Sunday, February 4, 2018

An Interview with Blind Idiot God

I'm fairly late to the party when it comes to Blind Idiot God. The band was signed to the legendary SST Records for their first album (which was released over 30 years ago), and rubbed elbows with the likes of Swans and Sonic Youth in NY's noise/post-punk scene. They were a seminal act in their own right, carving out their own niche of instrumental heavy rock that blended metal, hardcore, noise, and dub. The likes of Harvey Milk and The Fucking Champs probably wouldn't be around if it weren't for Blind Idiot God. Since this blog sings for the unsung, I reached out to the band for an interview; drummer Tim Wyskida (also of the face-melting Khanate) was kind enough to forward my questions to founder/guitarist Andy Hawkins, who took the time to answer them.

Dreams of Consciousness: For those who may not know, what is Blind Idiot God?

The mapping of space through motion and sonority?

DoC: From your first album, Blind Idiot God was extremely heavy without being similar to the metal bands of the time. What influenced the style of songs like "Tired Blood" and "Wide Open Spaces"?

"Tired Blood" is the only piece of BIG music I have yet written on the piano. The short answer is that I was influenced by elements of both heavy rock and symphonic music, and their potential points of intersection. The two songs you mention are attempts to create a physical and psychic space through repetition, and as large a sonority as we could create with a high volume trio.

DoC: What is your writing process like? Do you write as a band or individually? How much of your music is improvised, live or on your recordings?

All start simply with an intriguing chord or line, or just a very basic idea, like "Rollercoaster", which was the idea of a piece of music that is always speeding up or slowing down, never settling on a tempo. I stole this idea from Stravinsky, who said he never could get such an idea to work with concert musicians. I thought it was worth a try with 3 piece rock instrumentation, and while it wasn't easy, we did get the hang of it after a few weeks. It turns out it's a lot easier to get three young rock players to understand and execute a new idea than a large ensemble of overbred performers.

The simple ideas are usually introduced by me, but we immediately start working on them together in an organized "jam" to work out our individual parts. Tim and Will [Dahl - bassist] are both very comfortable improvising, so the new stuff is more loose, not in terms of structure but the rhythm section introduces many improvised variations in their parts. That's how the newer material works, sometimes it's a subtle difference from the older material, sometimes it sound very different. So improvisation plays a very big role in the newer material compared to the older. As for live versus recording, obviously if you do something you don't love during recording you can go back and change it, but that doesn't happen much. A featured guitar solo will get more scrutiny, but one tries to preserve the improvised spirit even of a featured solo.

DoC: BIG were early adopters of dub music, making it a prominent part of your sound. What attracted you to dub? How would you say dub relates to your more aggressive influences, like metal or punk?

The power of repetition and the unique rhythmic feel/time sense of dub add up to something very centering. There's a kind of gravity effect from good dub, an anchoring, earthly quality. It's a great contrast to the soaring chaos of the faster, heavier stuff, with the funkier stuff sitting somewhere in the middle. But all of it relies on repetition, so there's the common thread, that and lots of low end frequencies.

DoC: Blind Idiot God has a reputation for being ungodly loud in concert. How would you describe experiencing BIG live? What do you hope for the audience to come away with? How important is touring and the concert experience for you?

Very. The human ear has much more dynamic range than any recorded medium, so the louder and cleaner the live sound, the closer the audience gets to our experience. We strive for the loudest, cleanest sound we can achieve, it's not for shock effect. We want you to join us in the eye of the hurricane. As my friend Henry Bogdan, formerly of the Helmets [sic] said after a sound check: "It's three dimensional, like matter". Swimming, surfing, leaning into a stiff breeze, that's what it's like.

DoC: In 2015 you released Before Ever After, the first BIG release since the Nineties. How would you compare Before Ever After to your previous albums? What were your intentions?

The same basic structures were used, but with Tim and his more improvisational approach to drumming, the music ebbs and flows in a different way. I would say that there were no specific goals other than certain basic standards of intensity. The sound of the band is archetypal, different players obviously change the outcome, but only in an additive way.

DoC: You released Before Ever After on your own label Indivisible, and reissued Undertow recently as well. What led you to form your own label? Are there any plans to reissue the rest of your discography?

Yes, I do plan to reissue all the BIG LPs and the two Azonic LPs. Only 2 of those 5 LPs were ever available domestically. My big "career" regret is not starting a label sooner. More people would've know about us if our 2nd and 3rd LPs were not only available as expensive imports and had remained in print.

DoC:  In addition to BIG, you've also been prolific with the drone project Azonic. Would you say Azonic complements your work in BIG, or is it a vehicle to explore completely different music and ideas ?

They are definitely related sonically and definitely compliment each other. The difference is Azonic is primarily improvised, which is certainly a different domain from the repetition and relentless focus of BIG. The proto-Azonic was the solo guitar outro of "Drowning" on Undertow. I had been doing high volume feedback improvisations since I was in high school, much to the chagrin of my neighbors. While I was at Berklee as a Film Scoring major, I submitted a tape of these improvisations to the avant-garde ensemble. They did not catch my drift. I was always looking for a way to present the ideas, and after Laswell heard the "Drowning" outro, he said "You could do a whole record of that", and we did.

DoC: You teamed up with Justin Broadrick from Godflesh on the album Subsonic 3: Skinner's Black Laboratories. How did you guys decide to work together and what was the nature of your collaboration? How familiar were you with his various projects beforehand? How do you feel about that album 20+ years after the fact?

Actually, that LP was not my idea. I'm not that clear on what the actual impetus was. The label had a relationship with Laswell and he pitched it to me. I was all for it as we had great results with the first Azonic Halo LP. We approached it similarly, I recorded two improvised tracks on 7 string and Bill again gave it his mix translation. He has an uncanny ability to superimpose musical ideas in such a way as to create multiple levels of interaction. On both Azonic LPs he blended improvised guitar with other prerecorded tracks which were further processed. I've never heard anything else like it.

As for Justin Broadrick, I was unfamiliar other than knowing he was in Godflesh, which I had heard. I think the record has aged well, nobody has done anything like it since.

DoC: What's next for you guys?

BIG are polishing material our 5th LP, this time with Will Dahl on bass, and we will hopefully be recording in the Spring for a Fall release. Will is a very talented player and this LP promises to up the ante in the evolution of BIG. We have more than a single LP of material, so the different formats will help to disseminate it all.

Also for 2018 is an LP by Downriver recorded in 2006 (!) which is my quieter, downtempo instrumental band. I have never had a way to get it released until now. The personnel on this first record are Tim Wyskida on drums, Gabe Katz on bass, Gerald Menke on pedal steel and myself on doubleneck/18 string and 6 string guitar. The guitars on this album are all clean sounds, no overdrive. It's a very different sound, unlike anything else I've done, though I've been working on some of this music since high school. The guitar and bass parts are set and form the structure of the material, but there is a lot of improvisation in the drums and steel guitar, though you might not notice it at first.

Azonic Prospect Of The Deep Volume 2 will hopefully also be released in 2018. It was recorded during the same sessions as Volume 1, and also mixed by Laswell.

In addition to the 3 bands mentioned above, Tim and I are working on a two drummer, two guitar and bass band, which will feature a female vocalist. One drummer plays what are essentially bass drum parts on a concert bass drum and two tympani, while the other plays a traditional kit minus the bass drum. It's ferocious and unprecedented!

Blind Idiot God on Facebook

Blind Idiot God on Bandcamp (through Indivisible Music)