Devotion, Denial, and Discipline: an interview with Jamie Blacker of ESA

ESA

ESA has slowly been creeping in to power noise fans’ collective consciousness over the past couple of years, with some excellent live performances, and the release of the highly regarded “Devotion, Discipline and Denial” on Hive Records last year.
2007 is certainly shaping up to be an interesting year for Jamie Blacker, with an appearance at the Infest Festival confirmed for August. Having already played in the Czech Republic earlier in the year, could this be the year ESA become one of the big names in the genre? We spoke to Jamie to find out what his influences are, and just what his definition of ‘Chinese water torture’ is.

1 – Firstly, the basic question, why the name Electronic Substance Abuse?

The truth? When I was in Sermon of Hypocrisy (former black metal band) one of our songs was entitled “Black Substance Abuse” which was written by the vocalist Diezektor (who now appears onstage screaming lots at random gigs with ESA, by the way). I stole it from him but he’s not very clever and hasn’t quite made the connection. It has no great expanse of meaning but I do think it kind of roughly describes my general sound.

ESA2 – I know you come from more of a metal background, what kind of challenges did you face by moving into something more electronic?

A lot. I don’t have a computer brain, this sounds weird, but some people just understand the physics of electronic equipment. I don’t. I’m a musician (of sorts) first and a programmer about 76th. This is why I choose to do about 97% of my stuff using hardware and why I try to do as much as I can live using drum pads/sequencers and some guitars. I goddamn hate head-nodding to a laptop. I will not mention names but I saw a guy about three months ago stare at a screen for forty minutes nodding away not touching a single ‘real’ button then proceed to role himself a fag during a particularly crazy drum’n’bass section in one of his best songs. I realise that some material is unrepeatable live. There is a lot I cannot do on the spot, but at least where I can, I will. It angers me because a lot of the audience cannot see this or don’t feel the need to see it.

3 – How did your evolution from metal to power noise come about? Was there any decisive event that caused it?

Probably a lot of amphetamine-based drugs helped somewhere in the transition! No, I was buying industrial albums when I was 14, just after I’d got into my huge thrash (let’s wear army coats, grow long hair and be beaten up everyday of my school life) phase. To me the aggression and obscurity in a Skinny Puppy or Frontline Assembly album matched and on the most part exceeded any metal counterparts. It was during a trip to Infest, (I think 02’s event) when I saw this stuff played live and I think it was then when I truly wanted to start creating darker electronic noises. It touched me in a very special place so to speak.

4 – What would you say are your main musical influences? How much of an influence did harsh, heavy music have in your music?

Heavy music has always been and always will play a huge part in my major influences. I still listen to my teenage albums and often dig out the Anthrax and Slayer records. They are like old friends: although pretty scruffy and sounding a bit shit, you still want to listen to what they are saying because it’s comforting. I would say the biggest influences however are a very select group of harsh noise bands on the scene. There is a lot of absolute twaddle out there; on the other hand there is some pure genius to be found if you look hard enough. As long as you don’t get drawn off the scent by flashy marketing and cyber-chicks telling you their boyfriends album is the next best thing or ‘a revolution in dance floor’. I think that is the phrase of March! *laughs*

ESA5 – Your first album seems to be built around themes of religion, misanthropy and self-loathing. How did these themes come about?

I still don’t know. I had this conversation with my girlfriend about a month ago. She advised she was a little worried as to where these concepts come from and why I have all this negative stuff inside my little head. The truth of it is I’m a pretty happy person. I’m not depressed. I’m not a martyr who blames life for their own downfalls. I had a great upbringing and fantastic supportive parents, it’s just somewhere there seems to be this disk drive that holds all this dark shit and sometimes it leaks out.

I find religion and the misinformed logic behind it so interesting. Especially back when so many strange practices’ occurred and so much confusion filled Christianity. I find the whole concept of ‘Heaven and Hell’ incredibly intriguing. I found the idea of Utopia and the May rules of a satanic existence just jaw-dropping. I am totally anti-religious and pretty much see it as the main cause for most of the wars and abuse there is out there today but it still hooks me in as a concept. I guess maybe also, like a lot of other creative artists, if I didn’t have a project to project this substance on, I might just be another weirdo looking for fights and drinking myself into next week.

I think the fact that my father let me watch horror films from being 7 years old also aided in the whole dark interest too. I wouldn’t imagine “Twin Peaks” and “The Exorcist” is exactly appropriate personality building material should you want a normal son who likes singing to Westlife songs, playing football and drinking 10 cans of Carlsberg in the local pub every night.

6 – What was the recording process like for “Devotion, Discipline, and Denial”? Was there anything particularly difficult that you remember?

The album was never meant to be an album. I started writing material about 4 years ago; most of it truly awful – like an electronic Darkthrone album with none of the class. I released a couple of EP’s which I won’t speak of and then started writing tracks with a ‘live’ concept in mind. Slowly an album seemed to start growing without me really noticing it and by the time I had got to the last three tracks of the recording process, I had a significant tone and idea behind the album. It seems to work track-to-track and doesn’t seem like a compilation of two years work, but that’s basically what it is.

I have to admit I love writing and exploring song structures and moods but my nemesis is the actual production side of it. I don’t have £3,000 recording programs and, as I mentioned before, my actual technical abilities are extremely limited. I have not agreed with many of the buttons on the keyboard let’s put it that way. It’s almost like going back to school and what makes it harder, is to transfer effectively the hardware meat to the computer system of working. I was always making it harder for myself to record from hardware to software but this is my own fault and comprises basically of my total ignorance and lack of respect to technicalities.

ESA

7 – I know you are already working on new material to be presented at this year’s Infest. How do you feel your music is progressing? Any ideas as to what can be expected from a new album?

If anything it’s all getting a bit more… horrible, probably more pompous and I would hope more interesting. I don’t have much material for the next album yet as the ‘second album madness’ has taken its toll just recently. I cannot allow carbon-copy repetition and have so many fresh ideas to throw into the mix; it’s just difficult actually transposing these ideas into actuality. I intend to use and manipulate some more vocalists for this album and also live.

I think one of the most recognised and powerful track of “Devotion, Discipline and Denial” was “We all know the world is wrong”. I feel this is the case as it includes the wonderful vocal styling of Esoteri’Kes and it really hits a chord. The thing is the BPM of that track is like 110BPM but it still gets spun on the dance floor because it’s fat, low and again is fantastically complimented by the aforementioned. I want to build on that and release something that twists, churns and pressures the listener. It will be darker and a lot more thoughtful, whilst also holding some strong dance-floor material too. I must admit I do have a whole concept which is very strict and unforgiving and I do not want to adhere from it, I wanted to get this structure for the album set first before working on the tracks themselves and I believe the inspiration will prove much more potent when finished.

I am renting a log cabin actually in the next month or so out in the middle of bumblefuck nowhere to really get into the meat of the writing process. I’m taking nothing but myself, my equipment and possibly some tea bags. I am hoping for an “Evil Dead” kind of situation and I can’t wait. It’s going to be so not funny.

8 – How do you feel about being asked to play this year’s Infest? What expectations do you have for this live performance?

I feel extremely happy about being invited onto Infest’s stage for their 10th Anniversary. As I stated before, Infest means a lot to me personally. It’s a fantastic event which runs with the professionalism of an army camp. It always brings a majority of ‘true’ fans of the music unlike some other UK-based alternative electronic festivals and constantly offers a widespread selection of varied artists. I have started working on ideas for the set already and hope that it turns into what I am hoping. Infest, I hope will be a great stadium to air some of the new material and I just hope that people will understand it! I fear they might not as I only have myself as a reference right now. ‘Welcome to the strange labyrinth world of Jamie’ kinda thing! *laughs*

ESA9 – How different is it for you going from performing metal, to noise live? Is it weird not having a band around you?

It is weird yeah. It differs in so many ways. First of all, a setup and sound check with a band of five members resembles Chinese water torture. It can take up to two hours to do properly and you have to totally rely, trust and have confidence in your fellow band members to bring the right equipment, not get drunk, play what they have been doing in the rehearsal room for 14 months etc. It’s really tough, financially and mentally. This unfortunately was too much for me in the end. Certain personal differences and disagreements on musical trivialities made me call it a day after four years playing guitar in stinky metal clubs shouting “Hail Satan!”. Now I’m kinda doing the same in clubs that aren’t a million miles from the aforementioned, just on my own. It is quite scary but I know I can trust myself (unless Jack Daniels introduces himself) and I know that the material I am airing is mine and therefore I cannot blame anyone else.

Also the Chinese water torture I mentioned is pretty much halved. As long as you’re not taking a studio to a live gig, a sound check can be over in about 14 minutes. The only problem is having to put your confidence into something with a thousand chipboards, giving it a thousand times more chance of flaking on you. Guitars are pretty much an extension of yourself and even if your snap your D string or your amp valve blows you can still turn to the egotistic dwarf drummer to solo his new ‘Pete Sandoval blast beat licks’ whilst you repair.

10 – Even though your live performances as ESA have been sporadic, you have some touring experience from your metal days. Were there any particularly weird or strange touring stories that you can tell?

Ha, yeah. Without making the people who are reading this interview not want to speak to me ever, I can divulge some weirdness.

One particular member of our band used to have an extremely vocal girlfriend who liked the taste of Vodka way too much. He was dating the aforesaid culprit for some time and she was in attendance at pretty much most gigs. Now, when you’re in an ultra-serious black metal band spewing forth violent atrocities and unimaginable hateful abortions, in the form of five-minute blast-beat storm-bringers, the last thing you need is a trolley dolly making serious hand gestures in the middle of the moshpit crying “I love you so much baby, you are my special man” to the offending band member. Needless to say it was a point of discussion during our regular band meetings.

Other events included hiring Cradle of Filth’s Stuart Anstis to produce our first EP and witnessing him nearly murder the sound technician due to the amount of coke he had sniffed, therefore recording all the guitars in mono. It was all big fun.

11 – You’re in the planning stages of a US tour. How is this coming along?

Well, if I’m truthful, not in a great hurry. I have been offered around 6 venues to play in the USA located equally as sporadically. This is what is causing my slow progress. I intend fully to get over there, not just to play but to meet new people and spread the wonders of Yorkshire sarcasm. It’s just the actual organisation of such a trip really intimidates me and my geography is absolutely ridiculous. I plan to get this into motion in the next month and look to getting over maybe October time. I will definitely keep all updated on this matter of great stress.

12 – Are there any cities/festivals you would absolutely love to play?

The States obviously first of all. Would like to do a show at Das Bunker there. But I would also love to play in a Scandinavian country such as Norway or Sweden etc, I know of no particular festivals over there but would love to visit the countries. I’ve heard Norway is pretty bleak and that the suicide rate doubles most country’s there. Also it is the home of the second wave of black metal and it really intrigues me how that scene became so prevalent over there. I don’t expect to meet Satan or anything but at least some pretty glum people (I’m sure there are happy people there too, before the torrent of Norwegian abuse begins). I would certainly like to play C.O.M.A. in the next couple of years. I hear such good things about that festival and so many good acts turn out there… I guess I need to get myself a promoter or get my own arse into gear to get gigs like that though.

ESA

13 – Have you been influenced by any different musicians this time around? Any personal recommendations for stuff we should be checking out?

I heard a track off the “Das Bunker – Fear of a Distorted Planet” compilation that I am on a couple of months back from an American act called Victo Ecret. It was harsh, structured and just interesting enough to veer out of the rhythmical noise genre. I haven’t heard much else from them but it was pure hell and Jamie liked it. I nearly swerved my tiny Fiat Punto off the M1 when the beat came punched its way in.

Another act that leaves me gasping at the moment is “Prometheus Burning”. They are label mates on Hive and are true evil. It sounds like some god-awful army from the future and hurts in all the right places. Check them out if you haven’t already.

Other than that, the metal scene is growing like a huge fungal infection at the moment. There is so much quality and diversity out there compared to when I first started listening to the racket.

14 – Anything else you would like to say?

Okay. My forum time? I implore all Suicide Commando clone projects to stop appearing everywhere and anywhere – whispering into a distortion pedal about murdering people over a plinky-plonky synth line is NOT original.

Oh, and if you ever see me about, come and talk to me. I’m not a ‘scene queen’ and always welcome a chat and a beer.

Thank you Kate for your extremely well-thought out questions and in answer to your private email question…

Let’s end it there shall we? :)

Relevant links

ESA official site
www.myspace.com/electronicsubstanceabuse
www.hiverecords.com

— interview by Kate Turgoose & Miguel de Sousa. (February 2006)