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Escape Velocity

You Puppies! Lord Humungus (Parts And Labor) Interviewed
John Doran , April 9th, 2014 10:10

John Doran sits down with the Ayatollah Of Rock And Rolla & former leader of The Australian Free Territories, Lord Humungus, to talk about his lengthy career in making synth pop and industrial dance

I'd always suspected that the film Mad Max 2 was a dire work of conservative propaganda and now sharing Samoan Fog Cutters and platters of moreish charcuterie with one of its leading stars, I've had all of my suspicions confirmed. I'm sitting on the decking of a bijou but hip waterside Latvian/Hawaiian fusion bistro in Sausalito overlooking The Bay, with none other than Lord Humungus - The Ayatollah Of Rock And Rolla and former Leader Of The Australian Free Territories. He is actually quite good looking in real life and quite suits the combination of bondage harness and rubber hot pants that he is wearing. (His trademark hockey mask lies on the table to allow ease of cocktail consumption.) When I bring up how he was portrayed in the movie he rolls his eyes: "Yeah, they got that giant bald guy who looked like he'd been hit by a truck to play me… but that was the least of the liberties they took with the truth."

Humungus - who now goes by the name Gerry Valle - sighs when he tells me the truth: "We were simply trying to set up an inclusive, ecologically sensitive, anarcho syndicalist society for the benefit of all. We were anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-misogynist… we saw the necessary restructuring of society as something positive that could come out of the Global Oil War. But of course you had these tiny pockets of rich white people who didn't want an equal society, who still wanted to be able to use as much oil as possible whenever they wanted. Yeah, sure, we wanted to keep a tight control on the resources but only because we realised it had to be rationed while we could implement out alternative energy policies. We were on the verge of persuading of them to join with us and then that corrupt policeman and the sex offender in a home-made helicopter turned up.

"Everything about the film is twisted and wrong. The only thing they got right was getting that drunk racist Mel Gibson to play Max Rockatansky. We really had a chance back then to smash patriarchy and find a new way of living but he ruined it all. He called it The Wasteland but really it was like a utopia until he turned up."

His eyes mist over slightly when he recalls his friend Wez and how he was murdered by Max: "The way they showed him in the film was outrageous. Wez was an accomplished poet, a talented penny whistle player and a gifted sour dough bread maker. He was into contemporary dance and Belle And Sebastian but they made him look like a murderer who was into Sigue Sigue Sputnik."

After his Utopian dreams were smashed, Humungus fled to The Americas and made his way from Santa Cruz to San Francisco where he threw himself into making music with computers and synthesizers as a means of dealing with his bereavement. His first full length album Mint For Pillow came out in 1998 and was a sparkling pop confection recalling The Associates, Orbital, Curve and Glass Candy. Then came the Nacelle EP in 2001 which had slightly darker Severed Heads, electro-industrial dance roots. His second full-length The Grocery Look released in 2003 saw Humungus move even closer to the heart of the dancefloor with tunes that recalled Saint Etienne, Pet Shop Boys and Technique-era New Order. After a number of releases in the same vein he reacted against years of making pop music by heading in a briskly goth industrial direction with Failed Forever in 2008 adding a heavier Killing Joke, Meat Beat Manifesto aspect to the music. Since then he has released Honey Token which indulges in much more warped leftfield influences such as Aphex Twin and Autechre.

Humungous Parts And Labor is a term that covers a multitude of sins - what is it and can you break it down for me?

Lord Humungus: It's a catchall for my artistic endeavors, including but not limited to music, graphic design, digital art, clothing, toys, confections and prosthetic wetware.

When did you realise that you were heir to the title Pop King Throne - and how did this realisation manifest itself, and what caused it?

LH: I was at a party many years ago, and somebody had put on some Aphex Twin (Come To Daddy EP, IIRC). Several people who were familiar with my music came up to me and asked "Is this your new stuff? I like it!" I was flattered and at the same time disappointed. In my own mind I may have ascended to the throne, clutching the sceptre and raising it to the sky in triumph, but really, it was more like I was loitering in the throne room, flirting with the ladies-in-waiting.

Three. I've read your biography and I feel that someone may be having a joke at my expense - how seriously should I take it?

LH: Well come on, I haven't actually been within 500 feet of Sharon Stone, especially since the restraining order. But when I was in the band S.I.g., we did visit Anaco, an oil town in Venezuela, and the album we had finished at the time was well-received there. Back in the day we were also interviewed on a Bay Area college radio station. I answered all the interviewer's questions in Spanish, and if the FCC had been listening and translating my responses, they would have shut down the station. But hey, who listens to college radio, right?

What is your main musical project? When, where and why did you start it? What is your greatest achievement under this moniker?

The main music-making module is Lord Humungus. It started roughly when I got my first real sampler. Up till then I had been recording stuff live to tape, mostly folk-industrial songs written with my brother. Grab anything you want to use as an instrument, turn the mic gains up to 10 and hit record...magic! Towards the end of the S.I.g. days, I was experimenting a lot with a toy Casio SK-5, and working with other musicians. Anyway, the songwriting started to improve once I got a four-track and the ASR10. I think all of it came together, the production, the songwriting, the design, on The Grocery Look. I was happy with the way that one came out and it was well-received.

I really like the Honeytoken EP. It's like a goth record you could bust some particularly fresh body popping moves to. You say it contains both kinds of music - what would they be? Do I detect the influence of Richard D James?

LH: There's definitely some Aphex nods going on. But really it's a synthesis of all kinds of sounds or music that I like.

When and why did you first start making music?

LH: In high school, my brother and I used to bang or strum on any old thing, taking songs we liked playing and using excerpts from comic book dialog as lyrics. That's how Joy Division's ‘Isolation' became ‘Chrysoprasia' (D.R. & Quinch). It was a creative outlet. When I got the Casio, I used to sample everything, warp it, play it on the low keys only; the cruddy 4-bit resolution of that thing gave all the sounds a magical crunchy character that I miss to this day. Sounds would inspire other sounds.

I have to say one huge inspiration for music making was Tom Ellard of Australian band Severed Heads. If you sent him an envelope, he'd send you back a newsletter with all sorts of ideas, recording tips, liner notes, whatever popped into his head. I was already into making melodies from found sound and whatnot, but Ellard really opened my eyes to the possibilities.

What motivates you to make music now?

LH: Song inspiration comes from movies, books, newspaper articles, events of the day. For many years I would keep a dream journal, and some of the more vivid and narrative dreams eventually became songs. I wrote one song after hearing some warbled background music on a friend's answering machine.

What equipment do you use?

LH: Back in the day, I did a lot of stuff with just the Casio, a few pedals, a 4-track, the occasional guitar; it was fun. Then one day my friend played me this song a friend of his did. It was dark and noisy, with a big bad ass beat, throbbing synths and Skinny Puppy vocals. I was blown away. How was this possible? "Ensoniq, he replied. So I took the earnings from my first real job and whatever scraps I had saved through the years and bought an Ensoniq ASR-10. This was in 1992. It was a game changer. It was temperamental, but so good. I used it for years and years. Over time I accumulated mixers, mics, monitors, DATs, digital eight-tracks, outboard gear, and enough cable to stretch from here to the moon, but always it was the ASR at the center.  I still have a tshirt you could buy through the frigging Ensoniq newsletter.

At some point, I realized I was doing more music in Logic on my mac than on the ASR, and getting sounds on and off the ASR's proprietary system was becoming a real pain, so I retired the old beast. Sadly, in terms of ease of use and pure joy in making sounds, I've yet to find a replacement. That being said, we were at a friend's house this year, and he was doodling on his MPC. I couldn't believe how close it was to the ASR experience. Might look into one of those.

Tell me about some of the remixes that you've done.

LH: Back in the day, one of my favorite bands ever, Curve, had a remix competition. I'd already made some crappy remixes of their stuff on my own. But with the competition, Dean Garcia made the stem tracks for 'Unreadable Communication' available. I pulled out all the stops on that remix. The end result was something I personally still love listening to. When I came in third in the competition, I danced around in ecstatic joy, tears in my eyes, scattering flowers along the garden path. This led on to doing the Pleasure Bot Mix of ‘We Can Fuck' by Naked Highway. A fellow member of the Curve mailing list liked my other remixes and wanted me to remix a track off his album. I was flattered and picked one with potential. His lyrics were pretty pornographic, so I wanted to downplay that and up the melodies and thumpy rhythms. I had fun doing this one and I think it came out well. He's gone on to have a pretty successful dance music career, so I might have gotten some good exposure there. Not sure why my inbox is not filled with remix requests. Hmmm. I'm not a big fan of NIN, though I appreciate Reznor's superlative sound design and production skills. So I had a crack at turning a NIN song into something I liked listening to. After auditioning the stems to ‘Only' a bunch of times, I decided on an approach. I'm a huge fan of mid-80s Cabaret Voltaire, and I'd always wanted to write a song in that vein. Thus the 'bad self mix' was born.

Which piece of music was the most difficult to produce?

LH: I scored my friend's independent film, which involved composing a lot (A LOT) of original music. Some pieces had to be like pop songs, some had to be like a score. It was a huge amount of work. Digital editing was in its infancy, and I certainly didn't have the appropriate gear to synch to film. So I did what Vangelis did: improvised and composed while watching scenes from the most recent cut, then submitted them to the producer and director. I'd get some feedback: "I like this piece, but it's not going to work for this scene. I need something more jazzy here. This one is too long. This one is too short. We'll need these and the closing credits music by, say...Tuesday! There were multiple rounds of that, and I freaked out trying to hack something together in the tiny timeframe. By the end of the whole project, I knew I had done some pieces that I could be proud of, and I also knew I could never work in the TV or film industry. I was not cut out for the tight schedules and manic stress levels.

More info on Lord Humungus here

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