‘Weird Heaviness’: An Interview With Korperschwache

Kevin Mccaighy gets acquainted with Texan guitarist and experimental noise artist Roy K Felps, to discuss the prolific output of his Korperschwache project, cassettes and his love of Skullflower

For the past two decades, dark accumulations of noise have been emanating from the city of Austin, Texas. The man responsible is guitarist Roy K Felps, whose experimental noise unit Korperschwache – a German euphemism that translates as ‘organic decay’ – are a fearsome collision between acrid guitar ambience and dysfunctional electronics, powered by the relentless rhythms of Doktor Omega.

Cutting his teeth in early groups Autodidact and UNHOLYDEATHMACHINE, as well as running brilliant but cruelly short-lived label Monotremata Records, Felps has developed a fetid, swamped hybrid of experimental noise, allied to a group of similarly unaligned and underappreciated noise-makers from around the world such as Skullflower, Band Of Susans, Cheer-Accident, Gravitar, and Pain Teens – all of whom Felps has championed via his long-running webzine THE ONE TRUE DEAD ANGEL.

A truly prolific entity, Korperschwache pursue a release rate that would put Keiji Haino to shame, with several new albums in the works. Felps has also begun to take Korperschwache out into the live arena, with sporadic but devastating appearances in Austin. A guide to Korperschwache releases worthy of recommendation, as much for their viciously black humoured titles as their caustic contents, would include the likes of A Fistful of Nihilism (1996, Monotremeta Records/Crucial Blast), Tumescent Love Songs for Psychotic Drifters (2001, Crucial Blast), The Healing Power of Paranoia (2008, Cut Hands), As the Color Fades From Dying Petals (2012, Colony Records) and Heartwarming Tales From The God Book (2012, Fort Evil Fruit).

The Quietus caught up with Felps to discuss the history and evolution of the project, the scene in Austin, and his current and future plans.

How long have you been recording under the name Korperschwache?

Roy K Felps: Korperschwache was formed in 1995 by myself, originally as a junk-noise project heavily inspired by the likes of Whitehouse, Hijokaidan, Merzbow, and the sheer joy of hearing damaged things making ugly noises. Doktor Omega joined as the eternally hostile timekeeper around in 2004, after the other band I was in at the time, Autodidact, called it quits in 2003. Somewhere down the line the band evolved into a noise band incorporating elements of black metal, psych, drone, and other ideally irritating forms of weird heaviness.

Korperschwache has recorded nearly fifty albums, including split releases with Sujo, Churner, and Antibody, and appeared on approximately a half-dozen compilations. At the moment Doktor Omega’s domestic partner Cheree has stepped in for her while she does mysterious things. (But don’t worry, the good Doktor will be back. Eventually.) Several recent albums have also featured the doomed, droning electric piano sounds of living dead girl Maddy Ferguson, who will be prominently featured on the next album to be recorded, Suicide Kommando.

You have been extremely prolific musician in the last decade: can you tell me about your upcoming album Bloodstained Postcards from the Borderlands?

RKF: Well, actually Borderlands is no longer the latest album; since its completion in June, I’ve also recorded Fear Of A Black Metal Vagina, which will be appearing soon as a cassette on the Austin label Ram Horn Records, and I just finished recording The Unpublished Notebooks Of Erich Zann for Instincto Records, another Austin label.

But Bloodstained Postcards from the Borderlands has certainly eaten up a lot of my free time over the past few years, to be sure. Early tracks were recorded for it back in 2005, and over the next several years I worked on the album between other albums, slowly piecing together what eventually became a double-CD of "a psychodrama in thirteen acts," with sixteen songs total.

The album is a concept album about a man undergoing a series of vexing trials who wakes up to find himself abandoned out in the country, alone and disoriented in the borderlands between sanity and madness. The first seven acts on the first CD describe his ongoing nervous breakdown; the last six acts on the second CD describe what happens when he crosses into the other side of the borderlands and begins his descent into madness, leading to an ugly climax best described as an orgy of arson and violence, culminating in a last stand against a SWAT team assembling on his front porch as the countryside burns around them.

In other words, it is a heartwarming tale of foo-foo bunnies and sunshine…

You are based on Austin, Texas: do you find it a good place to be based as a musician?

RKF: Oh, mais oui. While Austin is mainly known for its country and roots-rock scene – and to a lesser extent, the punk scene that existed in previous decades – there is an enormous underground scene that receives very little publicity, and that scene is an amazingly fertile one. The underground scene in Austin is filled with artists whose motivation for playing music has less to do with careerist aspects (that’s what all the boring country / roots-rock / mainstream artists are for, natch) than simply making unspeakably weird music and playing shows. Well, and hanging out and indulging in various vices.

There are a large number of experimental / psych / noise bands here, including excellent bands like Book of Shadows, ST-37, Venison Whirled, Dromez, Aunt’s Analog, Breakdancing Ronald Reagan, Power Monster, Powerhole, Lockemup, Tiger Merde, and Patient O.T. (in which I play guitar). There are also a ton of artist-run labels like Haute Magie, Instincto Records, Ram Horn, Inferior Meat Products, Abject Renaissance, Repentance Products, and others I’m forgetting at the moment. So there’s plenty of interesting music happening here on a regular basis.

The drawback to being a musician in Austin, though, is that this has become an extremely expensive city in which to live, which is driving out a lot of musicians. Every musician I know, even the ones who actually have decent, paying gigs and tour a lot, is broke. Some of us are more broke than others; at least one musician I know is on a perpetual tour because it’s cheaper than trying to find affordable housing that doesn’t require living in a scary neighborhood.

What impact does SXSW have on your music? Is the festival – and the city – receptive to the type of music that you make?

RKF: Almost none; I’m not a particularly big fan of SXSW, which floods the city with irritating major-label moguls and desperate musicians ready to suck any cock that presents itself for a record deal, not to mention enormous crowds of out-of-town music fans who clog up the whole city, creating traffic problems for people who live (and work) here, while filling the clubs and making it near-impossible for residents to see bands themselves without coughing up large sums of money for increasingly-expensive wristbands. I actively dread SXSW each year, because it means I’ll be late for work and late getting home every day that week, since I ride public transportation. Not that having a car would be any better, with the gridlock that ensues when all those people descend on a city with a poorly-designed traffic flow.

I’m also not really excited about the fact that SXSW generates millions of dollars, almost none of which trickles down to the musicians playing, most of who are expected to play for "the exposure" and not much else. I’m sure the festival is a great thing for people coming in from out of town, but it’s a real downer for people who actually live here and have to deal with the crowds.

Having said that, I have actually participated in SXSW a number of times by helping bands like Hang on the Box (China) and Suishou No Fune (Japan) get around to shows and communicate with promoters. Last year I hung out with and saw shows by California band Victory and Associates, and that was fun. But in general, I try to keep my distance from the festival unless people I personally know are playing.

You have been playing some live dates as Korperschwache recently. Has this altered the way you approach making music in a studio environment? How have live audiences responded to Korperschwache live?

RKF: I think the first live show Korperschwache played was at The Church Of The Friendly Ghost in 2005; since then, I’ve gone from playing one or two shows a year to playing on a fairly regular basis, especially now that I’m also playing guitar in Patient O.T., a largely-improv (for the moment) band that sounds like a messy combination of punk, grind, drone, and metal. It hasn’t done much to change the band’s studio sound because I live in an apartment, which limits me to playing through an amp simulator while wearing headphones lest I end up being arrested for my art, ha! It is interesting to note, though, that live Korperschwache is very different from studio Korperschwache, since live I just show up by myself with a guitar, some pedals, and a really loud combo amp. There have been a few times when I played along to a DAT tape or drum machine, but 90% of the time it’s just pure solo guitar improv, where I usually have no idea what I’m going to play until I turn the amp on. So far audiences seem to dig it; nobody’s thrown anything at my head yet, so as long as my head remains intact, all is good.

Given the rise in cassette labels and even a Cassette Store Day, as an artist who has released work on this format, what is your take on this current fascination with the cassette tape?

RKF: I like cassettes. To me, cassettes never really went away; during the entire 18-year run of THE ONE TRUE DEAD ANGEL, the online music publication I ran from 1994 until shutting it down earlier this year, I received cassettes to review on a regular basis. The big advantage to cassettes, especially in the underground scene here, is that they’re cheap. It doesn’t cost much to get them professionally made and if you’re really broke, you can always repurpose old cassettes for new releases. From an artist’s perspective, they also make it difficult for people to skip around on a release; unlike a CD, where you can listen to a track here and there and skip the rest, you pretty much have to listen to the entire cassette. It’s also a useful format for people who want to take things to sell on tour without spending a lot of money, and even more useful for artists who want to put out work with perverted cover art without running into problems with a pressing plant (or getting arrested).

John Doran recently conducted an interview with Stefan Jaworzyn of Skullflower. Given your longstanding admiration of the band, can you explain your obsession with and appreciation of Skullflower?

RKF: I saw his interview and thought it was highly interesting. I was impressed that he managed to get Jaworzyn to talk in the first place, because he’s always come across as a surly dude who doesn’t have much use for the press. I guess time has mellowed him, or else he’s discovered that actually talking to people helps make you visible, which is useful when you’re trying to get people interested in a series of reissues (all of which are excellent, by the way).

I first got into Skullflower via IIIrd Gatekeeper, when I asked Mason Jones (Charnel Music, Subarachnoid Space) to recommend some bands reminiscent of Gravitar, a band on his label that I basically fell in love with the first time I played their debut album Chinga Su Corazon. Skullflower turned out to be every bit as weird and heavy, and for a while I was indeed seriously obsessed with them, to the point of collecting not only all of their albums, but everything by related bands like Ramleh, Consumer Electronics, JFK, and Total. At one point I think I had over 75 albums by Skullflower and their related bands; it was totally ridiculous. (I eventually up selling off the vast majority of the collection during a long stretch of unemployment, although I’ve since managed to re-acquire all the Skullflower albums.)

As far as I’m concerned, nearly everything by the original lineup of Matt Bower, Stefan Jaworzyn, Stuart Dennison, and Gary Mundy — is pretty much untouchable. Birthdeath, Form Destroyer and Xaman are three of the greatest records ever made, anywhere, anytime. The albums they did after Jaworzyn left, with the lineup including Russell Smith on guitar Anthony DiFranco on bass – IIIrd Gatekeeper, Last Shot At Heaven, Obsidian Shaking Codex and Carved Into Roses – are pretty goddamn good, too. After that, with the exception of Infinityland they started drifting into softer territory and I didn’t care for that so much. Then they broke up, and then Matthew brought the band back as a largely solo or duo noise project, and while I like a lot of those albums (Pure Imperial Reform is particularly shit-hot), I’m not convinced they should have been put out as Skullflower. I also really like the couple of quasi-black metal releases Matthew put out under the name Mirag.

The best thing about Skullflower, to me, was how they started off with a traditional rock band formation and deconstructed it into a howling miasma of sound and fury, as opposed to being yet another British blues band or something. For a long time they were really unlike any other band on earth except for Last Exit, who were essentially Skullflower for free-jazz fans. Or maybe Skullflower was Last Exit for noise-rock fans. However you want to describe them, they made a long string of ass-quaking free rock that was a lot more listenable than their contemporaries Whitehouse, but nowhere near as loopy as Terminal Cheesecake, another band in their orbit at the time (and the source of their post-Jaworzyn guitarist Russell Smith). They were consistently interesting, even when drifting into territory a little too twee for my taste.

What is the future of Korperschwache?

RKF: Uhhhh… more albums. More live dates. More loudness. The continuing intention to baffle people by putting out releases that vary wildly in sound and execution from one release to the next. The latest material out now or in the works includes the full-on noise CDR Disturbing Public Fetishes, the impending cassette Fear Of A Black Metal Vagina (Ram Horn), best described as an unholy (maybe even unlistenable) mash-up of noise and disco; and the eventual release of The Unpublished Notebooks Of Erich Zann (Instincto Records), a mix of weird dissonance, glitch noise, and other creepy-sounding ugliness. And, of course, waiting around to see what eventually happens with Borderlands. I’m already mapping out the lyrics and intended sound of several other albums, which I’ll be slaving over through the next year.

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