Finale (I)

SonicViolence Interview & Gallery

The Interview

The Interview

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.

Leon (I)
Leon (I) — SonicViolence at STASH, Friday Art Walk

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.

BrandonPretty much.

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.

T-Mack Smiles
T-Mack Smiles — SonicViolence at the Conservatory

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.

Brandon — SonicViolence at the Conservatory

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.

Donald — SonicViolence at STASH, Friday Art Walk

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.

Ed (I)
Ed (I) — SonicViolence at the Conservatory

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.

BrandonProduction-wise, my favorite 2 records of 2013 are Afraid of Heights by Wavves and Trouble Will Find Me by The National.

SonicViolence (III)
SonicViolence (III) — at STASH, Friday Art Walk

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.

BrandonMe too.

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 (Moog Detail)
Terrence (Moog Detail)— SonicViolence at STASH, Friday Art Walk

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!

The SonicViolence Interview at Mercury Photo Bureau

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 June, SonicViolence “ser­e­naded” strollers with their sooth­ing sav­age 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.

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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