Interview by Tamim Alnuweiri.
Minus Light never got to the 21st century, at least not our version of it. The music is too unaffected by the overwhelming presence of the Internet, by all of the sonic choices given to musicians by the digital world. They exist and create in an alternative timeline—one where Phil Collins doesn’t ruin synth for generations and the internet hasn’t reduced our attention spans to 8 seconds.
Talking to Maxeene Davlin and Beardo was one of the most interesting conversations about music I’ve ever had, largely because it avoided any of the narcissism or self-importance that many musicians impart on themselves or their work. As much as many musicians claim it, their music is a reflection of their love of sounds, machines, equipment—the simple acts of creation.
All of this is reflected in their new record and titular first single, FAME. The track is eerie, it sounds like something you’ve heard before but the assurance of nostalgia or familiarity is replaced by the disorienting feeling of floating down a glimmering black hole.
What went on during the gap between albums?
Beardo: I was finishing and mixing the first record right before I started to go into full rehearsals with The Voidz. It was interesting because when we put the first album out it was because we had come up with a cool concept—two voices and using different types of instruments and doing that kind of conceptual art record. Then I went straight into The Voidz and started making a record with them and that one is an art record too.
A record like this new one we just did, because it’s all on tape and has been done with different machines and it just took literally physically a year to figure out the machines that I wanted to use to record it.
Being that specifically obsessed with the machines, is there part of the recording process that is specifically cool or enjoyable?
Beardo: The initial strides are always fun because you’re coming up with riffs and recording them on your phone. It’s kind of ordinary, the process. Where it gets unordinary is what I like to call putting things through filters— when you filter the music through different devices, messing it up after it’s already beautiful and done
It might be tape or you might just put it through a VHS machine, when your music goes through a VHS machine and comes back, that’s like filtering to me. Taking music and messing it up, it’s like xeroxing your music—fucking it up on purpose and that’s Minus light.
When you hear the new record, it’s wobbling—the whole record. I put it through a famous machine called an AMS machine and it’s basically a 15-80 machine which is the same machine Joy Division used, I mastered the record with it—we actually used it on some of the Voidz stuff but I don’t think anyone has ever used it as a mastering tool.
Maxeene: When we record stuff it always sounds too perfect, thats how Pro Tools is. For us, the process is taking something that sounds ordinary and making it sound extradorinaiy, getting it this different buckle that’s cool—the AMS is what sold us both on the whole thing.
Beardo: I had finished this record five times and sent it to Julian [Casablancas], sent it to different people and my friends and wasn’t sure… I was a rapper for 10 years and I just like to make records end of story. I don’t really give a fuck if it gets on the radio or if it doesn’t. In the end I was never really completely happy but I basically managed to satisfy my hunger with the sonics with the AMS on top, making everything sound like you’re on heroin the whole time.
I can understand that, you can always tell when a track is too clean and done up. It’s irksome—
Maxeene: It’s like HD, it’s not that great.
Beardo: Well, I love digital records too, I love really clean tight digital shit when it’s right. There’s no limitation to sonics it just happened that I was getting into tape and we were writing crazy Eno type stuff—you put those things together…. Not a lot of people understand tape on the level that I do. Not to sound like I’m a crazy tape person but I am. I rebuild the machines, I recalibrate the machines I test them. I just bought a two inch machine that [John] Lennon used from Record Plant in New York and I bought the actual machine from the studio.
Whatever is happening in life and in general like in our lives, it has to be your paint. You put your paint on the ground you put the canvas up and you fucking throw paint all over it. You don’t really know whats going to happen but you know what paints you’re starting with.
When you’re this obsessed and knowledgeable of the machinery and of all the different ways you could be filtering or changing your music—how do you pull yourself out of that hole of endless minute details to actually finish a record?
Maxeene: It’s literally me having to be like this is good enough the way that it is, last week when the machine showed up he was like wait let’s put it through the two inch…. No, it needs to be done.
Beardo: That’s the thing—it’s cliche as hell, let me go on record, it’s the most cliche thing to be like “my record is so important we did it on analogue.” Who gives a fuck? This is just what we did and I specifically picked machines that I wanted to use that I always dreamed of using. Things that I remember Les Paul using or Chuck Berry—what they recorded their records with.
With The Voidz it was really hard to finish that record. It took us forever but I still don’t think people understand that record or what we were trying to do with that. Julian had already been through all that shit and I had already been through a bunch of shit. Once you’ve been through the shit you know what’s on the other side of it. And you really know that art is all you have, it’s all you have and the money and everything else is… Like where are Goldfinger right now? Where are these bands? You should know that the fall is what happens. It’s what you do on the way that matters.
Eventually you will become obsolete as an artist, hopefully if you keep recreating yourself, you won’t. It’s very hard to sustain against youth that are coming out with records every fucking day that are awesome. All you want to do is be amongst your peers and be respected and be in the world and just be here making art and be relevant that’s all we want with this record.
FAME does have a nostalgic feel to it, so does the idea of using of using all of this really cool analogue equipment. That being said—do you think nostalgia is harmful or that it’s holding music back? When the best stuff is behind us and it seems like there’s no path forward….
Beardo: Because K-Rock keeps playing Aerosmith every day? Yeah I think so, I think nostalgia definitely holds me back sometimes. I’ll always want it to be the 90’s forever in my head, I don’t know I just miss it. I know it’s another cliche thing because everyone has their generation they miss.
Maxeene: I feel like a lot of people think that everything’s been done to a degree so the only way to go forward is to go back and see what has been done—to see what happened. I think that stuff is so popular right now but it was also so simple. Things have gotten so complicated—people just miss going to a show with no phone and just having less technology. It was just so simple in the 80’s and 90’s.
Beardo: Yes, nostalgia is hella in the record. I’m always searching to make a record that sounds like something but—I always use the blue jeans scenario. Levi’s 30 years ago were still using zippers, they might change to buttons next year but then it goes back to zippers. You could make a new pair of jeans but blue jeans essentially always look the same. So you use structurally like 80% of what it is and then the other 20-40% you change and mess up because you used something else or heard something else or Fuck! Just because you couldn’t emulate it.
I don’t actually make music, so I can’t speak to how true this is but the thing that’s struck me about the difference between analogue and digital is that with analogue you’re kind of at the mercy of this random shit, the machine has a mind of its own. Digital though, you’re in complete control, nothing happens unplanned.
Beardo: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. That’s the thing, that’s the difference and that sums our record up. It’s literally searching for mistakes, letting chaos happen and then trying to wrangle it a little bit—it’s like lightening in a bottle, you’re trying to hold onto it but you can’t.
There’s something to be said about it, there’s something really high about recording on tape. When you actually have the machine and you’re touching it and it’s turning and it’s recording and you’re hearing it back—there’s something very magical about that. You don’t get that from a computer—staring at a screen, you don’t get that warmth coming off that machine.
I have this big machine out in the garage and just touching it, feeling it—that to me, is magical in a way. I know that something great comes out of it, I just want to nourish it and give it what it needs so it gives me what I need. It’s a high when you’re tracking. It is the therapy for me—the result doesn’t really matter. I get depressed if I don’t have any ideas.
Well with that being said do you want to talk about “FAME”? What went into the track and the video?
Maxeene: That’s a crazy song, he played that song for me for the first time and the only idea he had was just the whole chorus, the droning thing. It was just this one small piece and from there it got bigger and bigger, we had all of this stuff we wanted to do with the song. We had Amir playing violin on it and it sounded like magic and then by the end it felt so warped.
Beardo: We just want it to sound like you’re on heroin, floating in pink water—heroin.
Maxeene: You know in the end of Rocky Horror Picture show when Tim Curry is swimming in the pool? That’s the feeling I get from that song—
Beardo: —JUNKY! I don’t know if were going to answer your question… “FAME” we made the video, we always had the idea of doing an all black Glenn Danzig type video. We wanted to use all of the corny 90’s effects—obviously were under a budget so we did the claymation
Maxeene: I made all of the faces out of clay
Beardo: I was really sonically pushing that song to be a really fucked up sound. It’s really fucked up, I’ll give you that.
The video is really cool, it looks exactly like how the song sounds. It’s got this really cool effect to it, it’s not exactly a dream state but…
Beardo: It would have been dream state if we had gotten the fucking smoke machine to work.
Maxeene: We tried so many times to get it to work and it was just not happening…
Beardo: I was smoking fucking cigarette butts and I don’t smoke! I had to smoke 7 of them just to see that laser. I have cancer now—I’m kidding but anytime we tried to use the damn smoke machine it broke. Fuck it, we have two other videos that are close to being done.