DY: First of all – who the Hell are you and what do you do?
NM: I’ve been asking myself that question since I left school. In ‘Golden Lab‘ terms, I’m a conduit between folks making sounds that I like and other people who appreciate them – been doing that since early 2005 when my income permits. In Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura, I play guitar with a bunch of my good friends – that’s only been since last August.
I also play(ed) in a bunch of other bands at one time or another – Beach Fuzz, A Wake, Float Riverer, Eye Hai, Summum Bonum… Play solo as Chalaque too.
DY: Tell us about your band and your upcoming album please. Is it important for you to classify the sounds you make?
NM: Well, I started Desmadrados when I came back from the States at the end of April this year. It was my second time touring there and my second time at the Helderberg House in Albany, upstate NY, where I had the honor of seeing Burnt Hills perform again. The first time I saw them (in 2009 on a Beach Fuzz tour), they were only five, but it nevertheless felt like some kind of quasi-religious, ecstatic experience. My feeling was that we don’t have groups quite like that in the UK anymore – coming from a straight-up ‘rock’n’roll’ background but with all that crazy freedom. The second time I saw them, there were nine of them playing and it was an intensification of what I’d experienced the last time. I’m not much of a dancer, but I was compelled to get out of my seat and throw myself around. Some of those guys, like their guitar player Johnny Lynch aka Wovoka are fully into The Allman Brothers, Creedence and The Grateful Dead, which is something I feel an affinity with. And then they’ve got another guitar player called Ray Hare who used to be in this DC hardcore band called Deadline whose EP on Peterbilt was reissued by Dischord a couple of years ago – he hates all that shit. He grew up immersed in Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, who I also happen to dig. I just wanted to get together a large group of people who could also combine those kinds of influences, turn up every fortnight and engage in some maximal shredding with rock’n’roll as a primary launch pad. But it’s not some kind of straight-up rip-off. Burnt Hills’ combined eclectic tastes/style have worked out as a blueprint for us because there are natural fluctuations as a result of us being different individuals. And that’s what I like about the fluidity of this group (Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura). Every time we get together, it’s a slightly different experience because we never play with exactly the same line-up – or we haven’t yet. I wanted a familial vibe for the group, so it’s been built with that in mind, rather than any specific capability remit… Well, with a couple of exceptions (for instance, I hardly knew Andrew the drummer when we started up, but I’d played with him as part of the Salford Rhys Chatham Guitar Trio event and I was excited by how he played what might be considered to be fairly asinine patterns with a great deal of technique and flair).
DY: Is Golden Lab just you or do you partner with anyone? How many releases have you put out and how long have you been doing it?
NM: I do it on my own. Used to do it in conjunction with Fliss Horrocks who was the other half of the group A Wake, but I’ve been flying solo for about three years now. The new Desmadrados LP will be the 33rd release. Lot of CDRs and tapes included in that number. Wanna up the vinyl quotient, money permitting…
DY: Can you tell us about Bread. What is it, what’s it about etc.?
NM: Oh the BREAD concept came out of hanging out with a bunch of people from North Manchester who tended to shorten the axiom ‘bread and butter’ meaning ‘shit you can’t live without’. First issue came out four years ago, so it’s definitely not any kind of regular periodical. Second one is just about finished. Four x forty minute tapes. Pekko Kappi on one, Mick Flower on another, Desmadrados on another and Jon Collin on the final one. Then a bunch of writing and drawing by various people I know and admire – Neil Hagerty has written a piece on the late ’80s science fiction TV show Quantum Leap, which uses a personal account of an ex-girlfriend/roommate experience as an analogy for the covert American Capitalist model that the show followed.
He deconstructs and depersonifies the lead character, Sam (think ‘Uncle’), by emphasizing the fact that he’s everyman vehicle for the makers of the show’s liberal-conservative political leanings – something that’s there for all to see in the show, already, but which the quirks of Sam’s required multiple personalities as he leaps from individual to individual overshadow. It’s pretty mind-blowing.
DY: So how did you end up putting out the Howling Hex record? It’s sort of curious. On your website (see above) you say that Neil Haggerty “found a sympathetic ear in Golden Lab.” Was it a case of Drag City not wanting to release it? How would you describe that record and dealing with Neal?
NM: Oh I just emailed Neil and he said ‘yes’. Rogue Moon is an astonishing record – title refers to the fantastic sf novel by Algis Budrys about this possibly alien life form that has been somehow placed on the moon and a daredevil astronaut with a death wish who’s sent up there to pass through it. The form kills anyone who makes such an attempt, but thanks to some kind of instantaneous cloning invention that allows clones to retain the memories of their blueprint human, the astronaut is allowed to pass through the form again and again, dying each time yet learning as he goes along how to avoid his last death experience.
It’s a pre-New Wave novel but it appears to be some of the earliest sf to fuse the political and the personal in the way that Philip K. Dick came to master. The conspiratorial, paranoid sf flavour translates to the record, especially the title track that seems like an imagined soundtrack to the as-yet un-filmed movie version. I’m really proud I was able to put it out there. I did say ‘a sympathetic ear’ didn’t I. I guess that’s because, after all the hyperbole surrounding Royal Trux, I expected that people would leap on the Howling Hex in the same way because it’s equally fantastic, but they just didn’t. I guess Royal Trux were just more marketable for people who don’t like to think too hard about why they dig something. I don’t think it’s too much of a problem for Neil Hagerty who seems pretty contented from what I can gather from his recent interviews in releasing the records he likes to make with a small, hardcore following lapping them up. Nor for Drag City who appear to show tireless support for his work, which is definitely to their credit. I think there’ll come a time where his work becomes appreciated en masse again. He’s my favorite living guitar player and a hell of songwriter – I don’t know anyone who can create such simple, hook-laden music that yet sounds so fucked.
DY: It seems like toward the end of Trux they just got away from what set them so far apart. Getting more conventional and they just sorta’ lost me. What I’ve heard of Howling Hex has Neil going back to his brilliance. And he shines as bright as anybody out there. I really got off on how he’d frame Trux as Neoclassical. He has this quantum-thought pattern that just busts up typical references.
NM: It’s widely accepted they were ‘drugged-out sounding’ but I read an interview with Royal Trux where they said they made Twin Infinitives totally straight and then listened back to it multiple times, each time on a different drug, to see if it ‘worked’ under that drug. Maybe they were fucking with the interviewer, who cares. If not, though, my point is that the inverse is true – the records were, in terms of objective reality, straight-sounding, but appealed, by design, to people getting high. When they started making records that didn’t appeal to one’s cannabinoid receptors, or whatever, as readily then some people got turned off, but I think that misses a large part of the point. I think Accelerator and Veterans in the post-Cats & Dogs period, in particular, are astonishing records, the latter from a guitar playing perspective, especially. Hagerty said in an interview recently that they were, to a degree, reaching out for some kinda mainstream recognition, playing the major label game for a while, writing would-be ‘hits’ and whatnot, which he doesn’t seem to give a shit about with The Howling Hex, but I don’t think those later records are any less affecting than Twin Infinitives or the self-titled records. You can still hear the Ornette Coleman Dancing In Your Head harmolodics influence right throughout, even when they were cranking out their most blatant boogie-woogie jams. I think that ‘neoclassicism’ that you refer to came out strong on Sweet Sixteen too. And, like I already said, I like rock’n’roll and I don’t like to make those divisive kinda distinctions. It’s only as low-brow/high-brow as you wanna make it – any of it. Distinctions of taste are borne out of external factors and you gotta look beyond them to get to the shit that’s really gonna turn yer head inside out.
DY: We’re both copywriters by trade. You told me a funny anecdote about one of your jobs. Can you tell us?
NM: I was freelancing for a company on the Wirral, which is the peninsula that separates Liverpool from North Wales. It’s one of those places where there’s a lot of money floating around and a good chunk of it is spent on fake tan, Botox and unused gym memberships. As fits the vibe of the surroundings, I was writing or the worst kinds of clients I’d ever had to write for – ambulance-chasing law firms, casinos, loans companies, that kind of thing. Anyway, one of the agency’s bigger clients was the Ministry of Defence (equivalent of America’s Department of Defense) and, one day, I was asked to write an ad to recruit a Nuclear Warhead Designer. The MoD was offering something like upwards of £60,000 per year for the successful candidate. I was pretty grossed out and, after thinking about it for a short time, decided that I really didn’t want to write it so I asked one of the other copywriters if he’d switch with me for something else – anything else. He pretty much told me to stop being a moron – that, as a member of a Western Capitalist society, my complicity in potential mass death could only ever be somewhat diminished by non-direct action but never completely annulled – and that, unless I was going to begin actively lobbying for nuclear disarmament, I might as well write the thing. I went back to the bosses and told them that their other copywriter was a dick and wouldn’t switch with me, but that I still didn’t want to write it. Their response, in short was, ‘you don’t write it, you don’t get paid – and that includes being paid for anything else you wrote today.’ Now, as is common knowledge, freelancers are the scavengers of the office ecosystem and, as one, you have to take what you can get. So I sat down to write the fucking ad. I drummed my fingers against the desk for a few minutes and wracked my brain, wondering if there was some way I could do this while not accruing a heap of guilt that I would never shift. The money these people were getting paid to potentially destroy the earth – it just seemed so futile and fetishistic. I started typing out a headline. It read: ‘Even a mushroom cloud has a silver lining.’ I wrote the rest of the ad as a spoof, hit print and threw it down on the Account Manager’s desk. A few minutes later, the boss came to see me. He said, ‘you’re not going to do this, are you?’ ‘No,’ I replied. I didn’t get paid for the day.
DY: What’s the future made of?
NM: Watermelon sugar.
Check out this track by Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura