Big Catholic Guilt
By Bob Gourley
As anyone who has seen them live can attest there are few
bands that can come close to matching the intensity and innovativeness of Big
Catholic Guilt. The Boston-based group has often been compared to Ministry
because of their combination of thrashing guitars and samplers, but that
comparison is not really accurate. Big Catholic Guilt are more concerned with
writing strong songs, not just piling on the noise. With the extremely intense,
almost possessed looking Sam Jordan as frontman, the group has proven to be one
of the strongest live outfits around.
The group was started up in 1990 by core members Jordan and
sampler/programmer Tim Osbourne who are responsible for the basic songwriting.
Guitarists Jason Kahn and Jon Walsh and drummer J. "Bodo" Potts were then
brought in to round out the sound and adapt the music to live performance. The
current line-up is Jordan, Osbourne, Kahn, Walsh, M. Crazz (bass) and Perry
James (drums). Big Catholic Guilt have a self-released CD, Possession, and now
have a new EP, Judgement, out on Cherrydisc (distributed through
"We felt that now was the time to get something out. We
wanted something out now," says Jordan on the release. "We wanted to not have
to go through a lot to get something out nationally so we went ahead and went
for it. It was easy to negotiate with Cherrydisc. John Horten's a great guy and
was very easy to work with."
The first Big Catholic Guilt radio tapes hit the airwaves in
August of 1990. By the next spring Big Catholic Guilt was rapidly gaining
recognition, earning a nomination in the WFNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll and
audiences started wondering whether the outfit was just a studio project or a
full live band. So the duo put together a band and quickly became famous for
their strong live shows.
Sonically, Judgement is superior to its predecessor due to
improved recording conditions. While the first CD was done in producer Lamar
Lowder's home studio the new release was done in state of the art 24 track
recording facilities. This time around the group used all 16 bit samplers and
the improved technology allowed the group to push the medium to the limits.
Electronics figure prominently in Big Catholic Guilt's music
and the group manages to use them in a very creative fashion. For example, the
remix of "Silence," off the new CD, was created by Big Catholic Guilt sampling
their own music. "There's technically no live performance," says Jordan of the
track. "But the samples are of our own guitar loops, of my voice off of tape,
all off of our own tapes so you get this live thing that still heavily deals
with technology and sampling."
For live performances, Osbourne stands behind an elaborate
set up of MIDI triggers playing virtually all of the samples live. Technology
constraints have made this difficult, but the group is almost to the point of
being able to do everything live. "And when we say that, that's to say that
there's still a lot of sampled stuff, but it's 100% triggered. If it be a bass
line, it's a bass line that he's triggering note by note or measure by measure,
but it's performed live. It exists because Tim makes it exist."
"In the past, tape would take over some overflow because our
gear just wouldn't handle that amount of information," Osbourne explains.
"That's been minimized and will disappear. Our goal is to remove that element
so that everything is live."
Early on Jordan would use vocal processing to distort his
voice, but is now getting away from that primarily because it has become over
used. "The emotion that's there is more important than the effect. At first it
was kind of fun. We basically just did it because it was fun and it had a cool
feel to it, but then as we did more performances we realized that there was
more depth without the effect."
Another reason for getting away from the effects was to
avoid sounding like everyone else. "It's become cliched," explains Osbourne on
the use of distortion. "I think the effects actually strip away the nuances and
angst and the real emotion in the vocals and you sound like Nitzer Ebb."
Although they use technology and create aggressive music,
Big Catholic Guilt do not feel that they are not "industrial." As Osbourne
explains, the current crop of bands being slapped with that label are a far cry
from such "industrial" pioneers as Throbbing Gristle. Rather, Big Catholic
Guilt see their music as a healthy fusion of styles. "It's no sin to use
guitars blended with samples. I think more and more that's happening," says
Jordan. "All elements are starting to cross over more. I think cross over is a
natural part of popular music at this point."
Jordan goes on to say that like any new technique being
incorporated into music electronics were looked down upon at first but are now
gaining acceptance within rock music. "People made just as big a stink when the
first guy came walking out with the Fender Precision Bass. Because you don't do
that, it's just wrong to do that," he says. "Bob Dylan gets booed for playing
an electric guitar at the Newport Jazz festival. It was much the same type of
rebellion over anything new. It takes a lot for someone to break out."
Now that they have a national release Big Catholic Guilt are
eager to hit the road and do more extensive touring in the future. But Jordan
stresses that the group is not really looking to get away from the local music
scene. "The Boston local scene is much more vibrant than people give it credit
for," he says. "There's a lot of bands who are getting signed and doing well in
Boston. You go down to New York and I defy somebody to find that many bands in
New York who do that well. It's a much more vibrant scene than in a lot of