INTERVIEW: Gary Dassing (Mentallo & The Fixer / Shimri)

By Rev. Daryl Litts

Chain Border

GaryBrothers Gary and Dwayne Dassing have been recording for well over a decade now, and are considered a staple in the industrial-dance repertoire. As time moves on we find Gary experimenting with new styles in his creative process, now with the aid of his brother only in technical details. Mentallo & The Fixer have challenged modern industrial music with acoustic guitar, non-vocal electronics, progressive-rock influence and spontaneous single-take studio sessions. Gary's transition between various projects including the seminal Benestrophe and Mainesthai has led to this: a distillation of all of his experience in Shimri, his latest endeavor. The upcoming release "Lilies of the Field" powerfully displays the wide range of styles that can be captured from the mind of one composer. Our Reverend managed to get him to sit down in one place between projects to give us a little insight on what he's trying, what he's playing, and what we might be able to expect from the long-time industrial greats from Texas.

So…how is Love is the Law going?

Currently I'm not sure as far as sales go, you usually don't find that out until 6 months after it's released. It was completed in January I think, and released in April, it's just another notch on the Mentallo belt. The release was created a lot differently than past releases, in that when I was making the album initially, my studio wasn't hooked up so I was going about using alternative methods. I was learning new software and when you learn new software things don't always come out as you intend them to. I'm not disappointed with the album. I can honestly say I don't think it's the best album-I don't think it's the worst-I just think it's another album, another direction.

Did you use any of the new software that you learned with Shimri?

I actually finally mastered the software and there's a noticeable difference. As a matter of fact, the music for the Shimri release is totally digital; it's a DDD recording. It's clean, the quality and production sound just as good as on Burnt Beyond Recognition, and that was even a far cry from Love is the Law. You don't hear that production on Love like you do on Burnt, but on Shimri it's very much there. As a matter of fact, when Dwayne mastered it, I think he was even blown away because the sonic quality is so pumped, that's the only way I can put it. There's a barrage of sounds going off. Personally it's some of the most intricate and meticulous programming I've ever done. It used to be that I could do a song in a day, and the reason is that I was trying to capture a mood; I felt that if I went back to the song the next day and tried to work on it, I might not have the same feeling. But with the Shimri stuff I was very, very meticulous, something I was really not used to doing, but due to technology I could work on a song and then if I got bored of it I could work on another song. In the past, at our studio (The Slum), if we had a song going that we were working on, we couldn't start work on another song until we were finished recording it, because of all the settings on the mixer and keyboards, but going this route for the Shimri material I'm very pleased with it. It was coming to a point where I was actually tired of touching keyboards and it was a very new outlet. Everything is software based. There are no synthesizers used on this album; everything is software driven!

Cool. You've also been working on acoustic material?

Right, the name of that project-it's without a name just yet. I've been writing lots of material on guitar and the reason I picked up my guitar was because I end up writing things totally different, or I end up composing things in a different light than I do on keyboards. It's just the chord structures and all of that are very different to me on the guitar than on keyboard or piano. The vein of music -some people call it "shoegazer" music. It's in the realm of very light-hearted Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance or Slowdive. It's to the point where you use so many effects on your guitar that they end up coming across sounding nothing like one.

GaryWill it be close to Algorythum in any way?

No, no as a matter of fact, for this guitar stuff, there's only been one synthesizer part laid down on one of the songs, and it was just for the sound effect of crickets going off.

(Laughs)

It's so melodic, actually the guitars are so heavily effected that they end up coming across sounding like keyboards or synthesizers in a lot of the parts. There's a mesh of reverb-it's very, very melodic-no drums, and it's something I'm taking my time with; I want to be meticulous with this because there is a big difference when you're working with acoustical instruments as opposed to synthesizers. That's going to have female vocals to it. My intention was for Shimri to have female vocals, but the music was so dense…

It would have overpowered them.

It wouldn't have meshed and I don't think female vocals would have really gone with any of this music for Shimri; and you're right-the music would have overpowered the vocals. If I had gone in there and done my typical screaming bit, I think it would have robbed the music, and I didn't want that happening. I'm already at a point where I'm sort of tired of using my vocal processors and would actually like to hear some natural voice as opposed to harmonized or distorted vocals. Most of my stuff is undecipherable anyway; people can't make it out and I do that for a reason, because it was never my intention to be a vocalist. Like when Benestrophe broke up, I couldn't find a vocalist and I was tired of waiting around and I had all the equipment so I said, 'I'll give it a shot.' I didn't think it was the greatest; I didn't think it was half bad, though. Other people seemed to like it so I kept it up until I sort of got bored with it. I think that's a little bit more evident on the last few releases, namely Algorythum. As for Algorythum, right after we had done Burnt, Dwayne and I felt we had topped ourselves out. Production-wise, with all the equipment lying around (we had 33 keyboards), we had such a big arsenal.

(Laughs)

We had done our touring for Burnt and Dwayne and I decided to part ways and when I went in to do Algorythum. I thought, well, I can't do another Burnt Beyond Recognition. I was really tired of relying on sequencers for everything because I created all this really cool music but when it comes down to it, if somebody handed me a guitar or sat me in front of a piano, I couldn't play any of it back to them; not even a simple form of it. I consider myself more of a composer than a musician. On Algorythum I said, okay we're going to get rid of most of the sequencers and we're going to play all of this live. Mistakes and everything went down on that album. Like all of the live drum tracks on the album, the drummer didn't even get to hear the songs prior to going into the studio.

(Laughs) That's pretty cool though!

It was going to be a jam session. You hear it, you play along to it, and just play what you feel because that's what music is all about. Let's have fun.

That's interesting, because that's one of my favorite albums.

Cool, thank you. As well with the guitar parts. I played some of the guitar parts on there. I was amazed that they came out as well as they did, and I can actually say the same thing for all of the vocals. The vocals were laid down in one take only. I remember when Johnny (Bustamante, vocalist for Fektion Fekler) came in and laid down the vocals for Carbon Based he heard a stripped-down version of it; very raw-and he just jotted down some lyrics really quick. He just started singing into the mic, and he was like, "I messed up, I want to do that over." I told him no, uh-uh, everything is being done on one take. It stays.

(Laughs)

I know he didn't really care for it that much but I just wanted that live feel there. It's more organic. I didn't necessarily care what the fans thought-there was some backlash-but first and foremost I have to make myself happy if I'm going to do music. Fans are secondary, but regardless of whether I was on a label or not, I'd still be doing music.

Shimri…I heard the demos, and they seemed pretty otherworldly, almost a little ambient, even though it had a lot of percussive elements. On the final pieces, is the percussion going to come out more?

Oh God, you only heard the demo and probably half of those songs-I won't say they were scrapped- like the ones that were more melodic, that had piano sounds and stuff going off I didn't want to use them for Shimri. Everything for Shimri sounds very electronic, very synthetic, very rigid, very programmed, and it's all about the beat. You really have to hear these new songs. I mean, they're really pumping. Initially when I started Shimri, I didn't know what direction I was going to take it in. I thought it would be half of the acoustical music that we were talking about earlier (the guitars) and half electronics. The more I was working on both of the projects, the more they seemed to negate each other; they didn't work together. So I said, well, I'll make Shimri nothing but electronic music and I'll gear it for the dance floor. When I did Algorythum, that was not a dance album-that was more like an epic piece. Love is the Law; who knows what category that falls into. (We laugh.) But as far as Shimri, this Lilies of the Field release, everything is geared for the dance floor. I don't think there's one slow song on the album. No vocals though, but there's so many sounds going off in it that I think it'll keep the listener interested.

I can't wait to hear it! Is there anything else you're working on? I heard about some live CD you were putting together…

GaryThe best of Mentallo, live. It's not anything we've even proposed to Metropolis [Records]. What we're going to do is master it. Actually, Dwayne's going to start mastering it in September. Basically it's recordings from the last leg of our False Prophets Tour, which ran from California to Texas. We were able to record the Texas shows via digital 8-track. It doesn't sound like a live show, it sounds like a studio recording. As a matter of fact, everybody knows that electronic bands use backing DATs. Well, Dwayne did all the backing DAT material during the Burnt Beyond Recognition period, or prior to it. He remixed all the songs for the live show, and when we did the last leg of the False Prophets Tour we got to record from the shows here in Texas. Basically what Dwayne is going to do is take my vocal parts, clean them up, make sure there's no background hiss or people screaming. We want it to sound like a studio recording. All the old songs sound revamped.

So basically, they'll just be new versions of the old songs…

Yeah, except they were actually recorded live. All the sample material was played live, that's what Dwayne and I play live on stage. Dwayne's going to clean it up and we are adding additional production to it. I'm going in and adding additional vocals & effects and we're going to send it to Metropolis and see if they want to release it. We don't have a "best-of" out, and the songs are revamped. I think that may be our actual swan song for Mentallo. Yeah right, you guys will just have to wait and see, hint hint.

There was a best-of released on Zoth Ommog, the There's No Air to Breathe compilation…was there no interest in licensing that in the United States?

No, because Metropolis bought all the rights to our music from Zoth Ommog several years ago. There's No Air to Breathe only consists of a couple songs off of No Rest for the Wicked and the rest all comes from Revelations 23 and Where Angels Fear to Tread so you don't have anything from Continuum, Burnt Beyond Recognition, Love is the Law, or Algorythum. We sort of got a tracklisting for the best-of. I know it's Legion of Lepers, Scum of the Earth, Grim Reality, Ruthless, Decomposed, Atom Smasher, Goliath, Sacrilege, Tachyon (there's a live version with vocals); an instrumental version of Stellar Cascade, False Prophets; a studio remix of Resonant Echo. There's going to be a remix of Murderers Among Us & Narcotic Calling. Possibly going to be a new track. Right before Dwayne split the band, he was working on a song and I was helping him out, but it never got to see the light of day. We may finish that up and put it on as a new track.

That would be very cool!

It just takes time you know. I felt Love is the Law was very rushed in so many ways. There were a lot of mishaps along the way, during the recording sessions.

Yeah, I remember Metropolis had some stipulations with it initially.

That's a big problem. Whenever a label puts pressure on a band or an artist, it can always cause problems. I personally think Love is the Law probably could have come out two or three times better than it sounds, but there are timelines and deadlines and all sorts of stuff-a lot of things going on. All around I'm very happy with many of the songs on the album. I can't say I hate them or anything, it's just that I think I was at a point where I wanted to start work on something new such as Shimri or this other project. My mind was wandering elsewhere. I think the only thing that kept it cohesive was the artwork. (We laugh.)

What about the artwork for Shimri? It was originally planned around the idea that it was going to be half acoustic and half electronic.

Gary DassingRight, I still dig it. I couldn't be more happy with it. Every time I see a butterfly now-and I saw a monarch butterfly just a couple of days ago-I think, wow Shimri! (We laugh.) I'm totally psyched about the whole thing. It really doesn't hit home until you're holding the whole packaging there in front of you. I love the art, everybody comments on it as far as the Love is the Law release, and I really dig the Shimri stuff. I think it's everything I expected. It's weird how we think along the same lines. I was thinking butterflies and you thought, 'Hey I was already thinking that!'

(Laughs.) Yeah, that was pretty surreal.

At least every other day I have to look at the artwork. It just looks so effective. I think the art helps so much. It helps with the hype and it's eye candy. Also what's really cool is that you run with the ideas I have, or you make light of them. I really don't have to throw too much your way.

How do you think ArtOfFact will hold up to how Metropolis has treated you guys in the past? Do you have high expectations?

Well, my expectations were this: when I signed with ArtOfFact, I wanted to start out with somebody new, somebody fresh who felt that thought they could put time into what I was doing. As much time as I'm putting into it, promoting me and what not. I just wanted to start with a fresh group of people. The release isn't out yet, hopefully they'll advertise it and hype it as much as I am trying to push this. I'd hate to think that the record would be released with no one knowing about it, because essentially that's sort of what happened when Metro bought the rights off of Zoth Ommog (Mainesthai: Out to Lunch and No Rest for the Wicked); they didn't do any hardcore promotional advertising because they felt that they were old releases. Lo and behold, sales aren't as good as they should be because nobody knows that they exist domestically. Not everybody has the Internet and not everybody has a local import or independent record store in the town they're from. That's the whole thing about being in the underground, and that's why they call it the underground: because the music is underground. (Laughs.) I think the Shimri material actually has a wider appeal to people of all genres of electronic music, simply for the fact that there aren't any vocals there and a lot of vocals can turn people off as far as industrial music goes.

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