Interview with Mike Scalzi from Slough Feg!

With a name taken from the villain Slainé from the 2000 A.D. series, Slough Feg has been around for over twenty years. They are still going strong, releasing a live-CD named “Made In Poland“, with help from the hardcore fan Jacek Lesniewski. Before that they released their newest studio album in 2010, named “The Animal Spirits“. It’s gotten some raving reviews, but also some mediocre ones. I got the opportunity to talk to Mike Scalzi, the singer and guitarist of Slough Feg, about his scepticism of the music industry, the song Free Market Barbarian, his take on the new metal scene, what he’s got in store for the future and much more.

Hey Mike! Could you tell us what you’ve got going on right now and for the near future?
– Right now we’re writing songs for a new album. We’ve just finished negotiating a contract with Metal Blade Records, so this album, when it comes out, probably not in another year, will probably be released by Metal blade. We’re going to play on Keep it True festival in Germany in a couple months as well. Just flying over for that one show.

There’s been a lot of good reviews on your latest album “The Animal Spirits”, but have there been any bad reviews? And what do you guys think about it yourselves?
– Of course there’s been some bad ones, or at least some mediocre ones. I like the album, quite a bit actually, but it came out a bit tame, a bit controlled. I think the next one will have to be a little rougher around the edges. The better you get as a band, the more you run the risk of sounding polished and sterile. I want to avoid that.

What is your take on the music industry, after entering the 21st century? How was it back in the 80s and what do you think about it now?
– I don’t know much about it. It’s a business that has nothing to do with music. It is all advertising and it’s much more important what you represent and what you can do to help sell other than music. The more original you are the worse you will do. Period. It’s all about selling to a pre-established demographic of kids—- the so important part is to look and sound like something that already sells. In the eighties, well, I’m not really sure what the business was like back then, I was just in a band—– I was a teenager. I think once MTV came along a whole other side of the business opened up, based on looks and trends, not music.

What do you think is good about the metal-scene today, and whats really bad?
– Um… it’s pretty terrible. People listen to garbage. Literally. Most metal today literally sounds like a garbage disposal. I suppose if you like that it’s fine, but why not just turn on your appliances and save yourself the money?

Have there been any band recently that you’d really want to do a split-CD with? Or is it out of the question?
– I like Christian Mistress, and Skeletor (both from Northwest), of course our brother in arms Bible of the Devil continue to put out great stuff, despite their lack of recognition for it.

Do you believe that your band lacks any influences? If so, what musical influence would you like to incorporate in the future and what influences have you incorporated recently?
– I don’t think that at all. I think the influences should be pretty obvious. MAIDEN?! If you don’t hear that one you’re deaf. Queen, Lizzy, Sabbath, Saint Vitus… need I go on?! Lately we started to sound almost psychedelic. I’ve been listening to a lot of old underground psych. There’s some fantastic stuff.

You’ve also released the “Made in Poland” live-cd. Will you be releasing a DVD in the near future? Seems like there is a need for that from both fans and enthusiasts?
– If you want to see a DVD just turn on YouTube. I don’t plan to necessarily release one. Maybe someone else will though. Made in Poland turned out pretty good, kind of a rough night for us but I think the spirit is there.

Which new bands have you listened to recently that were just jaw-droppingly good? Or have you found any new band that gave you just that same impression?
– Like I said, I’ve been listening to old psych, like “Pretty Things”, not the greatest name, but a great band. Lots of old Yes, Kinks, stuff like that. Funny how every time I get this question I come up blank, and then later I say—-“oh I should have said that album”. Seems like these days bands are not given the money and support, meaning they really don’t have the time in the studio, or in their life in general, to make great albums. It’s a terrible shame. Good bands seem to always have two other jobs and very little money to go into a studio—–leaving no time in the studio or out to really do what it takes to make a great album.

In the old days a record company had the money to support a band, to give them time to really be artists. Now the bands that get all the money to make records make shit for some reason. I guess because the only people given the big money are making shit in the first place, and the bands wanting to do something good don’t get the big breaks. So they end up rushing a production just to get an album out, and don’t have time to relax and get creative. All of the creativity is gone from big time rock and roll——all we have left is the underground—-but like I said, there’s no time or money.

What would be your favorite destinations to travel to, if you could, right now?
– Probably either Russia or Ireland. I’ve been to Ireland and love it, I’ve never been to Russia but I am fascinated by it.

I’ve always wondered if the song “Free Market Barbarian” was meant to be ironic or if it’s a mirror of a liberal standpoint?
– Um, well… it’s supposed to be a funny title, but the song is actually about what I’ve been ranting about during this interview. If you listen to the lyrics they’re about the current state of the music business.. “all the products on the shelf, bland and sterile..” that’s exactly how I feel about modern music. Everything is a third-rate repeat of an old inspired idea. It sounded fresh in 1975, but it doesn’t anymore. People are really fooled by it too — suppose someone in marketing realizes that old Bruce Springsteen albums are really selling well again and have been re-issued multiple times —– then there’s some talentless kid from Orange County who’s brother in law just happens to own stock in Sony, gets a guitar and starts singing about the Jersey shore and belting out lyrics that would have been unoriginal in the seventies, about girls in cut-off jeans and lying on cars smoking grass, greasy haired guys and bla, bla, bla.. and the whole thing sounds about as soulful as an algebra textbook, but represents all of the cultural signifiers of mid-seventies Americana to a level of mathematical perfection for all advertising and marketing purposes, giving the listener a sterile, flavorless synopsis of the cultural icons as represented on TV, Coke commercials, etc. from that period.

So the “musician” has exactly what the business man needs: a bulleted list of selling points—– a product that points at certain pre-established, heavily tread upon ground that has a very low chance of failure, since it’s been tried and tested 1,000 times over on TV, Magazines, Movies, etc., and of course by the Boss himself who made the original back when it was fresh and inspired. So the kid gets the deal and gets and makes the record, and producers make sure it sounds as seventies east coast as possible, but just slick enough not to turn off any of the buying public, and it sells a billion copies. Maybe it’s no one’s favorite album, but people buy it and forget about it a couple of years. The kid ain’t ever gonna be a rock star, but he has a good run of it, and the business profits and goes to the next thing. I believe that’s pretty much the way it works. There isn’t a conspiracy going on, of anything, it’s the way business has always been run—– but that’s my point, it’s no longer a creative art form, it’s simply a business and nothing more. Once an art form becomes a big seller, the artistry is over. That’s true with anything.

Will Keep It True XV-festival be the first pit stop outside the US? I’m also wondering if you’ll ever be visiting the Nordic countries, like Denmark, Finland, Norway or Sweden?
– Not quite—–we’ve been to Europe seven times. Including a trip to Norway in January 2010. Hope to be back in summer this time, so we can actually see some of the country!

Keep on doing what you do, I wish you the best of luck!
– Thanks.

Here’s Slough Feg with the song “Free Market Barbarian” from the album The Animal Spirits:

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Interview with Unwoman!

Photo by: Perception Crisis

Photo by: Perception Crisis

Unwoman is a San Fransisco-based cellist and multi-talent that have been active since 2001, releasing a wide array of about seven albums and one EP. Her real name is Erica Mulkey and she also frequently plays and visits goth, steampunk and science fiction-events. With praise from Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls) and collaborations with various acts such as Voltaire, Abney Park, Rasputina, Jill Tracy and many more – she’s gotten a wide range of perspective, influence and musicianship. Nowadays she also performs solo with the drummer Felix Mcnee as Heavy Sugar Duo. Besides that, she also does guest appearances in other bands. I got the opportunity to ask Erica about her collaborations, how she depicts the “dark cabaret”-genre and what’s in store for the future of Unwoman – and much, much more.

You’ve worked with many known acts within the dark cabaret-scene, if you’d get to choose one ultimate collaboration that you haven’t done yet, what and who would it be with?
– It would be pretty sweet to play with Amanda Palmer. I have seen her live many times but never met her, though we’ve communicated online.

I think it’s pretty cool that you’ve self-produced four full-length albums, could you tell me what goes into that process?
– Writing songs, recording material, polishing mixes (I could talk for days about how I actually produce songs but I suspect this isn’t the right place for that), package design, having material mastered, and communicating with pressing plants. I’ve actually self-produced six full-length albums if you count my remix album Unremembered and my covers album Uncovered – seven if you count Infinitesimal, my very first album which was unreleased until Feb 20, 2012.

Does it give you more artistic freedom if you self-release it?
– I have complete freedom and from what I gather I would not if I were beholden to a label, so yes, of course.

What do you think about the genre dark cabaret in general?
– It’s interesting in its communication style –- it brings back the tradition of songwriters speaking directly to the audience rather than being overwhelmed by intricate musical trickery, yet it’s open to visual glamour and seduction that coffeehouse singer-songwriters don’t generally employ. (For the record I don’t consider myself dark cabaret; my recorded music is too electronic.)

How many projects do you have going at the same time right now, as we speak?
– It depends how you count things. I have my documentary project, which I hope to have to press in March, I have this first album rerelease (Feb 20) for which I scanned a lot of old original lyrics notes, I have my next album (to come out Summer 2012) for which I have 13 songs written… I always have little collaborations happening here and there, too.

What do you think about Siouxsie and the Banshees, more than them influencing you musically?
– Oh yes, they were very influential. I think it was extremely important that post-punk/goth music had a strong female voice and Siouxsie was wonderful for that. I love all of their albums but my favorite may be Juju.

I’ve lately heard something that reminded me a lot about Siouxsie, her name is Zola Jesus, have you heard her music?
– Yes! In fact, her song “Night” is an important one between myself and my boyfriend, as we have to spend a lot of time apart because of my touring schedule. One time at Death Guild (San Francisco goth club, where he does lights and live visuals) we danced to “Night” – not touching, – but our eyes locked through the entire song.

It seems like you have quite dedicated fans, how do you feel about them?
– I seriously love them. They are smart, loyal, forgiving, and supportive, and I do my best to give back what they give me.

Amanda Palmer seems to help you a lot, have you collaborated with her in any shape or form, or do you want to?
– She has helped me a lot – but it was all in one day, when she found my ustream and tweeted about me, and got me at least a hundred new dedicated fans. I know I could double sales of any of my albums if she tweeted about those, but I don’t want to bother her. (Heh, I answered the 2nd question already) I have never actually met her – the last three times she’s performed in San Francisco I’ve had a gig out of town.

Where would you say that you’ve found inspiration for your aesthetics?
– Visual aesthetics: silent films, art nouveau paintings, steampunks, street goths on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley, Victorian dolls, post-apocalyptic fashion tumblrs, witches, burlesque performers, tribal fusion bellydancers…

Have you also drawn influences from Lene Lovich and Toyah?
– Not consciously.

You seem to have quite a lot going at the same time, does it ever become tiresome for you?
– I wouldn’t say tiresome, because my life is thrilling and beautiful, but it can be overwhelming. I had recently been saying yes to everything that came my way, and getting lots of people inquiring about shows, and saying yes to all of those, but I think I need to slow that down for a bit so I can make sure my head is above water and I’m not letting too many things fall through the cracks. The main difficulty is rapidly shifting gears between traveling for shows vs being at home editing music or video. I absolutely love both of those things but I need balancing skills that I haven’t fully developed yet – I’ve only been a full-time musician for two years now.

What do you believe that the future holds for you, and will you be releasing something new this year?
– Lots of convention appearances (steampunk, scifi, goth, etc) in the US. I will be releasing my next original album this Summer. Based on what’s been happening over the last two years, my fanbase will continue to grow slowly and steadily; I’ll never be a household name but I’m able to support myself and live by my own rules, so that’s just fine with me.

Will you be touring in Sweden someday or have you done that already?
– I hope someday to have a big enough fanbase globally to justify it, but right now I don’t think I could make it work. I played in the UK a year ago and the shows themselves were really fun, but being in a foreign country, even one where I spoke the language, where I didn’t have any close friends, was really difficult for me – I’ve only just recently gotten comfortable touring in the US and it makes the most sense to focus on playing here.

What would be your last words of wisdom to your Swedish fans?
– I recently expressed this to a young fellow musician but it really applies to every creative person: You will never get permission to rock to your fullest awesomeness. Do it anyway.

Here’s Unwoman covering the song “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails:

You can find her here:

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