t.o.t.s. Interview (2005)
by; Mr Drum Machine
[Mr Drum Machine]: This is probably the worst, most cliched question to start an interview with–but I can’t resist: what’s the story behind the name of your band? “Things Outside The Skin” sounds more emo than industrial–nary an umlaut or a “23” to be found.
[Chvad]: The name! It goes back a bit actually. During my first band (Recherche’) the guitarist (Raphael/Mortal Angel from Sealed in Silence) and I were in the process of creating a new project (the now defunct “Blood in Vain”) and “THINGS OUTSIDE THE SKIN” was one of the ideas I had had. I was looking for a name that used simple words that could project larger concepts, a name that could be flexible enough to keep up with constantly changing ideas and identities and I also wanted it to be a bit creepy without be heavy handed. Despite our (Raphael and I) decision to not use the name then in 1996, I wound up releasing a bunch of ambient recordings under the name in 1997 while retaining the name “Recherche’” for the heavier material. In 1998 I dropped “Recherche’” permanently and put everything into T.O.T.S.
[MrDM]: From the pictures on your website, one could assume that you incorporate a lot of theatrics into your live shows. For someone who hasn’t seen a T.O.T.S. show, can you describe what it’s like?
[Chvad]: I like to think it’s, at the very least, an energetic show. We really give the show 200% every time. Energy wise, whatever we have we try to put on the stage. It’s exciting for me to be on a stage and perform and at the very minimum I’d like the audience to feel the same excitement. As far as staged stuff goes…there’s always something new. None of us like to keep the same shtick for long so we’re always bringing something new to the show. Lighting and video has always been important for me. Unfortunately video has taken a back seat for a few years due to budget constraints but the lighting part of the show has really taken off the past couple of years. For me, these elements are every bit as important as the music. It’s a show. It needs to be a show and fun to hear AND watch. I consider lighting even when we’re recording. I’ll change a song if I think it’ll look better with a particular lighting arrangement. We’re restricted with time and budget a lot but I think what we’re bringing to the stage right now is pretty great. I’m hoping to re-integrate video in 2006/2007 but that all depends on whether or not I can get the means to do it.
[MrDM]: Tell us a little bit about the label you are signed to–Facility Records.
[Chvad]: Facility Records is my own little thing. I produced and released a couple of compilations (FESTER: A Tribute to the Residents and SpudSuckers! A Tribute to DEVO) under than name while I was promoting our first CD and working on the most recent. Over the years we’ve had approximately zero interest from any labels, so I decided to save them the hassle of throwing our CD in their garbage can and decided to release it myself. I’d rather not release stuff myself as it really occupies way too much of my time but there were precious few options and sitting on my ass and waiting for someone else to dig what we’re doing wasn’t one of them.
[MrDM]: What’s the deal with logo–a skeletal hand coming out of a toilet?
[Chvad]: Mostly a joke, a play on words. While some artists have great resources and “facilities” with which to record and release material we had shitty equipment and no resources. We had shit to play and produce with…but that was OK. We’ll do it anyway. Thus the okey-dokey skeletal hand. Hell, “You Knew It All Along” was built out of scrap computers I found in New York City garbage. The x-ray is actually my own hand. At the time I came up with the design I was cleaning dog shit for a living at an animal clinic in Chicago and slipped in a shot of my hand into an x-ray machine.
[MrDM]: “Spice Up Your Life” by the Spice Girls. For the love of god, why?
[Chvad]: You can blame d.a. Sebastian (Kill Switch… Klick and Go-Kustom Records) for that. He was producing a compilation called “Teen Feeding Frenzy” and was looking for teen idol cover songs. I originally wanted to record “Hangin’ Tough” by New Kids on the Block due to the obvious cheesy fun waiting to be had but someone else had already done that track. Somehow “Spice Up Your Life” came to mind. I thought it’d be fun to essentially record another acts “theme song.”
[MrDM]: Your promo material does mention a definite Devo influence, although musically that might be a bit hard to detect. Besides the Devo cover on your latest album, how do you find Devo influential to T.O.T.S.?
[Chvad]: I list DEVO as an influence as they’ve influenced my life (and I’ll speak for my brother on this one, his as well) and so to some degree, the music we produce must be affected. I love their satire. They were relentlessly critical and comically aloof with one blow.
[MrDM]: What do you think of all the old school reunions in the world of industrial–namely PWEI, Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy, Leatherstrip, etc. Is there something in the air societally or politically responsible for this, or is it just a wave of nostalgia?
[Chvad]: It’s probably a little bit of everything…and you can’t exclude the inevitable “cash in” factor as well. I don’t say that as a bad thing either. I doubt any of the acts you mentioned got their just “dues” back in their original incarnations. If they can release more stuff now and take advantage of the fact that people actually want to hear them now more than ever…that’s awesome. They deserve it all. I hope that’s the case anyway…I’ve not been peeking into their bankrolls so your guess is as good as mine. Hopefully PWEI will be able to tour the states. I respect the other acts but I’ve never been a huge fan of them. I can never get enough PWEI though!
[MrDM]: You guys certainly seem to be on the songwriter side of the fence rather than being just another EBM clone churning out another generic dancefloor anthem.
[MrDM]: Songs like “American Way,” “Cow Tippin'” and “Another Dead Comedian” are statement-making songs. How important is social commentary to the T.O.T.S. manifesto?
[Chvad]: How important? It’s THE reason. At this point, if that aspect of the music went by the wayside…t.o.t.s. would have no point existing. I’d have nothing to give it. When I am content with things, which isn’t often, I like to enjoy life. Music is the last thing I’d be doing. That might be a sad thing…I dunno. Maybe one day that’ll change but for right now, it’s the way I deal with the hostile emotions I have with regards to our stupid stupid stupid human race. There’s a small part in me that hopes that someone who hears a song like “Cow Tippin” might think about their world a little more than they usually do…even if just for a fleeting moment. Maybe more. I honestly don’t expect anything like that to happen. People see shit everyday that SHOULD affect them but it doesn’t. For me to believe that a song will get through to them is more than a little stupid but it’s a enough justification for me to at least try. I’m sure there are better ways to get through to people but for the moment, this is my way.
[MrDM]: Your latest disc “You Knew It All Along” explores a lot of different themes–mass consumerism, political apathy, vegetarianism, celebrity…do you feel there is an overall concept that captures the album as a whole?
[Chvad]: Yes…everything being said on the CD is obvious. They are the things that surround us daily. If someone listens to the disc and says to themselves, “I know this. It’s redundant.” that’s a great thing. I’d love to meet them so they can criticize me to my face, then we can put that aside and hang out because I’m pretty sure they’re the people that we need a lot more of.
[MrDM]: You Knew It All Along” is filled to the brim with remixes. What was the goal here–more bang for the buck, providing a showcase for certain remixers, or something else?
[Chvad]: 1) It’s a blast to have friends and colleagues play with your material. 2) I like to support other acts as much as possible. Cross promotion is an important tool and can expose people to great acts that they’d normally not run across on their own. 3) Bang for the buck like ya’ said! It’s fun to get lots of stuff when you buy something! Hell…there’s even more than just remixes…there’s a link somewhere on the CD packaging itself that takes you to another 12 additional tracks and additional artwork with explanations as to why and what was used and not used on the CD!
[MrDM]: And why is it that industrial artists like to constantly remix their tracks?
[Chvad]: I think that most industrial artists and other musicians who deal with a lot of electronics are also pretty fluent in production in general and tend to have greater resources for as much than a lot of other artists usually have…in short, they can so they do.
[MrDM]: Do you guys have any plans to expand T.O.T.S. to a national audience? Any coast-to-coast tours in the near future?
[Chvad]: I’d love to get to as many people as possible and I’m willing to commit the hours to make it happen. Unfortunately an extremely limited budget is always a factor. If we could book enough shows to get from coast to coast and still have gas in the van we’d do it yesterday. The last East Coast affair I tried to arrange in Nov. 2005 fell-through mainly due to a lack of interest in club owners/bookers. I can’t blame them, money is tight all around. Perhaps 2006 will vibe right for us.
[MrDM]: Major label signings? Halftime at the Superbowl?
[Chvad]: Hah! In a SECOND! Either one. :) I’d love to show the world my nipples on national television. They’re some sexy nipples man…seriously.
[MrDM]: What do you envision for the band 5 years down the road?
[Chvad]: That’s always a tough question for me. I usually don’t have the luxury of knowing what’s happening more than a few months from now. What will we be doing? How will we be doing it? Who’ll be listening or watching? I can’t answer any of it…but at the very least I can say that if we’re not dead, t.o.t.s. will be active.