Interview with Street Sects

Street Sects made a name for themselves in 2014 with a few intense singles, but now with the release of their debut full-length “End Position” the shit of humanity has hit the fan once and for all and the skeletons are marching furiously out of the closets. The band’s incorporation of classic Industrial, Punk Rock and Power Electronics seems to come straight from their suffering hearts, and demands a chat.

Hello! Where are you currently writing this, and how has the day fared you so far? This half of the year has most likely been eventful for you, with the release of your masterpiece “End Position”?

SHAUN: I’m writing the answers to this on a notepad while waiting in a Firestone Auto lobby. Thinking of the eventfulness of End Position, I’m now reflecting mostly on the west coast tour we just finished. However, the best part of all of this, for me, has been the people writing to us to personally say the record resonated with them. That has given me some happiness, as well as some great sadness for all the years I wasted on bullshit.

LEO: I’m in Dallas right now, visiting my girlfriend. The day has just begun. And yeah, things have definitely been busy since the record came out. It’s been exciting, but I’m hoping things will be even busier next year. I’d like to think that our “masterpiece” has still yet to be written.

You are formed in Austin Texas, creating music that hasn’t really been in the minds of wider audiences, besides the nostalgic and retro-obsessed Industrialists and Electro-punks. How is the local scene, or the scenes of the US for that matter, when it comes to stuff like yours?

SHAUN: The local scene is comprised of many genres, from Country Western to Metal to analog Electro to deejay culture–and then everything that goes with three major music festivals per year. There isn’t a scene for the music we’ve written in particular, but there are many talented, experimental Electronic artists in Austin.

LEO: There’s a pretty vibrant dark Electronic music scene here in Austin. Most of it is either Noise or analog synth based stuff, but there’s a small handful of artists who exist somewhere outside of those two camps. We don’t always fit well on most bills around here. That seems to be the case on tour also. Because we don’t fall neatly into a category, we tend to find ourselves on all different kinds of bills, which sometimes works out, and sometimes backfires. For every one person that seems to dig what we’re doing, there’s definitely at least one or two who can’t fucking stand it. That’s great in a way, but it makes finding the right crowds who appreciate what we do a bit more of a challenge. I think a lot of people who frequent dark music shows have a pre-disposition of what they expect certain genre artists to sound like or adhere to, and we don’t really fall in line with that.

Personally, I like to think of genres as being colors on a palette, as tools or resources to be used in service of creating something unique, rather than as established categories to be filed under. Other people came up with these ideas of genre. As singular concepts genres are limiting and repetitive, but if you think of genres as being historical data or raw materials to be explored and exploited, it can be energizing and inspiring. I’ve seen people online arguing about our record, and whether or not it’s Power Electronics, or Industrial Metal, or Gabber-Noise or countless other goofy genre tags… I think some of these people might be disappointed to learn that we seriously couldn’t care less about any of that bullshit. We don’t sit around listening to Industrial music all day. There’s a lot of artists from the genre that we dig, of course, and we certainly respect the legacy and craft of the early innovators, but we aren’t trying to carry a torch for any of that stuff. Industrial music is an inspiration for us, not a blueprint.I probably listen to more seventies Rock than anything, because I like the production from that era. The attention to detail, the three dimensional warmth. The entire year or so we were working on End Position I don’t think I listened to much of anything, regularly, besides Street Sects demos and Roxy Music. Part of that is because I get ear fatigue from working at a venue and listening to the demos Shaun sends me, but part of it is also because I’m not trying to steep my brain in heavy Electronic music constantly. I don’t blast Death Grips and Skinny Puppy on my way to work. Those guys are great, but I don’t find myself in the mood to listen to that kind of stuff very often. For me, Street Sects is very much about creating art for selfish reasons. It feels good to create and perform… It scratches a certain kind of primal itch. It’s not about writing a love letter to our predecessors.

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What other styles of music have you been into, besides the obvious influences of your music? Have you been or are you currently active with other bands before Street Sects?

SHAUN: Leo and I have played together in a few bands before. Mostly it was guitar driven music. Guitar was my primary instrument for a long time. I started taking lessons around eleven years of age. Growing up, I listened to a lot of Rap. Kids in my neighborhood would get together to play basketball and play on cassette all the Deathrow Records stuff, and then Wu-Tang. Later on I got into Metal, followed by Jazz.

LEO: I was born in 1980, so as a kid I was obsessed with MTV. During grade school it was everything to me. MTV, comic books, and video games. My dad was an ex air force guy who’d held onto all the records he’d bought while he was in the service, traveling the world, and he played me a lot of great stuff when I was young. Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, those are some of the ones that stuck with me. He wouldn’t let me use his record player when he wasn’t home, so I would just flip through his records and obsess over the album art and lyric sheets when he was at work. I had a cassette player in my room, and my parents would buy me tapes for my birthday and Christmas, but tapes were never as cool to me as my dad’s records. The artwork was so much bigger and he had these really nice old Bose speakers he would play them through. Everything about it made the music seem so much more alive to me. I remember a really definitive moment for me was when I saw the premiere of the music video for Metallica’s “One” on MTV. It blew my fucking mind. My cassette player had a built in microphone in it, and you could put in a blank tape (or a regular tape with scotch tape over the two holes on the bottom) and record audio onto it. I used to put the tape player up to the TV speaker and record songs off MTV that I liked. The next time I saw “One” come on I recorded it. I listened to that tape until it was worn out. When I finally got a proper version of And Justice For All on cassette for my birthday or whatever that year, I was really disappointed with the album version of One because it didn’t have all those badass samples from Johnny Got His Gun that were in the video version. If you listen to that version, especially the ending, with the machine-like drumming and those samples laid over it, it has a very Industrial feel to it.

In terms of other projects, I started off playing in Hardcore bands in the mid-late nineties, the most notable being Failsafe, an off kilter, DC inspired Hardcore band I was in with Terence Hannum (now of Locrian), and Jon Glover (now of Ars Phoenix). Another band I was in with Jon, back in the early 2000’s, was a band called Kilborough. We had sort of an uncategorizable sound that blended of a lot of different elements. The couple of years I spent in that project were instrumental to how I work as a musician today. One of the members in that group, Todd Pendv, was kind of like a mentor to me in some ways during that time. He opened my mind up to a lot of new music, art, film and literature, and really helped me redefine my creative approach. I can be a very stubborn, one track minded person sometimes, and he kind of beat into me the importance of experimentation as exercise, and also to take my time with things. When I was younger I was always in a hurry to finish projects, and that’s obviously not the best approach when you want to make something of lasting value. Todd went on to start Pendv Sound Recordings in NYC, and he released records by Chelsea Wolfe, Sasha Grey’s Atelecine and more before leaving behind the music world entirely for a successful career in the fashion industry.

Street Sects is the only currently active project that I’m involved with right now. We’ve got more than enough on our plate to keep me busy. However, I did contribute vocals to an EP for a project called History, which is a thing I did a few years back with Daisy Caplan (formerly of Foxy Shazam). It’s kind of his solo thing, in a way, and I just sang on it, but it’s significant to me because I did about half of it while I was still an alcoholic/drug addict (when I was literally at my absolute worst), and the other half I did after I got out of rehab and was living in a halfway house in Jacksonville FL. So to me it kind of represents this huge transitional phase in my life. Daisy and his wife Rachelle also played a huge role in me getting sober, but that’s another story. We finally had that record mixed and mastered this past year and it should be coming out on Realicide Youth Records sometime in 2017.

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As you work musically mostly with electronics and samples, are you pretty much fed up with so-called organic music, or is this just the way of this particular project? Has Electronic music been something that has interested you since a kid?

SHAUN: Electronic music has allowed me to move outside of expressions I’ve learned over the years with guitar. Also, yeah, I go back and forth on wanting to hear recognizable Rock n Roll sounds in music. I need a combination of things now. A process that isn’t focused on gear but rather an emotional reaction to a particular sound, no matter how that sound gets documented.

LEO: I wouldn’t say that I’m fed up with organic music at all. Electronics are a means to an end. I don’t see Street Sects relying entirely upon the same means indefinitely. For now, it works

I was more into Rock and Heavy Metal as a kid than I was anything Electronic based. The first Wlectronic bands I really got into were definitely Industrial bands. Ministry’s Psalm 69 and NIN’s Downward Spiral were both pretty huge records for me when I was young, but by then I was about 12 or 13.

The themes of the album seem to be coming from personal places of deep disgust, depression, apathy and even self-destruction. The creation of the album has most likely been a purifying experience for you?

LEO: Not really. Speaking for myself, I don’t use music as a way to work through my problems. It’s self reflection, sure, but I don’t see it as therapy. At least not at this point. I mean, say you’re an artist, and you hate your face. So you sit in front of a mirror and draw a self portrait. You draw it as accurately as you possibly can. When you’ve finished the drawing, do you find that you dislike your face any less? I don’t think it’s that easy.

The clear and melodically sung vocal-parts of your music are performed very professionally. Is this approach, besides the more screaming aspects of the vocals, something you had in mind from the start of the band or something you realized could work later on?

LEO: It was something I wanted from the beginning. If you listen to the early 7″ stuff, the singing parts are there, they’re just buried under a lot of effects and poor mixing. Shaun and I have had a few other projects together where clear and melodic singing were a primary focal point of the music. With this project, I wanted it to be glued to the mix in a way where it becomes sort of another texture, but still prominent enough to draw you in, to exist as the emotive, human element amidst the Industrial soundscape.

As you play live as well, how would you compare the performances on the stage to the work at the studio? What is the typical Street Sects song-creation process like in general?

SHAUN: There are times when the workflow is good and strong and I’ll sketch a song all in one go, but often I prefer to make a song piecemeal, sending Leo sketches and asking for detailed impressions, then manipulating texture and tone until something sticks. As for studio compared with live, they’re completely separate experiences. I love studio work and also love listening to records in headphones. I’ve always loved listening to recorded music more than listening to it in a live setting. That being said, we aim for detailed work on the records  and then punishing volume live. Our live show is meant to induce other reactions not necessarily felt in the safe space of the headphones experience, like total bodily immersion, fear, tension, etc.

LEO: The live show is meant it be immersive, and in some ways, interactive. I have a short attention span when it comes to live shows. I get bored very easily, and nine out of ten times I’d rather go see a movie than go see a band. So for me the goal with our live shows has always been to put on a show that I would be entertained by, if i were an audience member. It needs to be more than some rockers up on a stage doing their best Rock and Roller routine, or some fucking haircuts hunched over a table, massaging their overpriced analog gear. No offense to any of our friends out there doing their thing, but I’m just fucking bored of the same old show. I need something that wakes me up and makes me a little uncomfortable. That said, our live show is always a work in progress and it’s nowhere near where we’d like it to be. We are working within our means right now, but it’s going to evolve and improve. The recorded work is an entirely different approach. You can’t bottle up the live experience into an album. So we focus on the songcraft, on writing pieces of music that hopefully engage the listener on both on emotional and an intellectual level.

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Picture: @doomsdayjill

Your album was released by an underground label The Flenser, which suits your stuff perfectly I can imagine, but are you personally supporters of the DIY-mentality opposed to being on a major label? How important do you see promotion (and for example touring) when it comes to your music?

SHAUN: All I have to do is look at the amazing roster of artists on The Flenser to know we’re in the right place. As for DIY, it definitely played a part in our live set up, from deliberately booking DIY venues for intimacy and intensity to financing our own multi tiered PA system–which fucked my credit last year–to ensure that every audience would get the exact same punishing experience.

LEO: DIY is everything. It has to be, whether you like it or not. Look around you. The money is gone. It’s been gone. The nineties are over. No one gets a free ride anymore. If you want something to happen you have to get off your ass and do it yourself. You have to tour, you have to self promote, you have to book, manage, everything. We’re very fortunate that a label as hardworking and respected as The Flenser believed in us and gave us an opportunity to be included on their roster, but I don’t think they would have even considered us if they didn’t think we were 100% committed to making this project happen, with or without help.

Thanks for this interview! What are your plans for the rest of the year? Are you already working on a follow-up to your first album, or are you letting it sink in to the audiences first, and see later on which approach to take next?

SHAUN: We’re definitely not waiting. For me the impulse to write is every day, even if I only write out the music idea as a sentence in a notebook. Earlier this year, we started work on an EP, much of which is now finished. Likely that won’t come out until next year. It contains much of what was learned while making End Position but also has instrumentation and textural range that was excluded from writing that album. We feel an Ep is an opportunity to experiment with sound while in between larger ideas, so it’s not indicative of what to expect from the second album.

LEO: Thank you for your interest! We’ve got a lot of things in the steamer right now. Realistically, the proper full length follow up to End Position won’t be coming out until 2018, but we’ve got a few other things in the works, so 2017 definitely won’t be a quiet year for us. We’re also planning on touring again in the spring, so there’s that to look forward to.

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