In a world of thier Own [2007-06-02]Starving weirdos are one of the true rising stars of the underground with their distinctive quiet noise come improvised, come cinematic soundworlds. Over the last year theyíve been releasing material at an alarming rate, but never sacrificing on quality and with each new release theyíve changed and refined their one-off take on sound. At the centre of the group are Brian Pyle and Merrick McKinlay with many other collaborators coming and going with each release. The pair kindly agreed to give me an email interview. Youíll also find at the end of the interview an over view of their releases thus far.
m[m] How did you both first meet and why did you decide to form Starving weirdos? Was it your first musically project?
Brian we met in 98, a mutual friend invited me along to sit in on Merrickís radio show which was an outrageous time slot, I think Monday morning 1 to 5 am. I knew immediately this guy must be super-cool or a little nuts doing radio like that---we became fast friends.
No it wasn't our first project together; shortly after we first met we started four-tracking together, mainly off-kilter pop and a bit of improv. Merrick had been recording out shit for a couple of years under the name 'left to right' before we met and had started experimenting with long form jams and ideas like repetition soon after we met. a couple of years later maybe 2000 we came up with the name starving weirdos and decided that would be our outlet for our far-out recordings.
m[m] What was the radio show that Merrick was doing when you met? Do either of you still have do any radio, written etc work?
Merrick The show was called Radio Cabal on kmud a legendary community radio station here in humboldt.
Brian Yeah I still do radio---Iíve been hosting this show called Los Ensemble Economique for the past 5 years on KHSU the college station here and in fact the largest radio station in humboldt which I think is somewhat rare---massive public radio community up with 4 stations broadcasting commercial free---up until 3 years ago we used to get the bbc carrebean feed from this micro station a local started up years ago.
Before my radio show and while Merrick was doing his we co-hosted a pirate radio show for 3 years called the wake & bake every Sunday morning 10 am to noon.
Wake and bake was killer and so much fun where we would play one artist or band for the full 2 hours. S o somebody waking up Sunday morning might catch 2 hours of Ground Zero or Tom Ze or John Cage or Bongwater, we were really all over the map---pirate radio has now since faded away around here but there was a time when it was a real force with a lot of excitement which included visits from the fcc!!!
m[m] What got you first interested in music/sound? What are some of your earliest musical memories?
Brian: My first love of sound would have to be that of running water and getting lost in all that sound activity---learning the art of four-tracking really kicked off my love for experimenting and fucking with sound collage, learning how to combine various sonic elements and improvise with weird shit, Iíll never forget first learning how an overdub worked and how great that felt---being able to jam with myself.
Merrick: My dad was a relentless home taper so I was always aware of that world. But never thought to enter it myself until a buddy showed me the guitar tab and how to play the intro to "Welcome Home Sanitarium"-the first time I felt the power of making 'music'. Soon I was jamming non-stop with buddies, then I borrowed some equipment from my dad and got into four-tracking. Totally thrilled.
m[m] How do you go about writing a track? Is it done from trying to create a certain mood or vibe? Or are you influence by art or moving image to create a piece?
SW No direct influence when creating a track. The mood evolves naturally with the music, once recorded these initial moods or feelings are shaped and sculpted in a very deliberate manner until the end result is reached. Sometimes a piece may go through one or two sessions of sound sculpting and other times many sessions---revisits.
m[m] I've seen pictures of your live performances on your site- how do you go about translating your sound to a live environment and do you use any visual or have an unusual stage set?
Merrick we never set out to translate something off our records. We use the live format as a unique chance to make a unique statement.
Brian You know the live shows are the raw deal---it's just like recording in front of a live audience. Sometimes that rawness is thrilling and other times just raw. The visual element is something we're learning about and excited to develop. We're going to start performing with a couple rad experimental filmmakers here in Humboldt and are taking it on mini-tour at the end of this month. we'll see how it goes but Iíve always thought our music would be a good fit with some sort of visual action---be it interpretive dance or film or just lights---we've had a string of shows with this interpretive dance troupe here in Humboldt these past couple of months and they have been excellent.
m[m] A lot of your back catalogue was released in small pressing on CDR & is now out of print- have you plans to re-releasing these in the future?
SW Yeah for sure, hopefully all of it!! Self-Hypnosis first released as a cdr on JYRK is being re-released as a double lp with an extra track on Weird Forest later this year---we'd love to have eastern light or sťance reach a larger audience at some point
M[m] why did you decide to release so much of your early work on CDR? Was it a format you chose or had to use as it offered a way of getting your work out?
SW Before we approached AQ we had no idea how to get our music out there and we'd been accumulating quite a large body of work. so it's just been a building process meeting folks and releasing our older work on cdr. The whole cdr movement is fucking great---sure there's a lot of shit to wade through with so much music getting released but it's enabled so many great artists. Both known and unknown artists. Release schedules hardly ever match up with the actual output of many artists and cdr is a great medium to get your music out there instead of only 1 or 2 records a year.
Plus it's cheap!!! You don't need anyoneís money and you have complete control of the music youíre releasing.
m[m] you've Recently formed your own label Atheists are gods. Why did you decided to do this? Will you be releasing any Starving Weirdos releasers on it?
SW AAG started as a "legit" way to put out our s/t cdr. At a certain point we realized we could probably do the same for other talented folks around us. the first 2 aag releases were sw related our s/t and then a split cdr with inca ore/lemon bear.
m[m] Your first release on the new label is Cloaks album- how did it come about you releasing this & tell us a bit more about the project?
SW Itís our third aag release. cloaks has been a great experience and a really great record, cloaks is our friend Spencer Doran who's from Humboldt and has worked with sw a bit---he'd put out a couple of more dj-related records in Japan and had these really fantastic long form jams so we just asked him if he'd like to release it on aag and we took it from there. Spencer is a great guy and there's a sw-related side project with him called RV Paintings and we have a cd coming out next month on Root Strata.
m[m] you mentioned collaboration with Spencer Doran- are they are artist you really like to work with?
Brian Yeah defiantly we have a strong group of about 8 people scattered around whom both Merrick and I like working with (Spencer being one of them) ---we're in the process of trying to organize everyone for this mini-tour at the end of this month which is not how we normally operate but we thought it would be fun to go on tour with a large ensemble.
we are defiantly into exploring more collaborations with visual artist---we are doing a release for the EN/OF series and Iím curious as hell which visual artist we get teamed up with.
m[m] You are very prolific- when do you usual compose or recorded, and how often and how much of your material is improvised?
SW We record in many different environments. on the fly, in living rooms, outside, in groups, alone, all types of fidelity. Our music is a mix between improvised and composed. elements of both are constantly at work.
m[m] Your second non CDR release Shine of the Post- Hypnotic to being with seems a lot more primal, metallic and dark ritual- is this a sound you will investigate further?
SW we don't try to dictate the arena of our investigations. It is enough to keep this music personally connected. We follow the sounds.
m[m] On the subject of the new album it feels almost like a soundtrack/ concept album than you other works, each track seems to link to the next, was this deliberate and if so did you have a story or plot in mind for it?
SW No this wasn't deliberate. jefre at root strata created the track sequence and I think that was his intention so it's lovely to see you linking the tracks together, but no each track was recorded in a very separate manner.
m[m] I can see some of your sound world fitting well with moving images- have you been offer any film soundtrack or have you crated any visual your self?
SW we play at a local experimental music and film night every year. the first year we played with the film Der Lauf der Dinge the next year was Harry Smith's early abstractions with part of that jam being released as a one-sided lp on root strat and most recently a chopped and screwed 10 minute segment of the classic film sudden fear which is being released as dvd-r later on this year. any filmmakers reading this get in touch!!!
we'd love to have our music in some film soundtrack.
m[m] You mention you'd like to do film work- what kind of movie would you like to score for? Are they any films you'd like to do your own score for?
Brian You know I haven't thought much about it besides thinking that our music would be a good fit for some sort of something on the big screen---probably not the latest will Farrell film---something a bit mysterious and intense, I really have no idea.
m[m] List some of your favourite films?
Brian---this list is always changing, most recently the 60's film The Born Losers really blew my mind---so great!!! Iíll just list recent(sort of) films Iíve fallen in love with---new world, L'enfant, the host, battle royale, children of men, city of god, and
RAN, also now this is not a film but the anime series technolyze I feel is some of the most incredible visual storytelling Iíve ever seen and a massive influence in a way I can't really describe---besides recent films Iíve seen I love Hal Hartley, most everything Charlie Kaufman has a hand in, Sam Fuller, and much more---we love movies!!!
Merrick---cries and whispers(bergman), night of the werewolf(p.naschy), funny games(m.haneke), my man godfrey(w.powell), crimes of passion(k.russell), piano
tuner of earthquakes(quay bros), it's alive(l.cohen), leningrad cowboys go america(a.kaurismaki), lunacy(j.svankmajer), la rupture(c.chabrol)--10 off
top of my head..
m[m] who plays what in SW?- your names are often left unaccredited with instruments in the inlay notes.
SW It's hard a thing to list because we all play so many different instruments both conventional and unconventional---and the music goes through so many
changes after being recorded that we found it was just easier listing the people actually on the recordings. Also because the end result might not sound anything like the source recording. Someone jamming a bass when recording might end up sounding like something totally different when the piece is finished.
m[m] How do you manage to give your music an almost 3D feel? For example like your trade mark use of above the music percussion and off to side dialogue and sound samples?
SW trade secret--ha-ha--we're totally DIY and along the way Iíve developed my own unique techniques and methods when processing sounds just trying to get to the point of radness. Along the way I figured out how to introduce that 3d element and have been really fascinated with the lcr dynamic and the evolving/repetition dynamic.
the best way I can describe it is as follows. you know the minutemen doc 'we jam econo' there's a scene where George Hurley is describing how he came up with the drumbeats for their songs and he talks about how he just made it work, made the beats fit, no rules just whatever seemed natural and in doing so he created a brand new drumming style---totally unique. I guess I apply that same logic to computer processing---no rules, just making the ideas fit, learning as I go, doing what seems right and sounds good. Along the way I stumbled upon that 3d affect which is basically a manipulation of the sound using
layers, pans, and delays in a certain combination.
The above the music percussion dynamic is basically asking the question does the percussive element sound better as an undercurrent, a background noise or as a statement within the sound field, something pronounced---sometimes when you bury percussion deep in the mix you lose the intensity and strength of the sound. And since it's largely a temporary sound it's not going to dominate the piece when you have out in front, it may sometimes be jarring or have a surprise effect when up above everything else and this can sometimes not work but other times I think it can be thrilling. It all depends on the space, the type of percussion, and what ideas youíre trying to get across.
m[m] what are you working on next for the starving weirdoes and also what's lined up for Atheists are gods? Any plans to tour over in Europe?
SW we have a couple of exciting releases coming out this next year on a host of labels, more vinyl.
AAG---blowing up to cds or vinyl.
Broader diversity of music coming out of our camp!!!
Weíd love to tour Europe, can't wait!!!! just waiting for the right time I guess, we'd love to try and spring together a couple of festival dates and build a turn around that.
Weirdos back log
Self titled- Atheists are gods 2006 (CDR)
A three track opening shot lasting near on 45 minutes on their own label- It has many of the SW sound elements in place already. Weird 3d percussion, droning textures, haunted strange psychedelic air. Track one Plastic Gagaka Utilizes weird harmonica like drone along with percussion and other sound matter. Track two Nighttime on The Eureka Waterfront, goes into darker more sinister direction with the feeling of dread built up to almost fever pitch by the tracks end, it uses sound swirling sea sound elements, percussion, noise & guitar elements. Lastly Friday the 13th part 2- which seems to have little to do with Jason Voorhees, start off quite odd child like tune discordant, with weird guitar elements, percussion and feedback- then towards the end dropping into looped and overlapping cinematic and creepy drone elements.
Eastern Light- Root Strata 2006 (2 disk CDR)
This was reissued this year & I reviewed it here.
Self-Hypnosis- Collective Jyrk 2006 (CDR edition of 200)
Density Of Life part 1 opens up proceedings with quite a hectic noisy (For the SW) and disorientating feel with strange percussion elements fire at you from all angles, with guitar and other sound elements appearing latter. Brings to mind either some surreal sporting event or odd ritual dance ceremony. Next up is the title track which has an odd sawing soured ambience meets sinister jazzy tone about it- its unclear weather their using either guitar or sax or a mix of both to create the eerier and ugly sounds. Lastly we have Density Of Life part 2 which again returns to quite a hectic feel, but denser and more noisy than the first part Soaring up to quite bewildering and disorientating heights.
Sťance at Luffenhultz- Sound and Fury(Cdr edition) The title of this seem very apt as the tracks seem to been sucking in sound elements from almost different realities or planes, with the 3d sound elements in mind blown effect certainly on the first track Red Cresant Moon Jam and to a lesser extent on the last track. Also the tracks have a very haunted, almost supernatural quality, you keep expecting your furniture to move off the floo or voices appearing from the nether world. With the center title track built around sawing violin and stringed textures, it has quite a gothic Victorian feeling about it- Like watching a sťance played out in a south face conservatory, with the participants dressed in finer of the time and ornate steel walkways above them. Again another breathtaking, goose bump making audio ride.
Youíll also find reviews of SW more recent works in our review section.
Thanks to Both Brian & Merrick for taking time to answer my questions. To find out more about the Starving weirdos home base here.Roger Batty