In advance of their CD-release show tomorrow night in the First Ave Mainroom, Mark Black, Bill Melton, Stuart Devaan, and Dean Hawthorne of Savage Aural Hotbed met up with Gimme Noise in their cool large studio space filled with auto parts, power tools, plastic barrels, and strange inventive contraptions they use as their instruments to give a sonic demonstration and interview.
[jump] You guys have been together over 20 years. What was your impetus to form?
Bill Melton: It's close to 23 years. There was a band called King Kong that Mark Black and Dave Serezin (SP) who was one of the founding members formed, and Vault. They played found objects and were a percussive ensemble. They played shows with a band I had, called Rendered Useless. Both those bands stopped and then we started to get together, in spring of '88. First Dave and I started, then we pulled in Mark from Vault.
What were your influences in terms of music, art, and construction?
Mark Black: The "found object" thing was a big thing and industrial sounds that I'd done with David, and he had influences in electronic music. The original music was more electronic-dance-oriented, and after a while, David and I saw the Japanese Taiko drum group KODO at the Ordway, and their big arm movements and dramatic style really impressed us. So we decided to write a song like that, with our own twist on it.
Melton: Which we premiered at First Avenue, Halloween 1988. That was the first song in the form we use now.
Black: We had more songs with words, lyrics then.
How has your style evolved over time?
Black: That was the biggest style. Each of us, both the original members and the couple who joined to replace the ones who moved away, we all have our own sets of backgrounds and influences, so we all add some ingredients to the soup that we play.
Stuart Devaan: Oooh, that's a good metaphor. . .
Melton: We found it was easier to perform the live music. Before we were playing with a computer, it was kind of clumsy, and the audience liked the aliveness of the drums, so we started doing that. It shifted slowly over a few years and then evolved all the way after three years or so.
Devaan: The thing that was appealing to me--I'd been playing drums in rock and jazz bands, I joined in '91--the thing that appealed to me, was, rock had become formulaic, two guitars, drums, bass. It was becoming like classical or jazz: If you don't play a certain way, people are like "that sucks." This is appealing to me because there's experimentation with primarily rhythms and textures. We use a lot of different textures with steel, springs, and power tools...Mark's created an industrial bagpipe, too. We continue to explore that. We try to push the envelope, which I think a lot of music doesn't do today.
Melton: The theater aspect started around then too. The Southern Theatre in '91...we began to think about costumes and how we were set up on stage. Started thinking of ourselves as other than a regular rock ensemble.
Tell me more about your theatrical aspects.
Black: We realized there was more of a visual element to what we were doing; it was almost dance-like, only from the waist up. We knew we had to think about what it looked like.
Melton: That first First Ave show in '88, we had garbage cans hanging from the ceiling, so even then we had that performance art and spectacle aspect. Cheap theatrics.
Devaan: Cheap thrills.
Do you have theatrical influences? Was anyone else doing this?
Black: There wasn't a lot that we knew of. There wasn't much cross-pollenation going on.
Dean: But soon you started to see STOMP and Tap Dogs and people who were taking a style of dance and beginning to include found object performance art. A lot of people are comparing us to STOMP or Blue Man Group
Melton: They probably all started without knowing about the others...
Dean: The main difference is we're not a dance company or a performance art company. We are a musical ensemble.
Black: We're hoping people go to STOMP shows and they get irritated because people go up to them and go, "Hey, you guys are like Savage Aural Hotbed!"
Dean Hawthorne: There's a group called Crash Force in CA that has a tribal element. I think there's a tribal element to what we're doing, a sort of harsh primitivism to our music that some of those others aren't doing.
Devaan: I think what we're doing is a lot meatier than a lot of things that are out there because you come to a show and you can see the spectacle, the sparks and the power tools and there's that sort of schticky stuff that's fun and people get into that. But then you listen to our music and there's compositionally that mixed meter stuff--one person is playing a certain tempo, and another is playing a different tempo and so on, so you have these complex compositions going on. You go down into the piece more than the visual spectacle of it, and get out of it what you want to get out of it.
Black: It's both intellectual and visceral. It's like if Steve Rife composed for the demolition derby.
Speaking of Steve Rife, talk about some of the art events you've performed.
Melton: We've played at a lot of iron pours. Franconia, Zumbrota...one in Northeast, long ago.
Devaan: The S & M Building, Art Jones...
Black: Our music goes well with molten metal!
Devaan: One of my favorites is from a Toxic Accident performance, our kind of schticky fun series.
Melton and Devaan: The 7th St. Entry was fun!
Devaan: At the Entry we had light suits and pyrotechnics. You could still do pyrotechnics then. We would explode pyrotechnics on stage, when you could still do pyrotechnics on stage. We would have these light suits with tape on them with alarms, sirens, and walkie-talkies on them. We'd give members of the audience flashlights and we had a fog machine so you could see the flashlights through the fog screen. We'd come through the audience with the flashlights, wearing gas masks and stuff. We'd go on stage and pull a sheet of plastic down over the stage. By this time the stage is filled with fog, but it stops at the plastic in front of us, so you can't see us, and the audience is up in the air.
Black: It was like looking at us in a big aquarium!
Devaan: We couldn't see, either, though! We'd feel around for our instruments and to plug in to our controller board so our light suits with Christmas lights would light up. You could see the light suits through the fog behind the plastic.
Black: We were playing the arcwelder back there!
Devaan: The light suits were Tybek, plastic with Christmas lights.
Black: Anti-contamination suits.
Devaan: Probably a little 120 doesn't hurt, shock you. 100 lights per suit.
Black: This was pre-Holidazzle.
I wanted to ask about the arcwelder . . .
Devaan: We haven't for years, maybe we should do that Saturday!
Black: We don't have time!
Bring the arcwelder back!
Melton: We did shows at the Red Eye Theater, three years in a row, one month long and two or three weeks in a row.
Tell me more about your new instruments you've invented.
Devaan: The Vagazalizer. We started working with contact mics a long time ago...
I have this stool (base is a bowl with steel balls that roll around in it, sounds a little like a heavier gamelon). We were custom-building them; now we found contact mics for $15 that work well. It's evolved into "Glove of Sound"--a contact mic connected to a glove [with a small wireless unit] so we mike whatever we touch. Any piece of steel, spring, etc. we touch gets amplified.
Devaan: The CD is called Glove of Sound and essentially it's these contact mics, we hold these sticks and tap these springs and it amplifies the spring directly. Based upon the kind of stick you have--there's a putty knife, a fiberglass stick, different springs, coils, and steel--based upon where you touch it, it makes different sounds. You can mike your throat...
Devaan: The first piece, Dean plays steel rods covered with violin rosen.
Black: [Runs his contact mic gloves down the steel rod--it makes a loud ringing noise.] We were at this conference of prosthetic devices for people who lost their limbs in an earthquake. We met a guy from MN who works for Ottobock (SP) It's made of sockets for limbs for amputees.
Hawthorne: One of the leaders for prosthetics is Ottobock in Plymouth. A woman who works there had seen us and she said, "We'll give you a bunch of sockets, see what you can do with them." Here it is.
Where do you usually find your parts?
Hawthorne: We don't usually go looking for them. Now that we've been doing this for so long, you just see something and wonder what that sounds like. Or you hear an interesting sound and you wonder what made it, and you try to reproduce it. Someone will bring something in, and we'll all try to figure out where to hit it.
SAVAGE AURAL HOTBED play a CD-release show with the Brass Messengers and Mercy Kill tomorrow night, SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, at FIRST AVENUE. 18+. $8. 6 p.m.