Sometimes the right thing to get the creative juices flowing is to take an existing and influential song, put one’s own spin on it, and unleash it upon an unsuspecting fanbase. Whether taking a page of a genre playbook similar to one’s own or covering a track clear out of left field, why not shake shit up here and there? Within the last few weeks, the alternative world has seen a number of its best and bleakest offer up their interpretations of some popular tracks, ranging from a Nine Inch Nails Grammy winner to a cut from the Queen of Pop.
Poppy modernizes nu metal darlings Kittie’s first salvo “Spit” from 1999 debut
The post-genre princess known simply as Poppy has paid homage to the women that have rocked before her, namely t.A.T.u (“All The Things She Said”) and Jack Off Jill (“Fear of Dying”), but the once-YouTube sensation tends to wear her musical influences on her sleeve. The title track from Kittie’s 1999 debut album was a rattling of the metal cages, as the Canadian four-piece challenged the entire concept of women in heavy music in a way that hadn’t been done since the heyday of Doro Pesch. A shame it may be that the lyrics of “Spit” are still relevant nearly a quarter of a century after its initial release,
Poppy’s update picks up the pace and adds in more electronic elements, making what was already a mosh-ready track a mule kick to the teeth. If Kittie’s original was pissed off, Poppy’s is an exasperated, infuriated howl along the lines of “god damn it, we’re still debating this shit?!” It’s urgent, dangerous, and an improvement on an iconic song from the heart of the nu metal era, and for that Poppy should be proud.
Danny Blu & Moris Blak confirm what we all knew: Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” is, in fact, industrial
In 1989, Janet Jackson invited us all to join a nation without geographic boundaries, united by a common mission. The title track from her landmark fourth album was set to bring people together through the power of music, addressing social calamities in a concept album for which Jackson fought tooth and nail to maintain creative control over. Given the rising influence of industrial music in the late Eighties, some have quipped, albeit only semi-seriously, that Rhythm Nation 1814 is an industrial album, but leave it to two of today’s best and brightest in the game to take that and run with it.
The SHVDOW Records duo of singer Danny Blu and producer Moris Blak bring the legendary track into modern times, tweaking the lyrics ever so slightly to reflect the problem du jour (namely, “with music by our side, to break the gender lines,” whereas the original named “color lines”). The live out loud mantra and attitude of Blu, with the pounding rhythms and thought-out production and arrangement by Blak, amounts to a smash for both. May this collaboration never end, and may the Rhythm Nation never stop.
We found Garbage hiding, and they finally uncovered their take on Siouxsie and The Banshees’ “Cities in Dust”
The godmother of goth that is Siouxsie Sioux championed the post-punk sound that populated the Seventies and Eighties, influencing innumerable alternative music acts for decades to come. The Madison, WI quartet Garbage has gone on record saying that the Banshees frontwoman was integral to their sound from moment one, and as a loving tribute, the band’s recent Record Store Day special Witness to Your Love EP included a version of “Cities in Dust.” Part electropop, part noise rock, and all driven by Shirley Manson’s smooth yet commanding voice, this cover may take a bit to grow on the more diehard Siouxsie fans, but such a careful and thought-out tribute cannot go unnoticed.
Ego Likeness mark their return with a rendition of Madonna’s “Live to Tell”
Madonna is an artist that invokes an old adage from wrestling manager extraordinaire Captain Lou Albano: often imitated, never duplicated. The Queen of Pop has a body of work and a sound all her own, making any artist’s go at reimagining one of her songs a tall task. Leave it to the seasoned Ego Likeness, breaking their yearslong silence following the reissue of their Dragonfly album and the release of their Wolves EP, to put the “power” into a power ballad. Donna Lynch’s dynamic and haunting vocals with the instrumentation and production of the multi-talented Steven Archer give this song about lies and mistrust an even darker, more ominous cloud to hang over it.
Otep’s take on Billie Eilish’s “you should see me in a crown” rules with an iron fist
The music of Otep Shamaya has always been confrontational and boundary-challenging, and her handling of covers has been no different. Be it her faithful cover of Nirvana’s “Breed” or even the transformation of Lorde’s bedroom pop smash “Royals” into an alt-metal banger that begs to be belted, the edge which Otep adds is one that is razor-sharp. On her first studio release since 2018’s Kult 45, Otep tackles Billie Eilish’s “you should see me in a crown,” one of the anchoring singles from the young singer’s debut full-length. Through death-growled choruses and gritted teeth, Otep adds plenty of bite to the track, going for aggressive where Eilish’s original approach was more understated.
Tony Hawk enlists a bevy of heavy to cover Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish”
If you had “Tony Hawk sings Nine Inch Nails” on your 2023 bingo card, no you didn’t, you fucking liar. Fairmounts frontman Mike Hawdon hosts “Mikey and His Uke” on YouTube, a music show featuring a who’s who in music creating all-star covers of rock and metal classics. For a more recent video, Mikey recruited Tony Hawk, who I’m convinced still doesn’t know how famous he really is, along with guitarist Ben Weinman (ex-Dillinger Escape Plan, Suicidal Tendencies), bassist Brad Magers (The Bronx), keyboardist Kat Lucas (ex-P!nk, stormylovechild), and drummer Ryan “Legs” Leger (ex-Norma Jean, ex-Every Time I Die), to cover a song which Hawdon himself always wanted covered on his show: Nine Inch Nails’ 1992 smash “Wish.” In the music video, Trent Reznor himself makes a brief cameo, giving an emphasis to the phrase “fist fuck” while still keeping well within YouTube terms and conditions. The cover itself is crunchier and more guitar-forward, with Hawk’s vocals staying faithful to Reznor’s original takes, albeit with a bit less inflection than the genuine article.
April was a really tough month. Emotionally, physically, finding the spoons to write anything was more than I could bare. A lot of amazing things came out which kept me company in these dark moments of reflection. Finding a way to describe it and share it with all of you ended up more than I could bare. So tonight for the first time in a long time I find myself in front of the keyboard with that spark again. That sweet inspiration returned, ready to pitter patter my calloused fingers against the keyboard and tell you about some of the great new music which makes this compressing life bearable. I hope you find something new among my musings to share and love.
Cult Of Alia – Patterns Beat Emotion – Brand new single from Dara of Cruex Lies. Pyromancy Disco full of flashing lights and rising smoke. This project is on Cold Transmission which is always a vote of confidence. I love the vocal delivery on this track. It’s fearless and steady with just a hint of snarl. This track also has an energy of the bands namesake from Dune. Swirling sand, science fiction, and spirituality at a fever pitch. I don’t spend enough time in reviews talking about lyrics. This one is a cold razor.
I feel my face will just betray me So lets destroy those pleasantries An honest look is just a warning Of something deep that wants to breathe
Albadore – The Forgotten Future – This album from Flint MI Dj Michael Absher is a tad outside our usual wheelhouse. An electrodelic jazz infused crackle full of Kerouac verse and Ginsberg meter. Timely record scratches to break the trancey silk edges and pay homage to the church of vinyl. 21 distinct tracks with a wide fusion of flavors. Michael really runs the full spectrum of sounds and blends them with precision and cunning. Sometimes I hear a band and think, the primary song writer was a Bass Player/Drummer/Singer, by what the focus seems drawn to. In this ambitious sound you really hear a DJ making music. The focus is on seamless transitions and following the natural path of the listener. Put this album on at your next party and just let it guide the energy of your night.
The Funeral March – Persephone – Rockford, Illinois postwave led by J. Whiteaker breaks the water with a new EP paying homage to a favorite topic of mine Greek Mythology. The first thing you always hear hook you in are the GORGOUS The CurePornography style guitar work that really steals the show. I also find myself lost in the misty vocal style Joe croons to cast contrast against The Cure. This EP feels very familiar, it wears it influences on it’s sleeve. It explores enough of it’s own path to feel fresh. The imagery heavy lyrics and romantic weight are a missing and welcome jewel in the modern scene.
Favorite Track: Kiss Me With Your Last Breath – It’s so slushy and hunter green floating above still water. The Cure guitar influence is very heavy here but the slippery electronic drums and Joe’s ghostly echo vocals make dancing lights to capture the imagination.
Fixed Lens – Swept Out To Sea – New single release from Berlin razor synth band I was turned onto by Nichole Ferree who runs the Boston Dark Spring festival. This has that lovely driving bass and infectious guitar delay of post punk, but the vocals lean HARD into the punk aspect. The energy is reckless, dangerous, speeding through the underworld a split second from destruction. Instant fan.
ego likeness – Live to Tell – The first new release from goths premier couple Donna and Steven in a hot minute. A Madonna cover. Madonna is sacred to me, she changed pop music forever. Gave it soul, made it matter, changed forever how we think about women’s sexuality. Certain artists I really wouldn’t recommend a cover of. How would you add to it or change it? Madonna is firmly in that category. The only way it ever works, is a fresh take by someone who displays such a reverence for the source material. That the original soul burns through in their voice. That is what Donna does here. That is what she captures, and it is fuking beautiful.
G.W. Childs IV – You Don’t Know – I’ve been talking about the Yee Haw synth cowboy G.W Childs a lot recently. Paired up again with living legend John Fryer to paint an electric pastel desert of tumbling weeds and neon hover cars spewing sand and racing back home to his family on the ranch. It’s an electronic Yaz infused cattle drive into the sunset. It features four remixes of the stand out single “Tarrent County” by some of my favorite artists Ashes Fallen and proto goth legend Rodney Orpheus (The Cassandra Complex). Available on COP International.
thePicassos – Weird Sisters (feat. Sarah Rose) – My feet are immediately tapping for this swing rich team up of Detroit eclectic rockers ThePicassos and Sarah Rose of (Sarah and the Safe Word) on this run away wooden rollercoaster through an abandoned carnival. This baseline is high stepping zoot suit fire and skeleton shimmer. The Picassos have become masters of taking any fringe style and making it distinctly their own. i really can’t wait to hear where they go next. Charles is a modern-day poet of experience beyond just words in a song.
The Bellwether Syndicate – Vestige & Vigil – Chicago darkscene darlings William Faith, Sarah Rose, Philly Peroxide, Stevyn Grey, and Corey Gorey with their eagerly anticipated full length album which has immediately concurred the airwaves. In 2023 if you are going to release an album, I think it is key that it runs a vast range of styles and emotions while maintaining a primal core which defines you. This is what Bellwether Syndicate knocked out of the park on the first swing. From driving hot rod flame spewing bangers like “Noir Thing” to old school gothic rock anthems like “We All Rise” it’s a twisting maze of human experience full of complexity and intention. Once you get past the fist pumping energy and absorb the lyrics the political punk rock ethos cuts another layer to appreciate. Every baseline and shimmering guitar reminds you of the rock roots that cast a reflection to Faiths quintessential darkwave vocals. It’s easy to get lost in thoughts of how is this the first full length album from this band. Until you take time to add the experience and catalog of the individual parts.
Favorite Track: Republik – Hard to go wrong with any song on this expertly crafted album. This single has always held such a captivating tempo and delivery that it randomly leaps into my head and explodes a electric pulse of pure energy . The toms, the pin prick guitar leads, the unstoppable yet elegant vocals make this song an unforgettable banger on an album chocked full of them.
I haven’t interviewed The Bellwether Syndicate, that is an unforgivable crime I will correct shortly. You really need this record.
I hope you found something that moved you. I hope you follow and like our page and others like it. There is a glorious dark scene Rennaissance happening and there is no time like the present to jump on board.
There has always been an unspoken aspect of creating great music and finding a way to promote it to people. They are two completely different skill sets required to be successful often taken for granted. Just like playing guitar, singing, ect, connecting and promoting music is a skill. It can be learned. It also comes much easier for some people than others. In 2021, in a social media, boutique record label, streaming-platform world, this is more relevant than ever. I see my social media feed everyday full of people saying, “Why do I not get noticed?”. I am not a public relations expert. My band, Amaranth, is not a household name. I have been able to take my music review page Sounds and Shadows from nothing, to a webcasting Facebook group with global viewership in three years, which has drastically effected the bands popularity and impact. So I would like to share some of the things I think could help you and your project. In addition to me, Sounds and Shadows has put me in contact with some of the most successful bands in the dark-scene. True innovators who each have done something original to get noticed in the modern era. Some have graciously offered to share some of the secrets that helped them garner attention and propel them on the international stage. My hope is this article helps lift all ships and propels the scene I love to it’s greatest heights.
You have to make something great in this day and age to stand out
There is so much amazing music being made. As a reviewer it truly feels like a tidal wave of astonishing stuff all the time. The fact that everyone has access to decent recording equipment in their home at a price below $100 an hour means the doors are open to creative expression in a way they have never been. It also means you can get out there before you find yourself, or hone your craft to what you are capable of. Having something that truly stands out is REALLY hard. The good news is information on how to get to that level is readily available. Every sound is there for you to practice with and create the exact vision in your mind. There is even a niche to find in the world for the cutting edge you are imagining. You do need to have a realistic goal of what you want to achieve and how much you are willing to compromise to reach that size audience. If you want to do this as a lifestyle, be prepared to work really hard at it.
2. True fans, the ones you need, first need to believe in a concept, not just a song
If there was ever a time when writing a good song and being a great musician was enough, it isn’t now. The truth is people have never cared about the glorious hot licks you can play. They want to be associated with an idea, an image you portray on stage. It was true for the Beatles, The Stones, Bowie, and Joy Division. It is just as true today. I’m not saying you need to be pretty, aloof, or anything else. You need to know who you are, do an intense projection of that, and be willing to share it. What’s more, the days of the asshole, I’m above you Rockstar are done. There are too many talented people making music. Requiring you not to be an a hole is not a big ask. Appreciate your supporters, be something worth believing in, make your music and lyrics something real. if you don’t want to put in the effort, you likely won’t generate excitement.
3. You need to act like you don’t need this shit, then you get the shit for free
if you are doing this for fame, you are in the wrong game. Every time I see a post that says, “why is no one paying attention to me,” you are really saying everyone pay attention to the fact that what I am doing isn’t catching on. Instead you need to focus attention on why people should. We all experience moments of doubt. If you make that your focus, it looks thirsty. Instead ask yourself: Am I reaching out to the right people? Am I sharing myself in the right way? Is this ready to blow people away?
4. If you want others to be invested in you, be invested in them.
I can say definitively that doing a music review page/Webcast/Facebook group has made our band Amaranth 10 times bigger than we have a right to be. Lifting up others in the scene, commenting and sharing DJs/reviewers/bands forms a connection. People know you and when you lift others up it makes a statement about you. If you really believe in the music you are making, invest in yourself by reaching out to bands who have more time in and are more successful than you. Get a remix done; sometimes that costs money. Contribute to a compilation. Share and review other bands. Go into Dj shows (join the Twitch chat, say hello). This gets you involved with the people who drive the scene. When you have something come out, they know your name. Reach out to Djs/review pages personally. Don’t send a form letter to 300 people. Get to know the show/page. Reach out to ones that fit your sound. Send them a personal message that shows you follow and know them. Tell them you have a Bandcamp code for them because you know they have great taste and would like this. Same with bands. Take a moment to tell someone they matter to you. You would be surprised how much it matters. They may do a solid for you some day.
5) Tell a story, don’t just beanother link spam.
Social media is part of the job now. There are a lot of platforms and ways to do it. Ignoring it is not an option in 2021. Investing some money in advertising something important like a video/album/single/tour is a solid idea. The most bang for your buck is a well thought out google add with the right tags and marketing. Not everyone has cash for that, it’s not the only way. It does help though. Facebook groups/Reddit/Twitter are another way to beat the algorithm and get reach. Again it is about genuine connection. There is no shortcut. You need to be involved in groups. Not just show up only to post links to your band. Also when you post, give people something to engage with. Tell the story of why this song matters, ask a question to engage with, spill a little poetry that gets people excited. No one wants to feel like a faceless number. If your post feels like that, you don’t have anyone’s attention.
6. Be a subject matter expert
I don’t remember who said the quote to me, “If you want to be a great writer, read great writers”. It is the truest thing in the world. The same is true of music. If you want to make the best music possible, listen to who is doing it well. I don’t just mean the classics (Although that never hurts). I mean who is leading the charge today. Even when you don’t know you are learning, you are learning. Watch Interviews, hear what successful artists have to say, try new techniques, if you don’t know them, watch a youtube video. This goes for production, playing and instrument, or doing promotion. We have a wealth of information like never before. Drink it in.
7. Run up and say hello.
GO TO SHOWS! (Or Livestreams in a pandemic). If you want to be seen, you have to go see. Say hello to touring bands, Local Djs, be useful to them. Tell them why you enjoyed the show, get some merch. Then, tell them what you do and are about. Word gets around, bands talk. If you establish yourself as someone invested in growing the scene, who knows, you may just find yourself getting some opening slots for touring bands. You still need to be the one to bring it and turn heads once you get the slot. Being known as a positive energy person in a local scene goes a long way. Join Facebook groups like Sounds and Shadows, just don’t be the one to treat people like you just stopped by to promote and leave. Be involved. Get the lay of the land and comment on other peoples posts. Start a list of DJs and review pages. Bandcamp allows you to print a spreadsheet of codes. Sending a personal message with a code to these influencers is worth their weight in gold. Again the key is having a personal message, not a form letter spammed to hundreds of Djs.
8) Be nice, throw the doors open and let people connect.
This takes effort. It takes spoons. Sharing a part of yourself. Leaving a Bday message. Saying hello when you see someone on your feed is high or low. Basically make sure people know they mean something to you. If you treat them like consumers, then expect them to share, comment, give a shit about your band. You may find yourself in a lonely place. The same goes for shows (does everyone remember those). Both your own, and other peoples. A moment of your time and energy can increase exponentially when you let someone know you appreciate their support.
These are all tips I genuinely believe in. Who the fuk am I though? 🙂 So I have reached out to some artists who have all done something unique and special in the modern era and ask about how they stood out using techniques available to you now. Listen and learn, these are all people who managed to turn heads by doing something creative.
Jason Corbett – Actors – Vancouver based post punk stars have sold a lot of albums and toured extensively. Rising to the top and redefining the genre. The are also Canadian and REALLY friendly. Forming a connection with fans around the world.
Ken: You have toured extensively around the world, forged connections which led to fans and opportunities. How has this been effective for you, and what have you done to make each show so memorable for fans?
Jason:We played over 150 shows in support of our debut album. It was exciting and exhausting. We made sure to make each show count and never lost sight of why we were out on the road. When the chemistry is right you run with it. We wouldn’t dream of someone spending their time and money to come see us and us not giving our all.
Ken: Your Facebook fan group The Academy has really become a beacon for what fan interaction can be. Like the recent memes on the album cover. How have you built a fan experience here and on other social media that makes a lasting impression globally?
Jason: Wherever we toured fans would comment to us that we were friendly and outgoing. I realized that we didn’t have to conform to any preconceived notion of what it meant to be a band. We could just be ourselves. The bonds with fans just started to happen naturally and that carried through to our online presence as well. Of course Kym Pop who started The Academy on Facebook does an amazing job of keeping the conversation happening. I’ve been a musician for a long time. I’m genuinely grateful for all the support we’ve had and I don’t take it for granted.
Ken: What do you hold as the greatest factors in you making the transition from Vancouver to global recognition?
Fans who listen to music like ACTORS are typically close knit and supportive. Our self-released singles slowly garnered enough attention online that Artoffact Records approached us with a record deal. That record deal brought us to the attention of wider audiences and we continue to grow month after month. I believe there’s an honesty in our music. People connect to artists that are coming from their truth.
Isaac Howlett – Empathy Test – British based electronic songsmiths who have shot to amazing heights in the past 5 years through amazing songs, extensive touring, and a non stop effort to DIY determination and fan connection.
Ken: What are some of the DIY techniques you used to gain momentum when starting out?
Isaac: Okay, well, when Empathy Test began, we were complete unknowns in the music world. We needed to build an audience fast, to get noticed. The main tools at our disposal were SoundCloud, Facebook and Twitter. Obviously, the best platforms for an artist to use to promote themselves change regularly, and the rules that govern how you use those platforms, the algorithms etc. change even more regularly, so it’s all about keeping ahead of the curve. Back into 2014, I came up with a system that really worked. It involved a lot of leg work, but I’ll tell you one thing for sure, if you want success there are no shortcuts. Perseverance and hard graft are always at the heart of most people’s success. So…step one, assuming you’ve got a quality, radio playable or streaming product, otherwise known as music. That’s the real step one. And press shots. And a good bio. Then you need to ascertain your target audience. The easiest way to do this is to basically think, what other similar acts to us are there whose fans we can most easily steal? I chose Chvrches because they were doing well at the time, using 80s synth sounds, and making intelligent pop with emotional depth. So, I downloaded a free app which allowed me to easily follow hundreds of fans in a matter of hours. I plugged in Chvrches’ Twitter handle, up popped their followers and – tap, tap, tap. Follow, follow, follow. Then, I used a feature that allowed you to send an automated message to anyone who followed back. Something cheesy like, hey do you like synthpop? Check out our tunes on SoundCloud [link] and follow us on Facebook [link]. After that, it was just a numbers game. Out of every 100 accounts I followed, 20 would follow back and maybe 10 would follow the links, and 1 or 2 actually engage with you. Anyone who didn’t follow back, after a week you’d unfollow them and follow 100 more people. Of course, you’d get a few angry people along the way, but I just had to ignore the rage and keep going. At the same time, I began targeting small labels and blogs. I kid you not, within a month we had interest from a small independent label in NYC. A month later, we’d recorded a second EP and signed a deal with that label to release it. In terms of the promo technique, Twitter soon put a stop to that kind of thing and we rounded off at over 10,000 followers before I then unfollowed thousands of them to see how many would stay. It dropped to around 8,000 before it began rising organically again. But obviously now, Twitter is old news and you want to be looking at Instagram and Ticktock to pull similar kind of stunts in different and new ways. But the key is identifying your audience and taking the product to them, and social media is the best tool to do that yourself, for free.
Ken: How has touring helped you gain connection and loyal fans?
Issac: Touring was really the next step. I quickly realized that no one was just going to pop up and book us a tour without management and a label (I learnt a lot from the label but after six months we reached an agreement to leave and take our music and rights with us). So I came to one of the most important realizations of my music career so far. If you build it, they will come. Essentially, if you sit on your arse and wait for people to turn up and do shit for you, it’s never going to happen. Do it yourself. Because as soon as people see you working your ass off and having any kind of success, they want a piece of it. The trick is then to only work with the ones you trust. So I booked a few local gigs of our own, met a like-minded band making similar music and we booked and crowd funded our own co-headline national tour. We didn’t even use promoters, we hired the venues ourselves. It doesn’t matter that we only just broke even and barely anyone showed up, because we were making a statement and learning the ropes of touring. And lo and behold, the next year, we were on a European tour with Mesh and Aesthetic Perfection courtesy of our new booking agent, Jan Winterfeld of Pluswelt Promotions in Germany. And on day two, Daniel from Aesthetic Perfection offered to bring us to America. We made a batch of 100 CDs originally, just copied ones with a design printed and a card sleeve. We sold them and reinvested the money into buying more. For the first four years, we took no money from the band, we just reinvested everything while working day jobs. Then we branched out into t-shirts and eventually 7″ vinyl. We performed with older, more established bands, anyone that would have us basically, and then stole the hearts of their fans, and sold them our CDs. Every night, as soon as we’d broken down our kit, we’d be at the merch table meeting fans and signing whatever they wanted signing. For as long as we were wanted. We owe so much to Mesh, DE/VISION, Covenant, VNV Nation and many more amazing bands. But it was our polished music, professional and hardworking attitude that meant suddenly everyone wanted us as a support. We started having to turn down support tours after a while, to focus on doing our own.
Ken: What have you done to stay true to the art in your heart while branching into a wider spectrum as an artist?
Issac: I think as a DIY musician you have to wear many hats, and feel comfortable wearing them. The toughest part is remembering to keep putting as much time and effort into the music, because it’s easy to forget about it while you are busy selling it, and yourself. One thing that works for us is just separating the art and the business. I have to write songs because I want and need to write them, not because I need another product to sell. If I try and write an “Empathy Test” song, and it doesn’t work. Adam, the invisible producer member of the band, takes no part in the business or performance side of Empathy Test at all. That allows him to think outside of what will sell, what the fans want, or are expecting or asking for, what other bands in the scene are doing, and always deliver a sound which is a surprise and a challenge to our listeners. Also, by having one person writing the songs on an acoustic guitar (me) in any style they want, then a second person (Adam) translating that into a completely different style with different instruments, usually initially both in isolation, you’re always going to keep things different and fresh. When I heard Adam’s demo of our new track, Moths (release TBC), I was blown away. It was so completely unexpected, while simultaneously so exactly what we should do next. I felt exactly how I’ve felt with pretty much everything we’ve done to date. Bringing in fresh influences, for example, Oliver Marson on keyboards, also helps keep things fresh.
Steven Archer – Ego Likeness/Stoneburner – Steven has been a true DIY master creating some of the most progressive industrial sounds propelling the genre into a new era. He has incorporated a stunning visual and stage element to remain on the cutting edge of the modern scene. In addition he is an artist through social media that actively engages and shares his process with videos and discussions how he creates both sound and image. A true master of pulling back the curtain and letting the fans inside.
Ken: How has the use of a multimedia experience been effective in creating an artistic experience fans are drawn to ?
Steven: I don’t know. I do believe that the more realized any given piece of art is, the more the audience will get out of it. And because of my fine arts back ground nothing I do is one dimensional. Songs have imagery that goes with them, paintings tell stories which influence the music etc. It’s very rare that I create any piece of work that is a stand alone thing. My goal whenever time permits is to get over realize an artistic vision as fully as possible and make all of those components available to the audience in hope that they get as much out of it as I do.
Ken: Your live show is a massive and memorable production even in a smaller venue, how do you achieve this effect without a $50,000 stage show ? Why does that matter?
Steven: Thanks! The key is spending my entire life poor, and deciding that was not going to stop me. Which ultimately means that I have to put the time in and do all of the work on my own. I am my infrastructure. Fortunately we live in the future so it’s totally feasible to have your own projection equipment, or run your entire sound setup from an iPad on stage, do your own editing, make your own stage clothes etc. It just takes time and the will to do it. I don’t write anything close to pop music. Not even within our tiny genre. Most of what I do isn’t made to dance to. None of my bands have ever been HUGE. But we write songs that matter to the people they make sense to. And they matter to us. So, even though both bands are in great labels, there is a very limited reach as far as promotion goes. Getting the word out, building an audience, it’s all on our shoulders. And if I’m going to go out on stage. I’m going to use as many tricks as I can think of to keep the audience engaged. To tell a story, to make it an experience. Someday, what I would really like to do is surround the audience with projections. Put them in the show to a degree. As to how I do it inexpensively? Lots of planning and research. Lots of problem solving and visualizing around corners. Whatever goes on stage has to fit in our minivan along with the gear, personal shit, merch and people. So that’s one hard limit. The other is that it needs to be able to be set up and torn down quickly by one or two people. To that end I spend a ton of time figuring out how to wire things up so they are easy to connect and disconnect quickly.
Ken: You give an interactive fan experience with your social media, sharing technique, videos, equipment, how does letting your fans behind the curtain add to connection with your art?
Steven: Historically many bands have been able to keep that wall up between their fans and themselves. We can’t afford to that. We do a ton of different thing from music to art and writing. And down here on this level with independent publishers and record labels, you have to be able to sell your product. You have to be able to make people excited about what you do. And the best way to do that is to show your own excitement. We figured out real early on that our product isn’t X band or book or whatever, it’s us. Steven and Donna. The idea being that if you come across us as musicians than that will hopefully lead you to the art or writing or whatever. So there’s that aspect of it. Also, D and I are both natural teachers. We love what we do and love talking to other people about it. I’ve taught art privately for 30 years, so it’s only natural that would become part of our social media presence. And the longer we were on social media the more we saw that there was a need for an ongoing dialog about mental illnesses, so over the years we’ve spent a decent amount of time talking to our fans about that as well. The nice thing about it for me, is that I am not a social animal, so talking to people online when I’m in that sort of place is great. Because it’s just accepted that people pop on and off when they are available. So it doesn’t interfere with the rest of my work. It’s also a great way to make sales directly to your audience. And post pictures of your weird ass cat.
Karl “Zoog” Learmont – Angelspit – LA Electronic Industrial Punk star has really been a touring star with an ability to really connect with fans. He does a weekly Twitch stream/group where he discusses recording and music techniques with other musicians. Instead of hoarding his knowledge, he truly lives the punk rock socialist ideas of lifting up everyone around.
Ken: 1) You have really used your community through remixes, artist workshops, and community hype to grow your name. What is the importance of this? How did you make these connections work to lift all ships?
I’m blessed to be in a position where I can build a community to teach and encourage each other. I’m fortunate enough to have a degree in music, so I can freely share knowledge with people who are not in a position to study music….but I am always the one learning from the workshops (!!).This is not a marketing device – it’s a way for me to give back and make an investment into the future of our community. I’m hoping these workshops will lift the bands involved. The ultimate aim is to help them produce and release a track, get it to their audience and get their video onto
Ken: You have a genuine connection with your fans, how has social media allowed you to let fans behind the curtain and be a part of your art?
Many fans have become friends. I have produced some of their releases. Sunday’s Art Of Rock has become a group of friends. They encourage me and keep me going. I talk to many online, and have spent many hours meeting and drinking with them at clubs and gigs. We are all in this wonderful tribe and we are all equal. People get to see the songs-in-progress via Angelspit’s Patreon, plus the free Art Of Rock meet-ups.
Ken: You create music that has a true punk rock ethos of political intensity in a time when the world seems more divided than ever. How do you use this genuine perspective to motivate fans and expand your ideas?
Karl: It’s hard…partly because I’m a bastard. I won’t tolerate anti-LGBQT, sexist, racist, radical-right-religious views….fuck those guys. Within our bubble there are many things that could divide. Some of these are important, some are trivial. It’s important to listen to others and grow. You’re only right half the time – but you never know which half that is. Lyrics are a great way to truly shoot your mouth off. I quote a lot of people I respect, and some I don’t. I’m currently getting a lot of feedback about the album – some ideas are agreed, some are not. I listen with an open mind some ideas I adopt, some I respect, some I reject. I encourage people to put their thoughts into lyrics, music, poetry, art – make something beautiful with your passion. The world needs to hear your thoughts. Someone, somewhere is going through the same thing you are – your art might be the things that makes them feel like they are not alone. ROCK!
Matt Fanale – Caustic / Klack / Daddybear –
Ken: The merch you make is very distinctive and creates a buzz around all the music you release, what connection does this make to your music and how do you make it relevant ?
Matt: I keep a really simple aesthetic with most all of my merch to keep it recognizable. I used KMFDM as a model for utilitarian branding. I wanted people identify a Caustic shirt within seconds in a club or at a show. It’s served me well. I got booked for a festival a long time back because the booker saw my shirts all over the fest the year before. I also try and give my merch the personality of my music. Caustic started out as this snotty, punky powernoise project. I tried to be funny as a way to both entertain and distract people from the quality of the music (not kidding:)). I’ll say what other people won’t say sometimes, which is never meant in a mean way, but the STOP SAMPLING FULL METAL JACKET shirts got me on everyone’s maps. The SURE, LIKE NINE INCH NAILS shirts were a big hit, too. I just know that if I’m having fun my audience will, too. With all that said, sometimes I think I’ll be remembered more for the shirts than the music, but I guess anything works.
Ken: You have a close connection to your fanbase, offer multiple projects and twitch streams to interact with fans, how do you use this to create a buzz around your songs?
Matt: I mean when it all comes down to it it’s connecting with people on a simple level. I don’t do everything for “Branding” (trademarkcopyright), but it’s pretty great just knowing you have something in common with other people, and it’s even cooler if it’s because of something creative you’re doing. The Twitch streams started with the pandemic as a means to get out of my head for a few hours, but I’ve really enjoyed diving into genres I didn’t ever DJ in the clubs, like my old school hip hop night. I think all the nights just give people an excuse to hang out online, chat, and enjoy the music. A lot of (significantly more successful) Twitch DJs talk a bunch more than I do on their streams, but I’m literally just using Twitch as an excuse to chill with folks and practice the craft. The pandemic sucked, but I’m a better DJ than I’ve ever been, and I’ve been doing this 20 plus years.
Ken: You have been very successful on the festival scene, what helped lead you to this success and how does it help your music gain recognition?
Matt: Before I did music I did improv comedy for a decade. When I get on stage I’m there to entertain, and festivals are perfect for Caustic as you get a certain subset of people that are ideally fans and know what I do, and then plenty of people who have no idea about me or maybe don’t care. Something I think I do that a lot of other artists don’t is really trying to make Caustic sets memorable in that setting. There could be a few dozen other bands on the bill, and I’m rarely the headliner, so from day one at the first festivals I performed I made sure people wouldn’t forget it. Sometimes that would be me reading real life stories of people dealing with psychotic exes during a song to having people smuggle ugly underwear into the show and getting pelted with a hundred pairs during a track. I also like bringing people on stage as guest stars. At Mechanismus in Seattle a few years ago Dan from Continues/Babyland joined me to sing my cover of Babyland’s Worst Case Scenario, which I think was the first time he performed it since they broke up (I played that show with them, too). That meant the world to me, as did later on in the set when we did a Stromkern track with Ned on vocals. In terms of the sets themselves I plan them for maximum impact. I try to build the energy as high as possible so when we leave the stage I want the next band to be nervous to go up. Whether this happens or not I have no idea, but my job is to entertain the hell out of everyone and afterwards have people hear about it and wish they were there. That’s the only way to do it in my mind.
Dusty Gannon – Vision Video –
Ken: You more than anyone have been so effective connecting with fans on tik tok with the Goth Dad character to shine a light on Vision Video. How did you make this transition and what has it done for your band?
Dusty: The character of Goth dad is ultimately a composite of my goofy personality and my penchant for poking fun at the sometimes ridiculous level of seriousness that’s espoused within the goth subculture. I never expected it to blow up in the way that it did, but I now understand why people enjoy and find value in that character so much. While it does bring attention to Vision Video as a band, it has taken on a life of its own in a different way. Occasionally I will draw attention from that character to the fact that I’m in a band, but it’s a lot of work and you can’t constantly badger people about listening to your music because it becomes patronizing. TikTok like any other social media platform is a tool that can be used effectively to tell your story and to get the word out about your art. At the end of the day, I think that’s the most important aspect of social media, is connection and commiseration through your story and what makes the core of your art meaningful and worth recognition.
Ken: You are so effective at combining your aesthetic and personality with the music you make. How important is this in the modern era and what tips would you give to bands trying to find their look?
Dusty: I think the goth scene for me has always been a confluence of music and fashion. I grew up as a teenager finding my truest self in that scene and was able to express myself as thoroughly with music as I could with fashion and makeup. That being said, I draw a lot of influence from a variety of places that are near and dear to me: much of my aesthetic is rooted in my experience in the military, where I like to use things like ammunition, casings and torn, rough, nearly post-apocalyptic clothing. I also take a lot of influence from the legendary performers of the past like Lux Interior or Johnny Slut. An insane amount of trashy B movie and horror film influence goes into my aesthetic (A goth who loves horror, geez no one has heard of that before ) In the makeup realm, I grew up wanting to be a special effects makeup artist for movies, but ended up joining the army instead. And that’s why I’m able to do what I do: I’m completely self-taught, and to be quite honest if I’m capable of teaching myself all of the stuff I do with makeup, quite literally anyone can do it because I feel like a complete moron most days. As far as finding your style or aesthetic, my only real recommendation is spending a lot of time finding the clothing and makeup or accessories that truly speak to who you are. It’s very easy to defer to fast fashion, especially in the goth world, but I think there is a lot more value and DIY and creating your own accessories and apparel.
Ken: Your sound has a distinctive retro nostalgia vibe with a modern flare. How do you cross over what you grew up loving with what you want to present to younger fans?
Dusty: Our music is a really accurate representation of the varied tastes of the members of our band. Everyone brings a different piece that is not always necessarily under the purview of Goth or postpunk. One thing that I think is really important for musicians in general, but particular to a those playing within a specific genre, is to try to push the envelope, take risks, and do things that aren’t just a replication of the past. We get a lot of comparisons to bands like The Cure or the Chameleons, and I absolutely adore both of those bands. While I think we pay a lot of homage to them, I’m not trying to make a direct facsimile version of them because it’s already been done and it wouldn’t be in our own tone of voice to speak the message of our music. We certainly never set out to try to make music that’s more accessible to a younger audience, but I think that has occurred to a degree because we’re making music that WE enjoy and not trying to sound like anything in particular. I like accessible music that has darker and rougher edges. I think one thing that has lent well to our sound is that it’s not something that has to grow on you, it’s something that you can jump right into. Accessibility or “poppiness” can be construed as a bad thing by some (especially in the aforementioned oh so serious goth and postpunk world), But it doesn’t take away from the meaningfulness of what we are singing about. Our songs are often about my experiences in war or seeing people die horrifically as a paramedic or firefighter. I think that juxtaposition only amplifies the value of our music. In my opinion, the most important aspect of creating art through the vehicle of music is authentically speaking from the heart in order to connect with people.
Daniel Graves – Aesthetic Perfection –
Ken: How have you been successful in the world stage using the one single a month technique? How has spotify lead to your success? How does the work you put in to making sure your music is top tier and interesting to both niche industrial fans and wider audiences?
Daniel: I’m a big advocate of reading the room. That is, understanding the zeitgeist, from both a cultural and technological point of view. Once you understand that, you can figure out where your voice fits into all of that. For the 12 in 12 project, it seemed like a very natural solution to the problem of the pandemic. How can I keep people interested and engaged in a world where touring is no longer possible? How long does it take for the timeline to refresh and for audiences to crave something new? The answer to that is 3-4 weeks. It seemed quite obvious that I should be putting out new material every month in order to keep my audience, and the algorithm happy.
Ken: How has spotify lead to your success?
Daniel: A lot of people misinterpret my pro-streaming stance as a pro-Spotify stance. The truth is, I’m pro-zeitgeist. I’musing the current moment to maximize my reach and amplify my voice. As soon as streaming stops being a part of that, I will happily pivot.
Ken: How does the work you put in to making sure your music is top tier and interesting to both niche industrial fans and wider audiences?
Daniel: Again… just read the room. What is popular? What do you like about what’s popular? More importantly, what do you dislike about it? How can you use that to your benefit? How can that hurt you? How far do you push the world in the direction you want to go? How do you yield to it? A lot of people tend to read this approach as selling out, when the reality is that you’re just learning how to say what you want to say in the language that the world currently speaks. Doesn’t matter if you have the most interesting or profound idea mankind has ever seen, if you’re speaking Spanish and the audience speaks Mandarin, your words will be meaningless. The job of the artist is to bridge this gap
Collin Cameron- Slighter – LA electronic abstract texture artist who has broken through using empathy based emotional noise to get into the film/tv scene. This is one of the most difficult and effective ways to do financially effective promotion in the modern age. Combining media and music is the modern expectation to form a lasting connection in music.
Ken: You have been able to transition into TV/film soundtracks. How did you get involved and how has that brought a wider audience to your music?
Colin: My involvement started in LA, I don’t think it would have happened to me if I wasn’t there. And with luck you have to make your own. During the 2010s when I was there working with bands and making tunes I made connections with music supervisors and learned about music publishing and how to do it myself. And at the time it was a great way for indie artists to get on TV soundtracks if you took control of your music in that capacity. Exposure on national television is great, but people still have to go and find you after watching! So there’s no guarantee of built in fans from it. But always nice to have someone come around and say “I loved that song from FOX’s Bones!” and the paychecks that brings to allow me to make more weird music.
Ken: You have been able to generate interest while playing in some fringe genres. What are you doing to connect with fans while staying true to your vision?
Colin: I’m a perpetual outsider really, and growing up moving around small towns I pretty much just kept to myself. I wasn’t exposed to many scenes and genres locally as I did self discovering electronic music, industrial music, IDM, etc. via the those first chat rooms and message boards in the early days of the internet. Without the sort of ‘peer pressure’ of local scenes and whatnot, my taste just became very eclectic. My vision has always been to make music that subverts standard genre, and the struggle with the world today of ‘branding’ and neat and tidy boxes to fit music in does make it a challenge. I think having a ‘signature approach’ to writing music makes my stuff sound like Slighter, but I’m sure I’ve alienated a few with the journey I’m on! I think if you’re making art for self expression, that it will resonate with certain people over time. Just make eclectic your brand!
Ken: How do you connect with new fans on social media?
Colin: Word of mouth really, my background coupled with doing a bunch of high profile remixes helps to give me clout. I like everyone struggle with social media reach and I’m not very fond of the idea of being perpetually engaged with social media as it’s not mentally healthy for creative work. I schedule time to make the social media rounds and keep up with my newsletter and Bandcamp followers directly. Definitely think it’s important for artists to understand how detrimental social media is to authentic creativity, too much of it and you’re pulling punches in your work to appease what Twitter will say about it. So I think it’s important to take that into consideration while trying to grow your social media presence, don’t let it in to your studio/creative space!
My genuine hope is that people are able to use these tips and advice from successful artists to project new art to the next level. This is a skill you can learn and improve from. Give any tips you have in the comments below. Share this wide and far, it is good advice for everyone.
The newest offering from Stoneburner now on COP International is now available and Steven Archer keeps finding ways to ferociously raise the bar in modern industrial music. Teaming with COP International and adding in a legendary producer like John Fryer [NIN, DM, Cocteau Twins, etc] pushed the precision and clarity of message. To create an album full of ruckus noise and chaos which focused on lyrical message about a giant wolf god reigning apocalypse on a world that had lost it’s way. The metaphor tackles hard truth in everything from feminism to mental health. Crushing percussion and uncharacteristic pop hooks combined with wry wit to sling shade at the industry from within.
In true Steven fashion there is also a mystery to solve within the album:
We offer the physical as well as a digital version of this album and tried to figure out what could entice you the unsuspecting fan to get the actual CD. So Steven came up with an elaborate scheme. Within the artwork of the CD version is a hidden puzzle. Solve the mystery and get eternal bragging rights! You will also get a secret email address. If you are the first person to crack the riddle you will receive the original piece of cover art.
Currently on a must see tour to support. Find Stoneburner passing through your city:
10/15 Fallout, Richmond VA10/21 Darkotica, Cincinnati OH10/22 Small’s Bar, Detroit MI10/29 Mr Small’s Funhouse, Pittsburgh PA10/30 Dracula’s Ball w The Crystal Method @ Underground Arts, Philadelphia PA10/31 Ivy City, Washington DC11/3 Red Sea, Minneapolis MN11/4 Liar’s Club, Chicago IL11/5 X-Ray Arcade, Milwaukee WI11/6 Black Circle Brewing Co,Indianapolis IN11/7 The Crack Fox, St Louis MO11/12- 11/14 Unconvention (also w Ego Likeness), Iselin NJ
Currently #3 on the Sounds and Shadows Darkscene Chart !
Favorite Tracks include:
No Light No Spark – I just adore the brutal tank tread juggernaut feel of this track against the melodic chanting. A vibrant explosion of energy against a desolate darkness.
Spectrum – Sharp striking dance track addressing the neurotypical and expanding understanding of brainwaves in the current world. Donna adds vocals here to add shining blade contrast and light.
Overall: This is Steven taken off the chain and turned to 11. Unapologetic making industrial music of wild machines and wires. Spewed forth with venom to a world without a concern to how it will land. This is the true punk rock ethos driving giant steam punk construction vehicles. This is the industrial that Joe Strummer prepared us for.
Fans of the movie (and comic book), The Crow, will appreciate this homage to the original soundtrack, courtesy of Distortion Productions. I’m sure for many of us, as well as many of the featured artists, this film was our first taste of some great and seminal music in our formative years. The songs are treated with reverence, but a definite youthful enthusiasm makes them seem fresh again; namely, Enchepalon’s take on the Joy Division staple, Dead Souls. Cocksure kicks the listener in the teeth with their rendition of The Cure’s Burn. I was amazed at how a band like Caustic could draw such a radical departure from Suicide’s (via Rollins Band) Ghost Rider. This is a fun ride that doesn’t sound like a rehash of 1990s alternative music. It easily stands on its own as well as being an excellent companion piece to the original soundtrack.
There are certain movies that change you, that leave an impression. This was The Crow for me in high school. To take the aesthetic and darkness of living outside the culture around me, and make that cool. If only for a moment. Add to that the setting of Detroit where I fled the suburbs on weekends to act out my misspent youth. Although Brandon Lee and his tragic story was an antihero I was drawn to. The real star character of this film was the soundtrack. A tape that lived in my cars tape deck playing over and over driving down Woodward Ave, seeing the passing street lamps, the mystery moisture rising from sewer caps. This soundtrack was an essential building block of who I was. Here Jim has brought together another team of amazing modern artists to fuse new life in the nostalgic images that still hold strong today. I will discuss a few of the 14 wonderful tracks each bringing their own take on a movie that revitalized a subculture.
Cocksure – Chicago Industrial legends Chris Connelly and Jason Novak take on The Cure “Burn“. A song so powerful and image-stirring that Robert Smith can’t remember writing it. Which I think says more about how many great songs The Cure have. Recently I saw Stabbing Westward play a cover of burn at Cold Waves. This version took a much different direction of electronic explosion. Connelly has a range to rival Smith’s and gives a cracking emotional delivery. A powerful beginning to the narrative.
Go Fight – Another Chicago industrial pioneer Jim Marcus takes on the slippery opium fueled slither of Stone Temple Pilots “Big Empty” . Marcus cuts through the haze of the original to season with sharper edges and gritty streets. I loved the clarity he brought with his voice and forceful drum strikes of this bright and cutting interpretation.
Null Device – Madison WI EDM artists Null Device did one of my underrated sneaky favorite tracks on this all star soundtrack “Color Me Once” by Violent Femmes. This ended up being my favorite cover of the many strong offerings. A bold shift from the original haunted folk alternative twang. Shattering strong drum beats and sweeping dynamic changes. Eric’s voice drips with anger and honey, contrasted by the harmonies of Jill Sheridan. I love that he keeps Gordo’s cadence while giving rich and beautiful tone. Sky splitting guitar solo to bring the action to a head. This one hit me hard in all the feels.
Panic Lift – Next up a New Jersey band I owe an apology to. I have criminally under covered them in spite of every time they cross my radar saying this is absolutely astounding I should listen to this all the time. James Frances and company had the unenviable task of taking on Helmet‘s “Milktoast“. Page Hamilton has a special place for me in being an artist who got placed between punk and grunge yet was one of the more complex progressive musicians of his time. So it was going to take a lot to impress me. I was duly impressed. Helmet has such an organic sound and the buzzing rippling electronic energy captured that constantly shifting time and chanting rhythm. I love the spinning siren effect. Softening the edges without decreasing the danger.
Leaether StripRed Lokust and Tragic Impulse – Jim Semonik (Distortion Records) who made this compilation possible teamed up with Claus Larson (Leatherstrip) and Pittsburgh’s Tragic Impulse to sonically assault the My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult song “After the Flesh“. So much happening in this rapid fire stinging whip lash electronic sensory explosion. Wonderful use of electronic drum sounds to create a small club punk rock tone. FIRE IT UP! FIRE IT UP!
ego likeness – Our dear friends Donna and Steven from Baltimore’s Ego Likeness added a dreamy mist sway version of Medicine‘s “Time Baby II“. Donna’s voice is warm and wispy cutting to the front more than the original and adding a nice resonance. The music holds that same bouncing tone from the bottom of a K hole. I expected nothing less, it’s Donna and Steven.
Jim does it again, fusing that place between my youth and the bands I love today. Just like the original soundtrack, this album is a great way to touch base with some of the hottest acts in the modern scene while playing your favorite scenes from the past.