t.o.t.s. Interview w/ChainDLK (Dec. 2005)
by; Shaun Phelps
Chain D.L.K.: First, can you tell a little about Things Outside the Skin? Your mission statement, maybe?
Things Outside The Skin: THINGS OUTSIDE THE SKIN has been around since 1997. The idea for the name had been around longer, but there was no immediate outlet for it. I don’t know if there’s a particular “mission statement” for T.O.T.S., per se. I can’t speak for the rest of the band because in the end we all have different ideologies. There’s no set “group” agenda.
Chain D.L.K.: Judging by your discography you guys have been around for a while. How do you feel your sound has changed over the years?
Things Outside The Skin: Has our sound changed? I think production-wise it definitely has. In terms of the songs having changed in nature or notâ€¦ that’s tough. I don’t really know. I’ve never been far enough away from my own material to really determine that or not. The line-up has changed significantly over the years for any number of reasons; though right now I feel like there’s a pretty functional unit going on with the current line-up. I like change, though. It’s exciting. New people bring new ideas and open up possibilities I would have never come up with on my own.
Chain D.L.K.: What is your main influence as artists? (Be it music, philosophy, or politics.)
Things Outside The Skin: Early in life bands like DEVO and Men Without Hats were (and continue to be) important to me. Later on, bands like The Ramones, The Damned, TSOL, Public Enemy, Camouflage, and Alphaville affected me a great deal. Even though I noodled with music when I was younger it wasn’t until I heard Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” that I felt inspired to write music. The Residents, Michael Patton and Frank Black have also been key influences. Philosophically, The Residents and Consolidated were huge for me. In some fashion, I am sure artists like Chris Burden have had influence over me but to what degree, I’m not sure. More recently I’ve been pretty affected by some amazing comic writers like Joshua Dysart and Warren Ellis.
Chain D.L.K.: What was your motivation behind writing your newest album, You Knew it all Along?
Things Outside The Skin: The album itself was written over a pretty large time period. My primary goal was to release a collection of music that was produced better and was more cohesive as a package than the first T.O.T.S. CD, God in a Box. In some ways I feel like I succeeded and in others, not. The motivation for the title was more specific than the music itself. The name You Knew It All Along came to me just prior to our 2003 North American tour (Turkey Chainsaw Massacre Tour 2003 w/ Sealed in Silence and The Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow). My decision to pursue music wasn’t received well by my friends and family, and although I was humored for awhile, these days I pretty much get scoffed at. They can’t really understand the pursuit of something that has such a small monetary return. I mean, we’re not really filling up the bank with T.O.T.S., it’s always been a financial black-hole. So the name was a bit of a concession to the detractors. “Fine, you’re right. I’m broke, I will continue to be, our fan base is limited, we’re isolated with this endeavor, fine, you’re right… You Knew It All Along. Now leave me the fuck alone.”
Chain D.L.K.: What process, if any, did you use in writing You Knew it all Along?
Things Outside The Skin: For You Knew It All Along and God in a Box I approached each track on a song by song basis, individually working out problems with each track without really considering the rest of the album. There are pros and cons to this. A lot of people have complained that the CD sounded disjointed and that T.O.T.S. is directionless. A lot of people have praised the diverse nature of the material. In the end, you can’t please everyone so I just do what feels right at the time.
Chain D.L.K.: Was there any particular message you were trying to get across? The themes vary from politics to animal cruelty to social commentary.
Things Outside The Skin: I’d like for people to think for themselves and consider all the possible angles of a situation before they commence with their decisions, and in some cases, judgments. Be flexible. Be able to change when needed. Consider things other than yourself. It’s way too easy to forget about people, animals, the environment and situations beyond your own point of reference. All things are not equal. Consume less!
Chain D.L.K.: How long has it been since you released You Knew it all Along, and how has the response been thus far?
Things Outside The Skin: It’s been a few of months now since the release and the responses have been pretty polar. Some reviews praise the hell out of it while others have blasted it to utter bits. It seems in a lot of cases, especially in situations when English isn’t a first language, a lot of the satirical elements in the lyrics are taken verbatim… That’s a problem. It’s not really a problem I can address, but it seems like a lot of stuff isn’t perceived correctly. Hell. Maybe it is and they still don’t like it. Who knows? It’d be great if everyone loved it but if everyone did, I’m probably not writing anything worth listening to.
Chain D.L.K.: Your discography shows the limited tour cover for You Knew it all Along–A picture of Hitler, Bush, and Stalin side by side. This graphic fits well with the title of the album, as well as the first track, “American Way.” What prompted the graphics change and what is the story behind the new graphics?
Things Outside The Skin: (Laughs) The graphics for this CD held the release of the CD back for close to 6 months. There’s actually seven covers that have been designed for this release. Prior to the Bush/Stalin/Hitler cover, there was a Mickey Mouse/Ronald McDonald/Bush cover. That wasn’t printed because every manufacturer outright refused to print the image. They claimed copyright issues, but as it was satire that shouldn’t have applied. While they agreed with me they still refused to print; even with an offer to sign a waiver relinquishing them of any responsibility towards the image. So, to get a quick demo of the CD pressed in time for the tour, I switched the image to show Hitler/Stalin/Bush. It was far more obvious than I wanted, and it lacked the humor of the Mickey/Ronald image, but I was short on time and the disc needed to be pressed. Those sold out and after the tour I continued to work on the rest of the CD. When the time came to do a full press of the finished CD I thought I’d try to get the original idea for the cover printed. No go. No one would touch it. So I went back to the Stalin/Hitler one. No go! Political tension was high and the whole-anti-American thing was still in full swing. No one would print the second cover. Censorship in action kiddoes… pay attention! So even the original cover wasn’t in league with the titles origin, so I thought I’d go back to that. The whole, “You Knew It All Along… now leave me alone,” bit. Nothing seemed to be working. Nothing looked right to me. Then I looked into having other artists do the cover. I’d never done that before and I thought someone else’s approach could bring some new ideas to the table. Still, nothing really vibed well for me. I should also add that the whole time I was also trying to escape the whole “creepy doll” persona I had developed for T.O.T.S. with the God in a Box release. It was seeming redundant to me at the time. Hop in the time machine, we’re now 1 1/2 years after the tour. I’ve re-recorded most of the demo and written a number of new songs for the final release. STILL NO COVER. It’s cold and snowy, a bit of a blizzard in NY. I threw intention to the wind and decided to go for aesthetics. I made a new doll, sat in the snow for 8 hours shooting pictures in a snow storm and now you have have the current cover. “You Knew It All Along.” What I no longer know, but I’m sure someone does. There’s a link (in the tray card of the CD as well!) to see all the covers. You can read the stories about the graphics and hear material that didn’t make it onto the disc! http://www.outside-the-skin.com/tots/YKIAAbonus/
Chain D.L.K.: You Knew it all Along is home to two covers, Devo’s “Going Under,” and The Spice Girls’ “Spice up Your Life.” Quite the contrast. What was your motivation behind covering these two songs?
Things Outside The Skin: Both were originally written for compilation CD’s. One which I produced and released on Facility Records (SpudSuckers! A Tribute to DEVO), and the other was a compilation produced by Kill Switch… Klick/Go-Kustom Records mastermind D.A. Sebasstian (Teen Feeding Frenzy). The DEVO track was from their New Traditionalists release and that album, above all of their work, has had the greatest affect on me. We needed to do a teen track for Teen Feeding Frenzy and while my first few choices for tracks were already taken by other bands I’m happy we went with “Spice Up Your Life” in the end. It came out great.
Chain D.L.K.: Looking at your website I noticed some X-rated uncensored pictures of your show at the New York Goth Rock festival in February–Is this a common stage-show appearance?
Things Outside The Skin: No one believes me when I tell them this, but I had no idea what was happening that night. The right people, the right time and the right music…who knows what’ll happen! I try to bring different elements to shows whenever possible. Great performers have shared the stage with us joining in with T.O.T.S., like Tyler Fyre, Ericah Hagle (former Unto Ashes lead vocalist), Rainbow Blight and Optimus Crime from Hate in the Box, Mortal Angel from Sealed in Silence, and so on. I love to introduce new, sometimes un-rehearsed elements into the live show. It keeps things fresh for us and the audience. So in short, no, that night at the New York Goth Rock fest was neither common nor planned. Things just happen.
Chain D.L.K.: What kind of set-up do you generally try to have at your shows?
Things Outside The Skin: Unless circumstances prevent us from doing what we want, the general show consists of the three main players in the band (myself, my brother Blight on Bass, and Tim Durland playing drums.), accompanied by a heavily sequenced light show to add some visual impact to the performance. We have an assortment of various stage personalities that we rotate through, depending how we feel that night, and always try to do something extra. Things are always changing. Rarely is one show the same as the one preceding it.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you still planning a tour this winter? Can you give a little insight on that?
Things Outside The Skin: I’m working on it. Whether or not it comes to fruition remains to be seen. I’d love for it to flourish as the acts we have lined up this time are amazing performers. Keep checking the site for details on all that stuff.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s next for Things Outside the Skin?
Things Outside The Skin: Continue to promote the snot out of “You Knew It All Along”. If I can get a mid-winter tour together I’d like to shoot for that around March. I’m talking to a few new people that might be joining up with t.o.t.s. in the near future and depending on how that goes I’d like to have a new CD completed and released by the end of 2006. The new CD will be drastically different from our previous releases. Not that I don’t like what we’ve been doing, I love it all. I’d just like to cover some new ground. What it’ll end up sounding like is anyone’s guess but if I’m lucky, people won’t recognize it at all. That’s the goal.