While reading this interview, I would suggest listening along to the Uranium Orchard LP here and the "Unchurched Shithead" EP here. I'd also suggest listening to everything else on the Cold Vomit bandcamp if you're not familiar. Thanks Jordan for taking the time to answer my numerous questions.
TB: In order to begin I guess we'll need to talk about the end of Dry-Rot. What were the circumstances behind the end of the band?
JD: Dry-Rot was, as you know, a very complicated band. This applies not only the audience response but the members themselves. I feel like we started out desiring so much from the world but by the end, Dry-Rot was all about self-exploration - audience be darned. There was an undeniable hubris we had; honestly at one point I felt like Dry-Rot was going to destroy hardcore, or at the very least derail it in some grand fashion. Ah, what illusions of grandeur some artists have! When we finished with the ‘Philsitine’ LP, I really thought it was the end of something. What, I don't quite know. By that time in the band, we were kind of tired of a lot of our own limitations but it was odd because we had finally solidified a line-up that everyone was satisfied with (Dry-Rot was originally the brainchild of myself and Drew, but by this time had found solid members in Javier on drums and Adam on bass). So it wasn't some dramatic end of bitterness and betrayal. We just kind of ended. I think Drew getting married had a lot to do with it. I also think he found that happiness drained him of a lot of the negative energy necessary for fronting Dry-Rot. I was more than happy to see him happy and it didn't make sense to keep a negative theme if it wasn't natural.
What happened next is I had continued to write music as I always do, and Drew was playing a lot of bass. I kind of wanted to keep going as Dry-Rot but I remember we discussed how unfair that would be to what little audience we held...I wanted (and still want) to posit that this is now punk, because I said so. But as artistically well-intentioned as it was, we knew it would just turn into us milking the Dry-Rot name, whatever that's worth. But to me, I've written all the music for Dry-Rot and now for Uranium Orchard, so I don't feel like this is different than Dry-Rot. It's all from the same source. Years back when I wrote the first batch of DR songs, it was an obvious ode (read: rip-off) to bands like Void and Die Kreuzen. I was finding my way. But since ‘Philistine’, it's just music I enjoy playing; I've gotten a lot more comfortable in my own skin and it feels good to finally not care what most people think about it or if it will sound cool. Sure, it's going to be massively influenced by whatever music/bands/artists/etc. but it's become much more organic.
TB: So how did Uranium Orchard take form as a full band? I remember the demo having a drum machine - was there a search for a drummer? What was going on with the band’s evolution from the demo to the LP?
JD: Uranium Orchard was never intended to be a "full" band. I have been around long enough to know that I love playing music with people but the simple fact is: the fewer personalities there are to deal with, the easier it is to expedite the art. I'm nothing if not very productive, and I think I've kind of fallen in line with a work philosophy not unlike, say, The Minutemen. Jamming econo and all that. So Drew and I were really keen on a “power duo”. We set up a schedule where I would just write everything, he'd come over and we'd work on his parts and wham-o, the songs are done. We ran into a few problems with this set-up.
First off, I think it's safe to say that we are both uninterested in “dialing in” a live sound, for as much as that is important. I don't know why, it just seems to escape us! But that became evident when we started playing out. We wanted the songs to rock, but it was so hard placing the drum machine in the mix. Second, in regards to audience, we've always tried to walk a line of being musically accessible in a certain sense, but still being very challenging. It's a philosophy I think we established during Dry-Rot - giving the audience what we feel they need, not what they want. I know that sounds really pretentious, but I won't apologize for it; maybe I've been reading too much Clement Greenberg. But basically, the songs were already pretty out there in a melodic & structural sense, so using the drum machine (and using it kind of ignorantly and waywardly) was just too much. At the end of the day, I want to communicate something that people will actually want to listen to.
Here is where the drummer (Joshua) comes in. I grew up with Joshua, I've known him since he was literally a baby and he's now Drew's brother-in-law so we are all sort of related. He's an ex-marine and all he listens to is Led Zeppelin and Rudimentary Peni; he's kind of a true outsider in my opinion. If this prompts further questions, we can go that route but suffice it to say that his personality is very different and extreme, and it adds to the already potent tension that Drew and I bring. So we started jamming and I noticed that he was playing the drums like a lead guitarist. And he hammers the hell out of those things and it makes me think he's using them like heavy artillery. So we just ran with it, and from there the vision changed. I wanted the instrument roles to change - the drums are now like the lead guitar, and the vocals are more like the percussion if that makes sense.
TB: I think you’re selling yourself a bit short on the Void/Die Kreuzen rip off comment, but I appreciate the honesty. I’m interested to know if there are any other bands you took as inspiration for Uranium Orchard? When listening I’ve often struggled to make any easy comparisons.
JD: These questions are always the toughest because I feel like - in interviews especially - it's a time for the band to either fluff up like they are influenced by all these esoteric bands and people or to kind of cop out and not give a real answer. I usually fall into the latter category, although I'm positive I've been guilty of the former as well. I can say for Uranium Orchard I was looking for more of an approach than a sound. Kind of like above, when I was talking in terms the roles all the instruments play, and reversing those roles. I think we took a lot from This Heat, but that's a bit of reverse-engineering; I remember Tony Rettman telling us that a Dry-Rot song sounded a lot like This Heat and at that point I had never really heard them before, so it was a weird backward influence in a way. So usually I let other people tell me who we are influenced and I'll find out through them. I know I try to play like both the guitarists in Polvo; I know I'll never be as good as even one of them, but I like the challenge of trying to make traditionally two-guitar rock music with only one guitar. We also only ever record everything live, so I have done a lot of research into how that inflects the sound and ways to approach it; bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience (of course!) or even the Minutemen inform that aspect of raw/live. Pretty much trying to update a lot of that second wave Touch and Go guitar rock sound in our own humble way.
TB: Dumb question maybe, but do you listen to jazz or are you influenced by it at all?
JD: Not a dumb question at all! In a word, no. But like many in this current age, I don't really think in terms of genre so it's not like I just don't listen to any. I grew up hating jazz, really. I think at the root, I am just not smart enough for it. I completely understand why people love it, and I see it as intellectual music for the most part. If I were classically trained at music, I would definitely appreciate it more. I will say this: Sonny Sharrock is one of my top 5 favorite guitarists of all time, so loving that stuff might move me into the jazz circle, if slightly. Other than his stuff, I own two jazz albums that are really important to me: Coltrane's ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Oh Yeah’ by Charles Mingus. I guess in the end it's really hard for me to quantify the influence that jazz has had on me, because I'm sure it's there. I often find myself doing a shorthand or poor man's version of jazz improv/vamping. To turn it on you, do you listen to any jazz? What do you make of the genre?
TB: I refused to listen to jazz for a long time. I used to joke that I was saving it until I got old. And then I started getting old. I've only been actively listening to jazz records for a few years now, but I'm warming up to it. So, before I start asking about specific songs on the LP, can you give us an idea of what you guys had planned or wanted to do when recording the LP? It seems like it could have been a very complicated process - I'm guessing there are parts that were done live, some that were overdubbed, and certainly tape manipulation/editing, etc...? Did you go in with any sort of blueprint, or did things unfold/evolve naturally as it went on?
JD: When we started getting serious about cobbling together some material for a record, we threw out all the conventions of what recorded music should sound like, at least for us. (It's important to remember that I'm aware that I've pioneered nothing, and whenever I talk in these terms it's always about a personal experience; so whenever I explain a 'new' approach, obviously I'm talking about it in personal terms.)
Anyway, I remember having a discussion about the state of recorded music and how closely it aligns with science: we are at a point in history where we know what "perfect" sounds like; engineers have calibrated and dialed in so much, it's boring to me. If you want to hear a perfect recording from an engineer's perspective, listen to Green Day's "American Idiot". Personally, I think that record is completely artless and unlistenable, but if we're to get scientific with it, there is so much going on in it and it sounds - aurally - fantastic coming out of even the smallest, blown out grocery store speakers. So to me, why even attempt to be interested in that side of it? Just as landscape painting died with the advent of the photograph, so has that way of thinking about recorded music. It's the same with painting, that's why Thomas Kinkade will continue to be one of the highest grossing painters of the modern era - people love boring crap.
I could go on forever with this, I won't bore you but suffice it to say, it was uninteresting to think the songs should live in a sterilized clean setting...sure, for some tracks that might be the perfect setting. But as a whole we decided to record onto a 4-track every time we jammed together; the cutting room floor was simply whatever sounded the most interesting. In that way, I guess we were using the 'studio' (my room, the garage, live shows, etc) as the engineer. I know bands like Guided By Voices have made a career out of this, and that's very interesting but for us we didn't intend to be 'lo-fi' per se, it was just whatever sounded good. So that's why the next recording had a completely different approach, but we can get to that later if you'd like.
It's also very important to note that we only ever record the instruments live; I think if we tried the separate track approach, it would sound awful if for no other reason than I don't think we're competent enough musically to play in time and cleanly enough. So why try?
TB: I wanted to ask if there's a concept running through the record…not that I think it's a "concept album" but I feel like there's some sort of dialogue running through it? Not exactly a message, but I get the idea some songs are narrative answers and counterpoints to one another in a way?
JD: I think you're hitting upon something that I might not be fully cognizant of regarding the concept/feeling/dialogue of the record - you're absolutely right about its' presence but I can't put a name on it yet. Initially it was going to be more traditionally conceptual, kind of a walk through Auschwitz, the dredges of mankind if you will; but I can't be a part of that conversation - I don't deserve to. So it did end up being more of an internal dialogue, like you pointed out. About what, I'm unclear; I think humanity was the driving conversation piece. That's really vague, but it plays into the reasoning behind the lyrical content and curation a bit.
When I sat down to put lyrics to these songs, I knew I wanted two things - a) I wanted to remove myself-as-author as much as possible, and b) I wanted there to be as few words as possible, for maximum effect. In this way, like I was talking about the reorientation of the instruments, the vocal kind of becomes more like a lead guitar - it's not diddling over the whole record; it's tastefully apparent at carefully selected times.
TB: What was the inspiration for taking lyrics from Mein Kampf and Night? I didn't check the insert until after my third listen or so, and I was surprised to see how few lyrics there actually are on the record. It seems like there's more somehow when just listening blind - the repetition of lines and the change in tone makes the same words take on different meanings based on delivery and timing, especially considering where the quotes are pulled from. Did you intend to take this sort of minimalist approach to the lyrics for a reason?
JD: Overcoming myself was huge. I have written so many lyrics and been in so many bands, I was kind of sick of myself in that regard. I also hate my voice and frankly am unsure of my place as a lyricist and singer; it's a completely utilitarian decision that I sing in this band. We wanted to keep it a three-piece and I wrote all the music, so it was a natural duty.
I think about the Holocaust a lot. I don't think it's weird to think heavily on, but it may seem strange to have such an attachment with that part of history since I'm not Jewish nor do I have a family tie to it. But I think as a Christian person, it's quite the existential problem to deal with, and I dwell upon it often. At a certain point, I was reading a ton of survivor literature and I was also reading Mein Kampf, and it just occurred to me. Hitler occupies so much of my mind, I figured, why not put that bastard to work for me? Why can't I manipulate his words and force expression and statements that he wouldn't dream of making, in order to suit my purposes? So it was kind of an experiment in that regard - an inversion of power. I don't know how successful it was but I think it did the trick for the time being. I felt I needed a secondary voice - Weisel's - in order to continue the conversation. And to be honest, I didn't want the lyrics to be marked as a novelty (which I'm sure they are to some extent), so I wanted that nuance.
TB: I'd like to talk about some particular songs. "Drew's Twin" - what is the significance of that title? To me it seems like the first "song" in a way after the introductory framing of "Born Twice" and "Crawl..."? Sort of the beginning of the dialogue? What is the significance of this lyric, the first of the Mein Kampf quotes used?
JD: "Drew's Twin" is a funny one, and I'm surprised we went with it that early in the LP. The title - and subsequently the song - is really about my lack of identity. I feel like I'm a really forgettable person. That's a hard term to come to when you've got a big ego! I am constantly mistaken for my older brother (named Drew) and also interchangeable with my best friend Drew (our bass player). I found the quote from MK to actually be really poetic. People give Mein Kampf a hard time as a written piece, but they forget two important things - 1) You're going to lose so much in the German-to-English translation; the German people, especially Weimar Republic era, were used to very long and fragmented sentence structure. 2) Hitler wasn't a writer, he was a public speaker (easily one of the greatest in history). So the long-windedness is him speaking to you, not writing. It was easier for me to digest the book after looking at it almost like long-form poetry. Don't get me wrong, it's still a heck of a read and it's not very well-done (let's not even get into the absolute baloney it's filled with, ideas-wise) but I noticed poetic instances like that line ("Our enemies were too shrewd to demand too much at once."). Something about the slow-bleed of my identity connected me to that passage.
TB: And technically, I think on this song you might have mixed/patched together two different takes of the song (I think this also occurs on "Hesistation Pitch" and elsewhere?) If so, why and how?
JD: You are correct. I think we were keeping with that mantra of, 'interesting uber alles'. If it's not interesting, it's unnecessary. Originally the record was a lot shorter. We had a lot of tutelage from Steve Lowenthal - he's pretty much the reason that record even came out. I'm constantly discouraged because our band isn't cool, it's not hype, it's got no immediate gratification, and yet it's meant for a listening, thinking audience. Anyway, Steve has been a supporter of our music since Dry-Rot, and he helped curate the LP material. We gave him a ton of tape to listen to and he helped us navigate through it and discern what was even listenable or what we needed more of. For instance, “Hesitation Pitch” was supposed to be half that length, but Steve thought it was so catchy that we shouldn't waste an opportunity to let that last riff jam for a bit - so we found a 4-track recording we were really happy with and cut it in.
TB: "Pseudocide" - this is one of my favorite songs on the record, and probably the most "hardcore" of the tracks, or at least the heaviest both musically and in tone - the vocal is obviously very ominous. It's jarring after the instrumental interlude before it. What is the relation between the title and lyric chosen and it's placement in the sequencing? Did you write these with a pre-determined plan for the sequencing/order or did that happen afterwards?
JD: Funny you mention that, because I was just discussing with a friend of mine about how everything we (being UO but also the other Cold Vomit musicians I create with) make ends up being really aggressive. I can't help it. I think it's an ignorant approach but it just seeps through and it's totally informed by the fact that we are punks. That passage used ("And thus, slowly, the hall emptied. The movement took its course.") in particular deals with the rise of the national socialists over the bourgeois (and communist ideal in general) but really I look at it as one evil for another. The title – meaning to fake one's death - again deals with the Self versus itself. I know this sounds like blathering, does this make sense? Just, again, trying to go back to where the Self (and myself) has its place in Humanity. I think that's why Kierkegaard was really informing the LP too, just trying to get my head around that quandary. I don't consider myself learned enough to fully grasp philosophical concepts - especially when it comes to Kierkegaard or Nietzsche - but I'm trying to wrestle and I think the act of trying is worth documentation.
Sequencing was almost an afterthought. We kind of assembled as we went and made democratic decisions. I remember creating a "poll" of all the songs and recordings we had, and each member gave each track a weighted vote (so for instance you'd give a song you really liked a "5", a song you were less thrilled about a "2" and so forth). That determined the album, until we passed the rough mix along to Steve (the fourth member, really) to give us further, seasoned input.
I tried to do most of the mixing on the 4-track. So the more polished-sounding songs were recorded in a school classroom in a 2-hour rush session by our friend Nathan on his gear. The rest were live shows or in the bedroom on tape. There's a lot of improvisational material in there. We basically sat down one afternoon and labeled everything, listened to as much as we could until we found good takes. Just went down the list song by song. It was interesting and frustrating. I'm not a historian, and as an artist I'm actually terrible at documentation. But we found instances of happiness in there - for instance on the song “Sneezing Blood”, we found a really early take, like in the formative stages of the song and it's completely different; and yet it's the same song. So we cut that in to let the two pieces communicate with each other.
I really don't want to downplay Steve's role in the life of Uranium Orchard. He brokers our commercial identity - meaning, I think Steve has a really good ear for what's interesting and what other people might like to hear. Let's be honest, this isn't commercial music in any sense, but there is that careful audience/art relationship that must be considered, as you and I have talked about.
TB: "Critical Darkness Anime" - another of my favorites of the LP. There's a lot going on here sonically - firstly, I've asked you this before I think, but that one effect sounds just like one used in the Alien films. Did you cut it from that or was just something you made that sounds unintentionally similar? What is the meaning of the title? It also sounds like there is talking in the background? And what is that effect that sounds like a tape warbling/being eaten - it adds an eerie sort of percussion effect, how was that achieved?
JD: This song was a complete one-shot recorded live, and this is where I think any crossover with Jazz would come in. Whenever we play live, we try to keep the set fluid - so we plan it out but allow for improv and happy accidents. Improv is also great for our drummer because he destroys drum heads and eats sticks for breakfast, and understandably is tired as a result. This song was written by Drew, I think he had been tinkering around with that bassline before. Drew also mans the sequencer, so any sampling manipulation is done by him (or it'll be something I played but he subsequently recorded and messed with). I think he's great at that because he doesn't have any kind of background or experience in sound/electronics/etc so whatever he comes up with is usually pretty strange. In this case, he sampled the Alien 'scream' and it was funny because this was right before the initial teaser trailers for Prometheus came out; so it was fun hearing it make its' way through the collective consciousness. The lyric was sung by me and it was a line or two that I had “up my sleeve”, but it was also momentary improv so most of it is lost to time. Because it was Drew's song, he named it. I am pretty sure that is something from an anime but you'll have to ask him.
The greatest aspect to that song for me was that warbling effect you're talking about, which is massive clipping and distortion of the recorded drums. I try to document each live show with a field recorder, and the results are wildly different each time. As you can imagine, we don't exactly do a sound check or anything - we're usually playing some weird club to ten people. So that night I think I kicked the field recorder over too close to the drums and it digitally warped, which I didn't think was possible. But it sounded cool!
TB: "Sneezing Blood" - you mentioned improvisation earlier, I get the impression this seems like that bassline was written and repeated and the guitars and drums were improv-ed over it? This song has one of your few self-penned lyrics - is the "sawdust caesar" a Mussolini reference? And the monotone delivery seems to imply some sort of zombie-like mindlessness?
JD: Bingo on the Mussolini reference, and actually on the style of delivery - it's meant as an opening chant or incantation. Initially this 'suite', as we call it – “Sneezing Blood/The Tapeworm/Huddled Flesh” - was going to open the record and tell a more concise story, like I was talking about earlier. These were the first three songs that we worked out with Joshua and subsequently galvanized the band as a three-piece. Ironically, that bassline you hear is actually the guitar really detuned. Over the top of it is bass playing high octave notes along with the drums.
TB: "The Tapeworm" - the only Weisel lyric - how/where does this song sit in the progression of the ideas of the record? I haven't read Night since I was very young, but there's a chilling poetic quality to the description of death in a concentration camp in these lines - and the song itself has a very chaotic quality to it that is equally dark - what is going on instrumentally here?
JD: I always liked Weisel's economy or words. He kind of writes like Cormac McCarthy to me - poetic and vague, but at the same time short and pointed. I desired that style of message conveyance. This particular passage, I believe, was from the foreward where he's coming to grips with giving the Holocaust a narrative - what do you even say? What even happened? He boiled it down to that handful of words, which was obviously farce (at least in part) - words on paper mean nothing, so here's a handful of them to show what happened. Musically I needed to write a song that would bridge the aggression of “Sneezing Blood” with the melody of “Huddled Flesh”. So what ends up happening is a steady measure of me tuning my guitar to different melodies until I reach up to the key that “Huddled Flesh” is played in. Pretty fun, and actually kind of indulgent but I think it was an apt solution to playing through those songs without taking unneeded breaks.
TB: "Huddled Flesh" - your last answer ties into this anyway, but I'm glad I was on the right track guessing that these three tracks were related in some sort of way. It sounds like a glimmer of hope/light coming out the maelstrom of "The Tapeworm" somehow and it fittingly ends the first side. What inspired your lyric on this one?
JD: I think that 'suite' of songs works because the final song sounds exhausted, but in a resolved way. Kind of like when a boxer is punch drunk and finally gets laid out. There must be sweet relief in that instance of lying on the mat, if only for a second. “Huddled Flesh” was actually a song I wrote probably eight years ago now, one of those ones that didn't find a place anywhere. I kind of wanted to try it with Dry-Rot as an instrumental; I also kicked it around with other bands I was in. It finally fit because it was necessary in this setting. Like I said before, we play with such ignorant aggression, even in the songs we're trying to “go soft” on. So to cap this mini-suite it was a much needed reprieve. Lyrically it's really about the finality of death - in this case, the body going into the incinerator and becoming the new night air for us to breathe. It's melancholy, to be sure. This was the first lyric I wrote for the LP and I liked it fine enough but that's when I decided I didn't want to have so much of a personal voice all over this record.
TB: "Eastern Digital" - I have to go with the obvious and ask where you pulled this particular soundbite from - it sounds like something from Art Bell's radio show. How does her talk of the Underworld fit in to the "story" or as a preface to the second side of the record? Did that wheezy organ sound come out like that, or did you alter it somehow? It sounds like a slowed down tape...
JD: Bingo once again! You're killing it Rich - the sound clip is from one of those Coast-to-Coast shows the Drew listens to. I don't know if he still does this, but at the time these songs were written, he would just keep the radio on all night by his bedside and wake up and press record on his sequencer in a daze at various moments. It produced some wonderful instances. That's what I'm saying about Drew - he's such an artist who has no care for being an artist; he does stuff like that all the time, stuff that the Surrealists or even the Situationists would have done.
We needed a continued narrative for the opening of the second side of the record, and that's where that sample fit in. I didn't want something so obvious but it still needed to be arresting. So basically we went with the most abstracted thing we could. Originally it was going to be a bunch of wrestling samples (Drew loves professional wrestling) but it just didn't work out. The music is actually a Casio Digital Guitar. I picked one up off Craigslist and wrote the song around it and I think I used an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man to pitch shift/warble it. Unfortunately I sold that thing because playing it upside down was too much of a pain (I'm left handed and it's a right handed instrument that can't be altered).
TB: "Pebble Spider" - I feel like the second side certainly has a lighter/more ethereal air to it - less darkness surrounding the songs I guess or a change in the "narrative" somewhat - I feel like this side is less about the holocaust and more about humanity in general and maybe that's a bit obvious. Perhaps a counterpoint/postscript to the "events" of the A Side? The MK line for this is packed with symbolism, what was the context in the book (I should note I've never read all of MK aside from passages assigned in college) and what is its’ context in the song? I'm also interested in the meaning of the title. I feel like this one also sounds a bit like DC post-hardcore more than a bit.
JD: "Pebble Spider" is usually what we open our live set with, because I think there is a quiet tension to it that prefaces the *generally* abrasive materially forthcoming. That effect is very much DC; I grew up on Dischord stuff and still listen to all that pretty regularly. I think I was listening to a lot of Circus Lupus in particular during this time. Now that I look back on this LP, that ying-yang effect you're speaking of in regards to sides A & B is very evident. I think we wanted it to be a bit of a rollercoaster in that side A wrings your neck around and side B is a little bit more of a respite. But how much of that was planned, I can't say. I think a lot was intuitive and we exhausted ourselves by the end, so it's fitting.
If I remember correctly (I'd have to check my notes), this passage in Mein Kampf was discussing the upcoming party elections in the mid-20s, a pivotal moment when Hitler and his goons were using a lot of Communist tactics to attempt an overthrow of opposing parties (Communists themselves included). It was this line of arrogance that gave me pause and consideration to flip it into my own usage. I took it and put it to quiet song in order to juxtapose a power change.
The title actually has nothing directly to do with the song. I had a dream in which this massive creature called a Pebble Spider which looked like it was a large aggregation of mops and twine, would hang from a tree near a lake. It would 'sing' each day and was pacified as long as it had rocks or pebbles to scoop up and toss into the water (something about the sound of water splashing I guess). But if no rocks were available about, it would let out this god-awful terrifying screech. So the people made sure to stock the shore of this lake with plenty of pebbles.
Content-wise, a lot of the material I write or curate is from dreams, which is weird for me because I'm such a control freak and I'm pretty much on the logical side of things. Since dreams are so intuitive and free-reign, they scare me but obviously we all know that there are plenty of subconscious secrets to unlock. That's where the title of the 7" "Unchurched Shithead" came from.
TB: "Bel & The Dragon" - this one is very interesting to me. I'm somewhat familiar with the biblical story (I'm a lapsed Catholic), but I'd like to know how it relates to the MK lyric in this one and how you came up with the whole concept. Chanting is again used to good effect. For some reason this song reminds of the Minutemen a lot.
JD: This song was probably one of the most challenging for me to put together, musically and lyrically. The Apocrypha is very mysterious to me and I'm essentially unfamiliar with it, although texts like Bel & The Dragon have caught my fancy. The link is really tangential but I was always so fascinated by the Nazi Party's ability to co-op various religious ideologies in service to the government and civic duty. The lyric here is from an apocryphal tale of Hitler's own, where he's strategically aligning himself to all that Norse mythology stuff, basically Germanic Neopaganism (which of course he'd later distance himself with, and then after that, come back to). But I don't know, something about ancestral pride intrigues me greatly. Especially since in the Christian tradition, heritage is huge - but not in the traditional sense, it's upside down.
I'd like to think that the Minutemen have influenced us greatly; Drew and I are huge fans (I don't think Josh has heard them to be honest) and I really liked that they wanted to make a political statement even with the tone of their instruments (bass vs treble and all that). So, in philosophy and as an approach to music thought, they've made their mark on us for certain.
TB: "Psychic Bleed" - one of the most interesting songs musically. Is there a lot of improv on this one? It seems like you started one song, built it and broke it down and it comes out the other end as this massively heavy riff - probably the heaviest part of the record. Even the vocals change from from the murmuring delivering in the first part and then the opressive megaphone style in the second half. Is there a narrative of sorts in the construction of the song itself? The lyric is rather eerie as well, how does it (or does it at all) relate to the title? It's also sort of the last "song" on the record, is there any significance to that being the last lyric?
JD: "Psychic Bleed" is my only regret on the LP. That was the best take we could get of it at the time, and I don't think it's quite there. It's probably my second or third favorite song I've written, and I can say without ego that I end up hating 99% of the material I write. I think it's a fitting last full-band song, and I agree that the lyric might work as a cap-off - I didn't even think of it that way until now! The construction of the song, as you now hear it and perceive it, was very much us hobbling a workable version together. So there is a lot of improv and "noise" (I HATE that term for music generally; all music is noise to someone). So that's what is kind of nice about this "cut-and-paste" methodology we ended up working with, because songs like this one really lend themselves to that way of working, especially when we didn't have a single solid take that we were all really excited about. I wrote that last part after hearing the band Unsane for the first time; Drew has always bands like that on me and I'm always so hesitant to give them a chance. But the Unsane stuff just sounded like it would be really fun to play live, so I wrote that riff.
TB: "Fictitious Turbulence Jam"/"Palomar Ends"/"Guns and Booze" – these three tunes form sort of an epilogue. What is that menacing electronic noise on "Palomar" - a synth? I like that the album ends with an acoustic guitar track - and that it's called "Guns and Booze". Why that title and why this as the ending?
JD: We wanted to segue the album's last section into listenable "noise", and also - this is where my love for '60s pop comes in - I don't really like burying songs that I know are more accessible or likely to be a "hit" (I'm sure I don't have to explain what I mean by that in this context). So to me, these last songs are like the cherry pie aspect or the dessert of a record album; meaning, they aren't filler but they aren't standalone-crucial full band songs.
“Palomar Ends (version)” is another sore spot for me; the full song, "Palomar Ends" is actually really catchy and more of a "song"-song. But again, we just couldn't pull off a take that we were all satisfied with. Some songs I write, we nail it within the first hour of working on it as a band. Other songs, like “Palomar Ends”, we've been playing for a couple years now and I still don't think we've realized it; probably we never will. But it's OK, it will get lost and resurface at the right time. What you're hearing on that track is various cutouts from takes we've done but also it is guitar work (done mainly through an Electro-Harmonix Flanger Hoax pedal). One day we'll record a definitive version.
That acoustic track you hear was written and recorded by the drummer, Joshua. In keeping with the approach that whoever writes the song must attribute a title, that is the chosen one. I could be wrong but I'm almost positive it's from that show Trailer Park Boys - Drew and Josh are very, very big fans of that show and they've recently converted me. I can't tell you how much I dislike that as a song title but I have to control myself from being too overbearing on these poor guys. I think it's the democratic amalgamation that helps keep the band interesting, at least to me. When you're a control freak like I am, it's kind of thrilling to know some things are outside your aesthetic.
TB: Explain the genesis of the name Uranium Orchard. Were there any others in consideration?
JD: When Dry-Rot was just kind of falling apart due to natural circumstances, I continued to write a lot of music (as I mentioned before) but I was pretty disillusioned. Drew was really the propulsion for making Uranium Orchard happen. I wasn't confident in the music but he was and he kept pushing until it because a reality. I think we make a good partnership because I've got a really strong work ethic, but I need a motivational spark and he always provides it. Definitely a catalyst. So he made a lot of initial decisions and I kind of ran with them. In many ways, Uranium Orchard is Drew's band.
Anyway, when it came to the names, I remember not caring at all, which is unusual for me. I threw in a couple names - stuff like Swollen Assembly and Lone Silo. There were also names that ended up being song titles later on, like Pseudocide. We wanted the band to be very futurist or even science fictional in some sense (thus all the design decisions you've seen so far). Drew came up with Uranium Orchard. I've been asked before if the name was an intentional misread of the liner notes on the Bauhaus record "Mask" where it says "This is for when the radio is broken and crackles like uranium orchids". It's possible. I don't ask Drew for the source of most of his content because most of the time he's not sure himself - he kind of regenerates content subconsciously, usually in a mutated form. I like the name because it's kind of working with similar wordplay as, say, A Clockwork Orange, where you get natural and mechanical imagery confronting each other, which is nice.
TB: You mentioned earlier that the title "Unchurched Shithead" came from a dream. I need to hear about it please. Do you write your dreams down or keep a journal or anything? I'm pretty fascinated by dreaming as well, but I forget them too easily. Have any other concepts/ideas from your bands been inspired by dreams?
JD: It's weird, I've never considered myself a 'dream guy' (whatever that means) but this interview obviously brings up an aspect I'd not yet considered. I don't ever write anything down; like, I barely write lyrics down and I don't write or record music ideas. My general take is that if it's important enough or catchy enough, I should be able to remember it - basically it should be worth remembering. I know that is stupid and flawed logic but it's how I've operated. I always meant to record my dreams or capture them somehow but never did figure out an effective way how. I'm terrible at documentation.
I had a dream once about a year ago and I can't really remember the details as well as, say, the Pebble Spider dream, but the gist of it is that an angel or maybe God looked at me and called me an unchurched shithead. His voice was like thunder. It was a loving rebuke, I didn't feel judged in that moment at all. Anyway, that phrase was so stirring and confusing that it just stuck with me. I kind of laughingly threw it out there as a title for a UO song and Drew said it was a really good idea. I can never tell if he's joking or serious; even today I'm not sure if it's his little joke to have that title but he convinced me that it was a strange and usable title. So we just used it as a release name.
I feel torn about releasing that name into the world and I don't expect most people to understand what I'm going to say. To me, 'curse words' or whatever you'd like to call them - these things aren't sacred to me in a moral sense, but I never swear. I think it's uncouth and generally unnecessary. I also do morally believe that it's wrong to use them to hurt somebody else. So you can imagine everyone's surprise when I released that name. I feel bad because as a rule I hate shock value, and I'm deeply concerned about what people who know me think about me. It's really an isolating title that has pushed back pretty much most of the people that might listen to us - Christians are offended by it, and non-Christians don't understand it but don't like that the word 'church' is involved; they feel like there's judgement there. So, really, it was the worst marketing decision we could've possibly made. I've already received emails from concerned listeners who conceptually disagree with the title. We could go into how language works and that swear words are actually used in the Bible, but I don't want to bore anyone more than I already have!
TB: You released "Unchurched" on your own but I know you were searching for a label at one point. Is it at all encouraging to know your music is not easily categorizable to fit into a label's catalog/image on the other end of it? Honestly, the UO stuff aesthetically seems like it was made to be self-released/private pressed.
JD: We've always struggled with that aspect of our music - the release and distribution. If I can continue being frank, as an artist there is an inherent duality in this aspect - on the one hand, it's really validating to have a legitimate label or person “christen” your music with a release. On the other hand, true art doesn't need that validation. We had some interest from some labels but they were pretty much kind-hearted people who I really think would've taken a decent-sized financial loss by putting something out by us at this point. Nobody was interested.
I struggle with my ego all the time. I know I'll never be popular or renowned in music or any of the arts. I also know that my beliefs come with a sacrifice, and that sacrifice is vanity and coolness. I'll never be cool. It's OK. But man, it would be great to find a supportive home or launchpad for our music. We've just got so many things working against us, I don't blame people for steering clear. At this point, why would anyone show interest in us? The band is too challenging, but not in a cool way.
On the flipside, I really enjoy every aspect of releasing music. From conception to delivery, it's truly giving birth to something, and that's really nice. Pretty much it's the same song that the “artist” has sung since the beginning - it would be nice to have someone bankroll these things! We're all pretty broke.
My logical conclusion is to stop releasing music publicly. It might turn to that. I have thought that it would be just as well to make music and send it digitally to the few people - friends and family - who would actually listen. Because there is that wasteful aspect to it too; why spend all that time, money, and natural resource making a product that many aren't interested in? Is the realization of the musical product the art's finality? In other words - does the song become “finished” when it's finally been released in a “legitimate” form such as vinyl? We've thought about that a lot.
I can't stop making music. I've tried. Right now I'm recording an album and it's all surf/western music but with electronica beats. I don't know why I feel like I need to do it, but I must play. I think the releasing aspect will change though. The world doesn't need to know about most of this stuff. That attention belongs to the younger people.
TB: Was ‘Unchurched…’ written and recorded in the same way/process as the LP? It seems like it has more to do overtly with spirituality and power struggle (personal and global)- and the Foucalt quote about discipline is good one - I like the idea of a "permanent economy"...the whole last line really seems like something I can relate to you and the band directly.
JD: Many of the songs were written directly after we finished the LP, but some were even played with during that time. The process was the same but there were songs that I knew I had to have studio-grade production to realize. So I figured we'd round up those songs and record in the studio. There are some that we still did at home too. And there's a lot of cross-pollination between home and studio recordings, but this time it's more like everything ended up being mixed together in the studio. I think it was largely a time issue, and limitations of my abilities to record certain sounds at home.
Thematically I actually think this one is a little more solid to me, but it's not as evident to the world, and in that way it's I guess a much more personal record. You're exactly right though, it's really just about the economy of power and what that means in all senses (personal and global as you hypothesized). Drew is a big Foucault fan, I'm mostly unfamiliar with his work outside a couple of the classics. But I wanted to keep the same aesthetic with a philosopher's quote so I tapped Drew for that. I knew the record was about power by that point, and I figured, who better than to lend a word on the subject than Foucault?
TB: “Antikythera Mechanism” - I had no idea what this was before looking it up. How did you come across it and how did it inspire a song?
JD: My grandfather - my mom's dad - is barely a relative to me. No need to air it all out here but suffice it to say that he's family to me through blood only and it's only through a spiritual sense of grace that I tolerate him. Anyway, he's kind of losing his mind and he's writing like three books right now; one of them deals with the Greeks. "They had it all figured out", he says and was telling me about how they had computers and all this, and just imagine how much was lost, how much didn't survive the centuries. That really affected me. I wanted to write a musical equivalent to that ancient computer idea, if that makes sense.
TB: “Pissing in the River Rhine” - I'm interested in the construction on this one - it almost sounds like a Nintendo game being sampled over a cello with you playing sitar? To me it seems like an odd blend of old world (viola or cello) with Western technology and Eastern spirituality?
JD: Sometimes, I'll need a backdrop of sound to a piece I'm writing so Drew will come in with stuff for me to pick through. It can get pretty intuitive at that point. I had written something on the sitar and planned to take it a completely different direction, but Drew comprised a piece of his own with the sampled stringed instrument being glitched. It sounded really ominous. I felt like it fit just right. This whole record, now that I think about it, is really morose. I can't tell you why that is, but there's an inflection of sadness to it and I think this song punctuates that most.
TB: “Balaams Error” - is that a vocoder? The song seems like it could be prog-rock influenced, is that something that is true at all?
JD: Yes that is a T-Pain-esque auto-tune over the voice at the end there. Basically I am trying to continue the attitude we had on the LP with recorded sound, where by recording in a certain way, there are specific connotations that a culturally literate audience picks up on. No, I don't think it sounds good. But that's not the point; it's kind of a jab at recorded and idealized sound. "It must be somewhere out there".
I actually hate most prog rock, so I'm not sure where that came from! Sometimes I feel like Uranium Orchard is a "sophisticated" version of a high school garage band where it's like "OK, now we'll do a ska song! Now this is our metal song!" I can't tell if that's a really terrible quality or maybe it puts us somewhere different, but now that I'm older, I'm much less concerned with sounding a certain way, like when I was just coming up in music. Whatever comes out, comes out.
TB: “Hair Nails Teeth” - it might seem unlikely, but this short piece is my favorite part of the record. It's very calming and gentle but also has some sense of hesitation and loss to it. I feel like that keyboard (is that what it is?) almost sounds like sonar or even reminds me of one of those slow-blinking warning/emergency lights you see out on the water at night. Can you just tell me about the creation of this one and where it comes from? For some reason the visual I always get from this song is being in a canoe on a lake at night, or in the woods looking out over dark water - weird, huh?
JD: Yeah that's pretty spot on, or at least I feel similarly about it. Drew played those notes pitch shifted from the sequencer he uses, I just gave him the roots. The guitar part I had written a while ago, and again it's really kind of sad. I don't know why! But the sonar blips take it down in mood even further. I must have been listening to Nick Drake a lot at the time, I'm not sure!
TB: “Unfaithful Heart” – Ending the record strong. The most arresting part for me is the construction again - it seems like you're manipulating the pause button or stopping the tape in the beginning giving that delayed feeling between the opening drums/guitar parts - or is that the same part looped? Then it's another song-within-a-song, changing to a real heavy ending and the best guitar playing on the record - why the shift in dynamics? This is also one of the most overtly spiritual songs you've written in the band so far - why?
JD: So again on this one - and I must emphasize my unoriginal approach to music, I'm just speaking personally - we wanted to exploit the sound of the studio. I wanted it to sound like a sample but actually that's played live all the way through; we just deleted the dead air between those guitar parts so it cleanly cuts up.
I struggle with the spiritual stuff a lot. I'm a very imperfect person and I'm angry with God much of the time. But it's an important distinction that I'm angry WITH God and not AT God. Meaning, I struggle with my place in the world and my worthlessness but also my anger burns for the hurt in the world. It's too much for me to deal with and knowing I'll never understand certain things in their fullness frustrates me. But the struggle had led me to interesting places. It's got a double meaning, like "At last, a spirit flows around the world!", there's a relieved finality to it but at the same time it's like "AT LAST" as in, where in the world have you been this whole time?
I wanted to write this song as an updated Bible passage. There is a line in there: "My righteousness is like a semen-soaked rag"; that's my interpretation of Isaiah 64:6 ("...our righteous acts are like filthy rags..."). It's a poetic if kind of sterile passage on the surface, but think about what something would take to be called "filthy" in that time. We're talking about a gritty, tribal, violent age where we'd consider just about anything filthy by today's standards. So obviously the passion, the shamefulness and the disgrace is getting lost in translation. That's what I'm talking about regarding swear words and linguistic nuances - we're losing them from the old times and they have been in danger of becoming sterilized platitudes but that word is alive, I'm telling you. (I understand most of your readership may not abide this kind of subject, but it should be clear by now that I'm just living my life and have nothing but love toward all people - if I have any enemies, they are unknown to me).
TB: Are you still doing any zines or art booklets? The design of the UO EP seems very familiar to me but I can't place it - I feel like I've seen that hands design before? I also enjoy that the art for the LP is so plain, for lack of a better word, in comparison to the complexity of the music and ideas. Do the price tags have the obvious significance or did it just seems like a fun/cool/cheap idea? Sometimes I feel I'm reading too much into some of these things...
JD: I am no longer doing zines, the last thing I did was in 2011 and I don't plan on making any more public art in that way. I feel like it was just getting too narcissistic. But never say never. I love to draw, I've never had any illusions about my skill level, I'm really middle-of-the-road there; so shoving it in people's faces got kind of tiresome for me.
The aesthetics for the EP, and for the band in general, are decidedly minimalistic and modern. I wanted a clean approach across the board, design-wise. Drew really wanted the band identity to echo a futuristic corporation, like something you'd see in Total Recall, so that's where the hands logo idea comes from. The UO logo (series of dots) is very Swiss-Modern too, like from the '60s. It works for the band, to act more like a corporation. The price stickers were very intentional - it was calling that LP what it was: A product to be sold for your consumption. I wanted to just sell trophies or fetish objects with digital downloads for UO but the guys wanted records, and I couldn't argue. Like I said, we stick with democracy when it comes to those kinds of choices.
I think I can safely say that you can never read into too much with our bands, I'll give us that much at least. Starting with Dry-Rot, we wanted to make sure that every single move we made, from every note recorded to every design decision, these things were all well thought out and very intentional. So I can say, for this stuff at least, you've been pretty on point and haven't read too much into anything. Call it good or bad, but it's planned either way. We're by no means these deep esthetic philosophers (far from it!); I don't presume to be that type, but attention to craft has always been very important to me.
TB: What is on the near and far horizon for you and the band(s) and Cold Vomit? Is Heavy Air still active at all? Will there ever be a Dry Rot reformation? Will UO ever hit the road? What other bands/projects are you working on or do you want to work on?
JD: This is a hard question actually. I feel like personally I'm at a crossroads right now. I play guitar by myself every day, and I don't think that will change. I was thinking about the power of music. I'm a fairly recent uncle, and watching my niece Elle dance to music - this isn't learned behavior, babies just start creating rhythm with their bodies to pleasant sounds. Obviously they start to mimic what "real" dancing is later, but I think that encouraged me to continue making music. It's inherent in our beings, there is something so special about it and it's valid to pursue.
Cold Vomit has always been and will always be a way to document my bands and the bands of our circle of friends. It's an easy vehicle to put something out with since, as we've discussed, it's increasingly harder to bait any big labels with this music. Heavy Air will always exist because that band's premise was based on keeping in touch with a friend of mine. I can't say that we will ever play live again though, or release anything else. That band has so many unreleased songs, it's crazy.
Dry-Rot will never reunite. Let it be known. I am fully against reunions, and we can have a different interview for that. But it's something I feel really strongly about. In fact, I sang for a local band years back and there have been a couple of opportunities that I've had to turn down, and it stinks because all the other guys want to do it but I just can't. It feels so disingenuous to me. I would only play a show with that band if it were a benefit for someone we knew personally. The only other band I'd feel comfortable “reuniting” is Mr. Highway, because that band never broke up. But that was a sad band that was too out of place for anyone to care about. I think about it from time to time though.
Right now I'm in the studio recording a project where I'm playing all the instruments; it's pretty much surf music with some south-of-the-border elements but there is no live drumming, it's all with programmed beats. So there will be a heavy digital vibe to it. Again, this is one of those things where I saw what I thought was a really interesting idea but who is going to listen to that? Talk about the lamest music ever! But it's really fun to play, and it's the most pleasant-sounding music I've probably ever written (I'm not really capable of playing much that sounds 'nice' to the average above-ground listener). I've got an album's worth of material, so I need to see what I want to do with that. Probably that will be one of those pass-around-to-friends things.
Drew is in this really awesome band called Blind Dead where he wrote all the music and it sounds very brutal. But it's with people from all over the country and it's really more at “project” status right now but they've been recording an LP that sounds AWESOME. I can't wait for it.
Finally, Drew and Jon Westbrook from Knife Fight started a band called Constant Fear. Westbrook wrote all the music and he's actually - in my opinion - the greatest current hardcore riffmaster. The guy has insane knowledge. So naturally the music is great. They needed a singer and since we're all friends, I guess I'm doing it. It's a lot of fun, but to me it's not music I would pursue if it wasn't all good friends that I enjoy being around; mainly this is because I feel kind of weird running around on stage at my age. But isn't that what premise you're supposed to be playing fast music under anyway?
Otherwise, we're all just working a lot and growing older. Getting ready for certain realities to set in. Joshua already has two kids, so getting together is so difficult as it is. We want to do a couple stretches of small tours next year - maybe fly out to your neck of the woods for an extended weekend but pretty much families and jobs keep us anchored in Ventura, which isn't a bad thing. It's the greatest city in America.
Uranium Orchard and Cold Vomit on the web here, here and here.
Images 1, 3 and 5 by Vanessa Darby. Last image by Lindsay Darby. The rest were provided by the band, please contact us if you desire a credit.
Interview by (RK), 2013.
To read other TB interviews, go here.
PREVIOUS PAGE HOME NEXT PAGE