Music Interview

Jessica's Crime

by Jett Black

Burning "ophidian rock for the cold-blooded masses," Jessica's Crime, based in Dallas, Texas, pump demanding, abrasive industrial-rock music over the internet and into local venues for a wide variety of listeners both at home and abroad. Via SpeedKingS Music (SKS), Aaron Bishop and David Hellstrom provide both their debut and upcoming Jessica's Crime releases fortified with innovative and progressive creativity in an ever evolving and chaotic music industry. Caution: Jessica's Crime is not for the weak of heart, nor the feeble-minded. Alien groove-gear recommended.

Who is in the current line-up of your band?

AB: I sing and play guitar - the more echo-oriented, psychedelic leads - and program the electronic bits as well, mostly drums, but also the occasional synths and samples. Dave plays guitar (more of the heavy, palm muted riffs) and adds assorted screams and backing vocals now and again.

What changes in style & membership has Jessica's Crime undergone since its inception?

AB: Style-wise we've stayed pretty much the same. We've just gotten better at it. Membership-wise, we've gone through quite a few people, some more valuable and important than others. However in the last three years or so, as we've slimmed down, we have done nothing but improve in my humble opinion.

Explain the meaning of "Rock & Roll Terrorism."

AB: Aside from being an aesthetically pleasing way to get out of long explanations about your philosophy as a musician, describing one's self as a Rock and Roll Terrorist implies that you are taking a thoroughly explored and supposedly exhausted medium of artistic expression and using it as a weapon of intimidation to force people to look at your ideas and listen to what you have to say. In western culture, for some reason, people love to listen to musicians and experience what they've got to say (or don't have to say, in many cases), much more so than any other form of art with the possible exception of film. And when the songs you play are extremely charged emotionally - whether that be in the form of aggression, fear, anger, love, or whatever else - then it becomes a slap in the face to take note and listen. Maybe you'll hate it, maybe you'll love it, but at least you'll hear what we're saying and that's a few minutes of your life spent devoted to US no matter what you end up thinking of the finished product and that, I suppose, would describe our brand of "Rock and Roll Terrorism."

Sisters of Mercy, Skinny Puppy, Fields of the Nephilim and White Zombie are included among your musical influences. How have these bands' styles contributed to an evolving and yet unique product of sound coming out of Jessica's Crime?

AB: It's funny, but when I first started this whole affair back in 1989 I was in high school, had no idea what I was doing and no clue as to what was involved in writing a good (or even marginally bad) song. I didn't know how to play the guitar and I'd never tried my hand at any kind of serious lyric writing. Consequently, teen-aged fan-boy that I was, I decided to simply ape what was being done by the bands I really got into at the time. The weird thing was, no matter how much I tried to rip off anybody, it always came out sounding substantially different (and usually substantially worse) than what I was aiming for mainly because I didn't have the technical skill yet to accurately reproduce what I heard. However, with a little practice, I eventually started working on what made my stuff sound different from theirs and focusing on that, instead, which more or less culminated in the sound we've got today. I definitely owe a huge debt to some of the bands you've mentioned above (and some you hadn't - Nick Cave springs immediately to mind), and I've never been afraid to wear my influences on my sleeve, so to speak.

When will Jessica's Crime tour next?

AB: As soon as we get more shows. Hopefully sooner, rather than later. People from all over are starting to play us on the radio and in clubs, so we're keeping our eyes open. No definite dates right now though.

Jessica's Crime has lately been receiving recognition in many countries outside the United States. What's significant about each.

AB: Since I've never been to any of [those countries], I don't really know what's going on over there. We get e-mail from lots of places, asking for CDs to play on the radio or at clubs, and nine times out of ten they get back to us about how much they love the record, play it every weekend, etc, etc. I'm always glad to hear about things like that because I personally don't see any reason why ANYBODY who gave it a fair chance wouldn't see the merit in what we're doing, but as to what the scene is like there or how it is received once it hits the airwaves or the clubs, I don't know. I know we've been played a lot in Lithuania, Greece, Portugal and England though, so I hope SOMEONE's enjoying it, besides just the DJs.

What concepts will be woven into the next recording?

AB: More of the same with a few changes I would say. We know pretty much what songs are going to be on the next record and most of them are already written in their entirety. There's a fairly savage tale of hatred and love lost called "Daniel." We'll definitely be recording that one. Also, at least two songs with a loose historical basis mixed with a fair bit of fiction to make it interesting. Plus, Similar themes of conspiracy and corruption as those on "Wake" from the last album.

Uk.people.gothic/David Ellard bestows upon Jessica's Crime the antiquated, yet still laudable, term of Death Rock. How do you feel about being considered Death Rockers?

AB: David gave us a REALLY great review and he happens to be one of the DJs that plays us in England as well. As for the term "Death Rock," I can only conclude that my hypothesis about British people having utterly different interpretations of many genre names still holds true. (I once read an article that referred to All About Eve as "Speed Metal"...go figure). When I think of Death Rock I think of either really new, doom metal bands like Type-O-Negative, or I think of really old cheese-goth groups like the Screaming Dead, or old Christian Death, and I don't feel any particular affinity with any of those. So, I guess it's the old subjectivist rearing his ugly head again.

Tell us what kind of gear you used to program, sequence and record the sounds found on the Psycosemantic CD.

AB: Guitars mostly - and lots of them. ;) Actually, our main drum machine at the time was a Roland R8 MKII - a DAMNED fine little box with only a couple of major design flaws. There weren't a lot of synths on that record so most of the programming was drums only. A few extra bits were added here and there (piano in Traveller, strings in St. Mary) and for those we borrowed a little Boss synth machine from a friend.

Any new gear-toys to play with?

AB: In the last few months I picked up an Akai MPC2000 and that will be the main machine used on the next record and at any upcoming live shows. It's got true digital sampling capability (that's all it is, really), so we won't have to do audio feeds from cassette tape to floppy disk, or anything similarly barbaric (which was our only recourse in the past) on future projects.

How did you come to choose and compose Devil's Son for the Psychosemantic CD? Also, please tell us what this song is about.

AB: Simple really - we didn't write it. ;) A lot of people (including us, for a long while) were under the impression that it was a traditional song about the pirate Blackbeard. Well, it IS about Blackbeard, but it is NOT traditional. It was actually written and recorded by a SPECTACULAR group called The Jolly Rogers who only play that sort of thing, mainly at Renaissance faires I would imagine. Almost everyone who's ever been in the band has been a huge fan of the original - it's so swarthy and gonzo - and we had talked about covering it for years. Then, about three years ago, I sat about actually making a serpentine rock tune out of it and our (sometimes) bass player Cliff worked his magic to produce this really great bass line and there you have it. Then, when we went to record it, the Jolly Rogers were kind enough to give us permission (so we didn't have to just steal it). Unfortunately, the printers who did the liner notes totally disregarded the music and lyric credits we had given them for that song, which was a great disservice to the band that wrote it. Needless to say, we won't be using them again...

It's been almost a full year since the release of Psychosemantic. Have you begun recording on a new release? And when can we expect it to be available?

AB: We know pretty much what songs are going to be on the next album, but we haven't yet begun recording. It's mainly a question of money though since we are entirely self funded; no label to give us support or studio time. However there always seem to be generous benefactors out there willing to help us out at just the right moments so I wouldn't be surprised to see SOMETHING new within the year.

DH: We have been writing new stuff and revamping older stuff that isn't on "Psychosemantic." It sounds a bit more industrial, due to our new Akai, :) but we will still have the JC sound.

How do computers and the Internet impact how Jessica's Crime presents itself?

DH: We owe most of success to the binary workings of the Internet, our main medium for promotion.

AB: The Internet has helped greatly in this respect, especially with the rise of MP3 technology which we have been using pretty much since it's inception. To a very large extent we are known solely through the benefit of the Internet. Several of our songs are available in MP3 format allowing people to hear us who might otherwise never get the opportunity. Also, the network of gossip and information exchange that routinely filters new bits of information day in and out has been incalculably valuable in spreading the word. If Dave and I each tell a few people to check out the CD who in turn play it for a few others, a few of which then want copies for themselves, before too long people completely disconnected from us socially start to hear about us and listen to the music. It's pretty incredible, really.

Do you utilize computer technology to develop the music itself?

AB: Our new sampler/sequencer is basically a 486 with a drum machine interface and the recording process itself is all digital now. All of the final products are mixed and mastered entirely on computer.

Musically speaking, how did you get to where you are right now?

AB: A combination of blind luck and relentless perseverance. God has a way of brutally fucking us from time to time, at the worst moments, and we learned long ago to expect the worst from anything and everyone that the bastard throws at us.

How comfortable are you with where you are now musically?

AB: Well, I can honestly say that the main number one person I make records for is ME and I make them the way I want them to be, so I would have to say I'm pretty happy with things. Most of the songs I've written were done to fill some void in my life at the time - to say or do something that needed to be done - and so, for at least as long as we've been playing live (six? seven years?), the songs have been exactly what I wanted them to be. I don't try and write songs that will please a certain group of people...so there is always evolution and change. Whenever I get a new toy I like to explore the limits of what it can do and that inevitably shows up in songs written with it. Consequently some of our newer songs may have a more synthesized feel, or contain more samples, because those are the toys I'm playing with now. The ultimate feel of all the songs hasn't really changed all that much since we first started to record demos in the early nineties.

Where might fans specifically look for the most recent Jessica's Crime music reviews and interviews?

DH: Our website is full of useful info and reviews. [http://www.jessicas-crime.com]

What changes are planned for Jessica's Crime in 1999?

DH: More of an industrial feel to the music, but still backed with heavy ophidian guitars.

What difference has the addition of a drum machine meant to the performance of Jessica's Crime?

AB: Well, it's not so much an addition, seeing as how that's all we've ever had. From the very first days I knew I wanted a drum machine instead of a live drummer (not a "real" drummer, as many tend to put it) because I have complete and total control over every aspect of what a drum machine does, or does not do. Live it either matters or it doesn't, depending on the crowd. We've played for bikers and drunk immigrants in seedy Dallas bars who thought it was pretty shitty, but then again if the crowd already listens to that sort of electronic, dark-wavy type stuff then nobody even thinks about it. The main comment I hear from human drum types is that it takes away from the intensity of the live performance. Well, I've seen Ministry play with two human drummers and I've seen the Sisters play with no drummer at all and both bands were pretty god damned intense to me. Personally, I rather dislike the sound of acoustic drums and I can only think of one or two human drummers whom I think sound *really* good and actually add something to the music, rather than simply being a metronome with a pulse.

DH: I used to be in a blues band with a human drummer. He was good, but quite limited. A machine can do things no human drummer could ever even fathom doing. It never screws up, doesn't drink, doesn't take any money and never drops a stick... I love it. :)

Looking back upon the progression of your music, how have your messages evolved throughout the evolution of the musical styles?

AB: Everything has become more confident as we progressed. I think we are very sure of ourselves right now and I think that comes across on the record.

Since the late '80's, differentiations in "underground" music have resulted in distinctions such as "gothic," "industrial," "electronica," "darkwave" and others not as trend-setting. Where do you believe these distinctions in darker music are headed?

AB: Ultimately to a ridiculously complex taxonomy of music which only serves to pigeon-hole good bands even further than such labels do today. I think most such genres and sub-genres tend to be invented by the music press when they find something new they don't yet understand. On the other hand, using more broadly defined labels for bands leads to gross misrepresentation of what a band sounds like, stands for or looks like. That's why I tend to refer to us as a Rock and Roll band and let people who listen to it add whatever additional distinctions they feel are necessary for themselves. I think that if a band says "We are Gothic," or, "We are Punk Rock," they are automatically excluding a huge group of potential listeners who simply feel ostracized by the groups taxonomic fascism. Basically, fans of a group can call it whatever they like, but when the press and even bands themselves take up a label they are basically saying, "this is all we are and all we can be," and that is a rather limiting and short sighted attitude to take.

How would you describe industry evolutions from the late '80's to today?

AB: The eighties are memorable for one major reason: it was the only decade in modern times where popular music - music that got tons of radio airplay and drew huge arena crowds - was actually good on a fairly regular basis. Of course, the flip side of that is that 95% of all the best songs from that period were one hit wonders from bands that still basically sucked, but it was a time when it seemed like everyone had at least one, genuinely good song in them to make a gold record. As far as the evolution of the genres you mentioned before from then to now, I think the trend has been towards homogenization more than anything else. For example, if you take your pick of just about ANY of the so-called industrial bands popular today you will find that every one of them, almost without exception, sounds *exactly* like 'Too Dark Park' era Skinny Puppy. Sure, much of it may be danceable - some of it may even be intelligently done - but practically none of it has anything genuinely interesting to offer. Or take the even more laughable goth-dance type craze that's going on everywhere, with bands from Europe and, occasionally, America. I mean, how many different ways can they try and re-vamp the uninspired blandness of Rosetta Stone? Again, these groups basically put out songs that you can dance to and then throw away, which is fine in and of itself if that's all you want from them, but the fact that they all sound the same gets rather old rather quick. Popular music and country are in the same boat, mind you - it's all homogeny, all the way to the Blockbuster Music recycling bin.

What might be the most positive thing to be happening in the music industry?

AB: Freedom of information and freedom of exposure.

What barriers do you perceive exist in the industry that prevent evolutionary new growth and suppress creativity?

AB: Large record companies always seek to stifle competition from independent sources. They fear this as a threat to what they perceive as their fiefdom. I wouldn't be surprised if many record executives operated on a Mandate of Heaven approach like the old Chinese emperors, to be quite honest. The record industry has done its best to make sure that stars are made not by talent or perseverance or, God forbid, originality, but rather by force of money, video and radio airplay and record sale; all of which they control through advertising since a small band could never possibly afford to plaster their image all over MTV and the industry controlled record stores. Now that bands have the ability to reach vast numbers of people, all over the world - virtually for free - through the medium of the Internet, there is the real possibility of change. I know that terrifies the big labels. You only need to follow their persecution of MP3 to see the fear inherent in their actions.

What influences the development of music and lyrics composed for Jessica's Crime?

AB: Books, mainly. The gunslinger by Stephen King holds a very special place in my mind and it's imagery crops up from time to time. Also, mythological and historical references, the Bible, HP Lovecraft, Bob Wilson, you name it. The list is long and sundry.

What insight into the name, Jessica's Crime, might you offer?

AB: Read Dune, by Frank Herbert. In a nutshell a woman by the name of Jessica defies the orders of her sisterhood to bear only female children and brings forth a male child who, in turn, becomes a messiah for an otherwise doomed people. That seemed somehow germane to what I was doing.

How might fans reading this be most likely to contact Jessica's Crime for more information?

AB: E-mail deadgoddreaming@hotmail.com or check out the web page at: http://www.jessicas-crime.com/.