lot of people either think that Nicole Blackman wrote or spoke that piece, which isn't true. Lisa ended up laying done the vocals first in Chicago, and then again in New York to make it sound better. I had also thought about doing one for the end of the album with Gil Scott Harrett, but we could never track the guy down.

Jester: After headlining a lot of small tours, and now opening up for a larger act on a larger tour, how is it different?

Chris: When we toured with Type O-Negative, they were very professional and friendly. They really tried to make our stay with them enjoyable, which made it very easy. We sold out every single show and musically we are not that different. However, I was not ready for them musically since I had only heard the single track off "Mortal Kombat" before going on tour and ended up preparing a very fast, hard and loud set. Unfortunately, they ended up playing all of their slow songs but in the end it worked out really well.

However, Prong is another story altogether. The band is cool but Tommy Victor is an asshole. Every single day is a mess, the tour seems to be going nowhere, and I am wondering just exactly how Tommy's career has made it this far. Prong has almost no draw, so the shows are practically empty and it has ended up being no fun whatsoever. I've been on tour for forty days now having not one single iota of fun with the exception of Chicago, Norfolk, Dallas, Tulsa, and Seattle.

Jester: Whose idea was it to release "Metropolis" with a digi-pak and the embossed cover?

Chris: For once I had some ideas really early on about where I wanted to art direction to go. It is no small secret that I haven't been very happy with my artwork in the past. I have always treated it as an afterthought and just let an artist have his way with it. However, this time around I wanted the artwork to compliment the music on the album, but at the same time I didn't want it to be more important than the music.

In my opinion, the only point behind a CD case is to hold the CD until you are ready to listen to it. I wanted to make the artwork as minimal as possible. That is why we went with a digi-pak without a gatefold. We just printed the liner notes on one side of the jacket and sprung a bit for the clear tray and embossed cover. In the end I think it ended up a great deal more subtle than previous albums and I think the label did an excellent job of meeting my requirements this time around.

Jester: What is your favorite track from "Metropolis"?

Chris: I want to say 'Admit' because it was the most expensive track to write on the album, so I feel obligated to like it the best. However, some things about that song really bug me. I wish it had a bridge. If it had a bridge it would be a classic pop song, unfortunately it doesn't, so it just sort of sits there. Taking that into consideration it would really be a toss up between 'Bitter End' and 'Living Without You'. Both of those songs are so delicate that you don't really pick up on it until you listen to them with headphones and really pay attention.

Jester: Is the column that you write for Interface magazine the first regular feature you have written before?

Chris: Yes, other than Internet commentary, which I am quite prolific at, it is my first column. I am not a bad writer, I can put words in a line and make sense at least. The thing about the column is that it is a forum to answer all of the very repetitive questions that I get asked via e-mail all the time. It allows me to place into print all of the opinions that I find myself making on a regular basis. That way I can just refer people to the column instead endlessly repeating myself.

One thing you have to remember about that column is that it is my opinion and the solutions that I lay out will not necessarily work for everyone. I am pretty honest about what I think, but I only write about the things that have work out in my own experiences. I am trying to provide information that I hope will be helpful, but I cannot always do it very well. However, each column seems to be easier to write.

I just finished the third column recently, which is about how to get free and cheap studio and production time. In it, I relate how I managed to get my first demo produced which included the early versions of 'Not My God', my very first song, 'Get Out', that actually ended up becoming 'Why Not', and 'Life'.

At the time the guitar player in my band worked at a Leather jacket store. One day he came with me to this music store wearing a jacket that he bought with his employee discount. The guy at the store, who owned a little studio, really wanted one of those jackets. So, I started scheming a free way to get studio time. I got him to agree to give me eight hours of studio time for a jacket. The guitar player went back to the store and shoplifted the jacket for the studio owner and we recorded those three songs.

We ended up making five copies of that demo and, unfortunately, I no longer have a copy of my own. Jim Nash had a copy, Sascha had a copy which he lost, Jim Marcus had one, and I think Van Christie lost his. I don't even know where the last one is anymore. If anyone has a copy of it, I would really love to hear it, because I think it would be really amusing to listen to it now.

Jester: When I listen to "Burn", the album sounds like it was written almost entirely for Lisa. Was it?

Chris: Parts of the album were written because of her, but other parts were not. For example. 'Hole in the Ground' was written by Jim Marcus. Music is always just a reflection of life and it's purpose is to simply tell a story. As a result, when my life goes through changes, my music is going to reflect those changes.

However, there are some songs that have nothing at all to with my life. There is an algorithm in my head that can just pump out lyrics. All of "Torture Technique" was written this way. 'Better Than Me' is a good example of that from "Burn". Just about any song that uses the word 'responsibility' in it, is one of those songs. It is just one of those things, that when I get into that frame of mind, I can write those tracks all day long.

Jester: Now that you have four albums, where does Sister Machine Gun go from here?

Chris: The band as of 1998 will no longer be Sister Machine Gun, but instead will be called SMG Ltd. Our tour next year will be a majority of college campuses. On that tour we are not going to play any of our fast songs, the set will be reserved for all of those slow songs that we have not played live before. For once, I am going to sit down for most of the set and just play keyboards.

The reason for this is because for the most part, our audience is well educated college kids. The fact of the matter is, most people would not be buying my records if they didn't like my slow songs, because there are enough of them that it would begin to annoy people who didn't like them. So for our next record that I will start at the beginning of 1998 and all of the songs will be slow

I am doing this because I already think that the niche for aggressive music has already been filled by bands like Gravity Kills, Stabbing Westward and God Lives Underwater. I don't think that I am really that good at writing aggressive songs, but I do feel really comfortable with writing the slower, more passionate song. Since we never play those type of songs in a live situation, I thought it would be fun to give it a try.

If people don't like it, I am going to make sure that people don't have to pay a great deal to see the show. People are only going to pay $5 to see us play songs that we will have never performed live before. Realistically, I have forty-five songs, and we have really only played about fifteen of those. I really want to give those other thirty songs a chance and we will see how it goes.

I am definitely no longer going to make music that people commonly refer to as Industrial music, because a lot of people do it better than me. No pun intended. I am not going to take a step back musically and ride the current trend of Electronica either. Anybody can write that kind of music. We will see where it will take us from there.

Obviously my success is currently at it's limit within the framework that the band functions. Tonight is my 431st live performance and I am sick of playing the same old music. Everyone who is going to come and see us do the same old thing has already done it. So I am going to take the audience out for a little spin, and if we belly drop, we are going to get dropped anyways because we don't sell enough records. If they like it, then I will have found something else that I can do well. Fact of the matter is, I am thirty years old now and I can't do this forever. I am not like Al J. and I won't be writing this music forever. I enjoy playing keyboards so that is what I am going to do.

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