Beyond-O-Matic – “Relations At The Borders Between” (Trail Records 2013, CD)
In 1999 when Aural Innovations was still a printed mag, issue #6 included a review of Your Body, the third album by San Franciso based Beyond-O-Matic, as well as an interview with band member Kurt Stenzel. The album was a uniquely compelling, and difficult to describe brand of quirky, electronically psychedelic space music that fell firmly into the outside-the-box category. And that album was it for Beyond-O-Matic until 2010, when Trail Records released Time To Get Up, a set of music recorded in 2002-03 that had been sitting all those years.
And now we have Relations At The Borders Between, the first set of new Beyond-O-Matic recordings in over a decade. The details of the story that led to this album are in the interview below, but founding members Kurt Stenzel and Peter Fuhry were reunited for two days in May 2012 to create the core recordings, with overdubs and fine tuning applied over the course of the following year. Drum duties are handled by Anthony Koutsos, with additional guests on guitar, percussion and bass.
The album opens with In The C, an accessible rhythmic grooving song with completely spaced out electronics and floating, streaming keys. Tick Tock Rock is a short 2+ minute tune that does not “Rock”, but is actually a hypnotically metronomic piece that abruptly leads into the nearly 16 minute Wish. Wish is an epic stunner that opens with gently stoned riffage, combined with soaring keys, a droning synth line, and a doomy yet majestic melody. This might be the heaviest music I’ve heard from Beyond-O-Matic yet. I didn’t make a point of this in my ’99 Your Body review, but Peter Fuhry’s vocals give the band so much of their unique character and flavor. It’s difficult to describe, but he often sings in a high register, very pleasant yet intense banshee-like style. About halfway through the mood lightens and we’re drifting along on a magic carpet of space synth, ambient waves and flute, soon moving into a spaced out Prog keyboard dominated segment that starts to develop a cool rolling groove, joined by guitars and a beautiful jazzy flute melody, creating killer instrumental Space-Prog with a bit of jazz jam that carries us to the end.
The remainder of the album consists of 10+ minute stretch-out works. In Two 0s begins as an accessible vocal song, though it’s all happening within a larger heavier rocking spacey soundscape surrounded context. And when the piece takes off into an instrumental jam the music thuds along at a marching pace, led by a pulsating and grooving synth and swimming in a space-symphonic sea of keys. I also like the more playful chorus sections that contrast with the intensity of the larger piece. The track ends in a strangely abrupt manner, and then quickly launches into Turn, Switch, Thrust. This one opens with dreamily drifting vocals, guitars and Space-Prog keys. After nearly 5 minutes an ambient-noise-drone synth line accompanied by howling chant vocals takes over, which is the transition point back to another lulling melodic dream song sequence. I think this has some of Fuhry’s best vocals on the album. He sings passionately and combined with the angelic backing harmonies and cosmic flow of the music, the whole thing is simply spellbinding. But The Love is a pensive, effects-laden journey, with lots of fun spaced out electronics, dreamy-jazzy flute, great vocals, and accordion. The set closes with the 16 minute Out The C. There’s a slow suspenseful build up before the song portion kicks in. And again, I love the vocals, supported by fluttering and ambient soloing guitar, meditatively paralyzing drones, assorted keys and electronics, and pounding Rock drums. Of course nothing stays the same for long as we soon transition to a trippy psychedelic segment, followed by a Space-Proggy jazz bit, before returning to the song, now zipping along at a spaced out rhythmically grooving pace, and we’ve even got some Bluesy jamming harmonica [electronically produced I assume].
In summary, after all these years the Beyond-O-magic is still there. There’s a LOT happening on this album that only an attentive headphones listen will reveal, and continues to do so over several spins.
The interview I conducted with Kurt Stenzel in AI #6 to this day remains one of the most interesting I’ve ever published, due to Kurt having had genuinely fascinating experiences and his willingness to take my questions and really run with them. Kurt was born in Queens, New York. At age 18 in 1985 he founded the band Six and Violence, who played a unique blend of hardcore punk and progressive rock, with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson making a guest appearance on their first LP. Six and Violence were notorious for theatrical stage shows involving actual violence with the smashing of televisions, chainsawing of drums, go-go dancing nuns, stage diving gorillas and flying hamburgers, gracing, and often, wrecking, the stages of the likes of CBGB’s. Moving to San Francisco in the 90’s, Kurt pursued his love of vintage analog synthesizers and improvisation, over the years recording as Cookin With Kurt, and later forming the electronic ambient duo SpacEKrafT, an offshoot from his Lopsided Space Kart project (sampled by German electronic music pioneers Cluster on their Qua album) In the mid-2000’s Kurt created the #1 Public Access television show in San Francisco called “Talk to the Hand”.
I conducted the following interview with Kurt via email. Be sure to CLICK HERE to read the earlier interview that appeared in AI #6.
Aural Innovations (AI): Let’s pick up where we left off in 1999. The Your Body CD was out. I got the Cookin’ With Kurt CD credited to Kurt Stenzel in 2000. And that was the last I heard of beyond-o-matic until Trail Records released Time To Get Up in 2010. That album was recorded in 2002-2003 and you mentioned recently that a few hundred copies circulated at Burning Man in 2003. Was it released on your Jamaelot label like the first three were? You referred to it as a “lost album” so I’m guessing maybe you did something unofficial? Alexander from Trail Records says he had downloaded it online in 2003.
Kurt Stenzel (KS): First of all, I want to say THANKS for picking up with me AT ALL!!! I am a big fan of Aural Innovations, and I am so glad we are still here together!!! Thank you thank you thank you.
And I apologize, I took the format of this interview to kind of write a BOOK here-it might be too much information! I realized that as I started to tell these stories, they are fairly intertwined, and that’s just the way it is.
Maybe the readers want to skip to th epiunchline. ROCK! Or maybe more like “SPACE.ROCK!”
So, yes, since 1999-yowza. I am a bit sketchy on actual dates-thanks for summarizing!
Yes, Beyond-o-Matic was essentially “broken up” sometime after Your Body (and Pete moved away from San Francisco). Dating back to the 90s, the first 3 Beyond-o-Matic CDs were on our own label – it also refers to a state of mind and a physical house (actually two houses) called Jamaelot where we lived together with friends in San Francisco.
Flight of Luis Garcia, maybe 1994?, Sonic Reclaimator, 1996? Your Body, 1998?.
By the 2000s we had all scattered to the 4 winds, having babies and so-called grown up stuff. I was still in San Francisco. Pete went on an odyssey that took him to Los Angeles, Ventura and eventually Austin.
Pete Fuhry and I are very close friends, brothers, so no matter what was happening at the time we are always in contact. For me, once I commit to a project, there is no “breaking up” – there can be long breaks, but if I am going to bother to be creative with people, they are usually people I love to work with, so why not circle back? Pete especially – the guy is an amazing talent and a really good-hearted friend.
In 2002 Pete was living in Southern California, and there was a window of opportunity to play music for a day in San Francisco. So we grabbed our buddy David Jayne from the Neurohumors, and he was kind enough to play some drums and to let us use his house to record. David owns a Victorian in town here, so the living room sounded good – carpets and high ceilings and wood are a great combo for a home recording.
Previously, Pete had really enjoyed playing with Anthony Kutsos (drummer in Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon), so we invited him in on drums too, so he’s on about half the Time to Get Up record.
Anthony is a great guy. If Nick Mason doesn’t return your calls, be sure to call Anthony.
So we got a recording, and Pete took it back to Los Angeles and started to do the process he always does, which is “finding the song in the improvisation”, and adding melodic and harmonic elements. Probably around 2002, 2003. It became Time to Get Up.
Without a label at the time, and without the band being really anywhere, Pete burned a bunch of CDRs, wrapped them in a color copy paper cover, and handed them out at Burning Man, where they were remarkably well received. Closest I ever came to Burning Man was when our friend Hippy Steve played our songs in his geodesic dome there – which to me was much easier than GOING to play Burning Man. It’s funny because we had been invited to play out there as early as 1993, and we turned it down – our vintage gear barely works under good conditions! And after years of punk rock, I like sleeping IN A BED.
After that 2003 “hand out” at Burning Man, our buddy Jai Young Kim (Secret Chiefs 3) talked about putting it out on his label; we just never got around to it, and somewhere along the line, the guys at Trail Records got a hold of it. Eventually, as they built up their label, they put that 2003 CDR out as a formal release in 2010. So it was kind of a “lost record” re-issue.
AI: Following from the last question, the Cookin’ With Kurt CD was not a million miles off from Beyond-O-Matic, and Pete participated in that. Was Beyond-O-Matic already winding down at this point?
KS: Yes, Jamaelot was dismantling as a house as everyone went off to be with their girlfriends. It’s funny how the ladies don’t really dig their guy living in a closet, under a staircase, in the worst neighborhood in San Francisco. Go figure. Anyway, living in “crack alley” with pimps and drugs and all was getting depressing. Having no money was always depressing. We had passed up the offer from Cleopatra a few years before and we weren’t exactly a business powerhouse. I was in fact getting lazy about getting gigs, it was the dot.com era in town, things were changing. Rehearsal spaces, studios, all were getting annihilated. Your Body was, in my opinion, a real drag of a record to make. We got suckered into the so-called “power” of recording on a computer in a living room (previous stuff was done on a multi-track).
We basically fizzled over a long time period. The zeitgeist was intense. San Francisco is a great town for CONSUMING music – all the cool acts come here, so you THINK it’s bohemian and cool, when it’s been getting progressively inaccessible to genuine freaks. It’s “edge the locals out” while the yuppies pay to be hip.
The local papers and promoters totally neglect the local artists; it is fairly depressing – ask any local artists here. I remember, in our endless quest to find a place to rehearse in the City of San Francisco, I was talking to a guy who managed the Tubes – for a rehearsal space they had built a standing HOUSE inside a warehouse down in the South of Market district of SF. I realized that they may have been one of the last bands to be able to do such a thing – to actually use accessible and affordable SPACE in this town. It lasted probably up to 1975? Now a 1 bedroom condo down there will cost you $800k.
Not to complain, but I have had bands in two nasty cities, New York and San Francisco, and I would always hear stories – like how the Ramones had loft parties in SOHO or whatever because, well, they COULD. I seemed to be out of phase with gentrification – too early or too late. I used to dodge bullets in Williamsburgh Brooklyn, MOMENTS before it got hip, and now I dodge BMWs in San Francisco. It has changed drastically since 1992. My quote: “San Francisco is a Yuppie Food Court” (with great views).
So, even back at the new millennia, Jamaelot was unwinding, logistics sucked. I remember saying to Pete – “Pete, we are working SO HARD at “not working hard” at our day jobs, trying to part time play music, maybe I should just work harder at the day job, make more cash and choose my own destiny here a little bit.
That can go both ways – if there was a reasonable plateau that could ever be reached, that would be great! The thinking is, “If I can pay my rent, when I pay my bills, NOW I can also invest in making some cool records”. THAT would be great. The catch 22, “well, to earn enough I have to really commit to making other people rich, I have to pretend to care”. Then the bosses decide that since you appear to care, they hand you some small reward and 100X the responsibility. This was happening to both me and Pete, and we moved here to be slackers, to have a less hostile city to make music in. I got to the point where I was VP at the company I had worked for all along in SF, and I was eventually RESPONSIBLE for the livelihood of 75 or 80 people!!! I’m a MUSICIAN man, I am just TRYING TO FUND MY GODDAMN NEXT RECORD. I will do ANYTHING to do that, but what if you have no TIME to make records?!?!? So it’s always CASH or TIME and rarely BOTH. I guess as I started to earn a little more cash I had a BRIEF moment of bliss where I had just enough cash and time to fund my own project, and thus Cookin With Kurt was a free and easy record to make.
I was itching to do something different, I was earning a little more money at the day job and really wanted to “Produce” a record. At some point prior Pete and I sat down to discuss the lethargic state of Beyond-o-Matic and we said, “hey man, it’s over and that’s OK” – it was mutual. Like many musicians, we were doing more TALKING about the band than DOING, so it was kind of a relief.
Of course we wound up quickly doing music together anyway, almost immediately, so it’s kind of funny to even fret about that stuff. I have found that when you find musicians that are soul brothers, it ain’t over til the fat lady sings, (and she’s probably guest starring on most of your records for no pay).
I set out to do Cookin with Kurt with freedom in mind. Bands, even those as “free form” and anarchic as Beyond-o-Matic, kind of start having a “rule set” – even if it’s a good thing, it becomes a defined “thing”.
I always really liked the long instrumental improvisations with Beyond-O-Matic. In fact, it was Pete who first encouraged me to even play the keyboards at all – soon enough I was improvising in front of live audiences for years, so it started to really became a “practice” for me. I wanted to be free and do more of that.
I do like the “song” structure of Beyond-O-Matic a lot, but I would also like to hear the backing tracks from the original recordings, before any overdubs – I like the abstract aspect of instrumental playing with 100% pure improvisation. So I really wanted to do an instrumental improvised record.
I also wanted to do something listenable – I noticed I had been involved in some pretty zany records, and few of them were “easy on the ears” – often they were statements, and I wanted something less specific. So meeting all these requirements, I figured, if I am the “space guy” doing all the synth textures, some rhythmic structure or form is a nice foundation for the listener.
I think at the time Air was coming out with analog synth records – Premiers Symphonies was mostly instrumental. Red Snapper was really cool. The Beastie Boys had done In Sound from Way Out – so there was this kind of post acid jazz, instrumental thing happening that I liked. Of course I knew I would make it freakier – I wasn’t into copying anyone.
So leading in that direction, the “Cookin” thing was inspired by a demo tape I had heard from a friend named Charles Davis, who sometimes practiced at our Jamaelot space. He was such a solid bass player, that I thought, “well, if I get him and the drummer he has on this demo, and with me making synth sounds, it will sound good, especially on analog tape”. His drummer, Randy Burke, owned an analog studio called Stout. I have always been an analog tape fetishist (certainly before it was hip). Obviously the digital revolution has been in full swing my whole recording career. In fact Beyond-O-Matic kind of grew out of having a home ADAT system with longer (cheap) digital VHS tapes for masters – we could record longer sections. But I always liked analog even with it’s time vs. cost issues! It’s crazy because that Cookin’ stuff was done on a 16 track 1 inch tape, and currently there is no longer a working machine in that format anywhere to be found in the Bay Area – real analog was really in danger even back in 2000.
So I went into the project with the intention of rolling tape – inevitably I had most of my Beyond-O-Matic keyboard gear as my working rig, so those sounds were literally “on hand”.
Then, instinctually, I invited Pete down because I love his melodic flute playing – and I asked him last minute to play the clarinet too. Pete also encourages me – he’s great to have in studio – in fact, he engineered Six and Violence, my hardcore band, which was a total nightmare because we are so dysfunctional, and he is such a peaceful influence he got us through that, so he has always been my coach, collaborator, arranger, co-writer. Very generous and humble. He has the humility that only a true “chops” guy can have. Pete is a “real” musician par excellence.
The Cookin’ session was just one day of playing. As often happens, Pete is a melodic master – between him and Charles they provided great motifs while I did all my spacey stuff. It’s all vibe. All 100% on the spot. When Pete and I start trading melodic lines, or cross weaving some counter notes that weave into some choral stuff, it invariably sounds like Beyond-O-Matic for sure. So what you get is a Pete and Kurt style record, which is very close to the improvisations on Beyond-O-Matic backing tracks. Though eventually I wound up playing lots of live gigs as Cookin With Kurt with Charles and Randy without Pete because he was living in Southern California.
So, at that time, Pat from Mushroom was A+R for innerSPACE records – they had done cool releases with Daevid Allen’s University of Errors and Damo Suzuki Live in Seattle. I think Pat Thomas really wanted a new Beyond-O-Matic album, but 3 of us, Pete, Frank Grau (drums on Your Body) and I had all spun off to do new solo records. So Pat took on releasing all 3 at that time. My Cookin’ with Kurt, Pete’s Om Attack, and Frank’s second Species Being record. To put it in context, Pete was very influential on the earlier Species Being record, which was done at Jamaelot (lots of cross pollination). So Frank was close at hand too as a fellow soul brother.
So instead of a new Beyond-O-Matic with Fuhry/Stenzel/Grau, Pat essentially got the effect of when Kiss did their four solo records! Sorry, goofy analogy!
Anyway, the Cookin With Kurt CD was really well received – it charted on KCRW, which was almost a shock as the label guys said, “well, don’t bother servicing radio, these tracks are way too long!” I wound up packing 50 envelopes and mailing to radio stations myself and we got airplay and CHARTS, including KCRW, which to me is important as they are quote/unquote “purveyors of taste”. My theory is that the record was long enough to allow DJs to take a bathroom break (like In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida).
It was a pleasant surprise. And for me it was a great thing to walk into Virgin in London, and see it filed under “Electronic/Acid Jazz” and walk into Rough Trade in London and see it filed under “Krautrock”. Go figure. That record showed up in weird places, it got used in some commercial contexts and on spec for some films.
That being said, I went in to do a second Cookin With Kurt record and the label went under – so the money they owed me would have paid for the next record and it didn’t happen. That one is in the vaults, and god only knows when I will get around to doing a Cookin With Kurt re-issue, but I can make it a double CD or whatever. I have good live recordings as well. All improvised.
Around that time, to fit into smaller clubs, I started playing as Cooking with Kurt as a solo guy with synths and a video projector (which I would nab from work). Video projectors were kind of new in 2000, 2001, so it was a novel thing to project my own imagery. I was always interested in video, as best I could without proper means. Beyond-O-Matic collaborator Dave Gresalfi and future Lopsided Space Kart member Jeff Millhollen started to produce video content for me as “Eye Lashing Images” – that further enhanced the whole thing. We went on to do LOTS of video art as I started a public access TV show called Talk to the Hand, which got pretty poular here in town. I am lucky to have such great friends to work with.
So, musically, I had a residency at a genuine OXYGEN BAR in San Francisco. Fun stuff. Those oxygen bar gigs got me really learning to do extended synth sets – I played weekly and often played for a few hours – people would get pretty mesmerized sitting there with oxygen tubes up their nose in this kind of Clockwork Orange milk bar kind of setting. Sometimes people would fall asleep and had to be removed like you would remove a drunken sailor. For me, this was a great thing – in NYC I had done “music to smash things to/dive on your head”, and here I was knocking people unconscious in a whole different way. I guess we can say “creating unconsciousness is my ultimate musical ambition”. Mama said to knock you out!
AI: So now we have the first new Beyond-O-Matic recordings in a full decade. Was it all at the instigation of the enthusiasts at Trail Record?
KS: I didn’t know the Trail guys that well personally, but we had word that Time To Get Up went over well. I knew the reviews were really good, and they had done a proper job on packaging and getting it to the reviewers that we care about (like Aural Innovations). So I was back in NY to play a Six and Violence show in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn (where I used to get shot at when I lived on South 3rd Street) and is now hipster central.
The venue was just down the block from Trail Records, so I went over to meet Alexander Tsalikhin, Vlad Milyavsky and George Dugan. George was running studio operations for them, and he explained that he would love to get us in there. Since Pete Fuhry and I both hail from NY originally, you would think we could make it back there pretty easily, if only to see family.
The reality is that we both have kids, things to do – even when our NY trips coincide we often are at family holidays and whatnot.
At that meeting I kind of warned those guys that Pete is a special kind of guy – best treated a little gingerly to respect his vibe and all. Now that he’s in Austin, he can be like the next Roky Erickson! Actually Pete is really professional and pretty sane, but I think he is best when he has a “zone” to be in. Me too, when I play with Pete – we aren’t “normal” – it’s not a typical rock band situation, but neither are we such freaks you can’t hang out with us. You can talk to us, we just like to take a lot of time hanging out listening to Sabbath or something and THEN record, without any pressure. Not that Trail was pressuring us, they are way cool and respectful. I believe it could be that their Russian mindset has more respect for musicians – seriously, in the US, most people spit on musicians, or frown on musicians not wanting to TOIL like a stock broker or whatever. The Trail guys showed tons of respect for Pete’s process. So they were very open minded and supportive to allow us a “whenever, whereever” approach.
So I think the idea stewed for awhile, and then I said, “it might be a year before Pete and I have an orbit that gets us to NY at the same time”. Shipping my 10 tons of analog synths is a daunting thought (OK I exaggerate, but it’s still maybe 10 vintage keyboards). I said, “look, if we can just fly Pete to San Francisco, I have a stand-alone cottage right in the heart of the city” (they exist here) so, ironically, 10 years after constantly looking, I had finally achieved the Jamaelot quest – a place in the city where we could PLAY. I love my little house – I can blast Slayer at 4:00am without disturbing anyone.
So Trail flew Pete up with some wacky gear and we set drums up in my basement/garage. Just like the old days. It was a questionable call on my part – ironically I prefer the sound of the previous record more. I like recording done in the interior of a Victorian – garages always sound like garages when it comes to drums. Maybe I was selfish with the idea, because I got to blaze ALL my analog synths at once – plugged in all my gear – anything you hear from me is 100% live takes, NO OVERDUBS – so if you hear 4 synths going, it’s me doing the funky chicken to reach the physical keyboards with two hands. Having the space to set up all that stuff is crucial.
AI: Had it been a full decade since you and Pete played together? If so, I imagine you both, like anyone, grow/develop/progress/change as people and musicians. What was it like getting back into Beyond-O-Matic mode after all that time?
KS: Awesome question! It was great! I believe Pete may have been under a little more duress – not in his home, maybe a little more rusty, less gear in hand. Still, as usual, he did a masterful job, and I felt he relaxed right into it. As for me, I was most lucky – as I’ve said before, I owe Pete so much musically – he gently guided me to improvisation without training – and encouraged me to take my innate love of synth textures boldly into the world! What a friend! Seriously, how many musicians would risk having a guy like me in their BAND from day one?
So, THIS TIME, for this recording, I was NOT rusty – I was coming off 10+ years of LOTS OF PLAYING – between Cookin With Kurt, Lopsided Space Kart, and SpacEKrafT and the Dune movie work, I had been tinkling the keys quite a bit the last decade. The last 5 years with SpacEKrafT, we hit a stride where we were playing live events a lot – I think we did 15 in 3 months or something in one stretch. We play for HOURS at some of those gigs because they are more like public art installations. We have played a few where we went 8 hours of live playing. Granted, I am not playing like Keith Emerson the whole time – it’s all improv, but it certainly gets you digging into your gear and effects and note intervals just to keep yourself engaged!
So, I loved playing with Pete this time around. For me it was great fun to have some kind of confidence on the gear. I am getting beyond the feeling of being a guy who was not trained to play keys.
AI: I understand that you grouped up to record for just two days in May 2012, and then overdubs and studio polishing occurred over the next full year. Tell me about the core recordings that were made during the 2 day get-together vs. the work done the following year.
KS: As always, the backing tracks (I hate to call them “jams” since jam bands have kind of tarnished that word) – without being too silly pretentious, lets call them extended improvisations – they tend to sound pretty cool on their own after we do them. I can always see the wheels turning in Pete’s head; it’s like looking at a sculptor assessing a piece of wood for the grain and the shape to see what he will whittle down into a more intricate design. Basically the rule is “vibe, vibe, vibe” record for 2 days, done, go home. Then Pete gets a little insular and crazy making these things songs, staying true to not mucking up the essence of the recording in the room, but adding the ornamentation of singing, some overdubs of his instruments, and some bass. That’s his genius alone.
It’s noteworthy that there are Beyond-O-Matic recordings that have the vocal improvised on the spot too – I Am The Weed from the second CD, Sonic R Reclamiator is 100% done on the spot, vocals and all. To me, that is one of our best Beyond-O-Matic tracks ever – it captures so much about what was going on – it is from the basement of the Tenderloin – crack heads would assemble in the alley and listen through our basement windows, like Night of the Living Dead. It was 100% intense. I like that track – VERY unlikely for anyone to capture a “take” like that anywhere.
But I digress, often Pete does PROFOUND melodies and VERY carefully constructed “Beach Boys style” harmony parts on top of the raw backing tracks – he makes the parts sit together seamlessly, as if we had been practicing these songs for years or something. He really is a talented guy. Even more striking when it was revealed that he had to work under fairly hostile conditions in Austin – recording late at night at home in the kitchen, no privacy, bad monitoring, etc.
My one thought for next time is that it’s probably a good idea to have two discrete sessions, maybe a few months between, just so that the improvisations aren’t too similar. I think some stuff got trimmed because it is too easy to slip into some similar stuff between the takes. In one sense it gives the record cohesion – it is like a motif driven journey, with tonal and tempo similarities throughout, but some more variety would also be cool.
I marvel at how much the reviewers like this CD – it is a commitment to listen to the longer parts.
AI: Following from the last question, there is a LOT happening on this album, and close listening gives an appreciation for all the work that must have gone into crafting the final product.
KS: The cake that comes out of the oven, day one, take one, is usually pretty rich. Pete is usually playing a variety of instruments in the room, I had ALL of my synths flying live and going to a stereo mix so I can “pre-mix” the keyboard voices (very anti-modern recoding wisdom). We have 80 kabillion effects and we know how to use ’em!
And Anthony rides the vibe and adds a lot of artistry to the drums – he’s a really thoughtful player, with restraint and dynamics – lots of feeling, so he’s like a self-contained unit during the improvisations. Pete refines it with the icing on the cake for sure – sometimes he adds another two or three “tiers to the cake” and surprises us all.
AI: I think Pete has a very distinctive vocal style which gives Beyond-O-Matic much of its character. But knowing that the lyrics were written and recorded after the 2-day sessions, I listened to the album imagining it as fully instrumental, and indeed there are lots of lengthy instrumental passages, and I think it works well.
KS: Thanks, I agree, I really enjoy the backing tracks without vocals too. The public tends to like singing. I have been grappling with that now that I do things like SpaceKraft which are instrumental – it allows for more of an abstract “no focal point”. I always quote Zappa, when he says singing is really just “mouth sounds”. I agree, it’s like, why are we bursting into “song”?!?!? Is life a musical? Like South Pacific or Glee? How, or why do we want to express WORDS (poetry or prose) in melodic mouth sounds? It is always in danger as being misperceived or goofy. I mean, I know lots of people that think Bono is a git – to the level of annoying. Technically speaking, as a singer, Bono has PIPES – that guy is a serious, kick ass singer, worthy of world fame. What tipped him over where some people had “had it” with him? My girlfriend says it was “Angel of Harlem” – maybe at that one moment he went from being the voice of “new and amazing” to being “cheesy”. Not saying he is, but why would such a technically great singer rub people the wrong way. Its very personal, people automatically judge the singer. It’s primitive and visceral.
My INSTANT opinion, as a singer myself, is one of contemplation. I used to hide behind HUMOR with my singing in the Six and Violence – humor or yelling – these things were ultra-safe. If anyone said they didn’t like it, or criticized me, I had a golden excuse – “hey, I’m not serious, or it’s supposed to sound punk” Meanwhile guys like Pete take a big personal risk – hence the rewards are there too. Pete has a few people that are not fond of the drama in the singing per se – yet he has many many more that are FANS for LIFE. People REALLY dig his uniqueness and boldness, and technical chops. And he is not technical for the sake of being technical – he’s soulful too. And, that guy writes BEATLES LEVEL, Brian Wilson level, melodic lines. I keep telling Pete, if he could sell some of these songs to Radiohead, with their money, they would ACTUALLY be the new Pink Floyd everyone wishes they were. Pete has more melodic hooks in his left pinky than their whole catalog. No offense Radiohead, SORRY, just pointing out where the Emperor has few clothes. People are STARVED for real melodic content today – think of how many younger people still buy Zeppelin, Floyd, Beatles, Queen? When we were young, what percent of our music collection was more than 20 years old? Probably none, or very little. My collection wasn’t full of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis! Kids today are totally conversant in Floyd and Zeppelin. The kids are starved for melodic songs that open up their head. Pretentious indie bands are tuneless. Mumford & Sons is LESS melodic than a washing machine on spin cycle. Fuck that.
But I digress! Yes, Pete has an utterly unique vocal style and he has real FANS out there. In the true classic rock or prog-rock tradition in my opinion – in the 70’s it was somewhat required that you had a unique vocalist – not just a technically competent singer like American Idol, people were looking for the standouts – think about it, you have guys like Jon Anderson, Greg Lake, Geddy Lee, Bob Plant, Ian Anderson, Peter Gabriel. All these cats had VERY distinctive voices.
They also tended to be good lyricists too – prog treads that line between abstraction (cool) to silliness (“The Magician’s Birthday?!?! I mean WTF?!?!) – but the BIG guys all said something, even at their most abstract. And that’s the thing, you don’t want to be too literal – “this is a song about capitalism, and it’s called “Banks Suck”, nor do you want to be too abstract – unless you are Daevid Allen talking about teapots – then COOL.
I think Pete is a great lyricist in the league with the classic guys. Very rarely he pushes it a little too far in my opinion – melancholy moments like Can You Feel The Sadness got me a bit. But that’s subjective. That’s just me. And for the few moments like that, of course he has offset them with totally fun lyrics like Superstoned or StarBong – epic fun anthems. He knows I am not to crazy about Hawaiian Lady, just because it made no sense to me as a guy from Queens, NY – no reference point for me – I was like “Pete, what the HELL are you talking about?!?!” Of course he later clarified for me that it was inspired by a painting, so now I am cool with it. That’s a risk I would rather see him take than playing it safe. Occasionally he totally blows my mind. I am the Weed or You Know The Law, Look at the Children or Trying to find You – good lord!!! Really dark, really heavy, DEEP stuff. So that coupled with intense vocals and serious chops, well, he’s 100% the real deal. May be too much for some percentage of the audience, but the rest are real fans.
AI: One thing that stands out for me on the new album is the drums. On Your Body the drums have an ambient-tribal-electronic quality. On Time To Get Up they rock a little more. But on the new album Anthony Koutsos rocks out like I’ve not heard on the previous Beyond-O-Matic albums.
KS: Your Body is the quirkiest we did because it has Linn drum on it – very effected Linn drum too. Our buddy Dave Gresalfi had a Linn, which is analog, very cool sounding. That can be heard throughout. I think we were really looking to record quietly in the living room, which had it’s merit, but dangerous in the mix. Lost a little in that album’s mix is Frank Grau (Species Being, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum). Frank played a lot with us live in that era.
And as mentioned before Pete worked on the first Species Being record a great deal with Frank around that era. So Frank has an energetic style, capable of SERIOUS proggy chops – anything tribal sounding on that is probably him wailing out on some of the Linn drum tracks.
Frank’s fantastic – in fact he lives right down the block from me now and we are talking about a new project together lately (2014), probably experimental metal, as we are both students of the genre. He’s a genius player.
To be noted, Frank replaced Glenn Wilcox who played on the first two CDs, The Flight of Luis Garcia and Sonic Reclaimator. Glenn is very mellow for the most part (though he was originally a member of my hardcore band back in NYC). Glenn is almost a spiritual presence on those records. He is vibe incarnate. Back then we used a rack of garbage can and pot lid percussion too. As the papers said, “junkyard prog”.
As for today’s era, Anthony is the vibe man on Time to Get Up from 2003 and on the recent Relations at the Borders Between record, and yes, he wailed out a little bit – played a little heavier (and the reflective surfaces of the garage made for a harsher tone in my opinion). It really fit the mood – one difference between sessions in 2003 and 2012 was the amount of bullshit we had all been through on a personal level, and I can say that was probably the topic of discussion hanging out at my kitchen table before we headed down into the basement. Pow!!! Heavier drum hits, more grindy lower bass register synth sounds, more chunka chunka on the guitar, etc. Grumpy old men. Dissolusioned, beaten, downtrodden abused eviscerated grumpy old men. Hahaha, just kidding.
AI: Are the first three CDs still available? I see them at beyondomatic.com but can’t tell if that’s up to date and wanted to confirm before sharing that with my readers.
To my understanding YES. Though probably small numbers. I have seen Flight of Luis Garcia and Sonic Reclaimator average about $25, $30 used online. So just contact Pete and see what he has left. As of this interview, I just found out, there are 115 Luis Garcia’s left: http://www.beyondomatic.com
AI: What’s the Dune documentary and album you’re involved in?
KS: The film is coming out via Sony Pictures Classics in late March in theaters. In the mid 1970’s (before David Lynch did the widely known film version of the sci-fi novel Dune )Alejandro Jodorowsky, proceeded to approach, among others, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Magma for some of the music, artists H. R. Giger and Jean Giraud (Moebius) for design, Dan O’Bannon (Alien) for special effects, and Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, etc. to act in it.
The documentary is really interesting and considered an art piece unto itself as far as we have seen on the festival circuit – it debuted at Cannes, went to Toronto, Telluride, etc. It has won a bunch of fan favorite awards. It’s making lots of “most anticipated” lists for 2014.
I am humbled – I got the call to do the score based on the Director Frank Pavich knowing that I love Jodorowsky and that I have a 70’s analog synth style. It was truly a perfect project for me from an artistic point of view. I got to pull some “all nighters” over a two year period, with the masters voice in my headphones – when you hear Jodorwosky speak, you will see what I mean.
I would love to do more films. I’m sure psychedelic 70’s epics about geniuses grow on trees right? Actually, I’m up for anything, I would love to do a horror film, a drama, whatever.
Jodorowsky’s Dune was a real experience – early on when I got the gig, I asked my idol Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo) for advice, since he’s done tons of scores. He looked at me and said “Don’t fuck up.” YES SIR!
AI: Tell me about SpacEKraFT. I believe it’s been an on-going concern of yours for some years but I’ve just heard a couple tracks on YouTube. Very cool Berlin school space music.
KS: As mentioned in that bio blurb, CLUSTER had sampled Lopsided Space Kart, a 4 piece band that Edward Dahl and I were in. Ed and I wanted to go further Kraut, and we sure did. Ed is another genius in my life. Super supportive. Tireless in branding and promoting SpacEKrafT. I am lucky. We have been having a really good run in SF. Cool performances like J-Pop or Altered Barbie, or hosting a party for Devo. The most recent was Project Nunway with Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Gos on stage with us as MC.
Our rule, if it’s a major public event, and we don’t QUITE belong, BOOM, we are there. It’s just friendly enough to invite you in to the Kraft (we do an installation with sound chairs, Flight Crew, etc.) Hard to describe – I suggest Facebook for us, Soundcloud, and Vimeo to really check in.
AI: Speaking of the music I heard on YouTube, I saw a pretty slickly shot video for the SIMULATION track. It looks like it could either have been staged with actors or shot at some performance event?
KS: That video got over 20,000 hits!
That is 100% real – in fact it was a a HIP HOP event!!! Yes, kraut and hip hop history are linked back to Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa, so we were invited by the African American Cultural Center to play that one. You see the sound charis, the personality test, all the weirdness we have when you step in the “kraft”.
We did a larger scale one for Devo after a show here – we had a huge art wall painted like a fuselage. So much stuff. Here, from the presskit:
SpacEKrafT is a musical duo that treads the stylistic waters between an electronic music group and a corporate trade show booth. Their performances and installations range from creating background soundscapes for fashion shows, special events and gallery shows to creating a futuristic interactive travel environment complete with flight attendants, ground crew, video projections, sound chairs, interactive music equipment, personality feedback station and interactive art.
SpacEKrafT is an audio-visual experience designed for travel or operation in space beyond the earth’s atmosphere or in orbit around the earth.
“If you have it, we will give it to you.”
TM C.S.O.B.S. intergalactic
SpacEKrafT on Vimeo. This video represents the look and feel of the SpacEKrafT interactive experience:
SpacEKrafT’s facebook page with access to photos and music:
SpacEKrafT music samples on SoundCloud. Download is free:
SpacEKrafT interview with Glamrock Magazine:
SpacEKrafT has worked exclusively on production, installation and music for several fashion shows by SF-based designer Iliano. Video and photos from “Farewell Fantastic Venus” and “Nightlife On Other Planets” can be found here: http://www.ilanio.com/images.html
AI: Anything going on for you in the Punk world, Six & Violence or otherwise?
KS: Technically Six and Violence still exists and I guess we will be coming up on a 30 year anniversary in 2015 as we started in 1985. The last live show we played was in 2011. The key to us staying together? We don’t do anything! We don’t see each other!!! I am very close with drummer Dave Miranda (he is behind the prog/shred band Magic Elf) so we are writing something – I mean, so slowly I shouldn’t call it writing, I should call it PETRIFYING, but hey, we are busy guys. Ray Amico the guitarist is a professional tour manager, so he’s out with the celebrities on the road a lot.
Since I last spoke with you about Six and Violence we had not one, not two, but THREE band mates pass away – it was devastating, and then it was more devastating and then it was even more devastating. Paulie Gazzara (the other singer alongside me) in 2005 (shortly after our last time at CBGBs), John Garino (who we called “J”) in 2007, and in 2012, Jim Starace (who was not formally in the band, but would play for Ray when he was on tour, and Jim was at ALL of our events and collaborated with me all the time – he was a leader, and artist – in 2 other bands we were close with). Utterly tragic stuff. We are all still in mourning, I guess forever. So we still have guys to play, but, you know it’s tough.
AI: Any Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull sightings in recent years? (Ed. Note: You have the read the earlier interview to get this one)
KS: I do try to catch Ian wherever I can, and I sometimes pop my head in when appropriate – he’s hard at work, so it’s not exactly party time! But he’s always encouraging and we have great chats when we can fit them in. His whole family is great. His son-in-law is on the Walking Dead, and I coincidentally know one of the writers, so topics like that make for nice banter.
Actually, as of this week, it appears I am sending Jack Black and Tenacious D Ian’s way to see if they can hook up a cameo!?!?!?! Yes, it’s all a lark – I have a journalist friend who threw out a question, ‘what would you ask Jack Black?” – I replied, “ask him if he would ever want to get on stage with Ian Anderson”? To my mind the influence is OBVIOUS. Jack Black’s stage moves and intensity are a bit of a reference right? Even Tenacious D songwriting is Tullish at times.
Anyway, of course Jack said “YES!” right there in the press, so I hope that works out! Could be hilarious.
Ian has a new record coming out, Homo Erraticus, which looks compelling – sounds like he’s been listening to Opeth, which is funny, as I saw Opeth down in Arizona last year and said to their manager – “you guys should collaborate with Ian Anderson” – so though it’s not a band to band collaboration, I know that Ian is in with Steve Wilson who has also produced them and Ian is listening to them, and suddenly threatening some new “folk/metal/prog” album, so I am actually VERY excited! ZEITGEIST! That is hitting one fan (me) right between the eyes! I felt the last Opeth record (Heritage) was the best 1973 Tull record I never heard before!
So yeah, Ian, as we say in Queens, “whadda guy”. Massive inspiration. That guy tours more than anybody – music as a LIFE, we are lucky to have him. For me, it’s amazing to think the guy exists as a human being – he’s a Beethoven in my book – he’s put notes together like very few humans that have walked the earth in the last 100 years. The King of Prog. Great to have had some sage advice from the master, and the generosity of him playing on that record back in the days of “Tull wins the Metal Grammy” ☺
For more information visit the Trail Records web site at: http://www.trailrecords.us
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz