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