Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Eric Wood Interview

Sometimes you are lucky enough to get to interview someone who you hold in such high regard that actually talking to them is terrifying. I spent four hours on the phone to Eric and he was everything a dedicated Skull Servant could hope for and more. Below is an unedited version of what ran in Vice v6n10.

Work To Death

Eric Wood will never quit being a Bastard

Its hard to imagine how a band making songs played at hyper driven speeds with two bass guitars and song titles like “Screwdriver in Urethra Of Thomas Lenz” all played through speakers made out of salvaged junk ever failed to be anything other than huge in the early 1990’s. What else was everyone listening to?

Eric Wood’s work in a bunch of bands from Pillsbury Hardcore and Pissed Happy Children through to Man is The Bastard and Bastard Noise helped define hardcore punk music’s most extreme shapeshift: the west coast-centric powerviolence movement. Wood even wrote the song that first mentioned the term (“Hispanic Small Man Power”).

Backed by the totally never-heard-that-anywhere-before weird noises spilling out of Henry Barnes’s home made speakers Bastard Noise projects always stood apart from their contemporaries. With a brutally simple, aesthetic and politicized sloganeering Wood’s projects maintained a tireless work ethic that allowed them to stride along for years while their contemporaries gurgled and quit. Like Crass before them, Eric’s bands offered a self-sustaining alternative to a modern world gone to shit. Maybe in 50 years time in an alternate dimension they will be granted their dues. For now they can remain the most important band you’ve never heard.

VICE: There is a constant sense of intense brutality in everything that you have done. Why so angry?
Eric Wood: Listening to things like metal-era Agnostic Front, Rest In Pieces and Antidote just made us want to play and really play fast and hard. Make the bass prominent and just hyperdrive the rhythm section. Listening to and watching Infest was an influence in terms of that high level of uncompromising brutality and sheer velocity. They really took it to another level.

How did you end up playing in Neanderthal with Matt Domino from Infest?
We had played shows together and just knew each other. You have to remember that at that time there was a very small group of people involved in that kind of music. The night Pissed Happy Children and Infest played Gillman Street to record the split flexi-disc for Slap A Ham there were nine people in the room.

Is it true that you guys actually coined the term ‘powerviolence’?
Matt did. We were practicing one day and just talking about how we had to give what we were doing an identity and Matt just came up with it on the spot. He was really good at that: really great, quick, perfect ideas.

At the time was there a sense of the whole thing being this big movement?
Maybe later with things like the first Fiesta Grande festival that Dodge put on at Gillman but it was always more a sense of community. That is something that there isn’t so much of anymore. I’m not joking when I say that half the stuff we made happen back then communicating by letters was ten times better organized than half of the shit that goes on today with ‘ease’ of the internet. Just do it yourself and do it right.

The most obvious thing that set Man is The Bastard apart from your supposed contemporaries was simply not sounding like any of them.
We have the boxes to thank there. Henry and his boxes. They are a force of nature. They aren’t even government safety checked. Apart from the cones every part of those things is built by hand and they will fry almost any in-house PA. They make sounds I’ve never heard before. Joel Connell and I already knew we wanted to push the two basses way out front and Aaron Kenyon was pumping a lot of Magma through the hardcore template but the boxes gave us a whole new range and we were just willing to take a chance and do something different.

How did you meet Henry?
I kind of already knew him from around town because he was known for being this weird guy who built bikes out of other bikes. That was his thing: making new things from neglected old things. These bikes were insane, like choppers with the big wheel at the front instead of the back. We ended up working shifts together in this bakery and one day he invited me round to his house saying I had to check out these speakers he had been making. His place was like a junk laboratory but once he played me the speakers I knew immediately: that was it.

What was the first thing you heard through the boxes?
I think Henry played me these noises he had been working on to try and communicate with the birds that sat on his window. I can honestly say he is one of the greatest souls and a true friend. The whole band wouldn’t have been shit without Henry, he gave it that distinct sound naturally ‘cos he built the boxes for the love of building the boxes. Henry’s main influence was his dad’s TV repair shop as opposed Merzbow.

How did you come up with the stark imagery that gave the Bastard Noise projects such a distinct identity?
I was aware from the get go how simple logos like the Flag bars, the Infest logo and the Crass circle could give things an immediate persona. You can put something that simple on your record or a t-shirt and you immediately have a visual thing to go with the sound. I just went into a library, found the skull in some medical journal, flipped it, made all the font super bold and brutal, kept it black and white and that was it. You can go into all these realms of complicated presentation and sometimes the message can get lost. Basic is brutal.

You’re discography is like the ultimate collectors nightmare. What inspired that work ethic and level of output?
I can point immediately to two acts: Merzbow and Agathocles. Both pump out a high level of high quality. Nonstop. That is they key: high level and high quality. Matt Domino was also inspiring for that. He could come up with a riff of staggering quality in seconds. I don’t know if he realizes just how gifted he is with that whole thought/genius thing. Plus I have this hunger inside that I can’t even explain, it’s like a voice that drives me. I started playing bass again recently ‘cos I was going to see shows and it was like this voice going “hey Wood, better get playing, there’s only so much time”. Just listening to records stirs the hunger. I was listening to Rorschach the other day, just hearing it made me want to bang my head on a wall it was so intense. You know the guitar player doesn’t even play now? He just sits at home and watches the tube. I can’t understand that mentality. That just makes me want to bang my head through the fucking wall.

Your projects have consistently been preoccupied with man being the vilest most fucked up animal on the planet.
Yes. Man IS The Bastard. Man’s folly and plunders will be our downfall, poor choice making by the worst animal on the earth. You just need to look around to see it is true. My father forced me into the US Navy at early an age and the twenty months I spent there allowed me to view things in a totally different light. In addition I have never been a massive reader but working night shifts in the bakery I would be listening to spoken word lectures on KPFK public radio in LA. That was what really got me going. I was hearing Terrence McKenna, Noam Chomsky and all these people filled with wisdom and I was just taking it all in and being repelled by the political system we are subjected to in the US. I was just staring into this big oven, loading the big steal trays with bread or whatever and getting angrier and angrier.

At the same time you have advocated feminism pretty fervently?
We all came from woman so it is necessary to love the female and have utmost respect for the feminine you know? We were all loaded with our own concepts all of which I was keen to get heard, initially a lot of them were mine but Kenyon and Connell really stepped up and kept bringing quality concepts and ideas to the table. A lot of people thought we were this crock of PC horseshit but that’s bullshit. We just had a conscience. How can you not?

You had a lot of similarly named projects running simultaneous. Were you just trying to confuse people?
To an extent they are all separate and distinct but at the same time they are sister and brother or sister and sister. Charred Remains was kind of thrown in there to keep people on their toes plus I was obsessed with wanted posters as a kid and they all had AKA on them for all their murdering, criminal aliases so I always wanted a record with an AKA on the sleeve. The main difference was that MiTB had all the instruments and Bastard Noise was just the boxes. When MiTB came to an end the focus shifted to Bastard Noise.

Could you talk a little about why MiTB cam to an end?
Let’s just say that aside from cannabis drugs can be very dark and destructive things. Whatever has been has been though and those people are my brothers. In fact I have some exciting news I can exclusively share here.

Great! What’s the scoop?
Bastard Noise will now for the first time be incorporating live instrumentation. I just had that hunger again to play and R.D Davies who played drums on Infest’s “No Man’s Slave” LP has stepped up to play drums and Leila Rauf who plays guitars and synths with me in Ion Channel will also be contributing.

So MiTB has been born again through the Bastard Noise?
Yes, exactly!


Godfather said...

Holy fuck, please shut up, "what was everyone listening to?" as if you're exempt from this...

What were you listening to?

It wasn't popular music back then, only reason it's found a point of revival is because of hamfisted interviews like this.

joemomma said...

Great interview.

And to this Godfather dude, some of us have been MITB, etc. fans for a long time. It's never been popular music... just innovative, heavy as hell, and with a lot of heart.

If it's having any kind of "popular revival," lol, it's because it's always been good.

Conan Vice Grip said...

"innovative & heavy as hell" Nobody thought that at the time, they just played and people JUST listened.

Angry caustic unmarketable din for outcasts by outcasts.

Oh not because humanity & people in general are fickle and will flock to anything that becomes en vogue or gains interest?

No it couldn't possibly be that could it