From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)
beyond-o-matic is a part of one of the most interesting musical family trees I've encountered. The interrelated bands are beyond-o-matic, Six & Violence, Species Being, and The Magic Elf. While beyond-o-matic is the only space band among the groups, I was fascinated by the diversity of talents and musical interests across the members. Therefore, we focus on beyond-o-matic in the following article, but also present reviews of The Magic Elf and Species Being, as well as mention Six & Violence in our beyond-o-matic review.
beyond-o-matic - "Your Body"
(Jamaelot 1998, 9-70005-2)
San Francisco's beyond-o-matic plays a dreamy, sometimes quirky, electronically psychedelic brand of space music that has just enough freakiness, and even a fair dose of dissonance, to put it firmly in the space realm, but is somewhat undefinable in it's interpretation. The band consists of Kurt Stenzel (aka Stenzo) on vocals, keyboards, guitar, and delay loops, Franktus Evictus on drums and voices, David Gresalfi on linndrum, samples, and vocals, and the Reverend Peter Fuhry on vocals, cross5 guitar, thebeatles, acoustic bariguitar, long stiff finger off doom, toy piano, accordion, flute, metal clarinet, and delay loop effects. What's that? You've never heard of a thebeatles? Or a long stiff finger of doom? Well there are pictures of these nifty buggers on the band's web page and they sure seem to be homemade stringed instruments of some mutated fashion (I ask about them in the interview). The end result is a work that puts electronics in the forefront, but subtly incorporates this varied instrumentation to produce music that is beautiful and uniquely beyond-o-matic. "Your Body" is the band's third release.
"Your Body Warms Me Like The Sun" is the opening track and lulls the listener with a slowly repeating spacey guitar melody, a distant astral flute, and ethereal space whispery vocals. The guitar and flute continue but cosmic astral synths are introduced along with a steady percussion beat. The vocals are lightly efx'd at times and feel just as important from an instrumental standpoint as they do for communicating words.
On the more electronically adventurous side is "Scareotica/Ghosty", a percussive, slightly techno, but still completely freaky number with various intermittent voicings. Things really get interesting when the flute goes on an almost free jazz rampage in what seems like a duel with the percussion. Similar to this is "Clara", an even more percussive tune with lots of cosmic synth madness and haunting vocalizations. On the more purely electronic side is "Green Organ Preciface" and "Aquior", both journeys into deep deep space along the lines of Tangerine Dream. Green Organ is the more varied of the two as after about six minutes low key techno rhythms blend in to alter the course of our voyage. My favorite track on Your Body is "Buttercup", a structured, but busy track that seems to utilize the band's entire arsenal of instruments to create a mind blowing explosive freakout. Despite multiple layers of competing instrumentation, the song manages to remain highly melodic in a way that allows me to drift along with the primary melody but also groove to everything that is happening... which is a lot. Excellent track.
beyond-o-matic also exhibits an interest in 60's pop-psych on a couple tracks. "Postiface" is like an old flower power pop psych tune. "From Far Away has Middle Eastern string sounds giving it a hippie flavor, but the driving electronic beat puts it in a class all it's own. And the music uses it's nine minute length to get slowly, but increasingly more intense and introduce wilder shooting synths. Finally, the band covers the Madonna song "Frozen". I've never heard the original but suffice it to say that the band manages to beyond-o-maticize it quite well.
So ends my beyond-o-matic review. But I can't completely close without mentioning the other CD that arrived with the beyond-o-matic package. It seems Kurt Stenzel was, and still is, a hardcore punk rocker long before he was a space musician. His New York based band is called Six & Violence and "Petty Staycheck" is the CD I'm listening to. I can't claim to be a hardcore expert but this is... well its seriously hardcore. A sense of humor does seem to prevail and the day has arrived when I find myself in the pages of Aural Innovations praising a band's version of the Sanford & Son television theme. And beyond-o-matic's Rev Fuhry contributes flute, most prominently on the hysterical "I Left My Head In San Francisco".We explored this musical schizophrenia and other interesting tidbits in the following interview with Kurt Stenzel (aka Stenzo, Kurt Violence):
AI: You started in the hardcore band Six & Violence and still maintain that band. What prompted your joining (or forming) beyond-o-matic? What artistic/musical need is met by doing the kind of music beyond-o-matic does as opposed to Six & Violence? Your musical interests are diverse to say the least.
KS: It's really great to be asked that question, because as with any niche genre related music my two bands often are only mentioned in their own "scenes", when in fact I am in both bands and I consider both of them part of me. The Six and Violence is particularly scene related in that we happened to fall into the New York Hardcore (NYHC) thing that started around 1984. We started when I was 18 in 1985, so we happened to be playing shows that are now somewhat well known -- there is a sense of history with the CBGB's hardcore matinees and a certain bunch of bands. We have been around as long as some of the biggest bands in that scene, like Sick of it All, Agnostic Front and Murphy's Law, and we still play bills with them as well as the "new school" bands.
The NYHC scene has a certain "tough guy" connotation, which we kind of made fun of by being humorous, and different in our line up, and our instrumentation (two percussionists that play standing up, guitar, bass, and two vocalists, one of which is me, and a lot of stage antics including gorillas, Go Go nuns, stunts, chain-sawing drums, etc.) That's not to say our shows aren't violent, because many of them are (in a clumsy way), but we preach a kind of "Die For Fun" message.
Anyway, in the NYHC scene there has always been a lot of high drama and sacrifice -- I actually wrote an editorial that got published in Billboard about it where I equated the scene to the early jazz scene in NY-- there are a lot of similarities in life style -- where people give their all to play the music they love, not what the mainstream accepts, and this often leads to band break-ups, or drugs, or homelessness, and sometimes even death. The sacrifices a very real. Players co-mingle because they have to, and overseas gigs and deals are the only way they survive, etc. A number of guys from my scene actually died over the past couple of years, and part of why I left New York was that when the scene goes on one of its cyclical downswings, as it did in 1992, it is depressing as all hell. But it keeps coming back.
I just found it healthier to be in San Francisco and go back to NY every 3 or 4 months to gig with the Six and Violence. Ironically we got a decent label, Striving For Togetherness, behind us just after I had moved out here to SF, so I really wound up commuting, which, believe it or not, was more feasible than living in NY and playing music. In NY I was also drinking enough to kill forty mortal men, so SF allowed me to get clear of that -- I mean, in NY you HAVE to drink, and my ex-girlfriend was a bartender on the lower east side, which was very convenient in an unhealthy way.
Anyway, when I wound up in San Francisco, and wound up forming beyond-o-matic with Rev. Pete Fuhry and Glenn "Love" Wilcox, both of whom played with me in NY in the 6 and Violence at some time or another, and both of whom had also moved to SF. We were all genuinely surprised - beyond-o-matic just happened. Pete came up with the name - we were all living together in Jamaelot 1, a big house in the suburbs of SF.
I remember within 6 months of moving here, I would joke "if I could have known, a year ago today, while I was drinking in some bar on Avenue A with guys from the Cro Mags, that I was going to be trancing out in a spacerock band on keyboards in San Francisco, I would have never believed myself!!!!" It was all unplanned. I guess in a way, I did have a need to have the two cities, and the two coastal mentalities manifest a bit in the music -- high speed aggro hardcore for NY, and slow space abstraction for foggy SF. The one thing that I will say about both cities is that most clichés about them are totally true, so I guess I really felt the place and space in the music. On a day to day basis, as I was going through the dimensional shift of moving so far away, I can't say I planned any musical expression of these observances, but now that I am more settled in my bi-coastal existence, I can see it reflected in the music. Aural Innovations is the first zine interview I have done where someone had the comprehension of both bands CD's to even ask me the question, "why are you in these two radically different bands?".
The hardcore scene is more "orthodox" than the spacerock scene -- very fraught with musical rules about style -- many based on revolutions that happened a long time ago. I'm sure there are people in the Space or Prog scenes that feel that there are too many purists, or "rules keepers" in their scenes too, but what I observe is that the "open mind" is a required passport more in spacerock than in many other genres, which is why I think that it will succeed as a worldwide movement, and I think Aural Innovations is a good healthy indicator of that. I think it is a rare thing that I can blab on about my crazy hardcore band in a "space" zine.
AI: What do your fellow Six & Violence band mates think of your work in beyond-o-matic... or are they equally diverse in their interests? (Question asked before I realized the extent of band member crossover.)
KS: Well, the Six and Violence guys, and there are six of us, are one big ass dysfunctional family. Picture the 3 stooges times 2. So when I exposed them to beyond-o-matic, it was while they were dragged out to SF to record a 6 and Violence record here, and it was stressful times anyway. But of course they are supportive. At this point most of them are actual beyond-o fans, especially the two guys that smoke the reefer on a regular basis (I guess beyond-o is a good soundtrack). It is a dicey thing for me to have moved away from NY in the first place and then to take such a left turn musically -- I think they were very tolerant. We had been in 6 and Violence maybe 8 years at that point already, and it is like a long marriage. When guys start branching off into other projects, it is like an open marriage -- "I still love you, but I need to go get kinky with someone else" kind of thing.
Later, Dave Miranda the primary drummer in 6 and Violence, and basically my musical brother, did The Magic Elf, a high intensity instrumental rock band, where he plays full kit (sitting down, unlike the tribal 6nV style) with an amazing guitarist Carl Roa. Dave took more flak from the Violence boys over The Elf than I took over Beyond-o because the Elf and Violence projects overlapped, and Dave had such a demanding commitment to both, keeping up with schedules and the physical stamina it takes to play in just one of these bands! Musically, Dave went somewhere to the other end of the spectrum that beyond-o sits on. If the Six and Violence is some kind of wild punk/thrash/hardcore thing with some technical skill playing, and beyond-o-matic is an improv based space thing, the Magic Elf is like full blown, very thought out, composed and hard worked technical stuff that took a long time to execute, simply because those guys demanded a huge stretch of their own playing abilities. Dave Miranda and Carl Roa are not human anymore, they are some kind of woodland creatures at this point, small and green. To further add to the Tull trivia that I will go into ridiculous detail on in Question # 4, Ian Anderson just responded to a copy of Dave Miranda's Magic Elf CD that I sent him, and he apparently liked it enough to suggest some east coast tour dates with Tull in September '99. Check out www.magicelf.com for confirmation. This is very exciting news indeed - if it comes to pass I will be sure to be carrying Dave Miranda's drumstick bag at those gigs.
The Elf project typifies what turns Dave on, all the hot instrumental composition and skills and chops, where I am more prone to get into improv, "never play the same thing twice so why practice?" ambient space plasma, though I love to work with chop meisters, and I think they may benefit from my deconstructionist ways. Together I think that is a great combo, and Dave and I are always plotting and planning the great convergence of all time and space. He's time, I'm space. When that happens, whoa! There may be a manifestation of this combination in a new 6 and Violence record, or Dave Miranda and I may do something else.
Either way, through the years, we have been supportive of any of these twists and turns because that is what music is all about. If we have to get off the path to explore, I don't think that hurts our careers -- it should make us stronger, though record labels that have the tough job of selling a genre specific record may not want to hear about your next inspiration that lies outside of their channel. Ironically, I have discovered that being on independent labels can be even more pigeonholing than at a major -- most indies are driven by a niche and the only way they can sell anything is by sticking to the rules of that niche. I don't blame these small labels for being "genre-centric", since they are usually run by fans who have spent superhuman energy staying in touch with their scene, and zines and distro and all that goes with it. I am fairly unmanageable in that regard, but I have really thought it out and I have accepted my fate - I may be marginal for the rest of my life, confusing my own audiences, but I have to do records that I want to do. One must rock.
AI: Are the other beyond-o-matic members involved in other musical projects? If so, tell me about them.
KS: Frank Grau has been drumming with beyond-o since Glenn Wilcox went nuts and moved back to NY in 1996. Frank might be known to some readers as the mastermind behind Species Being, who put out the "Yonilicious" CD last year. It got an amazing critical response and it is starting to sell (available through Avant Garde Distro in Illinois). Frank did a really wild project -- the CD is drum oriented, and a mix of jazz and prog, but raw -- none of that fusion lite crap. It is pretty intense. I do a small bit of keys on it, and Rev. Pete, the beyond-o singer had a big role in the record, engineering the thing in our Jamaelot studios, and contributing some well constructed vocals, flute, horns, and god knows what else. Essentially, the Species Being CD has some of the overdub style recording Pete does with beyond-o, along with Frank's multi-instrumentality, and numerous guests, but the foundation is Frank's well composed 45 minutes of tied together pieces.
Normally I find "out" jazz hard to swallow, but Frank did a masterful job of making this musical. It was really funny, because I heard the thing evolving - I didn't even know Frank that well yet, but he wound up renting space in the Jamaelot studio, I think without Pete and myself really approving it, but through our housemate Joe Martinez (another musician who often plays on stage with beyond-o), who we have to thank because Frank wound up being the ultimate beyond-o style drummer with a very similar interest in improvisation. The Jamaelot studio was in the basement beneath my flat. I sleep notoriously late, so he would wake me up midday with this wild drumming thing - I thought it was a giant 45 minute solo. Only after hearing it so often I realized that it was a composed piece, and then I was really amazed when he recorded the whole backing track to the record in two takes - he worked his ass off. Then I was further amazed in the structural ideas he had for each of the sections to the piece. Option Magazine raved about it .My girlfriend is a critic and she ranked it in her top 10 of the year.
Along with the Species Being contribution, Rev. Pete gets involved in other projects, often getting roped into engineering - a few records were cranked out of Jamaelot studios in 95, 96, '97, and '98. Pete does some cameos on Petty Staycheck by the 6 and Violence, and he has done stuff with Mr. Clarke, another ex Jamaelotian, who is a top notch songwriter in his own right. Mr. Clarke, Pete and myself are planning a "pure" spacerock album in 1999 (we just have to decide which coast to record it on.) This spacerock album will be our vehicle to get some ideas we used to have fun with jamming with in beyond-o, where we would get too Hawkwind for our own good. Not to knock Hawkwind -- I love them -- I got turned on to them in the UK when I was 12 years old! Mr. Clarke is English, and it is amazing how that "Englishness" can creep in and make a jam sound Hawkwind! For total fun, we want to explore some Sci-fi lyrics and big time bombast with heavier guitar and swords and sorcery and such. Pete is even going to get a Hammond organ to get some Deep Purple grind in there. It might turn out to be the Spinal Tap of spacerock - space overboard.
AI: You said Ian Anderson played on a couple Six & Violence tracks. You gotta share that story...
KS: Yeah, Ian played on "Bursting Bladder" and "Theological Guns" from the Lettuce Prey record (Fist 1990). It is a very long story, but suffice it to say, it was very damn wicked to have a walking musical god, a Beethoven of our lifetime, play on a song called "Bursting Bladder". We must have been drunk... in fact I KNOW we were drunk.
I have been one of the biggest Tull fans you could meet since I was 9 years old, got tired of my 2 or 3 Beatles records and put on my sisters copy of Living in the Past. Even at that young age, I had some seriously spiritual experiences listening to Jethro Tull, and I was compelled to collect the records, see them in concert as much as possible, etc. My father worked for Pan Am and was often in cities that Tull was playing -- one day he came home with two tickets for a show in Frankfurt. I flew free, so we went. I guess some fathers and sons bond over sports or whatever, but my father was a musician (an accomplished baritone) so we bonded over music and record collecting. Actually, my father frowned somewhat on rock music as a trained classical guy (which created some friction in later years as I got into hardcore), but even he had a good time at that show ( Broadsword tour 1982.) After the show, my father looked at me and said, "you wanna meet the band?" --- I thought he was kidding -- these guys were stadium rock stars -- you couldn't meet them. We went around the back of the stadium, and sure enough, by waiting long enough by the tour bus, with maybe 40 or so other fans, eventually the band came out, got on the bus, and Ian sat on the steps and signed autographs. Things are much more civil and low security in Europe -- in the states, particularly in NY, I only saw Tull's limos coming out of underground driveways of Madison Square Garden or whatever. So that was the first time I met Ian -- I was only 15 --- it was quite a shock to see that this guy was human!
So I owe it to my audacious dad, who had been bold in his youth and went and met opera stars at the Met in NY. He taught me that idols are real, approachable people. Hopefully you have something interesting to offer them when you meet them!
Anyway, in the next few years I got to know Dave Pegg when he would play with Fairport. As any Tull fan will tell you, Dave Pegg is a really nice guy, and will try to find you to talk to you! Eventually by 1987, when I was 20, I was using the Pan Am flying that I got for free to follow Tull like crazy, and I guess I was noticeable to cast and crew as to showing up in all the weird places. I gave Ian a 6 and Violence demo tape at Macy's in NYC, where Ian was doing a Strathaird salmon promotion!!!!
A Tull tour ensued -- I was in college and I had a night job, so I would literally go to Europe on the weekends. At one point in Switzerland, I was loitering while Ian was signing autographs, and he told me he had actually listened to the tape, he had enjoyed it and he wanted another copy, as he had lost it on a plane. I was shocked -- I mean, the demo was pretty rough, but apparently he dug it. Later in Germany or London or something I gave him more copies, and at this point the band and crew were telling me where that night's drinks were to be had, so I became more of a fixture. I even begged a pass for the tour because I was broke from buying tickets. Looking back I must have been some kind of stalking pain in the ass, but of course I was having the time of my life! Eventually, later in the tour, we were all in the hotel bar in Salt Lake City Utah. Ian asked how the recording of Lettuce Prey was going, and I jokingly asked him to play on it. To my horror, he said yes! Longer story short, Ian wound up having a scheduling conflict the first time it was planned, so we thought it would not happen, but fortunately the 6 and Violence are total screw ups and we wound up having a huge delay and re-recording the whole goddamn album, so Ian was able to do his takes almost two years later.
I can't tell you what a nice guy Ian is -- he freakin' carried our 24 track master reels under his arm on a flight from London to NY just to save us the shipping charges! He is incredibly down to earth, a true philosopher and gentleman, which is a nice thing to know about your musical mentors. Actually I wouldn't care if he were a total jerk as long as he keeps making music, but it is refreshing that a guy with that kind of accomplishment, responsibilities, and schedule can do something purely for fun.
Later we got Ian to come see us in 1989 at a terrible dive bar on the lower eats side of NY -- an actual Hells' Angles hangout (one of the girls in "Cycle Sluts From Hell" was the bartender if that paints a picture.) We were scared out of our minds to have such a musical idol in the audience, and I think we played faster (and tighter) than Slayer that night. In a bit of dramatic irony, I had played that club a year or two before and vowed never to play there again because I broke my nose getting hit by my other singer (the stage was too small and we jump around a lot). This joint was the only venue in all of NYC that I could get a last minute gig. So there I was, 15 minutes before the set, lecturing my other singer to stay arms length away from me, not thinking that it could possibly happen that I would BREAK MY NOSE AGAIN in the same godforsaken dive bar - and sure enough, I mean, my freakin' musical god is in the audience, we start to play and boom! --- three songs into the set, Paulie elbows me in the nose and blood is shooting out of my face. I mean SHOOTING -- Monty Python style. I hadn't eaten all day (I was so nervous) and I had drank a bunch of beers to calm down. I bled through the whole set. As it is, on a good day with the 6nV, I have to scream at the top of my lungs to "sing", depriving my brain of oxygen. I thought about stopping the show to die, or whatever, but I plowed on. Suffice it to say, by the end of that show I was probably near coma stage, but, my guys propped me up to the bar, and Ian wound up drinking with us until 3:30 in the morning. Taking one look at me dripping blood (and my hand was bandaged from a prior drunken incident in London) Ian probably had to wonder what he'd gotten himself into. He did ask us how guys as ugly as us could pretty girls (a strange 6 and Violence phenomena). I wonder myself. Anyway, the Tull thing was very out of the ordinary with the NYHC thing, although of course many of the musicians in the scene love Tull, given their "musician's musicians" status. To add to the oddity, this was right at the time of the "Tull wins Metal Grammy" furor, so it was really a gas. I love to combine things one would not expect, and I think Ian appreciates that too. He mentions us from time to time in an interview, and Dave Rees put some mentions in the new Tull book that he did. Rees also re-issued a UK version of Lettuce Prey with a bonus Tull medley that we recorded for possible inclusion on a Tull tribute record that Chrysalis never materialized. We got a kick out of doing the medley -- we did the strangest hammering together of Tull bits a band could do, assuring we would NOT get on a tribute CD. Oh well. (Contact Dave Rees at 75 Wren Way, Farnborough Hants. GU14 8TA - he has the bonus tracks pressing of Lettuce Prey.)
AI: You've got some interesting gadgets on the instruments section of your web page. Several of these were clearly made from scratch, as well as having done some surgery on existing instruments. Tell me about this penchant for building/mutating instruments. Are these all utilized in your live performances as well?
KS: Yes, these rough and ready instruments are used on both the recordings and live, and they are all the creations of Rev. Pete Fuhry. Pete is really the keeper of the beyond-o-ethic, and as lyricist, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist, he is the brainchild. The ethic came out of three things: Pete's distaste for "perfection" and the mundane elements that "perfect" instruments have brought to modern music (instant conformity in a can) and the attitude that players cop - particularly the way the electric guitar has become so fetishized and rule oriented, leading to hundreds of thousands of useless guitarists in our culture --- remember, there was a time when organs and saxophones were lead instruments! Second is Pete's political urge to use the "cast-offs" of our technologically voracious culture. (I share this feeling in my choice of using numerous cheap 80's Casio keyboards mutated with numerous analog effects that many MIDI driven "normal" players would never touch. No DX7s for Stenzo!) And third is the FINANCIAL inspiration, in that Pete and I had no money when we started beyond-o-matic. Pete loves to fiddle with wood and screwdrivers and junk to make his wicked little creations. As pictured on the website, and heard on all three CD's, he invented the "Long Stiff Finger of Doom", which is essentially a two stringed wooden dowel bass type instrument (fretless) with a pick up. The thing sounds just like a bass but cost about $5.00 to build! And then there is "Thebeatles" (not misspelled) which is really unique - it is a 2X4 plank that has one piano string and one guitar string and a pick up. There is a hook on the back that clips to Pete's belt so he plays the thing straight up and down with a slide on one hand in one direction on one string, and a screwdriver as an "underneath" slide on the other string, moved with the other hand, creating slides and tone intervals in two directions at the same time. Thebeatles is somewhere between a lap steel and a guitar I guess, but it is really quite haunting, and I've never seen an equivalent instrument in any culture. It is called Thebeatles stemming from a naming incident, where Pete was at a loss to name his new creation, and I yelled "say the first thing to pop in your head right NOW!" Pete cried "The Beatles!" and that became its name. Now it's really funny at gigs to hear us all running around saying, "Is Thebeatles in the van?" Stupid musicians' humor I guess. Another stringed invention is "The Estimator" which is like a big wood frame with bass and guitar strings at five fanned out intervals, and it is played with mallets or plucked like a harp. That is electric too, but somewhat unruly for gigging. On top of all that Pete also modifies traditional instruments. His accordion being a key one, where he had various vintage microphones piercing through the body of the thing, making it look like it was a big electrode or something. On top of all that, we run just about everything through a monstrous number of effects, both analog and digital, so if the instruments weren't surreal enough, the further permutations are. In fact, some of our most electro sounds are acoustic in origin. In the early days, and you hear it on the first two CD's, we utilized a big garbage can "percusso-rig" with a big wood rack, cans, pot lids, grates, you name it. In fact, our "kick drum" sound was a plastic garbage can most of the time. Our drummers drift toward wanting to use more standard instruments, with the other stuff falling apart during gigs and such. I use a combo of vintage keyboard gear and newer stuff now too, and even Pete buys the occasional new item - we want every hybrid available - not just new and clean and not just garage and lo-fi. We record to a digital medium to "clean up" a lot of these crazy sounds. I have to mention Pete's vans too. Pete has had a couple of ramshackle vehicles that are as much a part of beyond-o-matic's strangeness as the instruments. The first was "The USS Space' and the second was "Bussy". Imagine being crammed in the back of a 1960's VW van with only one working door, no brakes, mismatched tires, etc. careening up and down the hills of San Francisco with these strange and prickly instruments bashing around in the back with you. Moogs smashing on the floor, etc. Thank god we never crashed, or we would have made some trauma text books.
AI: Are all these instruments imply a free wheeling musical ethic. Is your music primarily improvised?
KS: We improvise and then add structure. A lot of this came from recording on ADAT tapes which allow 40 minutes for about $7.00 for a tape. This let us roll tape on many of our long excursions, some of which would have us in a mental state where we wouldn't want to be stopping the tape and going back over and over. Then we sift through the tapes, find the best felt moments, and add some structure. Some of our pieces sound like they were composed or many parts were added, but in fact are almost entirely from the first take. My favorite example of that is "Weed" from our second CD, Sonic Reclaimator - it is a very composed sounding piece, with lyrics, choruses, movements and all kinds of dynamics, but it was done ON THE SPOT. I remember the feeling when we rolled that tape - I knew it was going to be a good one, and it came out pretty epic. There is a feel to all live music that beats programmed or studio constructed music, but the improv thing is above and beyond just playing live. It is intense. It is dangerous. There is a lot of room to fuck up (especially with our wacky gear) but man, when it gels, it is a truly transcendent experience. It is a unique coincidence that we all found each other at the same phase in life--between Pete, myself and our drummer Frank Grau, we are genuinely bored by playing the same thing the same way twice.
AI: Tell me about beyond-o-matic's live shows. Do you get to perform much? Outside San Francisco? Are crowds receptive to your music?
KS: We play less frequently than some bands, but we have been gigging consistently in the Bay Area since 1993. In the early days we played rock clubs, but we found our sound was more subtle, so we have really focused on playing Café DuNord in San Francisco - they have a bit more of a jazz tradition, and a more sophisticated scene than the average dive showcase bar. DuNord is almost like a Knitting Factory scene, along with a kind of swing scene. We play the Downhear series, which has hosted a number of more experimental or electronic or downtempo acts. It was originally started by a very smart guy named Peter Becker who is now at Asphodel records in NYC. Becker approached beyond-o years ago on the ambient scene, which is something we cross over in.
We have supporters that have very little to do with rock of any kind - they just see us as an organic fringe of the ambient or downtempo electronic scene. Another guy that came to us through that end of things is Freaky Chakra (Astralwerks) and I am currently doing tracks with him that are a dark (very dark) electronic. I'm not sure what the project will be released as, but suffice it to say we had Aleister Crowley as our guest vocalist on our first collaboration (even though he's dead.) San Francisco is pretty strong in the electronic movement, in fact I used to live in Jamaelot with Kelly Edwards, who is a big time dance promoter in town, so through him I got to meet people like Goldie, Carl Cox, etc. We had Fat Boy Slim calling the house, etc. It was neat, because I have always dug Kraftwerk and Devo and Eno, so to me electronic stuff was a very natural thing - I was just happy to be embraced by what is a very young and trendy scene, even if I am the odd man out (as usual.) There is good and bad music in any scene. Anyway, starting in June 1999, I will be hosting a monthly called THE KILL JAZZ COLLECTIVE at Café DuNord. The monthly show will highlight spacerock, prog rock, out rock, post rock, avant garde, and rock in opposition (it looks like we have Chris Cutler and another Henry Cow guy lined up tentatively for September.) Email me if you are on tour and looking to gig in SF. I am looking to put a "class" stamp on this scene, particularly with the efforts of Aquarius Records in SF (Windy there is supportive of Terrastock, Ptolemaic Terrascope's annual event) and she even carries Aural Innovations on her shelves! Also there is Expose here in the Bay Area, and ProgFest is coming in May 99, so I see a ground swell happening, thus I want to put on a quality monthly. We play with bands like Mushroom and SubArachnoid Space, and in the past we've played with Melting Euphoria, and god knows who else.
One inspiration for this was our own underground parties going at Jamaelot, which was our compound for 4 years. We had two full flats on top of each other, one of them being a big finished basement with an alleyway entrance. This was in the Tenderloin, which is a kind of sleazy sketchy Time Square type area, so we almost had a speakeasy club vibe going for a while. My girlfriend Melody DJ's, and she would spin drum and bass, and beyond-o would play once everyone was suitably high on their choice of imbibance - we were able to decorate and set up video screens, and old video games in corners, bean bags, colored lights. Basically a "psychedelic dungeon" as Zappa would put it. What was especially cool was that we could record with the audience there. In fact, one of my favorite recordings of beyond-o-matic was when we happened to clear the whole party (we must have been too narcotic that night). All in all we have a good little following here. I have gone to specific shows like Gong, Hawkwind, Ozric, and Tortise and given away a lot of CD's. It works. Then when your name appears in the paper people from years prior come out of the woodwork. I find that very effective as opposed to running ads and hoping someone will want to check out your music. Many of the best responses we get are from people overseas, where they do go to the trouble to seek you out.
AI: Some of these tunes have a trippy psychedelic quality that combined with the electronic beats gives them a unique sound. In fact, if you strip "From Far Away" down to bare instrumentation it could almost be an old pop psych tune.
KS: Yeah, many people say they hear an early Floyd quality in our stuff. I think that a lot of the aforementioned analog and self built stuff gives the sound a fuzzier feel, and Rev. Pete has a great sense of melody and vocal harmony that was often present in pop psych. He has few influences, but the Beatles and the psychedelic Beach Boys do manifest themselves. Really underneath it though is a bit more of an abstract thing, but again, balance is what we strive for. We want some tunefulness to the abstraction if you know what I mean. Psychedelic music tends to mean one of two things: there is garage band psych, that can run the gamut from the Byrds to surf, to low budget European soundtracks. I would call it reverb twang paisley, pre-Hendrix psych. Then there is ACID psychedelic music - melt your face off post Hendrix, delay, flange, and almost no twang, which I dig a bit more. I find the garage pop psych thing to be OK, but it is a bit overly retro and pseudo-intellectual for my personal tastes. I want my mind to be BLOWN - (which is why I might be digging intense things like some electronic drum and bass like Grooverider, or Tull's Passion Play) so I don't care too much about go-go boots and Nehru jackets. If there is an old pop psych element to beyond-o-matic, I think it is purely coincidental. Ironically, despite the lo-fi elements that are on our recordings, we have a serious arsenal of 80's gear, including the Linn Drum machine that you hear mixed in on "Your Body". Leave it to us to make the 80's hip again. What Pete and myself really grew up on were things like Tull, later Floyd, late Beatles, Zepplin, Rush, Purple - a lot of heavier "boy" rock than 60's pop psych, but I guess we have a melodic touch reminiscent of things like the Beach Boys or the Beatles, which to me are timeless and are fairly revolutionary to this day .
Still, in terms of "pop', beyond-o-matic often appeals to what I call "normal" people - friends or relatives who would never listen to anything underground, electronic or abstract. This is a thrill for us, because music should be able to communicate no matter how it's made or what context it is released in. And we still are completely free to do 20 minute songs, or mess around with electronics, or whatever. One of my biggest thrills was when my uncle, who is a serious jazz critic in his 60's, wrote an analysis of our first two CD's, and he GOT them - he really understood the deal.
AI: How did you happen to choose the Madonna tune "Frozen" to cover?
KS: Well, I had an affair with Madonna, and she wrote the song about my Frozen little heart --- no, actually, no joke, I thought it was a good song, and I think the Ray of Light album is quite good - kind of "Bjork Lite", if you know what I mean. But I think William Orbit did a really nice production job, and the melodic content is strong. Actually, everyone was saying how Madonna "went electronic" with this record, but that's bullshit - her records have always been electronic pop, and the couple prior to Ray of Light were fairly far ahead of other electronic records of that era - perhaps too far ahead for the general public who finally caught up with Ray of Light. Anyway, the Frozen single has a strong bridge - the big symphonic sweeps are pretty proggy, and the vocal is very pure tone, not unlike Pete's style, and I thought it would be funny to cover a current MTV hit. So my girlfriend and I talked Pete into doing the Frozen thing, literally at the last minute of finalizing "Your Body". That track is unique in that there is no other beyond-o member on it - it is all Pete in his bedroom. He wound up taking the song fairly seriously, as he was in the throes of a serious break-up with his live-in girlfriend, so though the lyrics are simple, he found emotion in them. We have done odd covers before - "Baby's on Fire" by Eno, and believe it or not, a slow, accordion heavy version of "For Those About To Rock" by AC/DC, which was so mutated it would take the audience about 10 minutes to realize what song it actually was. I'll never forget playing the intro on keys for what seemed like 20 minutes while Pete lost his mind on stage one time (some one had slipped him some hyper weed before a gig) - there we were doing this slow brooding intro and you hear me yelling across stage, "Come in goddamn it!!!" -- I mean, my hand was cramping.
AI: Any parting news or future events you'd like to share?
KS: Well, the big news is that I will be hosting that Space/Prog/Out/Post/Avant/Chill monthly at Café DuNord in San Francisco starting June 1999, so anyone interested should email me. We should have a website and a voice mail update available closer to then. It is called KILL JAZZ COLLECTIVE. Beyond-o-matic hopes to do some east coast stuff this summer - we have a standing offer to play the Knitting Factory in NYC, and I hope to muscle in on the Strange Daze event, or at the least be there to check it out, so I hope to meet many of the Aural Innovations crew. In general, beyond-o-matic down to communicate and collaborate with many, and we look forward to building our relationship with Avant Garde Distribution, etc. They can be reached at (630) 493 0519, or firstname.lastname@example.org I hope to have at least 3 CD's released in 1999 between my solo stuff, beyond-o, and 6 and Violence. Email me and I can tell you where to get any of these things. Any 6 and Violence can be ordered at your local store through Caroline Distribution, so don't be afraid to ask. Also check out Striving.com, and www.interport.net/~phatboy, as well as www.jamaelot.com. Kurt Stenzel (aka Stenzo) email@example.com; 416 Dolores Street Apt. 5 San Francisco, CA 94110 USA.
Also check out the Magic Elf and Species Being reviews.