INTERVIEW: SMP

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

SMPDeep underground, somewhere near China, is a predominantly 2-man outfit called SMP. From the west coast of the USA, SMP's style of "elektro-punk-cyber-rap" is riveting and powerful. Their latest release just out on ADSR, Terminal, is an amazing mix of all these and offered an electrifying package. The return of Sean Ivy to the group to rejoin forces with Jason Bazinet has produced the strongest and best SMP release yet. Just off their 21-date tour in support of Terminal, SMP are already hard at work on the next release, promising more of the hard sound they've become famous for. Who the lucky label to release it will be is still unknown - but in between studio takes the duo took seats and penned some answers to a handful of questions I've thrown their way in an effort to get a deeper look at the rivethead genre-stepping duo of the west.

1. Themes expressed in Terminal can be anything from Terminator like science fiction imagery, to cyberpunk style ideals. If you had to give yourself a descriptive name - whether it be rivethead, cyberpunk, goth, etc. - which is your favorite?

Jason: We call our style elektro-punk-cyber-rap right now but I hate trying to think up labels for styles. I feel our sound is a mixture of Industrial-Dance, Alternative-Rap, and Old School Punk.

I think rivithead is a better term for a fan than cyberpunk. Even though I am a fan of Gibson/Sterling type fiction when I hear cyberpunk I think black trench-coated gamer.

Sean: I really don't care for using words like Goth or Industrial to describe ourselves, even combining the words electro-punk-cyber-rap, which we have done in the past, doesn't say enough for me. Right now if someone asked me "what do you sound like", I would just say if you really want to know, buy the cd or at least, come to one of our shows. If you can spare the five bucks you won't be disappointed.

2. What are the themes or ideals that are most important to you?

Sean: The band really doesn't have a collective ideology when it comes to writing, pretty much anything goes. I don't think a song has ever been vetoed because one of us didn't like the lyrics. I'm sure there would be a point to which this could be taken, but we've never come to that yet.

3. Your compilation appearances are quite extensive. You've also done a lot of remixing for a number of bands as well. How did you find yourselves appearing on so many, especially over the past couple years where, since 1998, you seem to have gone balls out with making these appearances?

Jason: A band is like a shark, you keep moving or you die. I'm always trying to work with new people so if anyone's reading this that needs a remix or a guest appearance get at me at jasondavid@smphq.com.

4. Sean Ivy took a hiatus from SMP in 1997 as is well known. Hopefully, I'll be the first to ask - why?

Sean: Sorry, but you're not the first to ask. Basically Jason and I have been in the same bands together since high school. Being in a band and working together is just like any other relationship, things just were not working out between us at that time. I felt that it was a good step for me to move on and Jason kept SMP going. The split ultimately was a good thing for both off us, we ended up staying in touch with each other and it just went on from there.

5. A year later Ivy returned to help put together Terminal with the rest of the crew. What brought you back and was it simply that an eventual return was inevitable?

Sean: I don't think Jason or I thought that we would ever get back together. A lot of our mutual friends were trying to influence us that way, but that's what friends do I guess. Jason and I had kept in touch a little bit, we were talking on the phone one day and he mentioned that SMP was going to tour for Ultimatum and needed someone to fill in for half the tour. I had had a pretty good time on the road with Christ Analogue, thought it sounded like fun, so I volunteered. We seemed to get along really well so I ended up doing the entire tour and joining the band again. I think the time apart from each other helped us get things straightened out and I feel that the band is a much stronger unit now.

SMP6. Any idea on a next release now that the originally troupe are back together?

Sean: Well, the original troupe is just Jason and I, but we are looking at a third member right now, no decisions have been made as of yet. I think the next release will be within a year of the last. That is one of our main goals right now, so I think we're on the right track for that to happen.

Jason: It'll be the shit! Everyone should run out and buy Ultimatum & Terminal just so they can be ready to absorb it! We are not slowing down or softening up or going synthpop nor are we going to go the rapcore style either. We aren't following trends; we're just going to do what we keep doing and letting it follow a natural progression.

7. The level of skill in arrangements and production as well jumped greatly between Ultimatum and Terminal. This is not to say that Ultimatum is anything less, but it does show a definite maturity or impressive growth within SMP. Is there anything(s) that you would attribute this to?

Sean: I felt a lot of pressure, in that this CD had to top Ultimatum. I was a big fan of that CD, even when I wasn't in the band, the first time I heard it I was totally blown away. I think Jason did a great job on it and the fact is, that CD was all Jason. So that increased my feelings of pressure in topping the release. I think we accomplished that but it's hard to pin-point a reason or reasons. Probably comes down to the fact that we have more experience doing it, a better studio and we still have good, original ideas. I think it's better also to have someone to work with and bounce ideas off of, or to have a different perspective on a song or a mix. Jason and I did a lot of that in the writing and production of Terminal. There was a lot I felt we could have done better with Terminal though, so learning these things as we go I feel the next CD will be even better.

8. You've released each of your CDs on different labels, never staying with one. Hopefully SMP will have a next release under their sleeves somewhere - do you expect to stick with ADSR Musicwerks or move to another label as you tend to do with each album?

Jason: That is unknown at this time. We need to find a label to give us the push to the next level. We are free agents at this time though. We've been talking to a few larger indies so hopefully we'll be getting a bit more exposure on our next CD.

Sean: Right now nothing is decided, our relationship with ADSR is very good though, but it's hard to say what we will do next.

Live SMP9. Is there any particular way you build/create a new track? A rhythm first, lyrics later, or other type of style you find works best for you?

Jason: It'll start with an emotion, a feeling I want to convey. Then it's straight to the sampler workstation to whip up some beats and unique sounds. After I get a good groove or two going I'll sit back and pen some lyrics. After a little more programming I'll take the track to the studio and we'll play it live and screw with it there. After that the track will just bounce between the programming phase and the live phase until it's done. That's why our tracks work well live, because they're written for live as well as the CD.

10. Everyone today has a side project. What are yours, if any?

Jason: I have a small side project dedicated to world domination, I have the feeling that if it starts to take off SMP may fall by the wayside.

TerminalSean: I don't have one, I actually can't imagine having the time to do a side project. SMP takes up a lot of time and energy as well as the rest of my life. I think that most musicians that have multiple projects that are being worked on, and none of them being hugely successful, will end up burning out or spreading themselves too thin. I think focusing your energy on a few things is a better way to go, and if you feel the need to do a side project, than maybe you're not in the right band to begin with.

11. Your success at touring is somewhat unusual for an electronic band. How do you find touring to be different than studio recording?

Jason: I compare being in the studio to slamming your hand in a car door every now and then while touring is more like riding in the trunk of said car.

Sean: Touring and studio recording are two totally different worlds, I can't see much of a comparison. It's like watching someone going white water rafting on T.V. as compared to doing it yourself.

12. You've stated that touring has made your writing skills better. How so?

Jason: When you suck live you know it! Boring intros, lame outros, repetitive beats. Things you don't notice sucking in the studio you will notice live.

13. When can we expect one in support of Terminal and are there any expected start time or places?

Jason: Actually we just came off our 21 date US tour. Right now we are planning other things like a remix CD but if something good drops in our lap, like a slot on a bigger tour, we will jump at that!

14. A band that tours as much and puts as much into it as SMP must have some decent on the road stories…

Jason: Yeah, there are some stories but you kind of had to be there. Needless to say we've battled primadonna bands, rats, assholes promoters, roaches, homeless people, bikers, drug dealers, shady club owners, lame booking agencies, red neck mechanics, randy drunk chicks and food poisoning to bring our show to you.

Ultimatum15. Lately the general consensus has been that the gothic/industrial/EBM scene(s) are heading back underground. Some believe that this will be a good thing because of the availability of tickets and limited print items to "true fans," others say it will stifle labels and commerce within the genre. Have you noticed this trend of going back underground? Do you feel it will better or worsen the current state of things in the scene?

Jason: Dude! SMP is so far underground that we're practically touring in China! I hope more and more people get into this genre, we need new blood always and I see it all over the place. New people get into this stuff all the time. It's especially cool when their first dose of industrial is SMP!

Sean: You know, I don't really think about any particular scene, I don't feel like we are confined to something like that. All I think about is writing the music that we want to, and putting on the best live show we can. If we're playing to a room full of "college kids," or a room full of "true industrial" fans, I don't really care, as long as they like our music, respond, and have a good time, then that's good enough for me.

16. The Internet and entities such as MP3.com and Riffage.com have seemed to be a boon for independent and near-independent artists today. The promotions available with the Web are amazing. Do you take advantage of this or do you still tend to enjoy paper-based or more conventional forms of promotion?

Jason: Anyone not promoting on the web is stupid. However, web promotion is not the be all and end all. You still have to get out and play and meet people in the flesh. I wouldn't have it any other way though.

Sean: Of course we take advantage of it, you would have to be living in a shack out in Montana or something like that, to not take advantage.

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