Pneumatic Detach: an interview with Justin Brink

Pneumatic Detach

Pneumatic Detach is the solo project of Massachusetts-based Justin Brink. Since his debut release in 2001, Pneumatic Detach has gained steady momentum and carved a name for himself as one of the most unique acts in the underground industrial/rhythmic noise scene. After the release of the critically acclaimed album “[vis.cer.a]” and its companion releases, Justin collaborated with It-clings for the visceral release “The all too logical descent into madness” and did percussion for metal act And Utero Dominae, all the while working on a new solo album. Recently released on Tympanik Audio, “[ko.mor.bid]” easily lives up to previous releases and shows a more personal side to Pneumatic Detach, while keeping the intensity and composition approach which has become his ‘signature sound.’

1 – Asking about a project’s name is a cliché but, in your case, it’s a must. “Pneumatic Detach” rolls in the tongue, sticks in the back of the head and conjures rather intense imagery. Can you shed some light on the name and its origin?

Well, you pretty much nailed it in your question as to why I decided to go with the current name. Being that I started out promoting myself on the internet I tried to come up with a name that would be easily found and yet a combination of words that I thought was catchy and most importantly (to me) fits the sound of the music that I was / am going for. I wanted to try to make it something not easily confused with other technology. I just gathered a bunch of words I thought would work, smoked a doobie and Pneumatic Detach is what stuck.

3 Cold Men2 – You recently released a new album, titled “[ko.mor.bid]”. Compared to its ‘official predecessor’ and despite the characteristic intensity of your compositions, it comes across as being a somewhat more personal piece of work. What influenced this evolution over the course of three years?

I would say that, during the writing process. each album is personal to me with what’s going on in my life at the time, what I’m thinking about what I’m into. “[ko.mor.bid]” is the opposite of depression and self-loathing. It’s about standing up for your beliefs and never backing down. In my eyes this is a positive album in a cruel way. I’m not specifically sending out a political message to anyone in a one line read it and understand it definition. It’s meant to connect with people on some level of their natural emotion of who they really are (behind everything else). It’s not for everyone but I think those who enjoy it like it for the same reasons I wrote it.

3 – Pneumatic Detach has a very characteristic percussion-based sound, in fact rather unique, in the field of electronic music, achieving rather impressive results with what is apparently a very limited aural palette. What can you tell us about your musical background and the development the “Pneumatic Detach sound”?

When I started writing music over 17 years ago I didn’t have much musical background, just what sound I had in my head and what my inspirations were. Back then cEvin Key left a big impression on me with his live drumming (Ain’t it dead yet?). I remember seeing Download in New Orleans on the “Eyes of Stanley pain” tour and that show fucking blew my mind. Still to this day I can’t remember an “electronic” show that good. I think in the beginning every artist in a way copies their inspirations until they find their own style. I would say that the Pneumatic Detach sound is definitely now my own without any crutch so to speak.
Currently I am seriously studying extreme drumming and stepping back to the basic rudiments of live drumming (real acoustic drums). I have a rehearsal space where I spent a good amount of my time instead of just only programming drums on a computer. So just the way I think about things is from a percussive point of view, to me it’s a groove. I just want it to be heavy, extreme and intense as that’s what I’m into. I like some chilled out music like ambient and down tempo but 95% of what I listen to on a regular basis is extreme music.

4 – Interesting, for some reason I thought your background involved metal. This does brings up a couple of trivial questions. What have you been listening lately, any recommendations in particular?

I definitely come from Metal. “Headbangers’ Ball” back in the day on Saturday nights was the shit. Well my tastes rotate a little bit and really I listen to all kind of music. To me I don’t categorize my music taste by its style. I have 2 categories of music, ‘Bad’ and ‘Good’. Ok… So, to answer your question, here are a few artists getting top plays on my iPod: Black Dahlia Murder, Belphegor, Bong-Ra, Cryptopsy, The Faceless, Goatwhore, Hank 3, Job for a cowboy, Meshuggah, Nile, Pig destroyer, Totakeke, Ulver, Whitechapel, Zimmers Hole.

5 – And, of course, side-projects and collaborations. You did the drums for Sam Geiger’s metal project And Utero Dominae and then there’s the It-clings vs. Pneumatic Detach collaboration. How did these come about and are there any future plans for them?
I have known Sam since I was like 15-16 years old. He’s a close friend of mine and my family and we were old drinking buddies from back home where I grew up in Pennsylvania. He lived down in Florida for a while and we reunited when he moved up to New York State. We’ve always been into the same types of music at a very close level so it was just natural to work with him on it.
And the It-clings album came about after we did a few tracks together; Squid had a concept for a new CD where he wanted to do spoken word over various artists music and wanted me to do one of the tracks. When he asked me, in my head I immediately thought of it as a sound track. I thought that having many different artists contribute their own individual tracks would make the album come off random and miss the point. Maybe in certain situations this would be a good thing but not what I was thinking in my head. So I proposed the situation to him that I write all of the music and he accepted.

6 – Having released a new Pneumatic Detach album quite recently, what are your plans for the future as a musician? In particular, where do you see the Pneumatic Detach concept heading to?

As soon as “[ko.mor.bid]” went out the door I started writing a new album. I want to try to get my releases out faster instead of every 3 years. “[ko.mor.bid]” would have been released sooner but I spent a year writing the It-clings album. My future plans as a musician are pretty much this: Pneumatic Detach is my solo work so I will always be writing and releasing new Pneumatic Detach albums. I would however like to get hired as a live drummer for a full band and get in a van and do some real touring.
As far as where I see the Pneumatic Detach concept heading to… Sometimes people don’t want you to change as they like your sound just the way it is and, on the other hand, the world changes and I refuse to become stagnant, formulated, predictable and repeat myself if it’s possible. So the best way I can describe what I think will happen with the Pneumatic Detach concept in the future is to, stay aggressive, be dynamic don’t follow trends and write music that I think is hard-hitting.

7 – What are your thoughts on the current state of the music medium, from the often announced demise of physical supports, to rampant piracy, file-sharing and netlabels? Did these factors influence the decision of releasing “[ko.mor.bid]” as a limited edition of 300 copies?

I definitely have mixed feelings about the state of the music industry. On one hand people pirate your music and you will never sell them a physical CD. But at the same time they could totally enjoy that download and tell all their friends and come to see you at a show and buy a shirt. So maybe it was worth loosing a CD sale because that person told 3 other people and one of them picked up a CD. To me the biggest problem with illegal downloading is it dilutes the whole concept and feeling from that band since there is no packaging. I’m more from the school of enjoying looking at the CD art and reading the lyrics while I’m listening to music. It’s sort of a ritual to me and I feel like I connect with the artist more when I’m looking at their visuals, it’s tangible. To me, considering the way things are, I think Trent Reznor handles it the good way (some others have done this too). When he puts out an album there is basically a menu for whatever type of medium you want – if you want it for free cause you just want to check it out then download it here, if you want to spend $300 on a nice package then go here and so on. So I think that’s the best way to handle it until something big changes. People are gonna steal your shit whether you like it or not you might as well have them stealing it from you directly so you can make sure it sounds the best possible. And really in the end the point is to get as many people listening to you as possible so…
As for “[ko.mor.bid]” originally I was going to make it a ‘download-only’ album and release it myself. But I really wanted to see (for myself) physical copies, so I decided to do something limited for the collectors and got 300 copies of the album made. In the past few years I have actually received more digital sales than physical sales, which is really weird to me. On one hand it really sucks but, on the other, I would be a bit of a hypocrite as for the most part I buy a CD, put it on my iPod and put the CD in my collection and it gets used less.
Because of illegal downloading, the playing field has sort of levelled out and most music just becomes hidden in a sea of a million other artists because there are no medium-size record labels promoting. No one is willing take chances who isn’t in the underground. There are all the huge pop labels and then underground labels for the most part. From what I’ve seen, the way to get anywhere these days is to get your music and image together yourself. To do it really well ‘may’ mean paying people lots of money to do your art, mastering, promotion, recording of the album and touring expenses. You have to tour constantly and build your own fan base and start making a profit from it, if that’s even possible. Then at that point a good size record label will look at you and say “ok, well they can be successful so we’ll pick them up and then push their music “’cause we know they won’t break our bank.” There are pretty big bands out there that I have spoken to who are, for example, playing Ozzfest this year that have it going for them and yet they sleep in a van every night on tour and won’t be set when it’s all said and done. So I think things are definitely getting harder because of illegal downloads

Pneumatic Detach

8 – For the gear-junkies: what are your currently preferred pieces of gear (in the studio and live) and why? Anything on the ‘wish-list’, just in case some fans decide to offer it on your birthday?

I mainly use Clavia hardware in the studio. In recent days, with all the soft synths that are available I think a lot of that shit sounds exactly the same and it’s hard to get a unique sound. So I lean towards a mix of my existing hardware and natural sounds, field recordings and whatever I come across that make interesting sounds. This could be scraping metal, someone screaming, explosions, a guitar screeching or whatever recorded with a variety of microphones. So live and in the studio I do all of the sampling. Live I have my sounds all sliced up and I trigger mostly samples live. If I am playing drums I have a preset for each track with a different set of drum samples I flip through for each track as each track uses a different variety of drum sounds. To me if something is recorded well it can have a very powerful impact over a stock sound – too many electronic artists use standard sound banks and just pile effects on to cover the sound.
So, to answer the last part of your question, the Masterpiece (http://www.legendaryaudio.com/) is pretty fucking amazing, I would love to have one of these someday. Or a Neve (http://rupertneve.com/).

9 – Concerning live performances, from an artists’ perspective, what is your approach to playing live and are your feelings about playing concerts? Care to share a couple of stories from past gigs?

I have mixed feeling about live industrial shows. Part of me really feels most fans don’t really care much about how ‘live’ it is as long as it sounds good and they can get into it. Most everyone is a laptop and a midi controller these days, so how much of that can be live? Some acts are riding the line of a just being a DJ just playing their CDs at a “live” show and people love it for the sound or the vibe that the artist is giving off. So there is that side of it. On the other hand, to me I think it is mostly obvious when someone is faking their way through the set or doing very little. To me it’s painful to watch and I lose interest but that’s me.
For my “live” show I try to make a clear connection between what I’m playing and what people are hearing. Obviously, not everything is on the fly from scratch in a live show, so I try to play the parts that I can really get into (usually drum or percussion sounds) and I think when that connection is made it’s more effective on stage.
As for stories from past shows, I could write a novel about all the retarded shit I have been a part of but I’ll keep it quick for the sake of the interview. When we played Quebec City the hosts of the event took us out. We were all drunk and josh Calvi from Terretron was (late at night) just opening doors and walking into people’s houses and then walking out and saying very loud “Michael Moore was right”, in regard to how Canadians never lock their doors and Americans do. I thought he was going to get his ass kicked. It was nuts. Or the time in Montreal at one of the C.O.M.A.’s (I forget which one). We went out drinking and got totally annihilated. I was sitting by a wall and kept refilling my drink and flipping it against the wall over my shoulder and almost got us kicked out. Mr. Calvi paid the waiter not to kick us out. That same night Squid (it-clings) says to Josh “Let me see your American $20 for a second”. So Josh handed him one from his wallet. Squid immediately tore it up and says “Your moneys no good here in Canada”. Hahaha! We then proceeded to go back to the hotel with a bunch of fools and did flips on the bed and drank until very early in the morning. We were woken up by the maid opening the door and saying “Oh, my God…?!” because of the pile of beer bottles. You know, general shit like that.

10 – In your latest album, “Automatic Nation”, a collaboration track with Alessandro Pacciani brings up a subject that has particular relevance in the U.S.: guns. What are your thoughts on this subject? In Europe there isn’t a ‘gun culture’ like in the US and it’s almost a non-issue…

Well I enjoy the right to shoot guns; I mean who doesn’t like to use something that makes a loud noise and kicks ass?! But I would have to say I would much rather live in a society where it isn’t really an issue of course. It’s hard for me to say, as I enjoy the freedom to have a gun, but there are a lot of idiots who fuck that up by doing stupid shit.

11 – In closing the interview, any final thoughts or comments?

Sure, I would like to thank everyone who supported me and picked up “[ko.mor.bid]”. I would also like to give a big thanks to Paul from Tympanik. I would recommend Tympanik to any artist looking for a label. And thank you for the interview.

Relevant links

Pneumatic Detach
Pneumatic Detach @ MySpace
Tympanik Audio

— interview by Miguel de Sousa (July 2008)