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Some noisy obsession [2010-11-23]

Sean E. Matzus is a key figure in the Texas Harsh Noise Wall and experimental  scene in genreal; he’s part of Richard Ramirez’s harsh noise collective Black Leather Jesus, he also works along side Richard in his HNW project Last Rape and junk noise project priest in Shit  (with Richard & BLJ’s  Vance Osborne). He is involved in more drone & elctro-acostic projects too like The Secret Geography(solo project) and In The Land Of Archers( with Vance Osborne). Sean kindly took time out of his busy schedule to give M[M] an email interview.

m[m] What are some of your earliest musical memories and what first got you interested in Noise music? and Was there one particular record or track?
Sean I'd say I have always been attracted to extremes and abstraction in music rather than just interested in “noise.” I also think that I came to noise through pretty conventional music; the bleeps and bloops on Pink Floyd albums or Hendrix playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”   
Sean I grew up in a very small town in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, but I was within 15 miles of Morgantown, West Virginia.  When I was growing up Morgantown was a vibrant college town with a thriving live music scene, so I was afforded the opportunity to see some pretty cool stuff at a very young age.  It was the Butthole Surfers on the “Locust Abortion Technician” tour that first really opened my eyes to the fact that there may be something out there for me.  I gravitated toward the “weird” stuff; my eye was caught by a cassette copy of “Filth” by Swans at the local record store. Sonic Youth was another hugely influential find—I really loved things like “Sonic Death” and “Bad Moon Rising.” (Lots of great things over the years tied to Sonic Youth. . .I got to see the Boredoms the first time they came to the US thanks to Sonic Youth.) 
Sean I remember reading a relatively negative review of “Haus Der Luege” by Neubauten in an issue of Thrasher that used words that really made it seem like something I should check out.  I think that was around the same time as the whole Negativland satanic murders hoax that led to “Helter Stupid.”  How could I not check that out, even if it was quite a while before I really “got” it?  The amazing thing is that I managed to buy most of this stuff at the record stores in the local malls.   I would make these tapes of the noise and drone parts of “rock” albums and play them over and over while I was writing.  After the first Mr. Bungle album was released I sought out John Zorn.  The Naked City self-titled was pretty easy to come by, and Zorn really opened my eyes to all kinds of extreme music.  But even then, and well in to my college career, noise and the avant garde was really just a few acts like Painkiller or a track or two on an album or on the soundtracks to David Lynch films and the like. I had no idea that there were so many artists making noise and weirdo stuff.  But I really didn't become obsessive about pure noise and experimental stuff until I moved to Texas and found record stores that specialized in it.  As important as those early loves like Swans and Neubauten were, it was Genetic Memory on KTRU and Vinal Edge here in Houston that really blew open the doors for me, and I was in my mid twenties by that time.

m[m] When did you first get interested in making noise yourself & what was your first project?
Sean In a way, the above mentioned tapes I made in late high-school and the early college years were a rudimentary first project.  I played guitar in a number of relatively conventional bands in those days,  but I was always trying to make my own sound as nasty and noisy as I possibly could within the context.  I remember the end of one particularly tense recording session where I managed to drag my little punk quartet into a maelstrom of free-rock noise that was really my proudest moment as a “rock” musician.  It really unlocked what I wanted to hear from myself.  I spent the next several years “unlearning” proper technique and becoming more of an “anything I can jam under the strings will be better than making a chord” type guitarist.  I had a bunch of ideas at the time, but I am an infamous “big plans, small motivation” guy, so all my music went on the back burner (or on to no burner, if I'm being 100% honest) until after I graduated college and moved to Houston.  Even then, it took losing the job I had on my “career path” to get me off my ass and working.  My first foray in to noise was joining In the Land of Archers in 2002. 

m[m] When did you first meet Richard, when did you become a member of BLJ and how did it come about?
Sean I was introduced to Richard by a mutual friend at the Gay Pride Parade.  Not long after that some of my friends started modeling for his fashion line and we got to talking.  We slowly realized that we had a lot of common ground musically.  I had heard a little of his work, but I didn't realize that “Richard Saenz” was “Richard Ramirez” was “Black Leather Jesus.” It wasn't until I volunteered to help out with the first Dead Audio festival that Richard and I recognized just how similar our interests were.  The first thing he asked me to join was Priest In Shit.  We both respected each others' work.  I honestly thought my own work unworthy of the praise.  That has been another thing that Richard has done for me—make me feel like my work was worth pursuing. But I was honored to be asked.  BLJ is kind of a rotating cast of characters, and Richard asked me to join in 2003.  That's really about the long and short of it.


m[m]What do you see your role as in BLJ? And how are pieces composed/ constructed? Is it quite an improvised and anything goes when making tracks or do BLJ as a whole set certain restraints or rules?
Sean I don't think anybody has a specific role in BLJ except to follow the sound where it is going and to wreck as much sonic havoc as possible on the way.  Other projects I do with Richard have guidelines and goals, but I have never been given an instruction in BLJ beyond brutal, thick chaos.  I work in a strictly improvisational way, even in projects where I use prepared sounds.  I set out to make music that will make me nervous; that is certainly my goal in BLJ.  The specific instrumentation is something that changes from set to set, but I most often use a Moog synthesizer, a couple of short-wave radios and a microphone for vocals through an array of delays and distortions.  I also usually run it all through a no-input mixing board set-up so I can feed it all back through itself and modify the sound that way.


m[m] What’s the album or track your most proud of so far with BLJ?
Sean My favorite work we have done so far was an album we titled “Belle Epoch” that has yet to see the light of day.  The players on that one were Richard, Kevin Novak, Vance Osborne and myself.  It qualified as music that made me nervous.  Great stuff; I think a label in Europe has the masters on that.  Who knows if it will ever be released.  There were some other great pieces that were put together for that split we did with Okha—as far as I can tell, they never saw the light of day, and I don't think any of us has the master on that.

Sean As for stuff you can actually put your hands on, I love “Machofucker” and that split LP we did with Homopolice.  I really like our stuff on the Haters split CD.  I also like “Bush In Bondage” off The United States of Persuasion.
I'm not exceptionally fond of some of the earliest work I did with BLJ.  I can't listen to those albums without thinking that I was far too tentative, and way too worried about ruining the legacy of a great band.  I won't say what albums or recordings, but there are a couple.


m[m] Still talking about Richard related stuff- how did you come to join Last Rape? And when did you decide to make it just a two piece? and how do you think your input varies in this project compared with BLJ?
Sean I wish I could give a definitive answer on how I came to join Last Rape, something full of drama and intrigue, but the truth of the matter is simply that when Richard was reawakening the Last Rape project he used some source recordings I had given him.  Besides that, I think I may have received a phone call to ask if I would like to partner with him on the project.  You would have to ask Richard on the subject of a decision to include me or to make it a two-piece; I will say I'm not sure that any more members would make a hell of a lot of sense in the HNW context.  The two of us manage to fill up the sonic-space pretty thoroughly.  I regard my role in Last Rape as more of a sculptor and less of an improvisor; I work on a set of sounds until it is ready, then put it on display for an audience.  In the past six-months or so, especially since we have started to work and record at Dogville (my home studio), Last Rape has been a particularly fine opportunity for me to exert more control over the totality of the sound.  I really love doing this project. 

m[m] How did you other projects: In The Land of Archers, The Whitehorse & The Secret Geography come about? And what do you feel you’re sonically trying to put across with each?
Sean ITLOA was the first purely experimental project I was ever involved in and I was asked to join; I had no hand in starting it.  I began recording as The Secret Geography as an attempt to hone my craft and create an outlet for more personal, melancholy work than I generally have an opportunity to bring to the fore in a group setting.  All of my other solo work since then has grown out of my need do more work as an individual rather than a member of a group.  Most projects have no deeper root than that they started as “homeless” recordings—things I worked on that had no place in any of my established projects, but were too good on their own to be  relegated to source.  I wish I could share some deep, thoughtful secret about these projects, but there really isn't one.  I'm an experimental musician, not an ideologue.  
Sean I do have a tendency to establish a pretty rigorous set of guidelines for projects as they develop, mostly related to the equipment used. Thewhitehorse is all based around my Moog and a drum machine; the Secret Geography is strictly a single-sound-source project with absolutely no non-electronic input allowed.  And so forth.    


m[m] Out of all the copies of your other work you kindly sent me I was most taken by  The Secret Geography album- “ It seems this too has come to an end”.  I’ll have to admit I’d rather lost interest in drone based work, but this album is excellent been both deeply entrancing and darkly psychedelic. Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind the album, how you created it and what’s the picture of on the front cover?
Sean That album was virtually an afterthought; I mean I actually unearthed the tracks while taking a break from culling and mixing “A Man In A Smiling Bag” by Thewhitehorse.  I was listening through some stuff to send off as source material and I found those two pieces that really grabbed me.  As far as the how, I work pretty much exclusively with single-take recordings, and I don't do a whole lot of editing or assembly.  A thing either works as a whole or it does not.  Those specific pieces are both Moog-sourced, then processed live through several independent effects chains.  As for what it is about. . .a lot of things have been changing for me this year, and this is a way for me to dialogue with that.  I can't get in to much more than that—most of the inspiration to record The Secret Geography is deeply personal, and I'm not comfortable coloring the listener's expectations with too much explanation.


m[m] How often do you work on sound/ noise? And  which projects do you find take up most of your time?
Sean I work much less than I should, and really a good bit less than I'd like to admit.  I'd say Thewhitehorse and my other harsh noise project Red Hook are the two things I find myself doing most.  The Secret Geography only happens when the stars are right, as does work on the material I record under my own name.


Thanks to Sean for his time and efforts with the interview, and supplying the pictures. The first performance picture used in the interview is ITLOA at Dead Audio 2010, photograph by Mickey Spalding and the other two pictures are taken by Sean himself.
Black Leather Jesus  myspace is 
here, Last Rapes myspace is  here , The Secret Geography myspace is  here, In The Land Of Archers  myspace is here

Roger Batty
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