INTERVIEW: Thou Shalt Not

By Kim Mercil
Introduction by Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Thou Shalt NotThe East Coast is finally waking up to the grandeur of the talented band ThouShaltNot. Their work has been hailed as top notch from some of the west coast’s staunchest critics and it is not without merit. ThouShaltNot is a band who remains conscious of the pulse beat within the underground music scene while also continuing to expand hybrid genres to satisfy all assorted dark musical tastes. Even those who find industrial music too edgy will find something appealing within the confines of any of their previous releases.

ThouShaltNot are perfectionists who won't think twice about holding up a song for release until all the members are truly satisfied that has accomplished what they musically set out to do. They incorporate many cerebral and literary concepts while also crafting sound to keep the club night hopping. They have truly expanded on the concept of music as art as well as entertainment.

KM: How would you describe your music to someone who has not yet heard it?

Alexx: Dark electronic pop. There are elements of goth, industrial, noise, synthpop and classical, but by the time we were a few songs into writing and recording our new album, The White Beyond, we had fully come to terms with the fact that we were making a pop record of sorts. It's awfully weighty and epic, and probably uses more big words and talks about death more than what's on the radio, but the focus is on the songwriting throughout. There's a lot of warmth and emotion behind it.

KM: ThouShaltNot is based out of Pittsburgh and Columbus. How did you go about creating and recording The White Beyond between two states?

Alexx: We meet up together when we can, as it's only a few hours that separate us. That said, for most of the songs on the new album, the collaborative instrumental performances on live drums and live guitar were added toward the end of the recording process when we all spent some time in the studio together. Though the album took two years to assemble, most of the writing and pre-production was done by me in my bedroom. Jeremy did a bit of programming on his own. Aaron did a chunk of post-production and mixing on his own. The Internet is a beautiful thing. If every step of the process required all three of us to be present at the same time, this record would have taken five years to make.

KM: The track Cardinal Directions is featured on the Asleep By Dawn compilation. Why was this song chosen in particular, and why did the compilation version of it differ from the album version at the transition into the last chorus?

Alexx: There are a few potential singles on The White Beyond, and while I might have wanted to get more exposure to Inside of You, In Spite of You or 100 Generations, we agreed upon Cardinal Directions with the label because it was a bit edgier and had more chutzpah in its musical statement as a choice for a featured track. It shows off a lot of what I think we do well. It's dancey, musically complex, has built-in stylistic contrast, things like that. As for the changes, we had to get the song to the label for inclusion on Asleep By Dawn before the album was really finished, and so the song that was on the compilation was still to a small extent a work in progress. I don't know how much you know about music theory, but the bridge of the song is in D minor and the last chorus is in C minor. It's hard to go directly from D to C and have it sound like an increase in energy (because the key is going down), and of course, for the last chorus, we needed a really high-energy feel. To correct the energy trajectory that I thought was a little uninspiring, we changed the instrumentals surrounding that transition on the album version and really highlighted the opening of the last chorus. I think it holds up the song's energy better that way.

KM: One of my favorite pieces on The White Beyond is Glaciers. For the meaning behind this song you wrote "confrontation is necessary to speed up our eyes, words and skin." Can you explain this a little further?

Alexx: I don't like to explicate my lyrics too much, as I think that one of the greatest powers of music or any art is that the experience of hearing it or seeing it can be intensely personal for an audience. Of course my songs have meaning to me, but it would be naive of me to suggest that they only had one absolute meaning. Having said that, Glaciers is about rekindling an energy and a mystery that lies inside. The biological references in the song extrapolate an emotional experience into a metaphorically physical one on a great many levels, from the very small to the very large. The song can be about self-discovery, war, sex, or if you really want, it can just be a song about wolves, ice, and mitosis. I know what it means to me; find out what your own mind needs from it.

KM: The song 100 Generations has five guitars, four drum sets, four vocal parts, a bass, a whisper track and an abundance of synth in it. Why were so many elements used in creating this track?

The White BeyondAlexx: Because it needed them all. Songs dictate their own terms, and 100 Generations just kept wanting to spiral into itself over and over, and so we kept developing the fugue of the instruments and voices. Songs have their own personalities and shapes, and that one is very much into circularity in a great many ways, and so part of that circularity is hearing instruments and ideas juxtaposed in several ways, which means two or three guitar lines sometimes. Also, it was important that 100 Generations felt very real, and so there's just a lot of live performing on that song. To me, it's my favorite song on the record, and it's very heartfelt. It's kind of the same thing with the album's title track. Sometimes you need to say, "screw efficiency, screw being practical" and just make the most perfect thing you're able to, even if it means that the mixdown is a nightmare.

KM: Why did the track We Could Have Flown Like Pollen get rewritten so many times prior to settling on the version that appears on The White Beyond?

Alexx: It just wasn't ever good enough in its past incarnations. The first draft was this Sisters of Mercy thing I did when I was 16, and then kind of at once I realized that the original lyrics were garbage and that I was not cut out to make late 80s goth rock. The first verse of the finished product was originally the bridge of the song. We later were talking with Dystopian Records about submitting a later strangely hip-hop influenced version to one of their compilations, but they closed up shop before we finished it, and then my hard drive exploded. Over and over again. It was awful. In the long run though, I'm kind of glad we didn't go with that rendition. What it boils down to is that sometimes a song wants to breathe a bit over its development, and when you rush it to grow up into a finished recording too fast, it turns out ill-tempered and resentful of you. Any songwriter who believes that a first draft cannot be improved upon is a blithering fool.

Thou Shalt NotKM: ThouShaltNot has quite a few releases under its belt, and numerous guest musicians have shown up throughout these discs and for live performances. How do you feel they enhance your music as a whole?

Alexx: Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs have a book called The Third Mind that talks about how when people collaborate and combine their intellects a third entity, comprised of the others' thoughts, but somehow independently conscious, arises with its own creative energy. It's like that sometimes. When we work with others, special things can happen. I think Joel Beauchemin's violin work on Embrace the Sun on our second album, The Holiness of Now, is a good example of that. He's a fierce musician, and there was a real electricity when he worked with us on that track. On the new record, we were really pleased to work with D. C. F. Pegritz, with whom we've collaborated on his project, Nyarlathotep. He did a great job of adding some eerie flourishes to The Insistence on Solid Floors.

KM: ADSR Musicwerks released your first three albums. How was ThouShaltNot discovered by that label?

Alexx: Mike Wimer, who runs ADSR, was on tour with his band, Noxious Emotion, and one of ThouShaltNot's first shows ever was opening up for them in Cleveland. We ended up having a great show and bonding a whole lot with Mike, and when he asked if he could release the CD we'd given him, we said "of course," and after we retooled it some, our first album came out. That label was very good to us.

KM: Why are you not with ADSR Musicwerks today? How did you become involved with Dancing Ferret Discs?

Alexx: We're still friends with the folks at ADSR, but because they're in Seattle and we're so far away, it wasn't quite as conducive to communication as things are with Ferret, which is in Philadelphia. Also, musically we might be a bit better suited nowadays. We always felt welcome at ADSR, but they've been a primarily harder industrial label. As our sound found its niche, we discovered more and more in common with where we were headed and where Dancing Ferret was headed. Patrick, the label owner, had booked us to play at Dracula's Ball in Philly a while back and we'd been talking about things for a while, and when the label made an offer, it just seemed like the right thing to do in terms of spreading our music to as many people as we can.

Thou Shalt NotKM: On your previous release You'll Wake Up Yesterday, there is a track called If I Only Were A Goth. Reading the lyrics to it I found it rather amusing, but to die-hard goths I can see them possibly taking offense to it. What kind of reactions if any, did you get at the time of its release? What is the song's story?

Alexx: We actually released it because there had been so much popular demand for it. I'd written it my sophomore year in college on a whim. I write a lot of really goofy songs, and the ThouShaltNot material is only a very small fraction of my total output. Anyhow, we'd been playing it at shows for a while and people kept wanting to buy it, and while we'd of course much rather be known for the more serious songs we do, I suppose it is a bit clever in its own way, if that's what it takes to get the band name out there. I've never heard of anyone getting upset about the song. I think you'd have to be profoundly delusional in how seriously you take yourself for a ditty with a Wizard of Oz tune to offend your inner tortured vampire.

KM: The only other band I know that has a journal on their site for fans to read is Bella Morte. Why was it decided to add a tour journal on your site www.thoushaltnot.net? Who in the band writes the entries that are found there?

Alexx: We started it when we kept a journal for our 2000 spring tour, and I forget whose idea that was initially, but everyone in the band contributes entries when they feel like it. It gives the fans something more to sink their teeth into if they really want to immerse themselves a bit more fully, or even just to know how we've been doing. It was crazy how many web hits the tour journal was getting when we were updating it from the road. People would check in every day. We also keep brief writeups of every show we've ever played so we can kind of trace the history of what was going on with the band over the years. The idea came simply because there were a lot of memories we'd had pertaining to specific concerts and I'd hate to see them get clouded and indistinct.

KM: Any plans on performing in NY to promote The White Beyond?

Alexx: We'll be playing all over. New York is a tough scene because there are so many people, yet they're so spread out all over the city. You can play there and no one will notice. I'm sure we'll get there in the coming months though. I wish we had a bit more time to tour, but I'm in school full time and Aaron and Jeremy both work. It's hard to clear out a week or a month to play shows, but we're making sure that we hit every major city within our reach for this album. We're really terribly pleased with the record and have a suspicion that if others were exposed to it many of them would be too.

KM: What would you say is your best/worst tour experience thus far?

Thou Shalt Not LiveAlexx: The single best experience is awfully hard to nail down, but I can say that we had an amazing time playing in St. Louis, where we worked hard to make the show all-ages. All-ages shows have much higher energy to them in general. There were droves and hordes of kids there who it seemed like were starving for music and expression, and so when we took the stage, we were absolutely blown away by how engaged in the show they became so quickly. It wasn't just goth kids either, but all kinds, moshing and swaying. It just felt very genuine. There have also been some other great moments involving disappearing car-top carriers, power outages and playing an impromptu show in a coffeehouse in Montana, complete with folk renditions of our songs. I also think that the experience of touring with Hungry Lucy, an excellent trip-hop act, was really top-notch as each band really helped the other retain its collective sanity. As for the worst experiences, the thing is that in hindsight anything that doesn't kill you only makes you laugh. Aaron was throwing up with food poisoning once when we took the stage in Virginia. Jeremy and I nearly died of thirst and exhaustion while sleeping in our car in the middle of the desert after a non-sleeping marathon left us lost in Vegas. Early on, we played a show or two alongside metal bands and we felt like the audience was constantly about to explode with the synth-crushing fury of hairy guitar-craving man-wrath. Yeah. Things like this aren't really fun when they happen, and while there are less interesting bad-news stories of deadbeat promoters and technical glitches onstage, they're hardly remarkable enough to stand out as anything superlative in my head. Touring and playing live is really important to us, because we are proud of our musicianship and because it offers another side of the songs. I think that in the future, ThouShaltNot's new record, The White Beyond, will provide us with a lot the raw materials to make our concerts and tours into positive memories for us.

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