Randolph: I was struck by how polished the new Numb album, "Wasted Sky" was in comparison to your older material, could you go into a little detail about how you wrote the album?
Ashley: Did you have any different intentions with the new album?
Don: Well, there was an intentional difference. The difference was trying to not be as heavy handed with the processing and effects. To go back a bit "Death on The Installment Plan" was designed to go down that path on how messed up you could make an album and still retain a sense of song structure that separate it from being just pure noise. So after having gone down that road and feeling as if I had taken it as far as I could, I wanted to step back a bit. I wanted to try and create the same type of emotional intensity but do it without an obvious production scheme and instead do it in a more subtle fashion. Even the way the songs were sequenced was done intentionally to sort of sucker you in. I used a very straight forward drum patterns and standard dance style tempos that would lure the listener into assuming that it would be that style of a record. Actually when you finally got into the album, it twists you through a number of drastic changes, so that when you have finished you sort of had your head thoroughally messed with.
Randolph: What type of similar production approach did you use between albums?
Don: It revolves around the common elements of song structure. One of the things I find missing in most electronic music is that it is so dynamic. It is very easy to get a computer and a bit of keyboard gear and come up with some elements that fit together nicely but to actually take that and bring it right into the face of the audience and then suddenly back off is very hard. It's a case of you being in control of the technology, instead of being dragged along for the ride. That is the thing that I have always been playing with and staying in control of. When I was a kid, the first instrument I had was a guitar. I used to write songs on a guitar. Now that I have acquired keyboards over the years, I have sort of incorporated that through the guitar.
Ashley: How did Numb originally manifest itself?
Don: It was originally more of just a performance art project that I was playing with back in Vancouver in 1986-87. One of the conceptual themes of the band was sensory deprivation through over stimulation. In fact, when you can shut of biological systems by overloading them. So, I was playing with that in a social context and ended up working with a group of other people. Working in a group required it to become a bit more structured and it ended up becoming the first line up of the band. That evolved into releasing a limited edition cassette and then our first album. Neither of them were ever domestically available in the United States yet. It was imported and came out on vinyl and it is still available through KK Records in Europe. At the moment there is no US license for it.
Randolph: Could you talk a little bit about your unique albums titles that you've used in the past and present?
Don: "Death on the Installment Plan" was a piece of literature that I read years ago. It was actually two books, the other being "Journey In The Night" by Salim(sp?) a well known French author. That book always made a large impact on me and as it stuck around inside my head I realized that it could also be applied in a much difference context than when he applied it when he named his book. Hence that was why it was used as a title of an album. It was the whole concept of monthly installment plans, a type of 'Buy Now, Pay Later' mentality that really struck me. That so much of what we do is aimed at both short and long time death. It just felt appropriate. The album used the theme a great deal in the lyrics and especially the artwork. There are things about HIV, a Dow Chemical accident in India, as well as other corporate sponsored wholesale items concerning death.
Ashley: So what has the response been of the new album compared to the older material?
Don: Ironically, while the new album may sound more polished, it was actually written with a much smaller budget. It was, in essence, written in a home studio, and not in a large studio. Whereas older material was written in full blown studios, with some of it mixed in a studio that Bon Jovi had recorded in previously. It really comes back to the idea that people tend to mistake a cleanliness as being slickness in production. Clean is actually surprisingly easy to get these days. Getting something with a grittier sound, especially with computer technology, is more work and requires more forethough. Which is why I think that analog synthesizers are starting to come back into vogue. Part of that distinctive sound that they have is very lewd as opposed to newer digital technology which is very slick and glossy.
Ashley: Do you write most of your music on the computer, or do you use keyboards and samplers more?
Don: The computer is just primarily used as the brain. When it comes to editing at the end, you just slice and dice to your hearts context. The actual song construction is done using the sequencer, samplers, and synths.
Randolph: How do you translate the energy from your albums onto the stage when you tour?
Don: The tenet that I work under is that when people go to see something live, is that they want to see something. If your in a position to put on some sort of big production you can use those theatrical type of elements to liven up what would normally be a tremendously boring thing to watch. Watching a bunch of guys up on stage playing keyboards is very boring. So if you can't do that, you have to use other elements. One of the things that people really seem to like to see is the musician really working on stage. Which means hitting things, strumming instruments as well as other compositional items. The instruments that we end up using in the live show tend to lend themselves to that type of mentality. Songs like 'Painless' from "Death on the Installment Plan" are easy to add more guitar to liven up the performance. We tend to go for a bit more guitar and percussion heavy feel to the live show. Dirty songs, or instrumentals we really can't get away with playing live. We have toured a great deal in Europe in the past and this is our first real North American tour. With tours in Europe, when we have larger sets and bigger budgets, we can get away with doing more of the sonic stuff that isn't particularly high energy, yet the audience respond really well to it. It is a very different crowd in Europe than it is here in North America.
Ashley: Who did you tour with in Europe?
Don: We usually headline in Europe and with this being our first real US tour, we get the opening spot, as a sort of sacrificial lamb.
Ashley: How has your response been in Canada?
Don: It's okay. We haven't really done much there either. It's slightly more European like because of the odd social mixing, so guitars bands are god there just like in the US.
Ashley: What is your live line-up going to be?
Don: The tour will be really stripped down. We will only be performing thirty-five minutes and can barely squeeze seven songs into that. It is going to be because of being the opening act as well as receiving a minimal sound check. So it is going to have to be simple. It will be myself, David Collins doing vocals, and Shawn who will be doing primarily drums as well as electronic percussion. There will also be other stuff triggered off a sequencer live. I will be doing guitar and keyboards. It will be a very stripped down version of what we used to perform. There are plans to actually do a Numb headlining tour sometime in the fall. In that situation we would then be able to play a full show of up to eighty minutes.
Randolph: Speaking of instrumental, I noticed an odd pattern that every track four on your albums are instrumentals. Was that on purpose?
Don: I never noticed that myself.
Randolph: Well maybe except for "Christmeister".
Don: (rummages through albums) No, it was as well. And you what, on the first album it was an instrumental as well.
Randolph: Well, I guess it wasn't intentional.
Don: It probably had to do with dynamic flow. The thing about Numb albums is that I have always used them as an entity that have to flow together from the beginning to the end. It takes you through emotional changes rather than taking you through a single and seven more remixes of the single. The Numb albums tend to cross a wider range of territory than many other artists. When I first got into music, I would always play a new album all the way through rather than track by track.
Ashley: Do you get to listen to a lot of new music? Do you listen to any industrial music besides your own?
Don: Not a lot. I'm exposed to a lot of music from all fields, but I am not an active consumer of music, in that I simply don't have the time. I am always interested and try and keep on top of the music genre, but as you know there is an incredible amount of material at the moment. Listening and acquiring new music would be a job unto itself.
Ashley: Have any of the newer industrial bands caught your ear?
Don: To tell you the honest truth, I am horrible with names. If I went and rotted through the piles of albums here, I could tell you, but I am really bad with names. I have been hearing some quite intesting stuff but I can't always readily identify it by name.
Ashley: Do you get to hear much from any of your label mates on Metropolis?
Don: Dave from Metropolis sent me a copy of everything on the label, which is good because I hadn't heard much Mentallo & The Fixer beyond one single. Metropolis is turning out to be quite a strong little label. For only being around for a few years, I think they have done quite well.
Ashley: Did you solicit them to release "Wasted Sky" or did they track you down?
Don: Dave was actually aware of the band, but he originally licensed us from our parent label of KK Records. "Christmeister" is just about to be reissued on Metropolis.
Randolph: Is it going to be the same or is new stuff going to be added?
Don: All of the "Bliss" EP material will be added to it. It has also been remastered so that it sounds a great deal better. We also recorded a live album when we were in Japan last December and that will be coming out sometime this year as well, we think.
Randolph: Any live videos?
Don: Actually there is a video being finished right now, and I am hoping that they will finish production on it this week so I can take it with me on the tour to distribute it across the US. There are also a few other odds and ends from Europe as well. We really haven't had the money to do any proper videos so I've tended to stay away from it to avoid releasing any bad videos. I know what I'd like to do, and I have friends who do it for a living, but getting access to it and actually doing it, is kind of difficult.
Ashley: Do you have anything else to share tonight?
Don: Not really.
Randolph: Before you go, is there any song you'd like to hear us play of "Wasted Sky"?
Don: I supposed I should say is there any song you would like me to choose you to play for me?
Randolph: We like 'Ratblast', but I don't know if that's your favorite.
Don: No, it;s not my favorite. There are actually other versions of that song on an EP from Europe called "Fixate". It has a live version which is about double tempo, which is usually the version we do live. The very last track is my favorite. I tend to like the instrumental songs like that more because there is more structure involved with the track. That one sort of takes you through all sorts of hell.
Randolph: 'Seven Types of Ambiguity?'
Don: Yes, and where did the title come from?
Randolph: I have no idea, where did it come from?
Don: The guy who used to run the CIA back in the sixties. The kinds of people they used to recruit used to be art school graduates from hard core literary backgrounds. There was a book that was written back in the sixties that had to do with language and how to use language, and how to detect when someone is using language to try and pass along disinformation. The book was called 'Seven Different Types of Ambiguity', and everyone who was in the spy industry back then was really big on that book.
Randolph: Is there any other history on any other song titles we should know about?
Don: Oh, I don't know which ones? There is some real depth behind some of my music, people just don't always realize it. I also really like 'Smile'. We used to do a different version of it live with 808 drums with a monster metal riff in the middle.
Ashley: Do you have your own 808?
Don: Well, I have a lot of 808 samples. Why have the real thing when it takes up less room to have it on disk?