Thursday, May 24, 2012

Interview with the Power Electronic Mastermind behind Death Factory

DOTDR: Hey Mike, I’ve been a fan of Death Factory for a while now, since the first NVS release and have been wanting to do an interview with you for some time now. First off, how long has Death Factory been active?

Mike: Death Factory has been active since 1988 (from 88-about 2000 just as a home recording project. from 2000 to present I started to play out 'live').

DOTDR: Wow, that’s good length of time…it probably is the reason that your stuff is so distinct and classic. What prompted you to start making electronic/industrial music and what made you interested in working with the sound and equipment that you do?

Mike: well, lets see...
Why I started to do the electronic /industrial music?  I really liked noisy  & abrasive music ever since I first heard Kiss!. Yes, it started really with Kiss in the late 70's, then I found out about Zeppelin, Sabbath Iron Maiden, NWOBHM, and then the Thrash/Death/early Black Metal movements came along, so by the time I’d first heard Industrial noise sounds on underground college radio I was primed and ready for loud noisy music and this was just a new form of it.  I was playing guitar for a few years already and was really interested in how to get the sounds that the Industrial/Noise groups and artists were getting, so I read up on them in magazines and fanzines that I’d found in independent  record stores ... you know the' old fashioned ' way,  ( B.I.- before Internet) and then from there  I just began experimenting with effects pedals and keyboards and hooking them up in different ways and doing things with the gear that was not meant to be used normally with them.

DOTDR: I know from Bill that you’re influenced heavily by giallo, exploitation, grindhouse films. How do those influences carry over into Death Factory and what are some of your favorite films?

Mike:  I've been a fan of low budget, late 70's/ early 80's gorefests since I was exposed to them in the early 80's when my aunt would take me and my sister to them on weekends. She didn't really know they were so gory or had so much nudity in them, and I even remember her saying: “please don't tell your mom I took you to this one”, or something like that because they were like R movies you know (mainly for extreme violence). She would take us to these neighborhood small theaters, which were all over the north side of Chicago back then just to do something on weekends with us. I thought it was great because obviously being under age (I was like between 10-12) I couldn’t get in to see them any other way.  She'd see the listings in the paper on weekends and knew I liked Horror films and would see the titles and think- Ha! These should be fun. Little did she know that after the first time we went they were so extreme!

I think we saw Dr. Butcher, The Boogens, and Evil Speak on a triple bill one Sat. afternoon in like '82 or '83. The days of those small grindhouse theaters showing that in Chicago every weekend are gone forever, except for a Halloween movie marathon now and then, sad but true. Later on in the 80’s I got more movies from West Coast video outlets, I would rent all the low budget, imported, underground films they had on the shelves, and sometimes I would tape the sound from them onto cassette via boombox, later to extract samples from them. 

So basically the overall atmosphere of these films in sound and vision is an influence in the DF sound.  Some of my faves include: Zombie, Phantasm (saw this one on Beta actually first!) Evilspeak, Beyond the Door, Midnight, Breakfast at Manchester Morgue, One Dark Night, The Beyond, Burial Ground.... mainly ones from Italy though during that period.  

DOTDR: The second track on the upcoming Machinen Unter Kontrolle is one of my favorites on the entire album; it has a found object/Einstruzende Neubauten/Sector 304 feel to it. What did you use to create the sounds and textures on this track?

Mike: Ok right, you're talking about  “Manifestation of Fear” (3rd version).  I worked on more versions of this track than maybe anything I've done before. It just has a great heavy rhythm that stuck with me so I did several takes on it.  The 4th version is on the Chilling Impressions cassette that. NVS put out last year; it’s a dedication to " Phantasm"(1979). On it I used an analogue synthesizer through Death Metal Distortion, then Buzzbox Distortion followed by an oscillator box, next a Stereo Delay unit then separated the sounds through two amps (set with reverb on high) with the output set to my mixer.  The pounding rhythm is actually a sample from an old Casio keyboard put through effects and then amplified with a ton of bass, then sampled onto a Boss sampler. I've been using it on my live sets for the last couple of shows and it really does sound insane through a decent live sound system in certain clubs which have a lot of bass capacity in their PA… it’s primitive, but effective still I think.

DOTDR: That brings me to the next question, what equipment/objects do you typically use to create the DF sound?  Are the tracks improvised or are they planned out? Do you produce/mix/record all on your own?

Mike: The stuff I've been using for about the last ten years now (soon to change a bit now that I've got a little more cash flow- finally) has been:  Mini Moog Synth; various distortion, delay, reverb pedals; bass synth pedal; old Radio Shack reverb unit; a couple of mics; tape loops; sampler; some circuit bent keyboards; occasionally guitars and bass with or without power tools applied; and more recently a home made oscillator box; very rarely do I use ALL of these live or on tape though.

DOTDR: The DF sound is actually pretty unique, it’s very warm and real, you can actually feel each element independently and distinctly. Is there a certain vibe/atmosphere that you set out to create with each track/album?

Mike: DF material is about 70% 'composed'/ thought-out and 30% improvised. Maybe a little more improv happens when I play live. I also produce /record /mix just about everything myself at home and if there are exceptions, I do credit people on my recordings of course.

Overall my influences for DF are the dark aspects of the world, so it’s really the Horror films plus industrial music plus black metal, and then dark incidents/ aspects of the 'real' world that creep into my material, therefore the vibe felt is the cumulative representation of all of that put to tape.

DOTDR: Right now track 4 came on and it definitely has a 70’s reverb soaked sci-fi/robotic feel to it. I’ve had the CDr advance from Bill for many (many) months and know that it’s been in the process for some time, due out next month I believe. Is it a concept themed album? If so, what inspired it?

Mike: "Shatter the Glass Tower"(tr-4) is my take on 'eat the rich’.  It’s about how the power hungry bastards who live in ivory towers are coming down to Earth with the rest of us little people for a change. I'm not totally about blocking out reality, it's impossible to do that nowadays, so "Shatter the Glass Tower" is just an audio representation of the total collapse of the decrepit system that the we live under now in which the rich are getting richer ,the poor are getting poorer, and it’s getting worse every year it seems. The governments (i.e. 'The Machine’) of the world (including ours) don’t really care about the people it seems, but rather just about lining their own pockets and the politicians are all greedy self centered asses…especially here in my home state. 

DOTDR: What was the overall process in creating Maschinen Unter Kontrolle?

Mike: This album was created from a series of long sessions, just improvising with new sounds, then edited into short tracks and titles applied to them later…this I how I usually work.

DOTDR: So is Maschinen Unter Kontrolle a concept themed album as a whole?

Mike: Basically to answer this – “yes”, like I said in the last question, it’s a concept about 'The Machine' in control - goverments/systemic control of the populace. We are controlled from the cradle to the grave it seems. 

Are any of us really ever free?

So its a dystopian look at a future which, is reality here now, where we are all watched more than ever and life seems to be more like controlled zombification of people more so than ever before. We are just kind of drifting along now waiting for the next era to begin; whenever that may be.? It seems that technology is definitely advancing but everything else is in stagnation mode. So it’s like one massive, realistic Horror film coming true out there now to me.

DOTDR: Yes it is, and people think it’s all “new” but while they had their heads up their asses and thought that “it doesn’t effect me therefore it’s not important”, and many still DO, this shit has been going on since the 70’s at least with al the government corruption leading up to todays dire straits.

On your Chilling Impressions cassette were you going for a DF representation of the two films you chose to dedicate it to, or was it supposed to be a sort of soundtrack to them in your own sound?

Mike: For the Chilling Impressions tape… it was definitely a tribute to the films, but in DF's style.  It would have been foolish to try to recreate those two films' sounds in detail, mainly because I don't have the equipment to do so but also due to the fact that I don’t read music. I can play music by ear a bit, but I think it would have been too poor quality as a result, especially on Phantasm so I just did it my own way.

DOTDR: Did you ever save any of the old tapes and experimentation that you did early on and if so, have you ever remixed or warped them and used them in your DF stuff since?

Mike: Yes, I have several tapes going back to the summer of 1988, but I would never release them in whole though, they’re pretty poor by comparison to what I’m doing now. 

I really think the last ten or so years have been kind of successful for me with the DF project. 

Yeah, I have used edited sections in cd-rs and tapes in the last 7-8 years or so and I have distorted and manipulated earlier recordings, that's about the only way they sound good though (through all the warping and manipulation processing). On their own they're kind of boring and just useless to me, but I'm glad that I’d saved them now, although mostly for memories and archival purposes…if nothing else.  

DOTDR: How did select the equipment that you use?

Mike: Concerning equipment I use though, in the beginning of DF (around the late 80's) it wasn't like "ok now I want to do noise/ experimental work so I m going to go out and buy this, this and this" to achieve certain sounds.... see I started out as a guitar player, just playing in my basement, cranking amps and annoying the neighbors. I was too lazy to start a band so I just played as a hobby for years.  Gradually in the early- to-late 80's I acquired more effects to work on different guitar sounds, so when I started DF I just had (basically) cheap effects pedals, guitars and homemade tape loops that I cut myself.

Also I'm planning on working more with field recordings. I want to get several portable Tascam recorders eventually and another synth. added to the arsenal would be nice too, something ancient and analogue though (of course). 

Early DF was more like avant garde/sound collage. A lot of times on early homemade tapes I would either use the DF moniker or my own name.  I wasn't too confident of using the Death Factory moniker for a while in the early years because I thought it wasn't worthy or something because I hadn't achieved the sound in my mind that I wanted to be known for on DF. A little later I got a cheap Casio sampler and keyboards.  It wasn’t really until the mid 90's almost that I did get closer to the sound that I wanted. I had little money to get the gear I needed for years, so actively selecting and having a choice to get the things I wanted came much later into DF's timeline.

In more recent years I like using a lot of reverb/delay units for more atmosphere and less high end/wall of noise crackling…dense heaviness with more low end… now that’s what I like, although I do still like using looped sounds too after all these years. 

DOTDR: Have you ever constructed your own or tweaked something to get a specific sound from it?

Mike: I never constructed actual gear myself.  I always just tweaked things to the get the sound that I wanted. I also did a little circuit bending on old keyboards and distorting my synthesizer, (actually found out just by chance how to distort the Mini Moog synth by plugging in the output of the headphone jack of an old boombox into the pitch control input of the synth, then playing with the boombox's radio tuning knob…that makes it go insane!).  

DOTDR: In coming up with your distinct sounds do you already have ones in mind and try to create them or do you find them through the tweaking that you just described?

Mike: It’s mostly by chance or accident that I find sounds I want.  A lot of times I do have sound in mind but it doesn't work out with the limited gear that I have to work with and   I get something completely different…sometimes good, sometimes crap… with the certain combinations of effects chains that I'm using. When it does turn out to be “good”, then hopefully I'll have a recording device of some kind on at the time! Sometimes though, I can never recreate that exact sound combo ever again, I may come close but never get that exact sound again… I really hate that.

DOTDR:  Since you actually do real live manipulations for your work, what's it like to actually play live and work the sounds, and traffic the equipment around? Bill and I agree that you are a unique artist that is a rare breed of sound craftsman that's becoming rare even in these styles.

Mike: Planning and playing DF live, (which compared to many other noise /experimental bands/artists is limited, as I play out maybe only 10-15 shows a year-  if that even in some years) is basically how I record: I set up my gear in a chain of effects that I have in mind ,then if it works out the way I want it I practice it a few times to see if it still goes the same way as the first take (sort of double check it to see how much control/mastering I have over it  ); then I haul all that crap in my car myself usually to a show and sound check it to see if it works the same as in the home practice runs (I usually like to plan to get to the venue early to have enough time for possible 'corrections' to be made); and if it fails during the live set I just  improvise. 

If a venue has an amazing sound system, say like the Empty Bottle in Chicago (with low end bass PA ), I usually cant go wrong.
A good live sound mixer working at the place doesn't hurt either.  Sometimes I will use movie clips too on a background screen or friends in town will help out by doing real time video manipulations from their laptops onto a movie screen or large white bed sheet if a screen isn't available. Last summer Brian Klien (a fellow Chicagoan who works under the name "The Machinist ") did that for me.

DOTDR: Wow Mike, this has been a great interview!!!! I think we covered everything that we needed to so I’d like to end it here. Is there anything that you’d like to say?

Mike: Thanks for doing this, it’s is a rare thing to be interviewed, I was only interviewed maybe two other times if I recall....I'm pretty low profile.

 I'd like to thank (sorry this sounds cliche like I'm at the Grammy's or something…haha ) many people too numerous to mention here,  but , anyone who's: played me on radio, done a show with me, booked me, did cover art /layouts for me, recorded me, or put out any of my tapes/ cd-rs.  But in particular I’d like to thank Scott Marshall who put out my very first recording in 1990 on the  'What is Truth ? Vol. 3 ' compilation.  It was really great to have something on a double LP release with the likes of: The Legendary Pink Dots , Illusion of Safety, the German Shepherds, etc... that early on. I was only 19 and it was a short collage contribution under my own name, but ithink that was a major boost to keep me going with my home recording involvement things just grew from that point on. 


1 comment:

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