This past Sunday, the Bureau invited noise-rockers SonicViolence, along with video director Mike Walsh, to drop by for an interview in anticipation of their upcoming EP release. [Sidenote: The audio for the interview was not up to our usual standards, which presented some difficulties during the transcription.]
Mercury Photo BureauWelcome. Please introduce yourselves.
Brandon WilsonBrandon Wilson, and I play guitar and sing.
Leon MansonI’m Leon Manson, and I play guitar and use my voice.
Terrence MackI’m Terrence Mack; I play keyboard and guitar.
LeonAnd not with us are Edward Schotter and Donald James. Donald is our drummer, and Ed is our bassist and sometimes synthesizer player.
MPBI read in an interview that you started the band as a duo, and that was with Ed, I believe?
LeonThat was with Donald. Donald and I started the band. I was living in a house in Oklahoma City with 5 other guys. We actually went to high school [in Tulsa] together; but, I met him in Bricktown, in Oklahoma City [at ACM]. We decided we were into a lot of the same stuff.
It was actually Alan Orebaugh down here in Norman — he plays with Saucy Gentlemen’s Club, and he also does the Grateful Dead cover band — [he brought us together]. The first time Donald and I jammed together was for a class [that Alan was teaching.] We were supposed to demonstrate all that we had learned on guitar for our final. Everybody else came in and played guitar solos; but for me, it was like,
I’m still not very good at guitar. The biggest thing I know how to do is I’m good at playing with other people.
So Donald and I wrote a song together, and he came into the class. And they have drumkits in every room at ACM, so we played [the] song. And right after we finished, Alan came up and said,
Man, you need to start a band.
I was playing in a different band at the time, so Donald and I got together and started jamming. We actually wrote a bunch of songs that I really liked; it was not [so] much the way SonicViolence sounds now; when I met Brandon a year later we basically scrapped everything so the people coming into [the band] could become more involved.
MPBSo, you started this band before Psychic Milk. Is that band still active?
BrandonYeah; we’re still together. But we’ve all been doing individual projects and collaborations with other people. It’s just on the back burner for now. We actually have an EP recorded and ready to go. With the momentum that Justin [Hogan] has gained with Bowlsey, as well as the SonicViolence [EP about to drop], it probably wouldn’t be the best time to put it out.
LeonCharlie Marsel from Psychic Milk, probably the biggest thing, other than working at the comic store, is Charlie is actually writing a comic book right now. It’s gonna be called Infinity Factor, and all of the characters in it are basically all of us; it’s like all of our friends are characters in it. We’re gonna do a Psychic Milk concept album to go along with [the comic]. It’s being illustrated by Zac Cox; he’s a really awesome dude: he does cool artwork.
MPBThe band name: SonicViolence. There’s an Essex, England-based band from the 1980s by that name.
LeonAs soon as I thought of that name — which to me, is all new and all awesome and stuff; I didn’t do any research — I immediately went out and got the Twitter name [@sonicviolence], and I got the Bandcamp name. About a year ago, some teenage girl from Essex started going off on me [on Twitter]:
Your name’s not original! You’re not the original band! The real SonicViolence is from Essex, and they were around in the ’80s! And she kept tagging this dude,
Can you believe this guy‽ blah blah blah! And I went and looked at the guy she was tagging, and it turned out it was the original lead singer; [Sidenote: Our meticulous research team says he goes by the name “Auntie”.] I guess they’re an industrial punk band — I listened to a little of them on YouTube — he tweeted back to the girl and to me,
I don’t care about the name; good luck to them.
MPBHow did the other members join?
BrandonT-Mack, how did you join the band?
TerrenceI was in an experimental folk band called Painted Wolf, and that was kind of ending. And I was over at Brandon’s apartment in Deep Deuce. It was probably the 3rd time I’d been asked to join SonicViolence. I was like,
Well, no. Yeah.
MPBThey wore you down.
LeonI [inaudible] him hard. I wouldn’t let him not think about it for a month or 2. It was always at the forefront of conversation.
BrandonT-Mack was definitely the missing piece we really needed to make the sound full.
LeonEd got into the band because he was my roommate at the time. He was just our default, go-to guy. He was the only logical addition to the band for the rhythm section. It just made sense at the time.
We need a bassist! And you know, Ed’s hanging out on the couch, and we’re like,
Ed, [do] you have a bass? and he’s like,
Yeah, I totally have a bass.
Yeah, well you’re in the band, then.
MPBHow did sound change after you expanded?
LeonThe 2-piece sound was more grunge, ’cause we were just playing in the basement — the whole point was it was just super loud. At the place where we were living, it was 5 [musicians], so the whole basement was filled with amps. Every time we would practice I would plug into every single amp and just try to make Donald go deaf.
MPBYou’re still really loud, but, to my ears, it’s a lot more sophisticated than just loud. There’s a lot going on.
LeonThat had a lot to do with Brandon. My thing is kind of — I’m not the most sophisticated sounding guitar player; a lot of my stuff is just really intense noise. But, like, when Brandon joined, he’s got lot of experience recording, a lot of experience making sounds and stuff. That’s when the attention to detail came into play. He’s our [recording] producer, too. [Sidenote: Brandon also produces Psychic Milk’s recordings.]
MPBTerrence, could you tell us your musical background?
TerrenceIt started with orchestra. I went to Classen [School of Advanced Studies]; at the time I just fell in love with the sound of the organ. So I started playing organ in my dad’s church. I started organ and pretty much all keyboards when I was 12 or 13?
MPBDo you have a favorite type of organ?
TerrenceUm, I mean, the Hammond B3, C3.
MPBThose are the classic ones, yeah. Any of the ones that have the Leslie speaker. Can you give me a run down on Ed’s and Donald’s musical backgrounds?
TerrenceMy first band was a [contemporary] jazz band with Donald. We played one show at the Red Room here in Norman. That lasted for a while, but the bassist had to move to Chicago for school.
BrandonEd played guitar since I met him my freshman year of high school — his sophomore year. He was really big into sports; [he] broke his collarbone in high school and was never really as interested in sports again.
MPBI don’t remember who it was, but I interviewed somebody else who had a sports injury and couldn’t play any more, and that’s when he took up whatever instrument it was.
LeonEd is definitely our resident jock. Every show we play, he’s wearing a different soccer jersey.
MPBCan you tell me about writing songs for the band?
BrandonIt’s definitely a collaboration. The first song we wrote together — we wrote it in stages, as a collective, and then in subsets of the collective — is Overmedicated and Underutilized. That’s really our first group effort. But we also have songs that have really strong contributions [from the various band members].
LeonAfter we put this EP out, we’re gonna go straight to work on a [full-length] record. It’s gonna be all new songs. There’s been a lot of stuff, while we’ve been recording, putting this new stuff out — I think it’s easy as a band to get ahead of yourself, and not have all of your stuff recorded, and some stuff falls by the wayside. But the way this band has always worked is, we don’t want to put anything out before it’s ready. And we’re real big into getting everything just perfect. I guess, not as much live, because we’ve tried out things — tested the waters — playing live, but we’re maniacal about getting things to sound perfect. That’s why it’s taken so long to get this EP out. The single off of this EP, Brandon pretty much wrote it in its entirety. We’ve been playing it for almost a year.
MPBI wanted to ask you about the single. First of all, it’s got a great title: One Day We Are All Going to Explode (and it will be beautiful). This was your first single?
LeonPretty much. We released it as a demo. We had done that first EP with Trent Bell; it was good, but it wasn’t necessarily the way we wanted it to sound. We had 2 days to record it. We tracked it the first day, mixed it the next day, and it came out sounding kind of plain. It was very clean, which is not necessarily the sound we go for.
MPBHere’s my take on the single. I hear a unison vocal, an octave apart throughout. I don’t think there’s any harmony singing. It’s very melodic; I’m thinking “power pop guitar,” but then as it progresses, it devolves into a “noisy” chorus, while still maintaining the melody in the vocal line. Then the whole thing just goes to a crashing, feedback-laden ending. Anything you want to say about the song itself?
LeonWe went up to Brandon’s house, in Tulsa. He’s got a really nice “live” room to record in there. We were messing around, recording different stuff, and it was just this idea that I came up with then. We didn’t go there to track the song. I just started playing the verse guitar line and then it just went from there, with Brandon coming in and saying,
Oh, well, maybe this will sound cool if this was this way, and then we figured out all the stuff and tracked it that night. The whole thing took maybe, 5 hours, to write and record.
I was kind of bummed out when we went up there — I think that’s a common theme in my lyrics, that they’re all depressing — but it was weird, because I was writing these really depressing lyrics, but the whole time we were recording that song, I have never been happier. It was a blast.
The thing with the way I write lyrics is, I do it from a stream-of-consciousness standpoint; I mean, I’ll be listening to [the music], and I’ll just start saying stuff, and if it fits, it fits; and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’ll look back at it, and it’s like I’m giving myself therapy.
That song is close to my heart, because it was written with everybody there. A lot of times I’ll write songs where it’ll just be me, awake at 3 in the morning, with just my guitar. But I think the best songs we’ve written are when we’re all together and just feeling really inspired and spontaneous. That’s when the people you work with will come through and have something awesome, every time.
MPBYou moved from a sort of “grunge” sound to a kind of “noise-rock” sound. It’s really hard to pin a genre on non-commercial bands these days, but you’ve cited some influences. Dinosaur Jr. and Radiohead, for instance.
LeonIt’s never like we want to sound like this one band. It’s more like, that guitar tone in this particular song by that band is really sick, and that inspires me to go do my own version of it.
MPBYou’ve warned people to bring earplugs to your shows, and I can attest to that. Mostly because of you guys and the Kamals, I’ve started taking earplugs to the shows I photograph. [laughter] Your Facebook page says your sound is like How High meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. I didn’t really get that; I mean, I don’t really hear much in the way of hip-hop?
LeonDonald’s drumming is very hip-hop. That’s something we really go for, it that backing beat. Especially on that first song, which is a tune that Brandon wrote, Afterbirth; like, the whole thing sounds like a super [inaudible].
MPBSo, does he bring in funk and pre-hip-hop elements, too?
LeonI think so, yeah; it definitely shows in his fills. I think the whole How High meets 2001: A Space Odyssey thing comes from, How High is this super-grungy hip-hop movie, that is kinda f*cked up, and kinda raunchy in parts, and 2001: A Space Odyssey is this grand vision of —
BrandonAvant garde interpretation.
MPBSo you’re taking something very earthy and putting this intellectual spin on it?
LeonAt least, speaking for me, I want to make crazy noise-rock with really intense production that sounds amazing, and people can listen to and go,
Oh, wow; it’s crazy, how this part goes there, and that’s definitely Brandon’s thing.
BrandonI don’t think we aspire to be intellectual or avant garde; just ambiguous. Open to some interpretation. A lot of my lyrics weave metaphor with the literal.
LeonBrandon and I pretty much [divide the lyrics writing evenly]. I’ve always been the guy who, like, I’ll listen to a song, and I’ll make up lyrics to it, whether they’re right or not. And I think that’s cool; like, I want people to not know what the lyrics [to our songs] are, make them up for themselves, and then have their own interpretations.
MPBThere’s not a lot of open space in your songs. Do you see yourselves opening up the sound, sonically, any time in the future?
BrandonDefinitely. Especially on the album as opposed to the upcoming EP, because we’re still in this dense style of making music that has as much in it as possible that doesn’t sound completely cluttered.
MPBLike Danny Elfman.
BrandonAbsolutely. The “more” is not necessarily “less” approach.
LeonThe new stuff, especially Overmedicated and Underutilized, sounds a lot more sparse. As far as the really heavy guitar tones go, this is the least heavy thing we’ve recorded. The guitars are mixed a lot more back; drums and bass are more in front. Some of it has a pseudo-industrial vibe to it.
BrandonThere’s a lot more synths and keys, as well. This is our first recording with Terrence.
MPBI understand that you’ll have some demo copies of the EP at the Wavves show at the Conservatory.
BrandonWe’ll have at least one song on CD ready to go.
MPBYou’ll be opening for Wavves with Skating Polly. There seems to be a tremendous amount of excitement in the music fan community for the show.
LeonWavves has been one of my favorite bands since I was a high school freshman. He did a bunch of super lo-fi tape releases before moving to a full band and making more produced sounding albums. It’s pretty much gonna be the biggest show we’ve ever played.
MPBDo you see music as a career, or is it going to turn out to be that thing you got to do when you were in your 20s?
LeonIt’s all I know how to do.
LeonMy friend’s dad, Basile Kolliopoulos from the Fortune Tellers — he worked hard all his life, bunch of different record deals, bunch of different opportunities, but he always turned them down because they wouldn’t let him do what he wanted to do. But he literally played music until he died late last year. And he did it while supporting and raising a family.
MPBWe’ll wrap up by redeeming a song, where we talk about a song that doesn’t get much respect, but that you love, and you tell me what’s great about it. Leon and Brandon already got to do this in the Psychic Milk interview, but are welcome to play again.
BrandonMy reappraisal of the question led me to Believe, by Cher.
MPBThat’s the one with Autotune? — or at least with Autotune cranked all the way up?
BrandonIt was the first song with any kind of Autotune. [Sidenote: We tried to confirm this, but the research was inconclusive. We do know that the technology was available as stand-alone software for a full year before the song’s release, which casts doubt on Brandon’s assertion.] The Antares Autotune software was used on a singer who already had “pipes” and could sing [on pitch] — purely as an effect. That’s so fascinating to me, because it’s the status quo now. If you look at what was playing on Top 40 radio at that time — it heralded the return of electro-house. That was the era of Third Eye Blind and Marcy’s Playground and a bunch of pseudo-slacker rock bands that were adding more “hook” elements to their songs. And here was this thing that was totally synthetic; sample-centric, artificial —
MPBHeavy on the rhythm section —
BrandonExactly. It really was ahead of its time. It’s fascinating; [Cher] was basically a one-hit wonder, barring her early career [as half of the musical duo Sonny & Cher] —
MPBShe was probably better known as a actress at the time.
BrandonYeah; I find that phenomenal, and something that can’t not go down in history.
LeonMine is Brain Stew , by Green Day. I think that’s one of the most hated and underrated songs. It’s all power chords; it was one of the first CDs I ever owned, and it was the first song I ever learned how to play on guitar; I’m always going to love that song. Like, it’s got such a good chord progression!
Terrence#41 by Dave Matthews. I know the Dave Matthews Band gets a lot of crap, but sometimes all I need to hear is #41. It’s just so groovy; Carter Beauford is a really great drummer, and I actually enjoy the vocals. Just the vibe; it’s this whole kind of spacey vibe, and like, the bass — the bass line — I don’t know? I just really like it.
MPBThanks, everybody, for coming down.
LeonShout out to Coffin Boner Records; they’re puttin’ out our EP on tape; Coffin Boner Records is the best tape label in Oklahoma City!
Gallery: Friday Art Walk
Gallery: Friday Art Walk
The city of Norman holds a Friday Art Walk on the 2nd Friday of every month; this past
July , SonicViolence “serenaded” strollers with their soothing sounds.
Gallery: The Conservatory
Gallery: The Conservatory
The band also opened for Massachusetts rockers Speedy Ortiz at the Conservatory at the end of July; closing out the evening were incipient local musicians Anti-Patterns. Believe us; it was a wild night. Here are some pictures for you.