Interview with Hank Erchief, Lip Magazine, January 2000.
(Hank) I just wanted to say that I loved your show the other night, and I wanted to start this interview with a quick lowdown of what you do live, since I was quite impressed. What exactly do you do live, and what sort of gear do you use?
(SR) Uh, Basically the show is entirely live, in that I don’t use a backing tape or a sequencer. What I do is, I bring prepared tape loops made on an eight-track reel to reel and I use these to perform with. These loops have been spliced with a basic rhythm on one or two tracks of the tape, cut at a precise tempo. When I use the loop live, I can record onto the other tracks of the tape as I go, and mix the different tracks however I want.
(Hank) So the tapes have stuff on them before you start playing?
(SR)Yes. Although the audience might not hear what is on the tape, depending on how I mix it. I have headphones on and I can monitor what is on the tape and what I am playing. I choose what I want to send out to the main mix for the audience to hear, and I like to hold back what is on the tape sometimes. I can hear a breakbeat for instance in my headphones, which is on the tape, I then start recording other rhythms to the tape loop, and build up new parts around the rhythm on the tape,,then later on I might unmute the breakbeat and of course it fits perfectly because it came first.
(Hank)I wondered about that, because sometimes you would drop a beat that was in sync and I thought you were using a click track or something, with a sampler.
(SR) Well the beat that I “dropped”, was in fact the click track itself in a sense, and the other rhythms were built around it, it’s just that I chose to keep it in my headphones until later in the song, in order to create that buildup.
(Hank) Do you plan ahead what you will play? or is it all improvised?
(SR) A bit of both. When I make the tape loops, I use stripped down rhythms from the songs on my CD. Then live, I might add in the missing parts, melodies or drones or whatever compleates the song. Initially I did set up my tape loops so that I could recreate the songs exactly as they are on the CD, but I found this to be a bit stupid. I had my feet playing midi pedals while playing dumbek with my hands, and trying to mix and record, and I realized that I was doing all this stuff to make it sound just like the album, which made performing a lot of work, not creative, just work, going through the motions like a slave, which is boring to me. So I improvise and go with the flow, but some basic elements are planned ahead.
(Hank) I noticed a lot of gear up on that stage, aside from all the percussion stuff you use. What else do you have other than the tape loop?
(SR) I have a mixer and a lot of outboard gear. Since I am recording onto the tape loop from my own mics on stage, I need compressors and footpedals and stuff. I have a lot of delays and effects so I can do mixing and dubbing, which I consider to be at least half of my show, and then I have like a synth or two but I don’t always bring everything to every show. It fills two cabs, so it gets to be a pain and I start questioning if I need more than one type of dumbek ‘and’ a djembe,, but I always bring more than enough so that I have choices on stage, but I often have things which I don’t use at all.
(Hank) Let’s move on to some other questions, but I want to ask you some specifics about your gear afterword. What style of music do you play? I mean what do you consider your music, industrial? ambient?
(SR) That’s always a tough one to talk about. I think that I have been heavily influenced by older industrial bands, but I don’t think that makes my music industrial. I noticed that a lot of techno guys who like my music call it ‘ambient’, but to me it’s all rhythm, and when I think of ambient, I think of it as music without rhythm, just floating soundscape stuff. But I guess there is an ambient element to my music. I always say tribal in there somewhere, because I use tribal instruments and the sound is trancey in a tribal way, not trancey in a techno way. I can tell you that I use elements of dub quite a bit, and there are breakbeats in there sometimes, but it isn’t really dub music, maybe “new dub” or tribal dub, oh I don’t know.
(Hank)Well, I’ve seen your CD at HMV in the Industrial section, but at Towers they put it under Electronica.
(SR)Yeah,, there are two terms that really have no clear definition. Electronica could mean anything really. Industrial,, well it used to sort of indicate a certain angle, but that has changed so much, that the term has mutated into something else. I certainly would agree that my music could be considered ‘Industrial’ and ‘Electronica’, but these terms do not do many bands any justice.
(Hank)Can you describe your music by comparing it to other bands? I mean who do you sound like? what bands influence you?
(SR)Uh, well that is tough too. Someone once said “Muslimgauze meets Scorn”, I can understand that, but I wouldn’t go too far with that comparison.
As far as what bands influence me, I would say that being influenced by a band does not mean you want to sound like them, but that they inspired you to create, or think about your own music differently. I can hear some bit of production on a pop song, and I might want to try something similar,, but my song is not going to sound poppy because of it.
Is that beating around the bush enough for you ?
(Hank)I guess no one wants to compare themselves to other bands, but it does on some level give people an idea of what your music sounds like.
One thing I noticed is that at your live show you used breakbeats, which puts your music into that dance-related territory, I could see comparisons to Scorn or Techno Animal. But when I listened to your album I didn’t hear any breakbeats, the music sounded more ethnic with eastern instruments, why have you chosen to add breakbeats to your live show?
(SR)Well, I don’t always use breakbeats live, but what you heard are newwer songs that will be on my next album. My live set is usually more new songs than older ones these days, and some of my new songs use breakbeats. The new album will definately sound less ethnic and more like my live shows have been, but since the backbone of my music is playing hand drums and percussion, it might still sound eastern flavored.
This whole thing sounds funny to me because I love using singing bowls, tibetan bells, doumbeks and other eastern instruments, but of course I am not playing anything traditional. I don’t play authentic eastern rhythms, and I don’t want to, I want to experiment and create my own rhythms without any restrictions. If you look at Muslimgauze, (there have been some comparisons to his music),he is playing traditional arab rhythms on traditional instruments. Now I use the instruments, but not the rhythms, so on the surface I understand the comparison, the ‘sound’ can be similar, but the content is totally different. He does use a sampler and all that stuff as well, so that is a fair similarity.
(Hank)You really don’t like being compared to other bands do you?
(SR)No it isn’t that bad. I just like to clarify comparisons, because it’s all relative to your musical experience and personal angle on a band. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people compare one band to another, I do it all the time, but I hate straight unqualified comparisons showing up in a review, whether it’s a review of my album or anyones album.
It’s not that I dislike the bands that I get compared to either, not at all, I usually like them, and understand the comparison. It’s just that I hate simplifying things, and I hate to think that people will take comparisons too literally. I think that the music I am doing is unique and hard to pinpoint, therefore people will use comparisons to help describe it, but because it is so hard to pinpoint, these comparisons will fall a little flat if not qualified.
(Hank)I get it.
Well I think we have given people an idea of what Bitter Harvest is about and what your music is like. I do urge anyone who gets a chance, to go and see you play live. It really is refreshing to see someone doing anykind of electronic music and not just hiding behind a mixer. Oh yeah and it sounds cool too..