Music Interview

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 Relativity).

"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 places."