Music Interview

Machines of Loving Grace

By Bob Gourley

When Machines of Loving Grace spent $1000 to put together a dome they did it so well that they ended up getting stuck with it as their debut album. Much to the band's surprise it not only attracted the attention of Mammoth, but the label decided to release it. Vocalist Scott Benzell says that it "stung a little bit" getting what was only ever intended as a demo being presented to the public as a debut album. But now the group has followed it up with "Concentration," their first proper release as a label entity and an album they are much more happy with.

Machines of Loving Grace first got together about 4 years ago. Originally a trio of vocalist Scott Benzell, keyboardist Mike Fisher and guitar/bassist Stuart Kupars, drummer Brad Kemp came on board for live shows after the self-titled debut came out and has stayed with the group. Because the band members come from different musical backgrounds the group has always strived to bring together electronics and traditional rock instrumentation.

Benzell says that early on the group did a lot of experimenting and as a result many of the songs tended to lean toward one side either being very electronic or very rock-oriented. Now the Machines of Loving Grace feel they have found a synthesis of the two. Unlike many other bands that fuse the two styles, Machines of Loving Grace have a very uncluttered sound. Traditional bass sounds figure prominently which give it a very natural feel. The electronic percussion noises, samples and vocal effects blend in perfectly with the other instruments rather than overpower them.

The band's first LP was self-produced on a home 8 track studio. When Mammoth expressed interest the group wanted to re-record it, but the label chose to put it out as-is. "We were sort of formulating the idea for the band while we wrote it and that's one of the reasons I feel the first album came out sounding a little skewed," says Benzell. "It's pretty eclectic, sometimes not in a good way."

This time around the Machines of Loving Grace still did all the pre-production at home, but then went into a local 48 track studio and then a studio in LA to finish it off. However the group used a slightly different approach than most bands do. "It was an interesting process," explains Benzell. "We would go in and lay down some tracks and then we'd resample some of that, take it back home and manipulate it from there and lay it back in later."

This process causes "a real nightmare" when the group tries to prepare their material for live shows. Benzell says that the group is finally at the stage where they feel comfortable with the translation though they still find it to be a time consuming and arduous task going through and re-working the music. For one-off and local shows the group has added additional musicians, but bringing too many people on the road just causes more problems. Despite the difficulties Machines of Loving Grace have grown to like playing out. "We started off as a studio project exclusively and the first shows that we played were sort of grudging. We were not interested in playing live," says Benzell. "But after we toured last year we really learned that you can learn a lot about the music and about the way the people are interacting with it. As a result we've learned a lot about what worked within our music and what didn't work."

When Mammoth released the first album a lot of people compared Machines of Loving Grace to Nine Inch Nails. Some of the more narrow-minded critics even went so far as to say that when a band copied NIN it showed that music had reached an all-time low. But the group was not really bothered by the comparisons. "In a way, it's sort of the obvious comparison, especially for those who aren't really familiar with the genre," explains Benzell. "That was the thing the people initially leapt towards."

The comparison was fueled even more when Trent Reznor worked on a Machines of Loving Grace remix. But Benzell is quick to point out that most of that first album was recorded before NIN's "Pretty Hate Machine" came out and released well before NIN became huge. But by the time Mammoth put it out everyone was already familiar with the NIN sound and jumped in with the comparisons. The release of "Concentration" should put the comparisons to rest once and for all as it shows the group managed to craft its own unique style.