Note: Avant-garde festival curators, people of influence in the world of aggressive experimentalism, and/or label owners should note that Tunnel Canary is still active and available, and that Nathan Holiday (Aleh) can be reached through Tunnel Canary’s Facebook site (…though you might get a speedier reply contacting me through my blog, Alienated in Vancouver).
Also of note: a concise edit of Eric Lohrenz’ documentary on Tunnel Canary appears as an extra on the special edition of the new documentary by Susanne Tabata about the first wave of Vancouver punk, entitled Bloodied But Unbowed. More on that film will appear (if all goes to plan) in the next print issue of Big Takeover. Meantime, go to www.thepunkmovie.com for more information (including a Nathan Holiday interview!)
The following is more or less as it appears in Bixobal #5, with thanks to publisher Eric Lanzillotta.
Musical Terrorists of Olde Vancouver
By Allan MacInnis
The terror that Tunnel Canary aspires to inspire is about aiding others to have the realization of being alive, divine, and in heaven, and not dead and in hell. We perform soul surgery. We give the wakeup call.
- Nathan Holiday of Tunnel Canary
Jihad used to scare me.
No, no, not a reverse crusade led by brown folks – I mean Tunnel Canary’s Jihad, a singularly remarkable piece of architecturally rich, vibrantly energetic, and intensely harsh noise by a long-neglected Vancouver band, active from 1979 to 1983. Recorded in 1980 and not released in any complete form until 2006, Jihad appeared with little fanfare (aside from a buzz among certain insiders and an article or two on the Punk History of Canada website, written by articulate and charismatic Tunnel Canary lyricist/ guitarist Nathan Holiday, AKA Aleh Kaheen). When I finally tracked down the disc – then only available at Zulu Records, likely thanks to the attentive Josh Rose – and put it on, I lasted about a minute. “Yipes!” I thought, stepping back from my stereo. “Good God this is intense!” Hysterical, aggressive female screams – akin to the most out-there work of Diamanda Galas, an early influence, but rawer, rougher, throatier – merged with feedback and electric weirdness that was, for the most part, completely unrecognizable as coming from a guitar. It blasted at me from every angle, leaping from channel to channel on my 5.1 setup, surrounding, oppressing, and overwhelming me. I felt like I was caught in a divine crossfire, victim of a shimmering sonic assault; it was, by far, too much for my mirror. Press eject to make reality safe again: I did.
I’m actually old enough to have been on the scene towards the end of Tunnel Canary’s existence, but like almost everyone else you talk to on the current Vancouver scene, I’d never heard of the band until recently. As a teenager, compensating for a deep sense of lower-middle-class inferiority (which was somehow remedied by Knowing A Lot of Cool Shit) and feeing an insatiable curiosity for the new and unusual, I would bus in from the suburbs to pick up gig posters and issues of Discorder, and buy LPs, EPs, 45s by anyone who looked interesting. Admittedly, my tastes then leaned towards Nomeansno, Slow, DOA and the Subhumans, but bands like Tunnel Canary, with few venues available, would often gig with punk bands; I am pretty sure that it was at a Dead Kennedys concert at the York Theatre in 1984 (tho’ Colin Upton of the band says no) where I saw TC kindred spirits The Haters destroy some things with power tools. Shame that I never stumbled onto a Tunnel Canary show; maybe I had just barely missed them? Certainly if I’d come across the band doing one of their street performances – vocalist Ebra Ziron shrieking at passerby at Georgia and Granville while Nathan made harsh feedback-rich noise on his much-modified guitar – I would have remembered it.
Thanks to talking to Nathan, and his comments about Jihad, I have adjusted my orientation toward the recording. Bizarrely, contrary to my initial response – “intense and scary,” I now find Jihad akin to musical meditation: alter your state to taste, let go of any attachments, and let the music wash through and over you. (Have a napkin handy in case you start to drool). It’s very nearly trance-inducing: since I’m a tad more decadent than Nathan, Ebra, and Dave, my inclination is to liken it to a 40 minute orgasm that leaves one floating in a dark, peaceful void of non-being.
And it was recorded in Vancouver in fucking 1980! Ejaculation Death Rattle/ G42 member Dan Kibke said it better than I could, telling Nathan at a July reunion gig by the band that he “was really proud to hear this was happening in Vancouver at the time.” No shit! These guys were very much ahead of the curve, and are now the subject of a limited edition LP release on Josh’s Run Down Sun records, and a feature documentary by Vancouver filmmaker Eric Lohrenz chronicling their history and showing footage of them performing with new vocalist Mya Mayhem. Nathan, once you get him talking, is as fascinating a human being as I’ve encountered in recent years. What follows took place over two conversations, one before I’d seen Tunnel Canary play (or made it all the way through Jihad) and one after.
Interview with Eric Lohrenz, director of the Tunnel Canary documentary and the man who introduced (current vocalist) Mya Mayhem to Nathan Holiday
Eric: People I talked to that went to the shows, they couldn’t be in there, they had to leave. You’d have about three people at the venue, and you’d go outside and have a smoke: “oh, it’s that band again.” But I stuck it out for twelve hours at the Shitstorm Noise Festival (April 5th 2008, organized by Lashen of Flatgrey). (During the Tunnel Canary performance), there was this pit, and there was this smoke and strobes. It was like I stepped into the set of a Japanese horror movie, and Mya’s screaming was so demented… I got a little taste of it.
When I saw the (archival) footage with the music they were doing, I thought, the public has to see this…
Interview with Nathan Holiday, Tunnel Canary leader and guitarist
So… it seems tempting to describe Tunnel Canary as a sort of Vancouver antecedent to bands active now, like Flatgrey or the Mutators [since defunct], but I don’t know if they actually had heard of your music before.
Nathan: That’s true. I guess Josh was the first one from Zulu who called me, and said, “Wow, I can’t believe I’d never heard of you guys, this is incredible music.” And then he said he’d like to put out some records or such. I actually wasn’t that aware of what had developed into the whole noise scene now, but we had, since the 1980s, been called, like, ‘noisemeisters.’ I was actually kind of offended by that term at the beginning, to tell you the truth, because I considered it music; I never made that distinction between music and noise. All these things that people considered noise were sounds that could be stuck into a different context and used for music.
Do you like the Mutators?
Nathan. Yeah, I like the Mutators! It’s quite a bit like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and some of the bands I listened to in the late 1970s and 80s. And I actually met those guys and I’ve seen them play, and we’ve talked, they’ve heard my tapes and said we were an influence on their music, and I felt great about that…
Nathan: Flatgrey’s great, I like what he does. I saw his stuff at his last performance at the Shitstorm Noise Festival, and he gave me some CDs. I like that abstract stuff. I’ve been listening to experimental electronic music since the 1960s.
What were you listening to back then?
Nathan: Stuff like Stockhausen, Cage, Ligeti, Harry Partch, Moondog. Anything that was a little bit weird was interesting to me. Actually, a really big influence was Al Neil. I saw a piece he did in, I dunno, 1967-68. It was called ‘The Napalm Suite,’ and it was an anti-war thing. I think he had just come out of rehab, I’d heard that his wife had tried to commit suicide the week before, and they were all bandaged up. But they had this harp and this detuned piano and stuff. I think also Greg Simpson was drumming for them. It was great! That was the first thing I had ever seen live that used really dissonant sounds and stuff, and I thought it was incredible.
You saw him in Vancouver?
Nathan: Yeah – he lived in the Mudflats over in North Van (a long-since-demolished squatters’ community, and the subject of the film Livin’ on the Mud). I actually went to his house, because his drummer was going out with the sister of a friend of mine, so we got to go and meet him. The funny thing was, one day – I was at Simon Fraser in the 1960s, when all these riots were going on, and I was hitchhiking up to the campus, and Al Neil was also hitchhiking. And the guy picked him up, and then he picked up this other guy, who was an electronic musician, Phillip Werren. Josh Stevenson (former member of Jackie-O Motherfucker and the head of the label Cast Exotic Archives) put out an album by him. He got in the car, and so all three of us were in the back seat, and I got to talk to them. It was heaven! It was like, the perfect thing…
And when you started with Tunnel Canary, you saw yourself in this tradition of experimental music?
Nathan: I did. Actually, when the whole punk thing happened, I was in LA and Seattle, and that’s where I got the first glimpses of it. The first I guy I saw, I thought was like a Hare Krishna guy, but he had a leather jacket on. I was looking at him, and I realized it was kind of a whole new sensibility coming up, it was a whole thing. By the time I got to Seattle – this was 1977 – I saw more of it, and I heard the Sex Pistols, and all that kind of stuff, and basically I got really kind of wrapped up in it. At first it was interesting, because it was new, (but then) everybody wanted to hear Sex Pistols clones, or Clash clones, or Buzzcocks clones. That’s the way people are here. I was studying electronic music theory, and I thought, “this isn’t going far enough.” With some of the music – what the Sex Pistols were doing – the lyrics were great, but they were still using the same conventional chord structures. I thought, “Why? They’ve got a platform to open this whole thing up!’” So I began to think, “Well, this is a really good way to get this kind of electronic stuff across to young people and to different kinds of people in a band context. So I began to work on that. The idea was to kind of do a punk Big Brother and the Holding Company – with a much more abstract and electronic sound.
Uh. Explain that?
Nathan: Well, Big Brother and the Holding Company were an early psychedelic band, and the guitarist in that band, James Gurley, was considered to be by some the father of psychedelic guitar.
Nathan: So I thought, “Well, we can take this much further, and we can also take the fashion thing much further,” through gesture and haircuts and all that kind of stuff… I’d also been studying at that time anarchist political philosophy – stuff like Kropotkin and Malatesta and Bookchin – these kinds of things; left wing socialism – and I thought, “Well, I could never get away with teaching this in high school, but through a band, I can get all of this stuff out there.”
Did Tunnel Canary have many fans back then?
Nathan: Right away we had fans. But the whole scene was very fragmented then. You had the Pointed Sticks, they had their following. You had DOA and those guys. And they were all basically stuck in their particular ruts. And when we started to come up, there was a lot of jealousy. There was one critic, Phil Smith, made this remark in Slash magazine after we got this good review that we were trying to be Yoko Ono wannabes, but I’d never even heard her sing, right? It was a whole different thing. He didn’t get it. He was still following bands like the Doors. And the Pointed Sticks were fairly mellow compared to what we were doing. So… slowly people got it, and the same people came to the gigs, and we built a fairly large cult following.
When I saw the Haters perform in the 1980’s, opening for the Dead Kennedys, the crowd didn’t like it. They were scared and put off. I was scared and put off. It almost seems like Tunnel Canary would have been more appropriate in a high arts context than a punk context.
Nathan: The thing was, I didn’t want to go that route. There were bands like the U-J3RK5 and stuff that were kind of doing that, and I thought it was too pretentious. I’m not saying the individuals were pretentious, but I didn’t want to follow that whole thing. We did play in the art school, we did play in the galleries, but I wanted to bring it down. I came out of a working class context, and I thought, “If I understand this music, there’s others like me that can understand this music.” So I wanted to keep it on the street.
Were your gigs ever shut down?
Nathan: I think this is some stuff that’s still going on politically. As soon as you hear the word “anarchist,” people get all freaky, especially people in high places. Black Flag didn’t get over the border, Minimal Man didn’t get over the border… There were probably a number, but I can’t remember them all now. And then when we were on the street, the cops would come and threaten to take all the equipment…
You would do sort of unplanned street performances.
Nathan: Well, it was planned in the sense that we were going to be on the street! But it was improvised music. I got the idea from Laurie Anderson doing this violin thing on a block of ice, and I thought, “We can sort of make this kind of punky, in a performance art way.” It was Ebra and I, no mike – a cheap guitar and a pignose amp.
That was on the corner of -?
Nathan: …Granville and Georgia. At certain times there were maybe 300 people watching [footage of these performances is included in Lohrenz’ documentary]. That was why we could get away when the cops came, because they couldn’t get through the people. At that time – that was, like, 1978 – punk gigs were in these little kind of secret places, y’know, and most people in the street didn’t really know what was going on yet. So when they saw us with our weird haircuts and the screaming, they just went “What is this?” Actually, when the police first came – I was standing quite a ways away – they thought Ebra was having, like, an epileptic fit. She was rolling on the ground and stuff. And they went up to her and asked her if she was okay, and she went, “Well, I’m singing.” And then they got it. They went, “Okay get the hell out of here, or we’re gonna…” You know. We did come back a couple of times. It was good.
A friend was telling me about a performance where people were rolling televisions down the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and they thought Tunnel Canary had something to do with it.
Nathan: No, I don’t think I was involved in that one. I did do a piece where I actually duct-taped a guitar to me, and had it amplified, and rolled down the street. And that’s on some video somewhere, but we can’t find it. I was doing kinda crazy guitar performance pieces. Actually, Gerald of the Haters was at the art school (now the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design) and he saw the first Tunnel Canary. They were actually big fans of ours, at the very beginning. I guess by the mid 1980s we had stopped. And people like the Haters and Si Monkey and a few other extreme kind of people carried on… and what’s the other one that got really big? Skinny Puppy. All those guys came to our early shows – I think we were a big influence on them.
Then there was a period where you disappeared.
Nathan: Well, after the 1980s, I just packed it in, because I watched the whole scene just become stupid. People were on hard drugs. Art Bergmann had a record deal, but he was on drugs and an alcoholic at that time… And I just though, “Fuck, you know, I don’t want to be like this!” The whole thing was to be an example. It’s the whole idea – you talk the talk, you walk the walk, sort of thing. I feel that people have to individually be examples of what they expound, in a sense… We were actually asked to play at John Barley’s, we were going to be the first band, we were going to open the thing, and I said no because at that time I didn’t want to do it in a bar. I had made compromises, and I thought, no more. I think the last show we were asked to do was for the Squamish Five. We had done Rock Against Reagan, which had been connected with the Subhumans (the punk band whose bassist, Gerry Hannah, won notoriety by his time in a group of self-styled urban guerrillas, known in the media as the Squamish Five and among themselves as Direct Action; their arrest had a huge impact on Vancouver’s punk community). When all that was going on, I guess [Canadian intelligence agency] CSIS and the RCMP got involved, and they were tapping all the phones, and they broke into our practice space, and the space of the guy who did my guitar stuff [Nathan’s guitars are heavily modified]. We thought they were looking for drugs and all that kind of shit. No equipment was taken… but then (the Five) got arrested, and we figured out what was going on. They asked us to do the benefit for them, but the band was in pieces and I declined. I said “I’d like to do it, but we can’t.” And actually, the last great gig – the last real formal one – was the William S. Burroughs reading where the sound system fucked up. I didn’t want to deal with it, so I walked off the stage. There might have been one or two more shows at the practice space. The thing is, we never had a sound guy, and I was never really great at dealing with that stuff, so half the performances were great, and half would be really bad. People didn’t know the difference, but I knew the difference, and it’s really disheartening, when you know what could be done. What’s on the CD is the best we ever sounded. And that should have been happening every time. Unfortunately it didn’t.
And that was never released?
Nathan: Most of it hasn’t been – there’s been some confusion about whether the album as a whole is a reissue, but it isn’t. One song on it came out in the early 80’s on the Stitching Small Tears compilation tape as “Erdang,” but the original title is Jihad. It refers to the whole idea of holy war as a subjective process: spiritual man versus animal man. I put the original title on it because of all the shit that’s going on now. I consider us to be sort of musical terrorists. And the other piece is “Beauty Secrets,” which is a piece we did live at Emily Carr, and it was recorded on a ghetto blaster.
Jihad sort of scares me a little, I confess. I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet.
Nathan: Okay, but I’ll tell you, the best way to listen to it is in a dark room cranked up with headphones on. Go into it like a shamanic experience. It’s not anything to do with Satanism or any of that stuff; actually, I consider it to be a very spiritual piece. It disorients people because of the stuff that’s inside them, but it doesn’t scare me – I get tears in my eyes, right. When people say it’s scary, I kind of feel flattered, but basically, it’s not really scary, it’s supposed to be kind of like, divinizing, in a sense. Or sacred.
Would you recommend people listen to it quietly, or loud, or -?
Nathan: No, you can’t listen to it quietly, it’s got to be loud. It’s got to be jacked up. It doesn’t have to be so it’s hurting your ears, but so it seems like you’re in one of these places [Nathan gestures to the club where the first half of our interview took place].
What’s your hearing like?
Nathan: Good. I have no hearing loss… Maybe I have a different set of frequencies that I’m operating on. People always said it was loud, but it was never to the point where… well, there was times, at the Smilin’ Buddha, I guess, because I wanted people to get out of there. The whole idea was like – “What are you doing in a place like this? Like, what the hell? Go into the street, go into the parks, get the fuck out of here!”
Eric [present for the first interview]: I just wanted to point out that Nathan was the only person not wearing earplugs at the noise fest. (Laughter).
Nathan (chuckling): I didn’t realize that.
So tell me about your guitar modifications.
Nathan: The first one, I don’t know what brand it is, but I had this cheap guitar, I think made in Japan – a Zenon? – and this guy, he put an AM/FM radio in it, it had a tape head to run tape through, it had a mike in the headstock so I could do vocals, it also had a very high frequency treble boost to get this dentist drill sound, and it had an extra input so I could run the lead singer’s vocals through my guitar set up, and that sort of thing.
So you could play tapes through your guitar?
Nathan: Yeah. You could take a piece of tape – from anything that had been recorded – and basically run it over the heads so the sound would go through the guitar. I got the idea from Laurie Anderson. She had this violin bow and a piece of tape, and she used to run it back and forth; I thought, “that’s a good idea,” so I kind of just did this thing… Actually the heads fell off fairly quickly, because I was banging the guitar around, so I didn’t get to use that function much. The one I have now is a better one. It has a hook-up for a Roland Guitar Synthesizer and a Fernandez Sustainer, and it’s got some nice pickups on it. And it has extra jacks for mounting pickups on the neck of the guitar, that sort of thing.
What else do you play?
Nathan: There’s also electronic sounds from various synthesizers that I have. I’ll usually take a sequence and I’ll load it onto a digital delay, or I’ll run it through my guitar setup. And through using like, tape delay and that kind of thing, you can change the sounds. I’ll use anything that I like.
Do you have a conventional musical background?
Nathan: The closest I got to it… I don’t really know anything about music. I got into it through painting. I was layering stencils, airbrushing, and I got thinking, “I could probably do this with tape recorders.” So I began to do that and make music like Moondog and those kind of guys. But I’ve learned real things about music – I actually got into the electronic music program at SFU with Barry Truax as one of the teachers. But I wasn’t really interested in the more conventional things, and I can’t read music. I’d been interested, but I’d read that people like Hendrix, they couldn’t read music either, so I thought, “I don’t have time for this,” right. This is kind of like I’m-in-a-hurry-to-do-this stuff. But studying at those electronic music facilities, I learned the classical electronic music techniques like tape splicing and using all that gear. But in terms of conventional music, I couldn’t tell you and A-flat from a C-sharp. I should mention that there was a rumour that I had a Master’s Degree in composition. I don’t know how that got out there… I thought that was kind of funny.
Um – can we talk about drugs?
Nathan: Oh, sure. I took LSD when I was 16, and it changed my life. I had what I’d call a spiritual or religious experience. It translated into “God is Love,” right? But this energy just came into me, right to my bones, and the whole world was filled with this loving energy. And it scared the shit out of me, to tell you the truth. I didn’t want anything to do with religion or any of that kind of stuff, but this was something that I couldn’t forget, and it was something that wasn’t connected to any church or anything. It was just pure consciousness. So I started trying to tell my friends about it, and they’re like, “What the fuck are you talking about,” right? “Are you nuts?” I also left my body at one point – I was six feet up, looking at myself. And I knew nothing about that kind of stuff. I had this telepathic stuff happen, too – my friend and I were playing with it, and at first we thought it was just hallucinations, but after, we started meeting all these other people that had similar experiences… So for me, LSD changed my life, actually. It gave me an appreciation of poetry, mathematics – my grades went up, everything! I had some bad trips, too, because of my own stupidity, but it was something that I have to say was the most significant – how can I say it? – event in my life, probably even to this day. That was about 1968, ‘69. It could have been ‘67 – it was just after it had become illegal. My feeling is that there should be more scientific study, and they should resume the studies they were doing with mentally deranged people and addicts and stuff, because they were getting a lot of success using it as a cure. But they completely shut it down, because, I think, of the subversive possibilities of the drug.
Okay, but – we have, at present, we have all these people consuming weird music and doing lots of drugs – it’s become an unofficial part of our consumer culture. It’s sort of the dark underbelly of our consumer culture… Do you think that there still is a subversive element to music like yours?
Nathan: It’s kind of tricky. I don’t know really what’s going on out there. I listen to stuff on the radio – the CBC, whatever’s around me – but I don’t pay attention very much to the latest things. This noise thing has kind of taken me by surprise, especially all the support we’re getting. But getting back to the whole drug thing, I don’t advocate the use of drugs per se. I was just telling you about my story, in terms of what happened to me. I do believe that some of the drugs like peyote, mescaline, mushrooms, LSD – they have the potential to heal and be medicines. But that’s not just done by going into a bar and mixing it with alcohol and stuff like that. People have to take responsibility for their own growth. I think in some cases, people using cocaine, heroin and stuff like that, that’s like, a death wish, and I don’t advocate that kind of stuff at all. I can’t say I know too much about it but from what I’ve experienced and seen, it’s not something that appears to be life-enhancing.
And how do you feel about the way the world is now, in general?
Nathan: To tell you the truth, I’m an optimist. I think there’s a lot of fucked up things going on, in this city and in the States and all over the world, but I’m kind of an optimist, because I believe there’s a spiritual underbelly here that’s basically emerging, and we’ve got to get through the shit before we can get to the flowers, in that sense. If you’re just watching the news and reading the newspapers, you get all fucked up by it, but I believe that individuals can make a difference. Like, I’m a raw food vegan, and I believe in that. Or at least being a vegan, and I think that just about everybody can be a vegan or a vegetarian, and it would help their health and the environment. Also, no smoking/ no drinking; I think those are like caveman things. Who the fuck needs that? If you’ve got LSD or mushrooms – the visionary drugs – you don’t need tobacco in your life. Also getting into things like yoga and numerology and astrology – those are also really powerful tools for people to basically enlighten themselves or lighten their own baggage, and actually find answers to things, in terms of their own creativity, and how to maximize their own “selfness” in a sense. Their sense of self. I’ve been into those things for years and years now, in my music and in my daily life. I mean, a lot of people think that’s kind of sucky or whatever, but for me they’ve been powerful tools to open up my own creativity, and also to map out the directions of where my life could be going.
Mya Mayhem (current Tunnel Canary vocalist, singer for the Roothless Mayhem Band and Life Against Death)
Mya: The first time I heard Tunnel Canary, it was Ebra’s voice that got me. The feeling in it was so raw, so full of emotion, that I was instantly attracted to it. I must admit, though I am very into aggressive, underground music, it’s normally fairly structured with interchanging time signatures and whatnot. Tunnel Canary, however, had this intense free form of expression, and within the screeching madness of the “noise”, was something I could really identify with.
My first performance with Tunnel Canary was intense. Adapting to the music was really easy for me, as I have been a vocalist for quite some time and happen to be particularly skilled in screaming, growling madness. The intense part was the 25 minute improvisation that accompanies the music. It was such a fantastic experience, and I was able to integrate a bit of a performance into it. I absolutely love to ability to be a creature on stage, and this band definitely enables me to be as weird and expressive as I want with every performance; I love every minute of it.
Ebra Ziron (original Tunnel Canary vocalist)
So what are your strongest memories of performing with Tunnel Canary?
Ebra: I would say that it was the thrill of being able to do something so creative when that arena was basically quite closed to the average person. So it was more being able to be part of something very creative at that time.
Was it ever frightening?
Ebra: I wouldn’t call it frightening. I’d say – you’d be a little nervous when you were performing. What do you mean by “frightening?”
It seems like you’re channelling very powerful energies that could threaten to overwhelm.
Ebra: No no no. Nothing like that. It was more like plugging into a very creative stream of energy that we thought was quite beautiful, not frightening. Like a thunderstorm would be beautiful. You could be a little bit in awe of the energy – but… Not frightening. No. I would never have used that word as an adjective to describe how I felt.
Do you remember any of the lyrics, any of the things you were addressing to the audiences, particularly in the street performances?
Ebra: Well, the street performances were basically the same music, the same lyrics as we would do onstage, but it would just be streamlined. But the lyrics were the same, the songs were the same. A lot of it was commentary about the status quo in society and basically for people to look at what they were doing with their lives – where they were spending their money, how they were thinking – just trying to make them think. And also the gender roles, just trying to open things up a little bit that way. That there are rooms for different kinds of expression, that maybe things don’t have to be a certain way… Just to be open to being human beings, and not having to act a certain way because you’re a male or female.
Nathan talked about police shutting down performances. Was there a feeling of acting in an unwelcoming environment?
Ebra: No… I think the main reason I thought we were doing the street performances was to get the music across to people of all ages that wouldn’t necessarily go to someplace like the Smilin’ Buddha. That was a very specific venue, but if we’d do a street performance, you’d have people that were underage, people that were older, people that wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to that type of sound. So it wasn’t necessarily about doing anything that was antiestablishment, really. It was just trying to get the music out to the general public. And when the police came, it was basically because we were “disturbing the peace.” That was quite straightforward. When we would video performances they would stand back a little.
Out of respect or out of a desire not to be videotaped, or…?
Ebra: Well, out of respect, and were wondering “how long is this going to go on for?” Then they maybe realized that it was something artistic and they had to shut it down.
Right. How did you feel after performances?
Ebra: Well, it depended if the performance was a good one or not! If it was a good one, quite exhilarated, but sometimes, because it was improvised, the performances wouldn’t go well and we wouldn’t be in synch with one another. And that was really when I’d feel bad. And then physically it was just draining, because it took a lot out of me just to put out that kind of energy, screaming.
And you said that your voice would sometimes be quite hoarse, afterwards?
Ebra: Yes. I basically would lose my voice after doing a performance, for sure. And you know, people when they look at that, they see it as being quite intense and violent, but to me, that wasn’t the energy at all that I was hooking into. I felt like, as I say, I was hooking into a very creative stream of energy. It wasn’t anything psychotic or fearful or anything like that.
Were you also involved in veganism?
Ebra: Yeah, that was one reason why Nathan and I first met, through our common ground with being vegetarian and into harmlessness and meditation – that type of thing.
And you still practice?
Ebra: Yeah, I still meditate. I do yoga. I’m not a strict vegetarian anymore. But I haven’t eaten meat for, I don’t know, 30-35 years. Health-conscious, that type of thing. But not to the extreme that I was then, at all. I would say that I was quite extreme back then. But there are a lot more people now that follow that way of eating, more then they did back then, so…
It’s true, it’s not seen as an extreme lifestyle choice at all, now. So, looking back, are you happy with what you accomplished, do you listen to Jihad, or…?
Ebra: I’m proud of what I’ve done. I can’t listen to music that is as unstructured – I listen to more harmonious music now.
Ebra (thoughtful): What do I listen to… I’ve always liked world music, that’s always been some of the inspiration for Tunnel Canary. I love East Indian music. I don’t listen to pop music, really… when you called, I was just listening to some East Indian music that’s from Canada – Anoushka Shankar’s Wanderlust. I definitely don’t listen to any of the music that the young people listen to now, that branches off of Tunnel-Canary-like music.
Did you have interactions with women in the early Vancouver scene?
Ebra: Because I was a single mother – people knew that I had a young daughter – a lot of people admired me for being able to be part of the art scene, and being a Mom. They looked up to me as a kind of role model, that type of thing. But I was very shy and introverted, and male or female, I didn’t really talk much to the audience or fans. Just more people directly involved in the music scene – other performers or critics or that type of thing. Obviously [Vancouver journalist/ guitarist and occasional Nathan Holiday collaborator] Alex Varty was very inspiring for me, because he liked our music, and that encouraged me to keep on going with it, as well.
It seems to me that it wasn’t so much about performance, for Tunnel Canary, as maybe for some of the other bands – that it was more of a personal, political, spiritual act… It seems like a different orientation.
Ebra: Maybe, but I had a feeling that when I was onstage, people were quite drawn in, quite taken in by the performance.
Ebra: I didn’t really have a sense of being like… I would say that my ego, at that time, as a performer, was basically like zero; I just felt myself as a vessel, for that music to go through, and I didn’t feel like I had much of an ego going, “oh, I’m a performer,” or “This is who I am.” I identified with Tunnel Canary, but it wasn’t really in an egocentric way. It was in a really beautiful, creative way. It was quite special. It’s hard for me to imagine coming from such a pure place now, because if I performed now, my ego would be there in a lot stronger way. It was different. Can you understand?
I think I do.
Ebra: It seems like our image was so hardcore, but we were such gentle people; and what came out of my mouth was so intense, but I was such a soft-spoken person — people that knew me from working at the Naam restaurant or something, it was hard for them to understand that that was the same person, but I think that creative energy was… I didn’t see a problem with those two things happening at the same time. It felt natural. I could see how it would be very confusing for some people, though. We didn’t smoke or drink, and yet we were punks, that type of thing. I think we were using a vehicle of expression and creativity that the times allowed us to use.
Okay. I think I have what I need. Thank you very much, this was very helpful.
Ebra: I’m really glad to have helped Eric, too. I really enjoyed his approach to Tunnel Canary, and it was very neat that Josh put that album out. I was really flattered.
It’s great that this stuff is out there in the world.
Ebra: You can see, Aleh and I – Nathan and I – have quite a different approach to the music in some ways, but I never would have done it if I wasn’t involved in a relationship with him. And that was great. I am very proud of what we did in the past, and I’m glad to have had that opportunity to express myself that way.
Dave Sheftel, past and present bass player for Tunnel Canary
So Ebra and Nathan were a couple and they were performing together before you met them. How was that?
David: Well, it was really interesting. I had just moved to Vancouver to go to Emily Carr art school, and I had put up an ad on a bulletin board at the school looking for musicians to put together a band, and Nathan had actually had an ad up at the same time, looking for completely different things. I think I was looking for a progressive rock/ Roxy Music sort of outfit to play with, and I think his ad said something about “creative imaginative bass player to complete a performance art/ musical experience,” or something. I was kind of intrigued, because it was quite different from anything I had heard about or had thought about playing, and I remember going around to meet them. I guess it was at Ebra’s house. I was quite similar in being interested in natural foods and a very pure and spiritual lifestyle, eastern spirituality and that kind of thing, so that part of it we were very much in tune with. The musical part, I really had to expand my perspective quite a bit. I had come from playing folk music and a pretty typical rock background, so it was really an interesting experience, that I was stretched a bit to be open to the kind of music that Nathan had in mind. It was something it took me a little while to get comfortable with, and to fit that into my world and put my own personality into it, because the power and the intensity of the music they were doing was not something I was used to. I couldn’t relate to it right away, but I could definitely see the intent there. It was very intriguing, to think about coming from this very spiritually pure, pacifist and minimalist lifestyle and integrate that into this really powerful and kind of scary sound.
What had you been playing before?
David: I had been playing with this sort of pop/punk band in Toronto was called the Warm Jets, because there’s a Brian Eno album called Here Come the Warm Jets. We were quite infatuated with a lot of Eno’s stuff, and we were playing a lot of Talking Heads and B52s and Brian Eno kind of stuff.
David: There were some, for sure.
Did you ever record them?
David. I think there’s probably something out there, but no – I wish I had some, it was really interesting stuff. There was a sax player and a keyboard – it was an interesting mix of people in that one.
How did you get from the Warm Jets to Tunnel Canary?
David: Nathan was really the one who pushed me to stop playing a rhythm. “Don’t worry about keeping a beat, here, just think of the overall sound in your contribution as the low end and throw out the conventions of what a bass player normally does.” Nathan had some vision of how he wanted my part to be, but he gave me all kinds of freedom, too, to experiment. I used all kinds of weird effects on my bass, and I had taken apart some basses and put them back together in strange configurations and we were running instruments through all kinds of effects. He had a few of these great big analog synthesizers and I had a couple that I was experimenting with, the old ones with hundreds of patchcords all over the place. You could never get the same sound twice.
Do you remember the names?
David: I had a smaller Korg, and I had a Roland synthesizer that was made of all these components. You had to buy it in bits and pieces and patch them all together. Nathan had a Korg, too, I think, but one of the really big ones. It took two people to lift it. It might have been called a Maxi Korg [Nathan: “it was a Korg PS 3100, actually”]. It probably had about a hundred switches and dials on the front and another fifty patch cords that connected one part to another. And the way he works is intuitive, so he doesn’t work in a real technical way, of saying “Okay, I’m patching from the oscillator to the filter, because that effects the filter in a repetitive way” – that’s what I’d do; I’m much more technical. But he had the creative part of it. He could come up with these sounds and combinations of things just in an intuitive, creative way. Things just happened serendipitously – random things that he has a sense of how its going to work, and putting them together without the linear fashion, which is what I do. But he always had the vision of how the whole thing was going to appear. He’s very visual in terms of producing the music. I’m a very detail oriented person, so I look at every little connection and setting, and I want to be able to reproduce things.
Was finding a common language difficult? Did he have to learn some of your more technical language, or did you have to learn more of his intuitive language.
David: Yeah, that was more it. I mean, I went to Emily Carr for a year or two, but I was never an artist in that sense. I ended up going on to technical college for video and audio production. So I never had that “big picture” of artistic language to apply, so I had to interpret what he said. In a way, he didn’t had time for the detailed stuff, because he had this vision of what he wanted.
So did he thrust music or books or such at you, to catch you up, or -?
David: Yeah, some of the big names that I hadn’t heard of before, like Stockhausen and Diamanda Galas. And I really liked Laurie Anderson, because of her technical expertise. She uses the technology very well, and she knows exactly how to create what she wants, but she has that real intuition of what’s going to be great music. And also the visual part. And we saw her a couple of times.
Did you come to enjoy playing in Tunnel Canary?
David: Yeah! You know, it’s not “feelgood music” – it’s challenging and its transformative in a lot of ways. It still was and it is not what I would have ever thought of. I mean, I had imagined as a teenager playing in a rock band and becoming famous and doing that whole thing, so it was different from what I imagined my music turning into, but it was really so interesting and totally engaging, and you had to stretch, to use all of your creative side. And the other part that was really interesting was that the spiritual side was so powerful. When we would play – and even that last gig (in July 2008) – I got that same feeling of transcendence. Just the volume and the combination of all the different sounds merging together – there’s a peak, a kind of ecstasy you reach, and there were a couple of times that happened at a couple of gigs where I just felt this light coming out of the top of my head going straight out to the sky. And it was really interesting. I don’t know if anybody else ever perceived any of that, or if it was just my own thing, but I’ve never felt that playing any other kind of music. It was really a channelling of something a lot bigger than us.
When Tunnel Canary stopped playing, what did you do?
David: Well, I’ve sort of carried on playing jazz and folk and all kind of other music. I played with a big band of a bunch of senior citizens playing swing tunes from the 1940’s… most of it was pretty low key, and just for fun, fundraising gigs, temporary things filling in for other people. I never had the time to devote to rehearsing and making a real commitment to it.
How did you feel when Nathan called you about a Tunnel Canary reunion?
David: Well, I guess the first thing was, he contacted me to let me know that there was that Punk History Canada website, and that we were on there and that people were looking at it. And he was, at the same time, he was putting together the CD, I guess. And I looked at it, and I thought it was curious that people were still interested – or that there was a new audience. I thought it was novel and kind of curious, but I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere. This was a year ago or more. He kept saying that more and more people were checking out the website – and “I’m going to put some pictures on,” “I’m going to release the CD” – and I didn’t really have the time to imagine performing or rehearsing or putting much into it. It was flattering that people were following something from that long ago. And then he said, “Oh, I’ve got this gig at Video In” in April (the Shitstorm). I actually wanted to pull out, at one point, because I didn’t have the time or the energy, and he sort of convinced me: “No, let’s do it! I won’t ask you again! It’s just a one-time thing!” And I promised him I would do it. I think we got together once before that one, to see what would happen. It was pretty interesting to try out the same sounds – to update them and see if they still made sense. And then the gig was really bizarre, because it was all these 20 year old kids who were doing music that was… not similar, but you could tell it was in the same vein, the same wavelength, experimenting and pushing the limits and trying really interesting stuff with effects and how you use a guitar, physically – how you create sound. When we came on, I think we really just blew everybody away, because we were visually and sonically so powerful, and it just really shocked people – here’s these old guys that are still capable of blowing their socks off. And all these guys were coming up to us after we played and saying, “Wow, that was amazing – I haven’t heard about you guys! When did you play last?” And I said, “Well, we sort of came apart in 1983, and they said, “Wow, I was born in 1985!” That’ll do it…
Obviously you were happy with the experience, since you did it again the other month.
David: Yeah… If that hadn’t have gone well, I probably wouldn’t have gone along with doing the other gig, but there seemed to be some real interest, and Nathan kept pursuing it – released the LP set, and – it was sort of neat to think of people all over the country or the world being interested in that. And that last gig was pretty interesting. It was amazing to be able to produce that sound – the volume, for one thing; it’s not just straight volume, but there’s just this real spiritual power that you can get with the combination of sounds and the intensity, and Nathan is just such an intense person. And Mya was great, and had a lot of the same spirit that Ebra brought, I thought. I think we synched pretty well. It’s just been very interesting. I still don’t have any real time to put into it, and Nathan keeps talking about the potential for more gigs… For me it’s just still just interesting. I’m not sure, without spending a lot more time, that we could keep producing new stuff, because it really does require you… You know, when you’re in a band, playing a jazz or a rock song, you can play the same song every night in a club, and its okay, because different people are going to hear you, and a song – you play it the same, pretty much. But this music, you can’t. It’s really incumbent on the musician to put something new into every single time, and so it does take a lot of energy and commitment to say, “Okay, I did this kind of sound last time, and a little piece of that worked, but I can’t do four minutes of that again; so I’ve got to recreate this section and that kind of sound, and I have to keep looking for new ways of playing and new technical methods of creating.” It’s a lot more demanding than just showing up at a gig and playing the same twenty songs the same way you’ve played them twenty times before.
Nathan Holiday, Part Two: a Follow Up
So – you seemed to have a really developed stage show – the strobes, the fog, the toys, the design of the stage. It seems really thought-out.
Nathan: It’s actually not, to tell you the truth. It’s the opposite. The reason I use the strobe lights and the smoke machine, they’re kind of like devices of deconstruction. I know they’re used by big rock bands, and stuff, but I wanted to use them in a kind of primitive way, and I wanted to create a chaotic, war-type zone, where people are given the chance to kind of jump their skins by the strobe lights, and having the smoke amongst the audience, hiding each other… I’ve always been interested in the visual side, for me the visual side is really important to the music as well, not as a support, but – that’s the way I make music. I play the guitar in a visual sense, and I think visually.
The photographer Femke van Delft was telling me that there were toys strewn about on the stage, but I couldn’t actually see them.
Nathan: In the early days, I did this piece where I was dropping bombs and candy hearts on the guitar. Henry Kaiser was showcasing the thing. A few fans talked about it, how it was intriguing. I hadn’t done that – I hadn’t dropped things on the guitar – for a long time, but for me, playing the guitar is kind of about collisions, in a sense. I play it a kind of percussive way, so I think back to what Hendrix did with lighter fluid and stuff and I was trying to take it a little bit further. So over the years I’d collected all these broken pieces of toys and novelty toys and action figures, and I thought I would do another piece like that, and I filled a real army helmet with all these little babies, and there were American flag baby soldiers, and all these other related things – hamburgers, fast food, all that kind of stuff – and basically dumped them on the guitar when it was plugged in and was rubbing them against the strings. It was kind of about consumption and war and actually guitar technique and deconstruction. I don’t know if you saw any of that or not.
Not really, no!
Nathan: Yeah. The guy I had running the smoke machine – it was kind of not controlled, in the sense where people couldn’t see some of the stuff they should have been able to see.
Yeah, it was a big wall of white with these dark shapes moving in it. But that made it very impressive!
Nathan: Well, I wanted some of that, but I wanted some of it where people could see it.
I think Femke said she had photos of Mya eating an American flag.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right. There was a bunch of little American flags on toothpicks that I basically had. That was not scripted, that was just what she did.
Nathan: But it’s not so much about desecration, as it is about getting away from nationalism – fanatical nationalism. If I’d had a Canadian flag, or any other kind of flag, I would have done the same thing. Basically, the only kind of flag I really respect is a pirate flag – a skull and crossbones. But the whole idea of rallying behind the flag and the national anthem – I have no time for that, considering myself more of a planetary citizen or a galactic citizen than a Canadian or a North American.
If we could go back to toys, can you tell me more about your interest in them?
Nathan: I’ve collected toys from thrift stores and yard sales, over the years. I’ve always been interested in pop art and all those kind of Marvel figures – superhero stuff – and when those He-Man figures came out with the little monsters, I thought, this is very interesting, in terms of a cultural phenomenon, that toys are getting scarier and scarier. And you’ve got Spawn and all that stuff. But even besides that, there’s all these weird-looking monsters for kids who are, like, three and four. I think it’s because of Pluto and Scorpio and this kind of thing. In the last twenty years, there’s this kind of Scorpio influence, which is dealing with the dark side, the hidden fears, all that kind of stuff. I was kind of interested in that in the sense of sociology or anthropology…
I don’t know anything about astrology. Pluto, Scorpio?
Nathan: Well, the thing is – I can’t remember exactly, but there’s a very strong Plutonian/ Scorpio influence that’s been felt since the 1970’s, or that time. Pluto is the God of the Underworld, and it’s brought all this kind of dark stuff out in the culture. I think it’s actually cleansing, to tell you the truth. I think it’s about cleansing, and about salvaging certain stuff.
Yeah, this is all a bit beyond me.
Nathan: Basically, I’ve been following a kind of philosophy of Theosophy over the years. I don’t know if you know anything about Madame Blavatsky – or Alice Bailey, especially. I’ve read all those books, and they affected me. I’m not a real joiner, but I’m kind of like an anarchistic Theosophist in that sense. That was kind of the philosophy behind what was going on. And a lot of famous artists – Paul Klee, Emily Carr, Lawren Harris – a lot of famous artists have been influenced by Theosophy. And I was also influenced by it in a big way – where sound is colour and colour is sound, and that kind of stuff.
_Can you sum up that influence?
Nathan: Well, I think what I took from it was the sacredness of the universe and life, and that everything is spiritual and connected, and that the so-called evil energy is just positive energy that is unbalanced or is being used improperly…
Nathan: I have no doubt about the fact that there is a greater creative intelligence that we are part of, and once we kind of recognize or are put in touch with that, we have a kind of obligation to serve others, to pass the vision on.
That’s kind of the Nova Cop thing from Burroughs.
Nathan: But in a more positive kind of way. The problem I have with Philip K. Dick and Burroughs is that there’s a certain kind of negativity there, and I’m not one to really question their artistic genius, but from my own point of view, I feel like human beings were put here to become fully human, and then, more. And in a sense, in that humanness, bridging the various kingdoms of nature and bringing down this energy and redesigning ourselves and the planet.
You’ve used the word “shamanism.”
Nathan: Yeah. I used to be an anthropology student, and I’ve studied some of that stuff, and I’ve been very interested in it. I like to use the band, in that sense, as kind of a “Collective Shaman,” as a way of basically being able to rip through some of the stereotypes and some of the materialism that people are generally presented with in their daily lives.
Some people have criticised the use of the term, as a bit of a cultural appropriation.
Nathan: Well, the thing is, I honor all of those traditions, and in a sense, I might – through my use of the term – be seen as “belittling” them; they might think that. But basically for me, shamanism equates with healing and connecting to the sacred, and I think that goes beyond indigenous cultures, especially these days in terms of some of the shape of some of them, as they’ve been decimated by European culture or whatever. And I think I’ve had some of the visions that some of those people have, and that’s why the music is powerful, and why the music stands apart. There are some things that are coming from another place. And I’ve been lucky enough to be able to channel that energy the way that I do. And I’m not trying to say that in an egocentric way. I mean, if I were just up there for my own gratification, there would be no point to it. The whole point is for me to try and make some kind of transformational statement or experience, so people can realize that we are all Gods in the making. The sooner we realize that, we can go on to divinize the planet, and to salvage… From what I’ve heard in Theosophy, and what I believe, is that the planet – the planet Earth – is an intelligent entity, and it’s on its way to becoming a sun, just like our sun. And we’re a part of that experience. And we’re all ourselves on the way to becoming suns. It’s kind of a sun ship experience – even if they talk about Jesus as being the “Son of God,” you can spell it S-U-N, or whatever… And I don’t mean to get into this in a kind of cultish way. You might think, “Holy, this guy is really off his nut,” but I don’t… It’s special and its sacred to me, but it’s not that strange.
Does this connect to veganism?
Nathan: I’ve been a vegetarian for 39 years, and I’ve been a vegan for 15 of those years or more. And I did start years ago getting into raw food, but the longest I’ve gone consistently on raw food is two years. And then something has happened – I’ve ended up eating some cooked food. I think if I had a personal cook and wasn’t so lazy, I’d probably be a raw food guy 100% all the time, but because of financial situations and emotional situations and other things that I’ll go for a certain amount of time and then I’ll end up having some rice or a piece of tofu. But I do believe that veganism is important and fairly easy for everyone to adapt to.
I don’t know if everyone would agree with you on that. I’m struggling just to stop using sugar, at the moment, and that’s incredibly difficult.
Nathan: Well, you see, I went through all those things myself, and if I can do it, anybody can do it. There’s nothing about me in terms of my will that I think is different from anybody else. I came from a working class background, where steak and potatoes and junk food were just accepted. My father used to hunt, and we’d have bear meat for breakfast! That’s the kind of diet that I’ve come out of – eating overcooked food, sugared, salt on everything. After the original LSD experiences, which prompted the vegetarianism, I got into this vegan thing and was giving up sugar and giving up salt, and all the things that replaced it tasted better. Depending on who you hang out with and how much pain you’re in, people can easily see the difference. I think if you have organic fruit, it tastes better than non-organic fruit. The only problem is it usually costs more.
And you became a vegan for moral or health reasons, or both -?
Nathan: Actually, I’d read Gandhi’s book on Ahimsa. It was part of the Theosophy kind of stuff that I was going through, and I was practicing yoga. And I thought, “well, if it’s not necessary, to be healthy, to eat animal food, why are we doing it? Why are we taking life unnecessarily?” That sort of bothered me. The whole idea of killing something unnecessarily, it just didn’t make sense to me. “If I don’t need this to be healthy, why am I killing this beautiful thing?” And I was brought up learning how to sport fish and all this kind of stuff – I used to take fish and hit their heads against the rock to kill them, these rainbow trout, these beautiful things, and learning to hunt and stuff. I remember my father took me out when I was about 16 and I was shooting this grouse, and it took me about ten shots to kill the damn thing, and he was getting angry – because he was brought up in that culture. And I used to kill squirrels with this gun – it was a .22. And after awhile, I just had great remorse for this waste of life and this kind of – how can I say it? – stupid aesthetic. It was a kind of brainwashing that I was brought up with. I felt great shame, actually.
The Swedish saxophone player Mats Gustafsson tells me that straight edge vegans in Europe were doing things like burning down McDonalds and Burger Kings. I knew that black metal guys were burning down churches, but…
Nathan: Well, there is a militant side. I’ve never belonged to any of these groups, but I used to subscribe to Vegetarian Times and stuff, and they would have articles on various groups that were more militant about these things. I’m not so sure I’m against it, as long as they’re not taking human life… But… I mean, I still have some leather things, right? When I started this, I wanted to get of all leather, all wool, anything that was an animal product. And it was very difficult. We used to get these running shoes, ‘50’s style, in Chinatown, in the punk days, right, and I thought “this is the perfect solution,” after going through a number of different styles of shoes, and I found out that they put beef extract in rubber! So, “how can I do this,” right – it’s so difficult finding something that’s comfortable, that looks okay, that is designed okay, is environmentally friendly, etc. It was a lot of work! And then you’re wearing synthetics – which is better? And then I thought, “Well, I’ll wait until the next generation catches up a little bit” – I’ll continue to wear leather shoes or I’ll buy used leather shoes or something like that.
It’s not like your not wearing them is going to save anything’s life.
Nathan: Yeah, but I do believe there should be substitutes. There’s a whole new wave of designers now that are doing yoga clothing and hemp clothing, all for that sort thing, but the problem is trying to find stuff that suits your own aesthetic.
Do you normally present in a sort of striking, far-out way? Every time I’ve seen you, you’ve had a very distinctive style of dress…
Nathan: That is my normal thing. I’ve been doing that for years. In terms of the whole art/ music thing, for me, an artist in our culture is given a chance to be sort of a clown, to advertise. That’s part of the tradition – like, the dandy. And I see what most men are hit with, through GQ magazine and all that kind of stuff, and it’s like – “how can I say something about this as a male?” But all that stuff comes from thrift stores. People say to me, “You must have hundreds of dollars you spend on this stuff,” and I say, “This is a Value Village thing – I just have good eyes!” I know how to use that stuff in a visual way. And I always customize stuff, through tearing, or something.
Okay… another question. If I could ask about lyric sheets – some people have commented on their absence from the LPs.
Nathan: Well, I’ll tell you the reason. That was intentional. Josh asked me to include them, and I refused, because the whole idea is, what I play with in painting and stuff, is the ambiguity of shapes and sound and how they kind of merge. People have to use their imagination, right? It makes it more of an active kind of process, rather than a passive one, where people are tying to listen to lyrics – they’ve got to listen. It’s like Rorschachs, you know, the ink blots – different people see different things. And it was to set up that kind of system. I noticed as I was looking at these paintings – because I’d layer all these shapes and stencils – and my mind would be taken from one shape to the other, and it would be trying to constantly recognize or put into form, to bring in more form and make something recognizable out of it. So I thought, this is very interesting; people are going to look at this, and they’re going to try to draw on their own subconscious in trying to make sense of this. And in doing that, they’re going to be in a kind of No-Man’s-Land, which to me, was very important.
So you’d never want to publish the lyrics?
Nathan: Well, I wouldn’t say never. I’m willing to show them to anybody – they’re actually a kind of poetry I wrote. But the fact is, we started tearing them apart, breaking them up in syllables and concentrating on individual syllables and concentrating on individual consonants, just for the pure textural idea, right? There’s also a message in there, but part of the message is also deconstruction, and the whole idea of ambiguity and using volume to put somebody in a neutral space where they can become deconditioned, in a sense. I think the lyrics stand up, but they take away a bit of the mystery, and a bit of the work. It’s so hard talking to you, Al, because you sound just like Alex Varty in his younger years…
Let me ask, do you consider your music violent?
Nathan: No, I don’t think it is. I mean – this is a difficult question. For me, when I listen to the music personally, I think it’s uplifting, I think it’s forceful – I’d say forceful – and I think it’s powerful. I guess I could say it was violent, but not in the sense that most people would understand that word. I would say it’s violent in a positive way… Some people, if they compare our songs to Britney Spears or some kind of pop kind of stuff, it sounds relatively violent, but in terms of comparing it to the Iraqi war, or that kind of thing, y’know, this is a kind of bloodless revolution. This is more about cultural warfare, it’s more about psychological warfare. I think it’s like pulling teeth or surgery at this point – basically I think it has to be done. It had to be done then, it still has to be done. I was talking about this whole idea of terrorism, and I mentioned the terror of realizing that we are divine and heaven is here now. I guess what I was thinking of, it’s kind of like taking heaven by storm, or being a holy terrorist, in that sense. I have to be careful that that’s not mixed up with this whole idea of going out there and – how can I say it?
Crashing planes into buildings?
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That kind of thing. We’re more interested in crashing minds into buildings.
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