Gas Chamber are one of my favourite bands currently making music and their recent 7" is one of the most interesting, unique and plain best records I've heard all year. I spoke to them via email recently.
How did Gas Chamber form?
Bolger: We have known each other and been playing music together for ten to fifteen years. Everyone involved originates from the western region of New York State, near to which the closest major city is Toronto, Canada. Gas Chamber evolved out of our previous band Running For Cover, which broke up in 2005. There were a few incarnations/concepts during 2005-2007 involving our members before Gas Chamber emerged as the dominant form. This unit is the continuation of the philosophical and musical path of Running For Cover.
Gas Chamber is an evocative name for a band and you explain the meaning behind it on your blog. Have you found that people have misinterpreted the motive behind your choice of name?
Bolger: At the time of the cassette release there were reactionary murmurings to the name. Given that there are literally tens of thousands of hardcore punk bands with bizarre and offensive ways of self-identifying and expressing themselves, it is my belief that we are by no means rare in our choice of a challenging name. If someone is as careless with information as to suggest that we are associated with hate groups, then they surely have credibility problems. The meaning and use of “Gas Chamber” as explained on our website stands.
On your most recent release you collaborated with Colossus of Roads. How did that come about and could you explain how the collaboration worked?
Sheperd: I have been corresponding with Colossus of Roads (BuZ Blurr) since around 2003 via postal mail. Circumstances arose in 2010 that put us in the same city for an extended period, so I was finally granted an
opportunity to spend a good amount of time in his company. BuZ is most commonly known and revered for his long running contributions to the North American railroad art circuit, in which he is a legend. If you choose to dig deeper into his endeavors, you will find he is also an incredibly versatile and talented artist on top of that. His mind operates on a level that I have honestly never experienced before. Spending time with him you are almost instantly included in some level of his various projects, each of which are completely unique and fascinating. The first project of his I became involved with was "Photobooths With Strangers and Familiars". This was a self published xerox bookwork containing public photobooth performances with friends and persuaded random strangers, mixed in with BuZ's various portraits and xerox renderings. As the summer progressed, mine and BuZ's friendship began maturing to the point where I felt comfortable asking him to design a record for us.
Corpse with Levity was maturing rapidly at this time. After discussing various possibilities with everyone in terms of artistic content, we all decided that BuZ was the only acceptable answer. His personal art contains multiple sentiments that echo throughout our work, as well as us as people. isolation being the front runner, at least in myself. It was fitting documentation of an important time for us.
The collaboration itself was very fluid. We were all on the same page throughout the duration of the project. The pigeon was a central part to the lyrical content of the record, so we found it appropriate to use as a visual identity as well. BuZ procures an image such as the pigeon by a lengthy process of photocopying and laborious cutting that would drive any normal man to madness. The original piece in
person is dizzying when trying to wrap your head around it's creation. The text and sculpture images were chosen again due to the parallels to the record's content on our end, and came from BuZ's massive
personal archive of work. The final product has proved to be my favorite creative endeavor that I have ever been a part of. BuZ is a true pioneer and has all of our permanent respect.
One of the main attractions to me as far as the band is concerned is that you seem to be playing a familiar style but with plenty of unique touches/approaches. I imagine that this means the song writing approach differs from your own previous bands that were perhaps more conventional in their approach- though no less interesting. Would you say that this is the case?
Michael: During my time as a "full time" member of Gas Chamber, the songwriting process was very lengthy and organic, and I know it is still like that. Initial ideas are brought in and then developed, often mutating into something much different than the original song. I generally have written most of the music for the bands I have been in over the years. In most cases songs that I presented were learned "as is" and were ready for performance or recording in a relatively short period of time. However, with GC songs marinated and developed over time. I am not sure why that is, but it felt right at the time and the results have shown that to be the way that works best for the group.
Are there any bands that you would cite as particular influences on the band, or certain aspects of it? I've seen bands as diverse as Killing Joke, The Minutemen. even Parliament mentioned alongside punk, powerviolence etc. bands, but I'm not sure whether these were just stabs in the dark at where you were coming from, or were actually accurate.
Michael: I like lots of different kinds of music, however, I am a pretty limited musician so it doesn't always come though in my playing. When the band was in its early formative stages, Pat and I talked a great deal about our mutual love of '80's UK hardcore, Husker Du, European hardcore in general, and a wish to avoid early '80's retro tendencies. I have a very limited knowledge of Killing Joke and Parliament, so I can't say they have influenced my contributions. I have loved the Minutemen since I was 15, but never knowingly derived much from them in my own playing. I have been involved with "powerviolence" music as a listener and, some say as a musician since the early '90's, so I suppose that influence would be there. I should say that I have never considered GC a part of any modern powerviolence scene, at least on a musical level, though we have many allies that operate within that realm.
Bolger: My greatest influence is and always has been Einstürzende Neubauten. However, one will find that we do not sound like them. I also concur with Mike regarding our interests in punk. My other influences are the other members of the band. Jerid and I have great musical chemistry as a drum/bass combo, and writing the “Corpse With Levity” record with him on guitar was also very productive and successful.
As far as the flexi goes, you've mentioned it was spontaneous given that you had time left over after recording the 7". Obviously the LP has similar sections, but had you thought about doing it by itself before and is it something you will be exploring further in the future? I don't know if it's the case for certain but it certainly seems that there are more hardcore/punk bands experimenting with noise now then there perhaps were in the past and it's providing some interesting results.
Bolger: Personally I have been making noise since 1993, but have not felt the need to share it until this group started to record. I am not particularly interested in keyboards or circuit bending. The equipment used for our noise material is refuse that I’ve collected over time, for its sonic qualities, or simple machines that I’ve built, augmented by minimal use of effects. All of the noise pieces on our records are recorded live in one take with no overdubbing. The spontaneity of the flexi material refers to that creative process. There may be some confusion regarding this point. Experimental pieces will certainly play a role in future releases. David’s involvement will surely cement the fact, as his work with and knowledge of experimental music far exceeds any of my own.
Sheperd: There is a good chance that the future will bring forth new elements to what we have started building on so far. A lot of our machine oriented projects will soon be heavily influenced by and
created in site-specific environments. Our priority currently lies in the acquisition of "LOCATION II"- our collective industrial living/operating space. Once this goal is achieved, many new ideas will come forward.
You've been a band for quite some time now, but it's only in the past year that you've been playing shows on a regular basis, is there a reason for this? Are you planning to play live more often in the future? I'd imagine most people who have previously heard the band have experienced it on record as opposed to live, although that may be changing now, do you have any feelings about this?
Sheperd: We all have our own personal endeavors aside from Gas Chamber in both traditional life as well as art, and these things land us in different cities from time to time. Despite our efforts to overcome this issue, it originally was a large setback in terms of productivity. We have always been a serious band, but more recently we have taken steps to put a priority on live performances. I feel that the live element can
either help someone to understand the recordings more, or perhaps further alienate them, depending on where both sides of the room are at in that particular instance. Our intentions can land on either end of the spectrum. In future live scenarios, we hope to bring forth new ideas that will prove challenging to us, as well as perhaps be catalytic in terms of utilizing occurrences for down the line releases.
Michael: As I am not a full time member of GC right now, my involvement in live endeavors is limited, though I have participated in live events since scaling back my role, and would be happy to contribute to them in the future if appropriate. I am certainly glad that the group is more visible as a live entity as I think Gas Chamber has a great deal to offer in a live setting.
Sort of continuing from the last question, would you say you are more comfortable playing alongside any particular style of band given that you seem to draw from a variety of different places? It seems most often people seem to associate you with 'dark' hardcore bands or powerviolence bands.
Michael: Speaking for myself, I think GC is most comfortable playing with other bands that we are compatible with. Meaning, there is a philosophical, musical and aesthetic exchange that can occur between us, and hopefully all parties come away from the experience enriched in some way.
I really like the lyrical approach to both the LP and the 7" as they seem to be less direct than many bands you might be compared with. Would you say there is an overall theme or direction to the lyrical content? Do you think that by taking this less direct approach you leave more room for individual interpretation? Obviously some bands take a more explicit approach to lyrics, usually relating to a political motive, but I think it can be just as powerful and often more challenging and interesting when a band is less direct.
Michael: I have an endless amount of respect and admiration for Patrick's lyrics. It is my hope that the reader/listener can derive both their own meaning from them and pick up on what Pat is trying to convey. The lyrics are definitely a crucial part of the entire Gas Chamber experience.
Bolger: Since Sheperd is the principle vocalist and I write the words, it is especially important that we have consensus as to the merits of anything in use. Also for this reason I do not write from a first-person perspective in most cases. It has been my way to explain everything to the other members so that everyone is acquainted with what things were meant to express, although I find no objection with other people finding whatever meaning suits them.
The primary themes explored have something to do with human rights and the welfare of our species, religion, and sociological musings about the interactions of humanity and technology. An example of the first would be the song “Spelling Backwards” which is a comment on the life of the famous Burmese democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, a long-time victim of arbitrary oppression. That one was written before her release. Of course the world is still awaiting real change there. “Last of the Dogs” is named for a sketch by Edward Wilson, and describes the dilemma of the sacrifice of life in pursuit of the advancement of science. The history of Antarctic exploration is somehow extremely evocative. The story also alludes to the killing of any subjugated creature, including human prisoners. A number of songs including “Why Are All The Dogs Barking?”, “Childhood’s End” and “Modern Vision of the Erect Nightmare” have to do with the spectrum of human ambition, given that we are descendants from beings that did not have a history of deep thinking regarding morality. Despite the fun masquerading chatter, humans as of yet have not developed greatly beyond some primordial humanoid ambitions, which are expressed as the rites of sexuality and consumption. Those songs refer to the opposite end of the spectrum as well, which is loveless predictable precision and programmed action, meaning the point at which computers and man are synthesized and irrational will is subsumed. It is from this place of emotional displacement that all the song-writing on the subjects of violence, nightmares and substance abuse are generated. These subjects I must be very careful with, because it wouldn’t be fair to Sheperd to expect him to be the mouthpiece for another person’s spirit. What those lyrics describe, they must be the most veiled. In other cases I’ve written songs about conflict resolution, which are derived from my interpretations of Buddhist and Gnostic concepts. “Return To Shape” and “Prone” are obvious examples of that. My “bible” if you will is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I read for guidance when my mind is disintegrating. Also authors like Frank Herbert, Ursula LeGuin, Arthur Clarke, Nevil Shute and others have provided some inspiration.
Sheperd: I enjoy having lyrics that hold equal weight in terms of literal and interpretive meaning when properly dissected. I don't like the idea of poisoning anyone with staunch personal agendas or things of that
sort. It has a time and a place I suppose, but none of us are there currently. I also don't particularly care for excessively vague poetry that much... needless to say a sense of balance is important.
The most gratifying thing about having known and operated alongside each other for as long as we all have, is that we all have immense faith in each other as a unit... both lyrically and musically. I hardly feel comfortable even speaking with most other members of society... communication is an issue for me in most aspects of life... but I have yet to feel at all alienated or taken back by any of the lyrics that Patrick has written. He has a unique sense of being able to harness ideas and present them in a context that we all deem appropriate, which he does effortlessly but in reality is no easy task.
Individual interpretation is unbelievably necessary. If a song, lyric, whatever, can be solved like a simple addition problem, the power behind it can often times be lost. Obviously there are plenty of exceptions where more simple/literal ideas work well, however I feel that something of that nature may not fit well with the rest of what we choose to bring to the table.
Live, we choose to avoid song/lyrical explanations and mutual communication in general. I'm sure this could probably be misconstrued as arrogance or something trivial like that, but really it goes back to the idea of letting people interpret things on their own. The things that inspire and fascinate me the most in this world are often times left unexplained or without an accessible motive or blueprint.
What do you have planned in the way of future releases?
Bolger: At the moment we are nearly finished with our newest 7” called “Modern Vision of the Erect Nightmare” which will be a bit different than previous entries, and will feature all five members of the band... We are also writing a full-length LP which will be by far our most brutal record yet, as well as music for a cassette release, consisting entirely of structured instrumentals. Another flexi is also planned.
Do you have a Top 5 punk/hardcore records of all time?
Michael: Off the top of my head...
1. Husker Du-"Zen Arcade"
3. Ripcord-"Poestic Justice"
4. Napalm Death-"Scum"
Bolger: I wouldn’t say these are the top five punk records ever but they are all really important to me...
G-anx “Out of Reach”
Raw Power “Screams From The Gutter”
Johnny Thunders “Hurt Me”
Electro Hippies “The Only Good Punk Is A Dead One”
Active Minds “Welcome to the Slaughterhouse”.
Speaking of Warm Bath Label, how do you decide about which bands you would like to work with? Is there an overriding theme with the label or is it just a case of putting out good music? I see you've a few things in the pipeline, do you have an idea of when they will see the light of day? Very much looking forward to the new SFN 7", the last one was brilliant.
Bolger: The label started as a way to self-release some music and get in touch with people, and after a little while I decided to do that comp 7” of locals, which led to releasing more records by other groups of people. I did another label in the late 1990’s and that kind of satisfied my desire to do something like this for a decade or so, but lately it seems like the right time again. There isn’t much of a vision particularly, outside of putting out a few records per year by my own bands or people I harbor respect for. In particular it was a great honor to release the record by Nuclear Cult, the members of which we have held in high regard for a very long time dating back to Y and beyond. I feel that those folks are playing at the apex of hardcore. SFN is another group of good friends and allies who I feel are on the same page in the mystical quest. Sound Cartography is a product of David’s vision for a series in which a recording is sent from one person to the next and changes in its path, a bit like a grand version of the telephone game. The artwork/layout for that followed a trajectory of sorts as well, I suppose. There are a few more volumes of Sound Cartography with different personnel in the works which will be released on his Nancy Jo Records. Coming next on Warm Bath Label is Black Bloc, which will remind some people of the more pensive aspects of Corrupted records.
Are there any current bands you would recommend, from Buffalo or otherwise? Plenty of people over here seem have been switched on to various bands from New York at the moment, although I might be overestimating the extent to which Buffalo and New York City crosses over.
Bolger: The Buffalo and New York City scenes might as well be on different continents, as we are seven hours apart, but I would like to give respect to the extremely brutal NYC band Defeatist, who we are doing some dates with on our next tour. The Iron Lung family of bands we also have strong respect for. David and I have another band called Solutions, releasing a 12” on Iron Lung Records sometime soon, and he also played bass on the Dead Language LP which came out recently on their label. Additionally we share mutual respect with the Endless Blockade and the various groups that have emerged from their camp. Established locals that I would personally mention include Resist Control, Coworkers, Sonorous Gale, Brown Sugar, Utah Jazz, Everything Falls Apart, Plates, Inerds, River of Ichthyosis and Cages.
Sheperd: I really don't listen to very much new music, and what I do surround myself with contemporarily has strayed further and further from hardcore/punk. With that said, no matter how aggravated or weary I
grow of these subcultures on a large scale, Buffalo continuously produces bands that interest me and renew my faith. There are many quality acts there currently, my favorite of all of them being Mayday!, who are a very unique punk/surf outfit. They are amazing on record, live, and as humans.the ultimate trifecta. Praying for Oblivion is an underrated experimental/power electronics act originally from Buffalo currently
relocated in Europe who are really worth checking out if you can track any of his releases down. Also TOWPATH, although not contemporary, are a pillar of my being. Despite the mixed interpretations that can be made upon listening to their material, I mean that in grave seriousness.
Some current, some not, I am really into: TRTRKMMR. Dead Times. WOLD. Prurient "Rose Pillar". France Gall "France Gall". Beherit "Engram". Jessica Lea Mayfield "With Blasphemy So Heartfelt". Kosa
"Evilabsorption". El Perro Del Mar "From the Valley to the Stars".
Anything else you would have liked me to have asked you? Any closing statements?
Michael: I would like to note that my status in the band is somewhat unique. As of roughly 2 years ago I ceased being a full time member of the group and scaled back my involvement due to personal reasons. Since then I have recorded and played live with the group on a few occasions, but there are aspects of the group I am no longer involved with.
Gas Chamber: Thank you Jack for your interview.