Josh & Charlie,
Great job on the new LP. Sorry I can’t make it to the party this time. I’ll catch up with you during the tour. You cats prove New Orleans is capable of music far more intense and inspiring than most people realize. Thanks for two full-length bedroom soundtracks, low end license plate rattles, and keeping me in your thoughts. Enjoy the steak dinner and pour some N.O. spirits on Chicago soil. It might help defrost your stoop.
With Respect and Love, Anton (January 21, 2004)
P.S. I know I will one day help paint your diamond crystal speedboats gold.
The package with that letter also contained a bottle of N.O. Rum and a bag of special edition steak-flavored Zapp’s. I sent it to Josh Eustis and Charlie Cooper, who were living together in Chicago, to congratulate them on the release of Telefon Tel Aviv’s second album Map Of What Is Effortless. In my eyes, it was an accomplishment worthy of celebration. My friends were manipulating sound and making a mark in the music industry. I was proud.
Charlie Cooper and I grew up on the Westbank of New Orleans and became friends one night in the early ‘90s at the Abstract Cafe. There was a more than mildly offensive skinhead pushing through the crowd as if he were making way for David Duke. I stuck out a green Doc Martin and tripped the Aryan teen. Right before I was rushed by the pure blood’s klan, I heard a voice behind me say, “I’ve got your back.” It was Charlie; and after a minute of bad noise and tough talk with the racist youth, he said, “Fuck these dudes, let’s go throw empty 40s at the wall.” From then on, we were close friends until his death on January 22, 2009.
Josh Eustis and I were classmates at Jesuit High School in the graduating class of 1995. Our friendship began in the dark, dank corner of the quad where the longhairs hung out. Granted, school rules dictated that hair should be high and tight at all times; but if that rule were abolished, our lunch spot would have looked like a Metallica ticketmaster line. Josh was my “in” on all things industrial. I learned about the digital assault of Front 242, Skinny Puppy, and Nine Inch Nails through him. He once hooked up his synth and sequencer rig to my PA system and played a piece from his Nasty Black Object project. My ears bled, my parents woke up, and I immediately wanted to be able to do that too.
After many discussions with Josh about gear, I used my car washing and DJing money to mailorder an Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler sequencer from an ad in the back of Keyboard Magazine. Charlie and I started half-working on a bounce rap track with Scooby-Doo noises called “Harvey Dog Bounce.” And for inspiration, we listened to a demo Josh had recorded. It was a Pulp Fiction sample-heavy piece that blew Charlie’s mind. He said, “I need to meet that guy.”
20 years later I am walking around the fashion district of Los Angeles looking for that guy’s new studio. When I found the address, I saw Josh holding the security gate open as a 20-something duo loaded gear into a borrowed car. As the two drove off, he said, “They are young but really good. Come on up, man. I’ll make some coffee.” With the bustling street noise of East L.A. washing in through the opened windows of his warehouse loft, we discussed life without Telefon Tel Aviv, touring as a member of Nine Inch Nails, his current project, Sons Of Magdalene, and the incredibly long time it takes to bake bread.
Do you think Telefon Tel Aviv existed long enough to truly reach its peak?
Joshua Eustis: I don’t know. Charlie and I never really thought about it that much. We did early on when we made Fahrenheit Fair Enough . We would say, “If we get on Schematic or Hefty and sell a thousand copies of this, we’ve made it.” And then we got really grand ideas when we were working on the second record [Map Of What Is Effortless, 2004]. We thought we were going to be hot shit. As soon as we had finished the record, we were like, “We did it. It’s cool, but it’s a swing and a miss.” We knew that we had done a lot of shit wrong on the second record. That was nobody’s fault but ours. We assumed responsibility for it. We were trying to make an R&B record that was dark and deconstructed and crusty. It ended up being kind of soft and a little bit hippy-ish and a little too tame. The deconstructed aspect of it didn’t really come across the way we had envisioned it early on. As a result, I think Charlie and I are guilty of some pretty severe artistic misdemeanors on that record.
It has a few strong moments, but in the end it just didn’t sit well with us, and we knew we had to move on from it. We spent so much time worrying about the production and what it sounded like and creating a mood, that we kind of ignored simple songwriting elements. We could write music, we could write melodies and chords and compositions, but we didn’t really know about songwriting yet. In that way, we looked at it as a failure. We had high hopes for that, you know? After that we split for a while and just took a break and decided to not do TTA for a while. We took a couple of years off and worked, did remixes, Katrina happened, blah, blah, blah. Then I moved back to Chicago. Charlie said, “Let’s do a record. Just you and me. The way we used to. Let’s just hang out, play video games, we’ll get a place together, we’ll set up the studio, play fucking Mega Man and Street Fighter and order pizza and drink root beer out of frosted mugs and make tracks. However long it takes. Whatever comes out is whatever the fuck comes out. All I know, playboy, is that I am feeling pretty dark right now, and I want to make a dark-ass record. I just want to get this out.” And I was like, “Dude, I’m in the same head space. This is what I have.” “Oh, yeah, well this is what I have.” That was the best. We had a blast with that. We didn’t know if it would do well or fail. We didn’t give a shit. By that point, by the third record, we did not give a flying fuck about its success. Hey, if we are lucky enough to go play shows and not have to work a 9 to 5 job and get to do this even if we are kind of broke, great! Before Immolate Yourself [BPitch Control, 2009] was out, we considered it a success. I don’t know that in the eyes of the world we could have gone higher and turned it into a Coachella band. I doubt it. My ceiling feels a lot lower now. I feel like in a lot of ways that if Charlie and I had not been so schizophrenic about what we wanted to make and made more records more quickly and stuck to one thing—and he were still alive—we would be pretty popular now. We would be making a living just doing TTA for sure. Because we pretty much already were. Everyone in our peer group is super popular now. Like all the guys we came up with and all the guys who came up behind us are all huge now. They’re all rich.
I would tell people who didn’t know about TTA, that two dudes that I grew up with, my homies, are killing it right now. Then Belong [Turk Dietrich and Mike Jones] came out with October Language. I was like, “Jesus, these guys too?” That record is forever.
It’s absolutely timeless, man. Beatless instrumental music had been made for decades. But when they did it, it was these two swamp boys that came up out of the water, bedraggled and wet and covered in moss, and made this record. It was a sea change for electronic music. It’s still to this day one of the most sweated and one of the most ripped off beatless records. For me, I put it in a category with Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which is the greatest ambient record ever made. When Belong did it, they put all this gristle into it. Know what I mean? Tim Hecker was doing lighter stuff before they did that. His stuff was tough, but it was still a little dingy, little piano figures that would repeat really quickly. His stuff was more in minimalism. These guys were blasting you in the face. Man, it was heavy. It was fucking heavy. Totally rooted in emotion. It wasn’t ambient music for the sake of “I’m going to create an atmosphere of solitude or an atmosphere of stoicism,” which is what a lot of ambient music was about for so long. It was just setting a mood. October Language was trying to break your fucking heart, and they did. Know what I mean? It was trying to scare the shit out of you and break your heart. Even if I didn’t know the guys that made it and even if I hadn’t worked on that record, it would still be one of my top 10 all time favorite records.
And “New Orleans Power Ambient” was born.
That’s funny. Mike and Turk hated that.
Everyone eventually gets pigeonholed. You have to classify to catalog.
Or when you sell it to someone, you have to tell them what it is. We were IDM forever. The IDM tag comes up on Sons Of Magdalene now. Just because of the association with me and TTA. SOM has nothing to do with any of that. I was in that game for sure with TTA. First gens were like Autechre, Aphex Twin. Second gens were like Bola, Boards of Canada, early period Schematic. We were the very front of the third wave of IDM, which I generally regard as the last wave, which lasted until the mid aughts and then expired. It hasn’t advanced in almost ten years as a genre. The music stopped changing.
TTA also gets labeled as “glitch” pretty frequently.
That was a big part of the third wave, Richard Devine and Prefuse 73… We all stole it from Oval and Pole, who were the first two glitch guys. Oval being the first, and then Pole shortly thereafter did it in a very different way. Oval was like the skippy CD stuff. That shit blew my mind the first time I heard it. Then Pole had this Waldorf thing that was broken and just made these little pops. That was Pole’s thing entirely. It spawned a whole sub-genre in music. People were just ripping off Stefan Betke, who is a fucking genius. Third wave IDM was a culmination of all the first wave IDM stuff like Aphex Twin and the stuff in the second wave like Oval and Pole. By the end of the ‘90s, IDM music was pretty stoic and pretty stark and and stiff, and we wanted to lighten it up and put heart into it. We wanted it to be sad and emotional, but we wanted the beats to be more fluid and more swingy. We wanted beats routed in gangster rap and in B-boyism, so that is what we tried to do. We tried to marry emotional IDM stuff that was super melodic with African-American rhythms and structure entirely. We were listening to Cash Money Records and Timbaland records, Aaliyah and Missy Elliot, BG and Juvenile and all the local New Orleans stuff. We wanted to marry those rhythms with underground electronic music. IDM or whatever they called it at the time. It is a stupid name. It always pissed us off. It still pisses me off.
A lot of artists get pissed off when they get branded.
I don’t think Trent Reznor was ever comfortable with being called “Industrial.” I don’t think Skinny Puppy was ever comfortable with it. I don’t think Ministry was ever comfortable with it. They roll with it, but nobody is happy with being called something. As musicians, we are all massively egotistical assholes. So when you try to pigeonhole us or put us in a category, it is really insulting to our creative minds, and we get butt hurt. That is true of almost everybody.
Are you still able to support yourself solely as a musician now that TTA is over?
When I was in Puscifer and NIN I was making a ton of money. Most might not think it was that much, but for me it was living very comfortably. Meaning, I didn’t have to worry about making rent, paying my car note, or paying my phone bill. I just had to worry about making music. It was a magical feeling that I knew for two or three years. Now I’m back to where I was the ten years leading up to that. It’s cool; it’s a part of life. I chose it, I picked it: it’s my fault. I make music that doesn’t appeal to that many people. You can’t pick what you make. I could make some EDM and get it picked up and get rich doing it, but then I would have to live with myself for making noise terrorism. Art imitates life, so if your art isn’t imitating your life, you’re not making art, bro. You’re making craft. That ain’t for me.
Was there ever any worry that TTA fans would be like, “Wait, what?” when you started touring with Puscifer and NIN?
You mean if they were going to say I sold out or whatever?
I didn’t give a shit about that because ultimately it didn’t have anything to do with TTA. If they really cared they would be interested in other things I did and other things Charlie did. If they didn’t care, it didn’t matter to me. I needed to do those tours so that I didn’t have to face the fact that because Charlie died, things would be different. I dealt with the fact that my best friend and my band mate was gone. I dealt with the fact that my father was gone. What I didn’t deal with was the fact that TTA was gone. I didn’t even really realize that until the last eight months. Towards the end of the NIN tour I started realizing, “I don’t think I can do this anymore. I don’t think I can carry on without Charlie.” So I had this major, heavy meltdown about two months after I got off the NIN tour. I just realized that my life’s work is over. It’s done. Everything that I have worked toward, my whole fucking life was taken from me. It’s gone and there is nothing I can do about it. What am I going to do about it now? It means I have to start my career from scratch while large sectors of the music industry are turning their back on me.
I am on my own. What am I going to do about it? What are my choices? I’m still figuring that out. If people want me to write sad synth-pop and sing over it and call me a fag for making the stuff that I like making, cool. If that is what they want to hear, then I’ll do that. If they want me to be a techno DJ, then I’ll be a techno DJ. If they want me to produce other bands, then I will produce other bands. I like doing all of that stuff. It is all fun and super fulfilling to me. I feel that I am contributing to the world in a semi-meaningful way. So at this point, I kind of don’t really know where it is going to go. I am going to keep writing music. Maybe someday there will be a TTA thing. I doubt it. There are a handful of TTA fans who like the Sons Of Magdalene record because they just like the music; and then there are others who are writing me homophobic hate mail about it. I had one guy write, “You sound like a fag, your music is for gays and I hope you die of AIDS.” I’m glad you liked my first record because it didn’t have any singing on it. Sorry if what I am doing now bums you out that much. Thanks for buying the first one. I know you did because you emailed me that you bought it in 2007. I remember your name from MySpace. You’re entitled to your opinion. I wish you weren’t such an idiot about expressing it. Using words like “fag ” and being a homophobic moron was a bigger bummer to me than him telling me he didn’t like the record. I can deal with that. But when I read something like that, I’m like, why the fuck am I even bothering? Who cares? Anyway, it is so self-aggrandising to make a record and release it. It just feels so self-righteous: “I made this thing and you should hear it because I am expressing myself.” It just seems so shitty. Somehow it seems really egotistical and conceited and ridiculous. Who the hell do I think I am to make a record and think that anybody should or would or could give one single fuck about it?
How did the Sons Of Magdalene name come about?
It came from Nikos Kazantzakis’s Last Temptation of Christ. Jesus is on the cross and Lucifer comes in and says, “Hey, look, dude. You don’t have to do this. I could give you a life with the woman that you love, Mary Magdalene.” He shows him a picture of his life if he just gets down off the cross and foregoes his martyrdom. He could guy. Disgusted with the way the world was and rightfully so. The Sons Of Magdalene are the hypothetical children of Jesus and Mary Magdalene if he had actually gotten off the cross. I liked the concept behind it. So I ran with it. I’ve always been interested in the darker underbelly of Christianity. The gospel of Thomas was always interesting to me. I’m not a practicing Christian or Catholic. I was raised Catholic, but I don’t go to church. There is no way that you can have as much Catholic education as we do and not become an atheist. With that much Jesuit education and that much science they teach, that’s the irony. [You and I] went to Jesuit at the best time. The teachers there were always telling us to question everything and make up your own mind. This is science; and evolution is very real. Don’t think for a second that it’s not real. Darwin was right; it’s cool. You can reconcile your belief in god with evolution. It makes perfect sense, here’s why… Here’s St. Augustine’s 11th confession; here’s eternity. There is basically no way you can come out of that much pure knowledge and not see things differently. I’m happy with that; my mom is perfectly fine with that. My family is perfectly fine with that.
I remember at the Jesuit senior retreat talking with one of the fathers during our “exit confession” saying, “I really don’t believe in any of this. You did a great job. I got a great education. Thanks!” And he was like, “Well, do you want a blessing or something ?” I said, “Sure, go ahead.”
We had the best teachers, man. Tommy Fitzgerald was brilliant. Father Hawkins was brilliant. They were social justice guys. You know what I mean? These were guys who were real Christian in the sense of what Christianity should be. These are guys who looked at the Sermon on the Mount or the Beatitudes and said that is what you model your life after. You model your life after, “Send me your sick, your needy, your poor. Blessed are the meek.” Those are the core values of Christianity. That is what it was originally founded on. To me it has been utterly lost by every specific sect of Christianity, which is why I no longer practice, and why I am pretty much an atheist at this point. I don’t need justification of a higher power to validate me. That just seems absurdly anthropocentric, to think that we’re some kind of special being created by the all powerful. I mean, come on, man. Do you know how big the universe is? There’s hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy alone, hundreds of trillions of galaxies in the universe that have been consistently expanding for 13.6 billion years now. It is impossible to think that there isn’t intelligent life out there somewhere in the universe. We’re not the first, bro, and we’re not going to be the last. We’re a speck of dust on a speck of dust in a gigantic sea of sand. That is beautiful. Let’s be real with that. There’s nothing wrong with that. The whole concept of eternity is beautiful to me. Every cell in your body is made up of atoms that came from a star at some point. Billions of years ago you were part of a star that exploded. The molecules in your body made their way to Earth and hundreds of millions or billions of years later, you became a sentient being with abstract thought, capable of baking bread or writing poetry. When you die you will eventually end up in the ground and hundreds of millions or billions of years from now your atoms are going to break apart and float into space and become part of another star. I don’t need any god to appreciate the precision and unbelievably terrifying beauty of that. It gives me a great deal of comfort.
From reading the press for the SOM album, I knew it was going to deal with the death of your father and Charlie; but when I listened to it, there seemed to be a touch of heartbreak in there too?
Yeah. I mean it was all three things. The girl that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with, we split right after Charlie died. It was a pretty nasty split. It’s all good now. One of the things that is on the record that was around before Charlie died is “Crows On The Eaves Of My Father’s House.” That was about the dream that I had about my dad right after he was diagnosed with cancer. Charlie felt that track was a pretty good basis for the next TTA record. “Crows” would have ended up being on a TTA record at some point. It might not have sounded entirely different. He loved how the demos sounded.
Were you counting on people knowing the backstory and events that this album addresses?
It’s touchy because in a lot of ways I wanted to get away from the backstory, which was the point of making the record. Just peace it out. But in a really shitty capitalistic selfish kind of way, I was hoping that the backstory would help sell the record to people who were already fans of TTA. Well, let’s just say there is a handful. We didn’t press a lot of this record, and we still have a room full of it. I expected it to sell nowhere near TTA. It’s a new project, and it’s or just don’t know about it. Either way it’s fine. I’m starting from scratch. TTA took a long time to get going. It did well, but it was a slow build to get where it was; it took ten years. The grim realization that I have to do that again three years shy of 40 is a little bit scary. Is it worth it? Should I go get a day job somewhere? Can I go get a day job somewhere? Not likely. I have to do this or I starve.
I think this record falls into the “invest time and be rewarded” category.
Yeah, and in that way it is similar to TTA. Charlie, Turk, Mike, Alfredo Nogueria and I were always about that. You make something that engages the listener. Don’t make wallpaper. The intent is to engage. It is demanding of the listener and makes you have to pay attention. Your imagination plays a big role of filling in the gaps of what’s not there. I have always been fascinated by that side of music.
They started doing it in the ‘90s and they fucked everything up by being stupid and short-sighted and greedy. They would fashion a full-length record with 18 songs that were crap around one single that was a “hit” with tweens and young girls or whatever focus group they were marketing it to. Then they would sell the CD for $18.99, and people would buy it for one song. Well, as soon as the CD went out the door and digital media came around, people just sell singles. Why would you pay $18 to get those other songs that are garbage when you just want to hear the single? Now we hear all the major labels crying poverty, which is complete horse shit. They made their bed, now they have to fucking sleep in it. They spent decades marketing dumbed-down, bullshit, silly music to kids, and now kids don’t have to pay for music. They can stream it or they can steal it. So now they have to make the music even dumber to try to convince people to buy it. People still don’t really buy it, they just steal it. If the music industry people were not as good as TTA because it doesn’t have Charlie. So immediately Telefon fans are going to say it’s half as good. Which is cool, I understand where they are coming from with that. We had set a low, low threshold for a worse case scenario. “It couldn’t possibly do worse than this; there is just no fucking way.” It is definitely not even close to that. I lost my ass on it. There is no way we are going to get the money back that I owe on it. It’s impossible. So in some ways I was hoping that coming clean about the story and describing it in a little bit more detail about what went down and what I went through would set a backdrop for a record to make sense to people. I guess that it didn’t translate, people didn’t care, didn’t pay attention,
Are there still enough people who actually care to engage with recorded works and give sophisticated listens?
There are, but the number is waning because of the way the industry is. This isn’t me going on a diatribe about how I hate streaming. I do, but I think streaming is ultimately good for music listeners because it makes things convenient for them. It does have a downside. It is making everyone’s attention span shorter. People don’t listen to records—even the people who make records. It is so rare to make a full-length now. It is far more common to just make a song and put it on iTunes or Spotify. Major labels are the culprit there. It’s their fault for doing that. smart like people in TV, they would make something complex, nuanced, beautiful and have the best talent behind it. Then they could market it to 30-and-ups who have the money to fucking pay for it. Why do you think Mad Men and everything on AMC and HBO is through the roof right now? People are subscribing to cable and premium channels just to watch these shows because they are amazing. We are in a Golden Age of television right now because of talent, innovation, research and development, and big budgets—these are all the core values of what television has to offer, and it’s so financially successful. Because the music industry is built on entirely opposite principles, they make the simplest shit exactly like something that came before it and market it to kids who don’t have the money to pay for it, don’t want to pay for it and honestly don’t feel that they should have to pay for it. That’s why the music industry is in the shitter. It leaves guys like me who are blue-collar, middle class musicians fucked. What would sell 20,000 copies in 2005 or 2006 is now 300 to 400 copies. It has totally destroyed bands in my echelon.
“Bitter Soliloquy” feels like a post traumatic freakout, like everything is coming down and you’re asking, “How the hell did I get into this mangled situation?”
You’re not far off the mark. That whole melodic figure has been around since well before Charlie died, and I never did anything with it. One of the things I wanted to write about on the record was the inner monologue that I had for the year or two after Charlie died. I didn’t know if I would write lyrics for it or if there would be a fucking point for having lyrics for it. I wasn’t really doing anything during that time. I would every once in a while make a record with another band or something, but I basically didn’t do anything for a long time. I played a lot of World of Warcraft and stared at a screen. I was empty for a long time, and I would have these conversations with myself that were just terrible. I was trying to work through grief. I was going to write a whole song about it, but then I thought, what would be the point of divulging what I’m saying to myself ? Would it matter to anyone else? No. I ended up finding that in the SOM folder, thinking this feels right. It sets the mood for that exact kind of feeling. I reworked it for the record and built it into a sonic encapsulation for how I felt for the last fucking few years. Too stern, maybe. I don’t care. It’s accurate.
Was “A Strange Sound” written for your mom?
Yeah. That’s about my dad’s ghost. I wrote that song for her after my dad died.
I think it can relate to Charlie’s mom too.
I had never thought about that until you just brought it up. It probably does. I wrote it in January 2010, so it was right after Christmas in 2009. Almost a year after Charlie died and about 8 months after my dad had died. It was the first Christmas without him. I always go home for Christmas with my family. My two sisters and my brother always come in town and hang out for a few days. We just chill and do family shit. It was weird not having my dad there. I would be upstairs and I would hear the front door open and I knew by the sound of the shoes on the wood floor and the pacing and how the keys sounded that my dad was home. I started imagining these things happening. It’s creepy in a really beautiful way. We attributed it to my dad hanging around in some alternate reality or another dimension. I wrote it for my mom. She took 2009 pretty hard. My dad was her best friend. They had a beautiful marriage. Almost 40 years. It was super rough for all of us, but it was really rough for her because they spent every day together… I tried to write that to comfort my mother. That’s the sweet song on the record. It’s for my momma! I don’t have anything super elegant or educated to say about it.
Had you lost anyone that you were really close to prior to Charlie and your dad?
They were the closest to me, but I had a best friend die in college. Joseph Buonaiuto. He had a heart palpitation, and they had to operate on him. They opened him up, they fixed the problem, sewed him back up, and he bled internally and died. It was January 22, 1999 when he died. So, Charlie was exactly ten years later. Cosmically weird. That was a brutal time for me because that was my last semester of Loyola, and I had to finish school. My best friend was dead, and we are all just super wrecked about it. Charlie was my brother from another mother. He and I were fast friends. The moment we met, we were homies. We made music together, we lived together, we fought about shit, but we never fought about music. I had nothing but respect for the dude. We never once fought about anything musical. If he believed in something really strongly, I went along with it. If I believed in something really strongly, he went along with it. We trusted each other. When you lose that, it’s pretty weird. I had to learn to make records on my own. If you have never done it, it’s kind of scary.
When you listen to “O Death” on headphones, you can hear that there are two people talking.
The voice on the left side is pretty sinister.
You can’t really hear what is being said if you are not paying attention.You probably can hear it with headphones. I didn’t write that song. That is an Appalachian folk song made famous by Ralph Stanley. It is originally called “Conversations with Death”. It’s one guy on his death bed singing, “Please don’t let me go, don’t take me now, I’m not ready to go.” While the other voice is Death saying, “Fuck you, pal. You can’t dodge me. Your body, the worms can have, but your soul is mine, bitch. Your soul belongs to me.” I have always loved the way Ralph Stanley sang it. Lyrically, it is one of the coolest things written. It’s so morose, just macabre, super dark and beautifully phrased.
In my opinion “Unfortunate Phone Call” is the darkest song on the album. There’s that constant unsettling tape noise throughout the whole song that is panic-inducing. A terrible phone call, the fucking worst ever. The type of call where you can hear the messenger but the noise of the reason for the call overpowers everything being said. Then, when the phone call is over and the receiver is down, there is still that noise. I know that phone call.
You got one too. Yup. That’s it. That was a more in-depth, elegant way of describing what it was. Yeah, it was just about the phone call that I got [with the news of Charlie’s death]. I remember where I was. I was in the kitchen of my apartment. I got the phone call from Charlie’s sister. I had an ashtray in my hand and I was walking it over to the trash can to dump it out and I just kind of fell down right there and dropped the ashtray and cigarette butts went everywhere. I was wholly overcome by grief. Up to that point, I had never been so completely mauled.
Do you think touring for this record is going to prolong or bring up emotions that might be at rest?
No, I think I am finally past it time- wise by getting the record out. I want to tour. I want to play more shows for this. I’m excited about it. I’m sick of the songs, but I’ve never played them. I want to go back to playing tiny, intimate shows like I’m used to, not these huge arena shows.
How was it touring with Puscifer and NIN? Did you have any idea how touring on that level was going to be?
No, man. I didn’t know. I had a bit of a stopgap playing with Maynard and Puscifer and those guys. We did like three US tours, we went to South America, and we went to Australia. That was a huge step up from TTA. I would like to think that I adapted to that. I had a lot of fun doing it. Other guys in that band are all excellent human beings. Maynard is super fun to work with. It was easy-going and no stress. It was inspiration by positive reinforcement. A family vibe. Touring was way more plush than anything I had been accustomed to. It was on a bus with a bunk and a dressing room, and I would get the purple Gatorades. There were ice chests in the dressing room, know what I mean? It was nice, man. Nice hotels on days off. NIN was super, super fancy. Easy, easy, easy touring. Rehearsals were brutal, but the touring itself was very easy.
Easier than with TTA?
Easier in every single possible way you could imagine. TTA was always harder, and we did it for ten years. I didn’t have to drive myself on the NIN tour. I could sleep whenever I wanted to sleep. All I had to do was make sure I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the show, which was two-and-a-half hours a night. The show was strenuous, and there was a lot of stuff to remember, like cues and a lot of little details. Trent is brilliant at picking up on the little things that go wrong and correcting them… I really had to pay attention to what the hell was going on. I still feel like I fucked up a lot. I had to get really psyched up every night to get myself into the right head space so that I could pay attention and make sure that I was getting the musical point across. I was trying to execute his vision, which is a very specific thing. Murphy’s Law had its way with the NIN show all the time. There is a lot of stuff that goes wrong every night that the crowd doesn’t see, but it affects the way the band plays or affects what Trent hears or sees. That kind of shit was going wrong all the time because there are so many moving parts and so many variables that something has got to go wrong. It’s almost mathematically impossible for it to go perfect. Maybe it goes perfectly from the stage, but the front of house guy fucks something up. Of course Trent won’t know that, but the front of house guy will know. Lighting cues can go wrong, one of the video panels has a busted pixel, or one of the panels dies, or the snare drum trigger isn’t coming through. “What the hell, it switched to B rig!” or “Goddamn, distortion isn’t happening. Oh, I’m on the wrong patch!” That kind of shit happened all the fucking time, but that tour was 10,000 times easier and more comfortable than any touring I have ever done or will ever do.
Your departure from the NIN touring lineup seemed abrupt. Was that the original arrangement from when you signed up?
I left after the fall US arena tour. We were all supposed to be in for the whole record cycle, but Trent likes to change it up and he did. That meant I got the ax. There were probably other reasons too, but I was never told what they were.
Is it just part of the business?
Yeah, it was just business. That’s just how it is. You know, personalities are tricky. I did the best I could. I’m not embarrassed about how I did, but there are a lot of things that I wish I could have done better. I couldn’t have worked any harder. That’s impossible. It was physically impossible for me to work more than I did. If there are only 24 hours in a day, I can only work 24 hours.
Is the tour lined up for Sons of Magdalene?
Yeah, it kind of cratered. Not a lot of offers coming in for it because people don’t know what it is. It’s a new project, and they want TTA. They think it’s a side project. It’s not a side project; it’s just what I’m doing now. TTA was a thing that I did for a while, and now it’s something I don’t do anymore. So it’s not really getting a lot of interest out there in the world. It’s getting interest in some places, so that’s where I’ll go. I’ll play those cities. We’re playing Russia, and we’re playing Italy.
How do you think you can break from the “side project” label?
Time is the only way to get around it. The side project label is just people being dumb, ignorant motherfuckers. It ain’t a side project, and I don’t need to explain to anyone why. The only thing that is going to get that driven home is if I keep making music, and I keep playing shows under this name and not resurrect TTA. They’ll see it’s not a side project, and that it’s what I’m doing now. For better or worse.
For more info, check out sonsofmagdalene.bandcamp.com