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In Praise Of Searining Sonic Smut- 25 Years Of Black Leather Jesus [2014-02-03]

Black Leather Jesus are one of the longest running & respected of  US harsh noise collectives. The projects crude & perverse sound is often very dense & noise jam based, with a heavy use of junk metal. The collective is now in its twenty firth year, and at present features 13 members- at the centre of the project is Texas noise couple Richard Ramirez (the projects founder) & Sean E. Matzus. Both Richard & Sean kindly agreed to give M[m] an email interview from the project base in Houston Texas.

m[m]:Tell us a little bit about how/when Black Leather Jesus first came about? And who was part of the projects first line-up?
Richard I started it in 1989 while in high school. I was already a fan of industrial music then experimental/noise.

Richard I just found a style of music that I wanted to create. BLJ was with Barbara Lara and Angela Hernandez for a brief time in the beginning (Mary A.D. joined briefly). Not long after they all left, Scott Houston and the late, Randi Shrum joined the band. Obviously the band has been through various lineups.

m[m]:What part did Barbara Lara and Angela Hernandez have in early BLJ sound, and did you all have set sonic roles in this first line-up, if so what were they? Richard Barbara and Angela utilized field recordings and distorted film samples in our recordings. I did most of the junk noise. Their contribution was very minimal to be honest. We only performed once as that lineup. I think their interests were more of wanting to be a part of an industrial band than a harsh noise band. Our friendships fell a part within a year sadly.

m[m]:How would you describe the early BLJ sound from around 1989?, and how does it compare with the projects sound today?                                                                                    Richard It was noisy, but not full on harsh noise with a full sound that I feel it became over the years. We fell somewhere in between experimental and noise.
I am more happy with our output today. It a true band now more than ever. I like the fact that we get together to record as a unit. There was a period of passing around source to do full albums and that became very boring in the late 90s/early 2000s.

m[m]:The first BLJ release listed on discogs is 1990s Liar By Wound- could you tell us a little bit about the sound on this first release, what feedback you got at the time from the scene? And do you have any plans to reissue this or any other early work? Richard It is noise, but doesn't have a full harsh sound like we do now. I don't remember too much as I don't go back and listen to previous recordings if I don't have to. I prefer not to. There are discussions with reissues some of our first recordings on vinyl, but nothing that I can really talk about right now.

m[m]:What is the origin of the projects name & did you chose it deliberately to cause controversy?
Richard The name came from a story that I read about Colleen Stan. She was kidnapped, tortured, and held under a bed by Cameron Hooker. More can be found on this story online. It was a story that inspired the name. I never intended to cause any sort of controversy.

m[m]:Over the projects twenty five year career how do you feel the way you create noise has changed? And are there any distinctive sonic elements that have remained the same through-out?
Richard I think we got more harsh since our beginnings. We still use sheet metal and found junk objects as we did in the beginning. Not too much has changed which I like. Some bands move on from a specific sound. Some like to do so. This is our formula and it is one I love. I never want to change it.

m[m]:Much of the projects themes & imagery are based around S&M themed gay sex- tell us a little bit about how/ why this became central to the project?
Richard Initially it was not based on those images until around 1992. I kept seeing other noise artist use images of women in bondage, porn, etc. Being an openly gay man, I thought 'lets see some men'. I wanted this in 'your-face gay leather' scene theme. I was fascinated by the leather scene and wanted to be vocal about it. We got (and still get) negative feedback about it, but I dont give a fuck. Its me. Its what the band members enjoy being a part of and that is all that matters. There are a lot of homophobic ignorant assholes out there. It is sad when people are not comfortable with their own sexuality and have to use their insecurities as hate. There are a lot of idiots who believe gays have an 'agenda'. Our 'agenda' is to simply have the same rights as others, that is all. Not special rights, but equal. Too many dumbasses do not get that. If someone does not like it,  then dont buy it. Simple as that.

Richard BLJ has quite a few heterosexual members, but they are open minded people or else would NOT be involved in such a band. That is what I love most about my band. It includes some of my favorite people (and artists) in my life.

m[m]:What did you see as the projects themes before the introduction of S&M themed gay sex?                                                                                                                                          Richard It was more abstract. I am a fan of art and I love to sometimes use that in my work. I am also a painter so that plays a part in that. The S&M gay sex themes came shortly after. Again, I wanted a more "in your face" type of art used to match my interests and the name. I wanted to give the name a new meaning.

m[m]:BLJ sound is often quite noise jam based- tell us a little bit about how you go about composing new works, and do you centre it around one element & then build up from there?
Richard Our improv has always been the key element to our sound. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it does not. I like seeing where it goes. I do not like the term, 'jam' because it reminds me of other experimental bands that 'jam' and I find quite nauseating. Band members know what I like and what I do not like in our chaos. We feed off each other and it works.

Richard My boyfriend, Sean (Matzus), has become the brains behind the chaos in this group. He controls it and is the most important part of the band. I ve taken a step back and like to be in the shadowy background of this group. Its nice.

m[m]:Why have you decided to step back, and let Sean take over the sonic control of the project? and what sonic role do you now have in the project?  Richard I don't like to be the focus of the group. I think Sean is good at what he does and his role. He's become a leader in this group. I love that. I just do my junk metal noise along with the rest. I don't try to stand out from the "crowd" at all. In live settings, I have stage fright, so that's another reason that I like to be hidden somewhat. Sean and I are usually the final word when it comes to certain matters (i.e. releases, collaborations, etc.).

m[m]: Sean, Tell us a little bit about your first sonic introduction to Black Leather Jesus? And how/why/when did you become a member of the project?
Sean Soon after moving to Houston in 1997, I discovered the local college radio station. They had a weekly program dedicated to experimental music. They also played a fair amount of noise and experimental stuff in the course of a regular programming day. I'd always been geared towards noise, but it wasn't until then that I started to really get an education in how much was out there. There were also several record stores in Houston with good experimental sections, and that is where I first bought BLJ and Richard Ramirez CDs. I loved the relentlessness and total immersion of those first albums I bought. I actually didn't know that Richard was actually 'Richard Ramirez, Noise Artist' when I first met him. I started hanging around him in the fashion context and he uses a different last name for all that. I first saw BLJ in the Novak/Ramirez duo line-up and absolutely loved it. Richard's dense 'wall of noise' approach mixed with Kevin's more dynamic electronic approach was really striking live, and I started going to more shows.
Around the same time, I was working in In the Land of Archers. When we started performing live, Richard would come out and see us. I assumed he was just supporting a friend¡ªwe had become pretty good friends by that time. He must have seen something worthwhile in what we were doing, because he started asking us to play on bills he set up and recommend us to others booking shows. He asked me first to do Priest In Shit, and not long after to join Black Leather Jesus. I started playing and recording with BLJ in 2002.

m[m]:According to BLJ discog listing the project now has 13 present members- do they all play on each new work that is recorded, and how difficult is it to arrange the sound of some many players, so each players element can be heard?
Richard Not all record together. We have done so on rare occasion and have performed with all members on occasion. The lineup varies from which ones can record. So not all have been on our latest recordings either. We have used some live recordings for some releases as well. It is not difficult for each person to be heard. Sean is great controlling the mixer.

m[m]:Does each member of the 13 members have a set sonic role with in the project?, for example will one person deal with sheet metal, while another deals with pedal abuse.
Richard No. We don't tell them what to do specifically. We have a general "rule" on what is allowed to be used and not. We have a sound that they all know we like and stick to it.
I am not trying to take the group into a new sound or "move on" from what we've done over the years. Other groups can do that. I like what we do, how we sound, and I am content with it.
Some may get tired of it and that's ok. I'll still be here for as long as I can.

m[m]:Sean, Could you tell us a little bit about how you arrange BLJs players? And who begins the start blocks of a track?- is it always the same person, or does it vary?
Sean My approach with mixing and arranging BLJ is to start everyone at or around the same level, then add and subtract volume to the mix and players as the sound seems to be calling for. I consider what each player is using and determine 'where' they will sit best in the mix. The main considerations are gain and if they are going to fill out the bottom or top end. Though BLJ is still a much more dynamic sound than our strict HNW projects, I approach it much the same mix-wise. I want there to be a full 'wall-of-sound' at all times and allow individual voices to ride on top, sink in to or rise out of the sound. I do like to mix microphone players really hot, because I think feedback is a big part of the BLJ sound. There is almost never a player or group of players who starts a track or performance. I prefer to have all of us blazing in the red from the second we start. I love the physicality of immediately pushing that much noise in to a room. Let people know what is up from the very beginning, so to speak.

m[m]: Sean, when your balancing the projects sound for either recordings or live shows-how difficult is it to make sure each element is heard?
Sean I'm always amazed at how clear individual voices come through the chaos that a BLJ set or recording would seem to be from the outside. Maybe it is from listening to what we do for so long, maybe it is just a matter of having it be my primary responsibility in the band for so many sets and recordings, but it has become virtually second nature. I think everyone who sees us will attest that careful listening will reveal a very clear idea of what each player is contributing to the whole. I always think of my job as being first a listener. The main way I allow every voice to come through is by thinking about what each player is using and considering very carefully how to EQ them for maximum impact. As I mentioned above, I start from as level a playing field as I can manage, then bring stuff up and down as the piece seems to demand. Nobody ever solos, but I very definitely try to allow everybody some time up near the top of the mix.

m[m]: Sean, other than group arranger, what sonic part do you take in the projects sound?
Sean For a long time, I viewed my role as a player as giving everyone a solid base to play on. I did a lot of wall-ish 'foundation' work using radio, synthesiser, distortion, etc. In the past couple of years, I have really stripped my gear and I now use primarily raw junk metal, often without any effects, and feedback as my main sonic contribution. I still occasionally use some heavily distorted field recordings as a foundation for everyone to play on, but more often than not I just let the chaos do the talking.

m[m]: Sean, how do you think BLJs sound has changed since you have been involved with the project?
Sean The best change I have seen in the time I have been in the project has been the move away from primarily electronic noise to our current emphasis of raw, stripped down junk metal with a minimum of electronics from most players. There are still some of us who do a really good job with synth/pedal-board excess, and I'd never want us to lose that completely. But I think our sound has become much more raw and immediate in the past couple of years.

m[m]:Please select ten releases from BLJs over 90 release that you think are high creative points, and please explain why you have selected each of your picks?
Richard  Jesus is Stoned (tape) 1993. I have not heard this tape in forever. It seems to get lots of positive feedback from the rare ones that have it or heard it.

A.N.T.I. (tape) 1993. One of our first total wall noise releases. I still love how this sounds and is a favorite of Sam McKinley (The Rita).

Ho/Mo/Sexual (tape) 1995. It features the late, Kevin Ogg (Fetus Furs) and I love the gritty sound that we created on that particular release.

Werewolf Jerusalem (tape/anti-record)1995. Obviously my solo project name came from this release. It was a live recording that featured David Gilden, Scott Houston, and Randi Shrum. It is  very dense and recently heard it again. I still like how it sounds.

Smut (tape) 1995. Another live recordings release that featured David Gilden in the lineup. We had so much fun with those performances.

SM (tape) 1995. I do not have  a copy of this recording anymore. Wish I did. I remember really liking this release. It was recorded in an old metal shop in our warehouse district of Houston. So much fun!!!

Trocar (lp) 2002. I love what Kevin Novak (T.E.F.) did with this release. It is very dense and he is a great noise maker.

You Will Do As Your Master Commands (7inch) 2011. The chaos in this record is some of my favorite moments recording. Junk noise the way I like it.

Even Deeper (tape) 2012. I remember this recording session and enjoyed the experience. It features members of our group from Dallas.

Cum All (tape 2013. Another fond recording session with the current lineup. I love our current lineup.

m[m]:Sean,please select five favourite release that you have ve been involved with BLJ, and please explain why they stand out to you?
Sean This is tough, because a number of my favorites are recordings that are still in the process of being released. Most of the ones I really like I like because of the interplay of the individual voices, and the tension between electronic and raw sounds. In no particular order:

Decaying Behavior -our split with The Haters. Along with A Purpose Not Necessary with Incapacitants, this was the best of the stuff we recorded not long after I joined BLJ. Some of the work I did before this with the band I thought missed the mark. This was one of the first times I felt like I really 'got it'
Slow Heat In A Texas Town, this and French Pissing are a couple of favorites from a period that was primarily electronic noise, synth and feedback loops, and Richard's raw metal sounds. Both released by essentially the same label (Petite Soles/4-Eyes are two sides of the same great coin).
You Will Do As Your Master Commands-I may be biased, but this is a great 7¡nc. Dynamic and diverse 'big-band' chaos on the A-side, with a thick, almost wall-ish track on B-side. Really showcases the different approaches BLJ is capable of.
The yet-to-be-released favorites are our collaboration with Blue Sabbath Black Cheer and our collaboration with Cosmic Coincidence. On both I loved the way the material changed the source of both groups once mixed, leading to amazing, dense pieces wherein individual sources were rendered almost unrecognizable to yield an all new thing. An astonishing metamorphosis, and two releases I cannot wait to see unleashed on the world.

m[m]:In 2013 BLJ did some collaboration with US noise legends Smegma- how did this come about? What were your thoughts on the outcome & when can we expect a release of these sessions? And what can we expect from them? 
Richard Smegma are an amazing group. Extremely nice and welcomed us to their home while we were touring the Pacific Northwest. They asked us to record with them and of course we were honored. We recorded two sessions with them. Hopefully we can get it released as a vinyl. There are talks of a vinyl and a tape of the two sessions.

m[m]:As it is BLJ 25th anniversary this year- are there any plans to do any reissues of old work, or even a box set?
Richard We are working on a set for Bizarre Audio Arts with new material.
Richard We have this tour happening in Europe and one possibly in Japan later in 2014. We will be taking a break from BLJ recording and live performances to focus on solo/collab. projects. We all want to do solo tours later in 2014 into 2015. Still talks of Jesus is Stoned being reissued as some point. Maybe.

m[m]:In May this year BLJ will be doing a European tour- can you tell people what to expect sonically, and what dates/ venues are fully fixed now?
Richard  Our live performances are full on junk noise madness (without violence of course). We are not into that. It is not our style. We like to bring brutal unrelenting noise utilizing minimal equipment with found objects. This is our first time (and possibly only) in Europe as Black Leather Jesus. Id like to more shows in Europe, but probably solo or with another project of mine. Maybe Last Rape. We will have tour only T-shirts and releases for our shows. The last time we toured, our T-shirts sold out quickly. This tour will have an even more ltd. edition T-shirt for the shows. Here are our dates/venues. Some are still in the process, but will soon have more confirmations on the 'TBA' ones.

Leeds, England (Thurs. May 8)at Wharf Chambers

London, England (Friday, May 9th)at Ryan¡¯s Bar.

Manchester, England (Sat., May 10th) Gulliver¡¯s.

Edinburgh or Glasgow, Scotland (Sun. May 11th)city/venue TBA.

Barcelona, Spain (Tues. May 13th) venue TBA.

Toulouse, France (Wed., May 14th)at Les Pavillons Sauvages.

Paris, France (Thursday, May 15th) venue TBA.

Montreuil, France (Friday, May 16th) at Instants Chavires.

Hamburg, Germany ( Sat. May 17th) at Rote Flora.

Amsterdam, Netherlands (Sun. May 18th)venue TBA soon.

Kortrijk, Belgium (Mon. May 19th)at the Pits.

m[m]:are there an new BLJ releases in the pipe-line, and if so can you please give us details of what they are?
Richard  There will be one or two 'tour only' items. There is a BLJ/Nihilist Assault Group 'Cinema Calendar' collaboration 7inch out soon on Dead Mind Records. A BLJ/Blue Sabbath Black Cheer LP on Urashima due out soon. A BLJ/Andrew Liles collaboration 7inch upcoming on Unlimited Drift Recordings. A 2xCD set on L.White Records forthcoming. A 4 or 5 CDR set on Bizarre Audio Arts (all new material). The BLJ/Smegma collaborations should hopefully see some kind of release this year.

m[m]:Could you give us a bit more information about the two BLJs CD sets that are due out on L.White &  Bizarre Audio Arts ? and has there been set release dates yet?                                            
Richard  Bizarre Audio Arts will be about 4 or 5 "CDr" set. It's a collection of live recordings and all new material.
L.White Records is doing a 2 pro CD set. One disc is raw junk metal noise with no pedals. The other is various lineups with all new material.
No release dates yet as we are not finished with either.

Thanks to Richard & Sean for their time & efforts with interview. The projects blog can be found here:

Photo credits:main front page,top right and third by Nukka Photography.
second pic by Monica Isabel Sanchez.
last pic by Hal Harmon.

Roger Batty
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