insample interview with bruce russell

Bruce Russell - interview from Insample #2

The Dead C, a notorious trio of noisemakers hailing from the scungy darkness of Port Chalmers, have been saturating the market with their terminally weird records and tapes for several years now. Their art has been compared to the sound of someone masturbating with a steel pole and to the sound of a constipated person having trouble at the loo.

This interview was conducted sometime in September '91 with the C's guitarist, Bruce Russell by Hamish Noonan. Dadamah's Kim Pieters makes a guest appearance.

I: Has the Dead C made any music videos for their "songs"?

B: No. Earlier on we got Alastair Galbraith to make a Super 8 film to accompany some of our earlier material. He made the film but unfortunately Super 8 films have to be processed in Australia. He sent it away and it got lost in the post.We have talked about doing video stuff to accompany our music. To date we haven't completed anything but we've started some projects.We have got a live video of us performing in March of this year,which features Alastair putting movies over the top of us.Some of that's pretty good so we're arranging for Drag City to release some kind of Dead C video.So we're looking in that visual direction but we've not done anything yet.

I: Is the Dead C's live sound any different from their studio sound?

BR: The two are actually really intimately related. The way that we record on four-track is that the three of us sit down in one room, play a piece of music on to two tracks, then listen back to it and then maybe overdub an instrument and a vocal, but substantially what you're hearing is the band playing live so our performances are slightly stripped down versions of what we do on record. Some stuff on record we don't do live, particularly the more ambient things. There's some stuff on 'Eusa Kills' which is pretty minimal and very quiet, sort of dreamy. We find it very difficult to play that live, because as soon as you start playing a quiet song everybody talks. You have to kind of rock out to keep their attention. So, our live sound is only part of our total recorded sound. Interestingly enough, on the double album we're working on now about three songs are actually live recordings and are done in front of an audience and they don't sound that different from the stuff we've done at home,so I'd say there's a remarkable similiarity.

I: Do you do live concerts very often?

BR: No.In the last two years we've played publicly four times. and one of those performances was unadvertised to the extent that no-one knew we were going to play,we just turned up and did it. That was supporting the Renderers in Dundein. They needed someone to play, we just turned up and did it on the day. But we play very seldomly.

We're not keen on playing in pubs because our music doesn't go down very well. Hotel managers tend to like a full bar with people drinking. Our music doesn't attract such huge crowds that we fill bars regularly and people don't find it congenial to drink to, they tend to just stand there in shock horror and just stare at us.

Last time we played we had an audience of about 120 but that was in Alastairs' warehouse.We find that kind of set-up more congenial to play in because it's easier to have films and slide projections and you don't have to feel that you're satisfying someone else's aesthetic opinions-you're not being judged by the promoter or the bar manager.

We don't play out of Dunedin often because it always ends up costing several hundred dollars.We played once here(Christchurch) and it cost me personally about $350; that was with Plagal Grind in March '88.0n the Friday night we had 50 people and on the Saturday night it dropped to about 25, so it cost us a lot of money.

I: Do the pictures that appear on the covers of Dead C records and tapes bear any significance to the music?

BR:I guess so.Most of the art

(Kim walks in with two pieces of bread on a plate with a mountain of green leaves.)

Is that a sandwich-Wow!

I: What is that?

BR: It's watercress, a weed.

Kim: It's really very good for you.

BK: Thats why I stay here, they feed me weeds. MMmmm...

Kim: Do you have your coffee black?

BK: Yeah,no sugar. Has this got dressing on it, Kim? Its very nice...

Kim: Yeah, it has.

BR: OK.I'll try that again. Michael Morley, who's a member of the Dead C, our principal vocalist and guitarist, is a visual artist. He has a growing career as a painter. He also does a lot of drawings and woodcut prints. Where our records haven't featured his artwork, they seem to be images he's chosen for whatever reasons he has. I think the fact that a lot of the art is black and white it tends to look vaguely sombre and maybe a little bit incomprehensible. Like "Power", the new Forced Exposure single, it's actually an anti-war song. It is a song that Michael wrote about the invasion of Panama.It's iike "Eusa Kills", an anti-American number.On the front cover there's a picture of a Palestinean youth giving the "V" for victory sign to the camera, from Time magazine actually, we didn't credit them. And on the back you've got a picture of the bombardment of Monte Casino during WW2 which was an incident where a lot of New Zealanders were killed in a foreign imperialist war. We like to keep things implicit so that people make their own decisions, but we don't lecture to them - we like people to work out for themselves what we're doing. But, yes, there is a connection between the visuals and the music.

I: What sort of feedback have you got from your fans?

BR: Ummm...People like us.A lot of people really hate us desperately. We hear really interesting stories from other NZ musicians,particularly in Auckland, where we're regarded with horror. Byron Coley, who writes for Forced Exposure, well he was here about a year ago on holiday, just before we'd released "Helen" through Siltbreeze, and he was talking to someone, an unnamed Flying Nun musician who said "I heard that some American label is going to release a record by the Dead C.Is he out of his mind? lt's all just a big fucken noise." To which Byron replied "Yes, it's great, isn't it?"

Americans seem to respond to the angst in our music, the way it can unsettle you because it just sounds so inexplicable, it doesn't sound like what other people do.That means that 99% of the human race are alienated by the other 1% who like it a lot because there isn't a lot like it. We don't tend to get warm fans. I don't know many people who'll listen to one record and say I like that one but I don't like these others. They tend to like it all or none of it.We polarise people I guess.

In America,we've got a growing reputation. When we released "Helen" in the States last year there were 700 copies made. And 600 sold in the States and it took about nine months to a year to sell them all. When we released "Hell is Now Love" in June in America there were 850 released and they sold out.in three months. I think by the time we release the double album in "92 there will be enough people out there who'll want it. There's only going to be 500. So there'll be 400 people in America vho can buy it (1OO coming to NZ) and I'd say they'll be queing up on the day to buy it.

Our critical reputation is growing.We've got two tracks on a compilation 7" which is coming out about now in San Francisco, with a magazine called Bananafish. Bananafish is, in terms of a critical position, near to Forced Exposure in being one of the five top American fanzines. It's the sort of magazine that all the right people read and which each issue they do a hard vinyl 7". There's a long Dead C interview in the new issue; two Dead C tracks and a Gate track on the 7". I think thats gonna make a lot of people pay attention to us. It's the first major US magazine feature on us. We've had smaller magazines writing about us for a while, but that's gonna be the first almost above-ground thing.

(At this point,we started talking about the Dead C's bad reviews, in particular the Christchurch Mail's review of "Eusa Kills".)

BR: Oh Wow! I'm really interested in collecting bad reviews because we don't actually get that many. When people review us it's usually because they like the music, but if they hate it they usually don't bother putting it into print to tell people about it. "DR503" had a bad review in the Southland Times. Other than that,I've seen one bad live review in a Christchurch fanzine.

I: Which one was that?

BR:It was something to do with Passage tapes a few years ago.

I: Sunburn?

BR: No,Sunburn have an editorial policy of not mentioning us.
It was some other fanzine, I think it was called Passage, it might have been called Blue Factory. This was about four years ago, when one night we supported Bailter Space and right at the end of the review it said, "Dead C.I didn't enjoy"-my favourite review.

I: Do you see the Dead C as similar to bands like The Skeptics?

BR:Yeah I guess so.In New Zealand terms I guess they're pretty close to where we're coming from. They rely much more heavily on technology. We're a low-tech band in every sense. Our equipment is astoundingly crappy and that's what gives us the beautiful sound that we have. The recording is very low-tech whereas they're very high-tech; eight track recording, state-of-the-art samplers. I think that it's not what they sound like but they're trying to express the same ideas or feelings.We really like them a lot.

I: Do you like rap music or dance music?

BR:Michael is a big rap fan-he likes things like Ice T. Ice T is sampled on "Helen", it's a big burst of noise sampled from a CD.

I:Was it done legally?

BK:Well we didn't tell him about it, that's for sure. No I don't really listen to that stuff. Robbie really hates it as well. Michael likes it but he listens to Metallica.

I: Has any other music influenced the Dead C?

BR: I guess so, but a lot of its influenced us in terms of in inspiring us to do things.We've never really set out to sound like anybody else except for maybe This Heat. This Heat were an English band who started out around '77-'78 and they released two albums and a 12" through Roueh'Trade.they broke up in about '81. I always mention them in reviews because they're obscure and they were genuinely an inspiration to me.They're a lot more talented musically than us. They're a big inspiration.

I: Are their reccords still available?

BR: Yeah, the two LP's have been re-released through Recommended Records within the last two years. There were two, one's called "This Heat" in a blue and yellow cover and the other one's called "Deceit". They're really'good records.

But in terms of what I used to listen to 10 years ago, I mean The Clean were a big inspiration.Wreck Small Speakers were a big inspiration to me because these guys didn't know what they were doing. They were so incompetant and they sounded so great And I thought,"I'm musically incompetant so I can do that", and that inspired me to buy a guitar and start playing.

Early Fall, early Cabaret Voltaire. Recently I've been lising to a lot of easly '70's German psychedelia- things like Faust, Neu!, very early Kraftwerk and Popol Vuh. These are the things that inspire me to make music. A lot of free jazz from the 60's is what I've been listening to a lot. lately.

Michael listens to rap,speed metal and opera.When we played last time, the incidental music was all opera which made the audience very uncomfortable. A lot of screaming, it contrasted well with our music. I like of lot of modern American independent music, but I figure they're people who are on a par with us.I don't aspire to be like them,becaues we're already as good as they are.

I: Do you like the newer Fall stuff?

BR: No! Basically once he married thnt awful American woman they went downhill very badly. I like everything up to the first half of "Perverted By Language", which came out in '83. Up to the beginning of '83 the Fall could do no wrong- I've got virtually all of their records and I still love them and listen to them. He still does things which are nearly alright but its just nowhere near as good as he used to be. I think if you've slumped that badly you may as well give up.I just wish he would. I don't wish them any ill, but they make me vomit.

I: Is the forthcoming double album very different from your older stuff?

BR: Umm...I don't know. Some people say that they see a progression and other people say it all sounds the same to them. I honestly don't know. In the past we were doing strictly two guitars and drums trio music. Now we're using keyboards and synthesizers, so I suppose it's like our stab at early Pink Floyd. It's different because its got less guitar I guess. But it has the same structureless, atonal, monotonous drong-grudge that we're famous for.

I: Do the Dead C's songs reflect painful moments in you life, for example, traumatic childhoods?

BR: No,I don't think so. Lyrically speaking, Michael writes 90% of the iyrics. I seldom know what the words are because I can't hear them over the racket we're making. I don't know what they're about. Sometimes I think the things he's singing about might be from his childhood. The problem is his childhood wasn't very traumatic. The feeling in the music we make is related to dissatisfaction with the way the world is, so it grows out of our experience with everyday life.It's just a primal scream in that sense.