One would think that the combination of homosexual sex with sleazy electro beats would be passé or even cliché given the connotations seemingly attributed to both. Leave it to two enigmatic musical figures to enter into the mix and explore the possibilities of such a style in a manner so brazen, so in-your-face that it would reek of controversy; who knew that the approach would yield such a stream of successes as to make Hirsute Pursuit one of the most exciting and highly anticipated acts in the underground music scene? Certainly not the band itself, featuring the mysterious Harley Phoenix and the renowned Bryin Dall. Having assembled an impressive resume to include such groups as Loretta’s Doll, Dream into Dust, Thee Majesty, and 4th Sign of the Apocalypse, as well as releasing his solo album in tribute to country legend Hank Williams – titled Deconstructing Hank – in 2011, Dall’s unique approach to sound and texture has made him one of the most singularly daring performers in the world. Jimmy Page received attention for playing guitar with a bow; Dall took it to the extreme by playing with a machete, creating a dissonance so melodic, a noise so enticing that few who hear it can resist. Teaming up with the masked, leather clad figure of Harley Phoenix, the duo now known as Hirsute Pursuit create a potently masculine and energetic style of underground electro that beckons even the most conservative listener to engage in their dirtiest fantasies. But if ReGen’s word isn’t enough for you, Bryin Dall himself cruises us through the story of Hirsute Pursuit in this special feature… enjoy!
An Unexpected Audience
Hirsute Pursuit – it is amazing! This project has had so many weird things happening with it. About four or five yers ago, a friend of mine named Harley Phoenix, he’d never done music and he knew that I do tons of music. He said, “I have this great idea! Let’s put gay sex and sleazy dance beats together.” I said, “Dude, that’s so done.” And he said, “No, it’s never been done.” We researched it, and it had never been done. I was shocked. You would think that it would’ve been done sometime between the ’70s and now, but no, it had never been done. We started working on it and we put up a MySpace page with a few songs. It was getting over 2,000 plays a day; it went nuts! At first, it was all gay guys. It didn’t matter if they were into divas or into country or into Coil; all of a sudden, here’s a music that is theirs and they can own it. We thought, “Cool! This is the audience we expected.” Then we got – and this was kind of weird – the mistresses telling us, “I make my slaves listen to this.” And we thought, “Okay, we get it.” Then it was middle American housewives, and we thought that was bizarre. They’d say, “I can’t tell my husband, but this is so hot!” Maybe this is this cute little secret, women loving gay guys having sex the way straight guys love lesbians.
The page went so insane that when there was this hacker going into big artists’ pages on MySpace – people like Janet Jackson and whoever – so that when you clicked on anywhere on the page, you immediately got this virus; we were one of the ones that got hacked. During this time, we were pressing the first CD, which is called That Hole Belongs to Me. We self-released it and put it out on Up and Coming Records, registered publishing and all, and I had the MySpace page as our URL because it was big at the time. So, I wrote to MySpace and said, “Help! We can’t do anything, we got hacked!” They didn’t respond until the next day when they said, “You have been found in violation of our terms and services by putting a virus on your page,” and so we were blocked and we could no longer have the URL. Of course, tons of people had come to it and gotten the virus, so they were skeptical about coming back. We sold the CDs, and they sold okay, though not as good as they probably would’ve. So I had a bunch left over and we did this deluxe packaging on it.
We decided to do another album, and this time, I wanted a label to put it out rather than doing it ourselves and selling it on e-bay or whatever. Before any of that happened, Harley got an e-mail from Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson from Coil. “I’m a huge fan, I play your CD at all my gigs. I think it’s amazing. You guys are really hot. This music is really hot, and yet it’s not trite or silly dance music. It’s actually creative, and I just wanted to let you know that you’ve got a big fan here.” So, I said, “Write him back! Ask him to do a track with us!” Harley writes him back and “Sleazy” wrote back saying, “I’m always asked that. I get about 10 requests a day, and my standard response is usually no. I’d love to do a track with you guys.” So we’re psyched! He sent us some material and we worked with that; we did a song, e-mailed it back to him not knowing what his response would be. “Sleazy” said, “This is absolutely fucking brilliant! Now, I want to ask something from you guys. Can you send me all the tracks; I want to create a completely different song – not a remix – using elements from your music.” We were like, “Hell yeah!” So, we called our track “One Sleazy Night in Bangcock.” He sends us back this track that’s completely different, pitching up Harley’s voice so he sounds like a boy, calling it “One Sleazy Night in New Orleans.” It was in tribute to Tru Blood, which he said he was a fan of. That also surprised me.
Boyd Keeps Swinging
I had Boyd Rice staying with me once, and he asked what I was doing. So, to freak him out, I throw on a song from the first album called “Cock Thoughts.” When you hear it, you’ll understand. The first song on album is always a cover, so the first album had a cover of “I Know What Boys Like;” licensed and everything, though we did change one line, because the original lyric is “I do my cat moves.” Guys don’t do cat moves. So instead, Harley said, “I whip my cock out.” That’s the only line we changed, and we didn’t get in trouble for it. We even had a PG version, but anyway… Boyd’s listening to it, and it’s not easy to freak out Boyd Rice. He’s standing there, his head bopping up and down; I go to turn it off, and he says, “No, no! Leave it! You got anymore of that?!” I put on this song “Fuck You Raw,” and he says, “How do I get involved with this?” I said, “Really? You want to be on a gay sex album?” I told him that we wanted to do a cover of “Boys Keep Swinging,” so how about he does the vocals? He says, “Great! I love that song, but I forget how it goes.” That was great because we didn’t want him to sing it. We printed out the lyrics, went to the studio, he stands at the mic and read the lyrics from this sheet of paper, and then left while we created the song. We put it up toward the end of the MySpace days… it was up for a day, and we wake up the next day, and we got 500 e-mails. “Where do we get this?” “I just heard this in a store in London!” We thought, “Fuck! It’s already been ripped off. It hasn’t even been up for 24 hours!” And Boyd was getting those messages too. So I yanked it, and we have to shop the album.
The label that put out my album Deconstructing Hank, Rotorelief, was the only one that showed any actual interest. They asked me if we had anything else that I’d done that wasn’t Hank. I sent them MP3s, and they said, “We love the music! It’s amazing! You just have to remove the sex.” That’s the point! And it’s on every song; it’s integral to the point of the whole thing. They said, “But we love it. We’ll put it out immediately. You just have to take the sex out.” So we said no. I continue shopping it, going to Cold Spring, and they’re a label specializing in noise or that neo-folk stuff. I sent it to them for the fuck of it. They write back to me immediately saying, “This is fucking amazing! We’re dying to put this out!”
At that point, they’re sending us templates for the cover art and all of that stuff. We knew we wanted it to be a digipak with a cardboard case. Harley and I are trying to pick out the cover photo, and we said that it has to represent everything Hirsute Pursuit represents: It has to be sexy, masculine, a little dangerous, dirty. It has to be everything Hirsute Pursuit is. I start looking online through photos and one of my old computers had died; I pulled out the hard drive… and on it, there’s this itty bitty photo of this guy, and we both said, “That’s the cover.” It’s too small to print, and I didn’t who it was. I couldn’t even figure out why it was on my computer. We start searching like crazy. He’s wearing a yellow T-shirt with a school name and a drawing of a tiger in the middle. It’s a middle school in New Jersey, so we decided that couldn’t be on the front cover lest we be called pedophiles. We’re looking at the faculty and such, and we still couldn’t figure out who the hell it was. So we were working with (Morrison) Edley from PTV3, and his day job is doing all of those ridiculously expensive box sets for Sony; he does the graphics and the design. We asked him if he could make this picture big enough to pring, and he said, “No problem. Who is it?” I was like, “Uh, I don’t know.” He asked if we were worried, but the album is coming out on Cold Spring, and not to talk down on them, but they are an obscure niche label in England. We asked him to remove the school and put a stain of the band logo on the shirt so that it looks like a cum stain. He does that, we send it to the label, and Harley contacts “Sleazy” and says, “It got signed! Cold Spring’s putting it out.” Three days later, he died. He never got to hear the record or find out that it was coming out. Thank god we saved all of the e-mail correspondence with him to prove that he wanted to be on this and all. But we were mortified and we decided not to put the record out at that time so that it wouldn’t seem like we were cashing in on his death.
In the meantime, Justin from Cold Spring informed us that David Bowie has this weird contract in England in which if you do a cover of a Bowie song, it has to go to his publisher to hear it and approve it; and then it goes to Bowie so he can hear it and approve it. And Bowie approved it, and I was excited that another of my childhood heroes was into what we were doing.
The album was then about to come out, and I went to some friends of ours and said, “I’d like to throw some remixes at the end,” which we did on the first album. And wouldn’t you know it? Everybody picked “Boys Keep Swinging.” On the first album, nobody picked “I Know What Boys Like.” I didn’t want to end the album with six mixes of that song; that’s an EP. So I contact Justin and said, “Would you at all be interested in releasing a 12-inch remix vinyl, or even shopping it to another label, of “Boys Keep Swinging?” He said, “That’s insane, but we’re in insane times, so I say yes. Actually, we’ll release that first as a teaser for the album.” Then we go to this friend of ours named Sylüss Forté, who is from Samoa and is an amazing artist. He’s famous in Samoa for doing traditional artwork, and I asked him if he could draw the cover for the 12-inch. He asked, “How graphic can I get?” I said, “It’s gay sex… go for it!” He draws this amazing totem pole of guys having sex. It doesn’t show penises – we’re all about not showing penises, although it shows butt. It’s all black; the only thing on the cover, Cold Spring loves it. We called the 12-inch Boyd Keeps Swinging, and there are these great mixes on it that sound like everything from Autechre to hardcore techno.
Cruising the Straight Edge
I contact Boyd and asked him if he had any friends with an HD video camera so he could mime the song, and I’d go into a gay leather bar and shoot some footage of these leather guys and insert just these head shots of him. He was excited, which was so surprising because it’s so out of his milieu. It’s not only outside of his sexual thing, but it’s also totally different from what he does. In the meantime, we had this fan named James Pope from San Francisco. He – a totally straight guy as is Boyd – and his girlfriend have been huge fans of Hirsute Pursuit since the first album. He asked Harley and I if he could do anything for us. So, I said, “How about you get on a swing set and work out – because boys always work out – and we’ll cut you in for a couple of seconds here and there.” He sends us like 45 minutes worth of footage. They both sent us all of this footage, both with bathroom shots, which they did on their own; we didn’t even ask for that. James is walking a dog down the street in his underwear; he’s on the Golden Gate Bridge dancing in his underwear. At that point, we didn’t even need to go to the gay bar. Harley and I edited the video together.
The CD is getting put out, and the label asks me to write a bio for a press release – I’d never had a label ask me to do that. I’m kind of like Harley’s sidekick in this, even though I’m half of it. It’s not unlike how I work with Genesis (Breyer P-Orridge). Harley starts getting inundated with e-mails – “How do I get this?” They were hearing about it through FactMag.com, which I’d never heard of, but it’s apparently one of England’s biggest websites. On the site, it says, “The best press release of 2012 is here! Hirsute Pursuit: Tighten that Muscle Ring.” BOOM! They talked about it and I thought, “Oh my god, that’s why we’re getting inundated.”
When the press release comes out, at the bottom is a link to the video. The video jumped up to 6,000 something in just a couple of weeks. We were like, “Whoa!” Almost every day when we wake up, something new and exciting has happened with the album. Cold Spring says to us that for the first time in history, all of their distributors wanted to have it. That’s never happened; however, they all insist that they must carry a Parental Advisory logo, which we were very excited about because nobody does those anymore and we’ve never had to do one, and it means that everybody will want it! Justin said to us, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be controversial in this day and age? Thanks to the internet, everybody has seen everything.” And this was great because it actually was controversial, and he put a label on it that reads, “Gay sex music with no apologies.” Perfect!
We then had to book a photo shoot, and I know very few professional photographers, and the ideas we had for it could be offensive to some since we wanted to push boundaries. Sylüss had done these insane S&M drawings of him and Harley, and I contacted Greg Cristman, who is famous for doing metal photography. He’s done every major site and publication, and I happen to know him because he loves Boyd and he was at Boyd’s last show. We became friends because we had the same tastes – except for metal. He’s a straight guy, lives out in Long Island with kids, the white picket fence and all that. But he does these amazing… I consider his photography artwork. They’re gorgeous! So I send him these insane drawings, telling him that we wanted to do photos based on them, and he says, “Those are really hot! I’d love to do it!” Another straight guy… great, love it!
So, we’re setting up the photo shoot, and Harley has some leather, but not really enough to make an impact. And leather is expensive. We contacted The Leatherman, which is the leather shop; it’s been there since the ’60s with the same owner, and we’re hoping that they may lend us a hat or something. They’re so into it that they make an appointment with Harley and Sylüss and spent three hours fitting them and lending them these clothes and accoutrements, making sure everything looks right and proper. It was amazing. The manager, Max, is an amazing guy! That was two days before the shoot. On the day of the shoot, we stop by there to pick up the leather, we get to the studio… and we realized that they forgot to give us the shirt and the jacket. Uh oh! Harley couldn’t be topless. He’s everybody’s fantasy – he’s a secret; he always wears the mask, he doesn’t want anybody to know what he looks like, so he’s a fantasy. As such, he’s got an insane fan base. He’s never done music before this. We contact the manager, and he zooms over, bringing the stuff to the place and makes sure everything fits properly, and Greg and I are both like, “This is so amazing!” Harley’s outfit was something like $2,800 for everything.
I’m a poor musician. That’s my bottom line; I don’t work a day job anymore, and Harley’s not much better off, so we’re in heaven with this.
Meanwhile, Cold Spring is taking out these half-page ads in all of these publications just for this release. There was a half-page in Wired and Sound Projector, which I’d never heard of, and one in Rocka Rolla, which I’d never heard of. They’re doing this for months, literally. I’ve never had a label do this for me. I was on World Serpent who wouldn’t send anybody a promo. We’d asked for promo copies, but they’d make us pay for them. I’ve never been on a label that did anything. But now, the ads are selling like nuts! On the Hirsute Pursuit page, we get an e-mail from a guy from Other Music in New York, one of the few independent record stores left; when the CD came out, I brought it to them asking them to carry a few copies on consignment. I got such attitude from them; “No, we wouldn’t carry that here.” Now I get this e-mail from them asking, “Do you have any and do you have the old one because we need to stock both.”
I would say that 70-80% of the people pushing this now are straight guys. It confused me. I thought we might get harassed or shunned a bit. I thought that I might lose some fans from it, not that I have that many fans. Exact opposite – it’s all straight guys! I asked Boyd, “Boyd, you’re straight. Tell me why so many straight guys are loving this?” He said, “When I heard the first album, I didn’t understand why a million people hadn’t heard it. It’s fucking amazing. I knew it was going to be huge when I heard it, which is why I wanted to be part of it. Much like how little white kids in suburbia fell in love with hip-hop, not knowing what they were talking about or why they had the pants hanging halfway down their ass. They found something that resonated with them. You’ve done that with gay sex music. The music’s great, and all of the voices are über masculine. You don’t have an Adam Lambert. You’ve got gay sex going on in the background, but again, it’s all masculine. So guys are sexual animals and they can be visualizing whatever the hell they want in that scene. They might be imagining 20 women giving guys blowjobs because there’s no visual. It’s up to the imagination and all they’re hearing is masculinity. And people are damn sick of metrosexuals!” Jhonn Balance once asked me, “You only like big hairy bears, right?” I went, “No. I just like masculine guys. If the guy is feminine, it’s not a turn on for me. They don’t have to be bears, but I like masculine guys.”
Every day is a new thing with Hirsute Pursuit. There’s this clothing store in New York that is so out of my world; they are mega high end designer clothing, only dealing with Japanese and European designers that design in white, black, and gray. When you walk in, you will – and right hand to God, no exaggeration – find on sale, big discount, a long sleeve black cotton T-shirt for $350. I get pissed if I see a T-shirt for $30. I thought, “Okay, that’s out of my realm and I don’t understand it. It exists and they obviously make money because they’re open.” They offered Hirsute Pursuit a good chunk of money to perform, including an outfit each for Harley and me, which is about $1,000 and more. This is a secret gig; we can’t announce where or when or that we’re doing it at all. It’s an invitation only open champagne bar party for high end designers and the upper echelon of the clothing world. They’re not announcing our performing, and it’s during fashion week in New York, which is huge. They’re flying Boyd in from Denver and paying him handsomely to do one song with us, and he’s also going to do “Total War,” but other than that, they’re basically flying him in to do the one song with us. That’s our first gig. It’s a weird thing. There’s also talk of us touring Europe for the entire month of November. What was a studio project that was just Harley and me having fun in the studio has to be translated into a live project. I’ve recruited another couple of guys into it, and they’re musicians who were dying to do it. We’re recruiting slaves for the show – we got e-mails from as far away as Arizona; “I will fly in, pay for my flight, if you need me there for two weeks, I’ll pay for my hotel. Let me be your slave for these shows.” Harley’s got worshippers – men and women. I love it; he loves it.
About six or seven months ago, David J is in town. He asked me, “Bryin, I have to do this DJ set, but I also have to do four songs live. Would you do your noise guitar behind ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead?’” I admit it; I was a mega-goth; it’s still in my soul. Bauhaus is the epitome, the zenith. Nothing could be more emblematic of goth than “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” So when he asked me to do noise guitar, I almost passed out. We went into my studio, we’re hanging out, we try it, and he says, “You know what? I’m doing three Love & Rockets songs. I think I’d like you to play on those as well.” Pick me up off the floor. So, we did this set, and how un-goth of me that I was grinning the entire time. Here I am playing with David J doing songs that are so deeply ingrained in my soul that I know them in my sleep, and he’s giving me tons of compliments, and then said, “What else do you do? I know you do Thee Majesty and the Hank album,” which he loved. I told him about Hirsute Pursuit, gave him the CD and told him to listen to it. He came back in and he goes, “I’ve got to tell you a story. My son borrows my CDs all the time and then he returns them. I pull out a Tom Waits CD, put it on, the phone rings and I’m talking to this woman, and in the background I’m thinking I don’t remember Tom Waits doing this.” His son switched cases and was listening to Hirsute Pursuit. He hung up the phone and couldn’t stop listening to the CD. He said, “I was mesmerized. It’s one of the best CDs I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t stop listening to it.” Another straight guy. Here I am doing this kind of music that I was sure would alienate a certain sector of humanity… and they embrace it. So, I showed him the video for “Boys Keep Swinging,” and he says, “That was fucking amazing. Will you do a remix for my new album.” Uh, yeah! Which was fortuitous because I’m doing this William Blake compilation that was done 12 or 14 years ago, so I don’t blame anybody for releasing it in that amount of time. The label that’s putting it out now wants exclusive tracks. I contacted the artists, many of which I had to find again through Discogs and what not. David J says to me, “I’ll make a deal with you. You do this remix for me, and I’ll do a track for Blake.” Win-win for me! He sends me all the tracks for the song and I spent a fucking week cutting syllables out of his words because he did it with a live band, and Hirsute Pursuit is totally mechanized beat. Rather than him going off time because he’s on time in the original, but not with this mechanized dead on beat. I spent a week chopping the shit out of him, making it all perfect. I made it sound like “Boys Keep Swinging” basically, and I send it to him, and he says, “No, that’s not it.” I’ve done remixes for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs! and all of these different people, and I’ve never been told no. David J is saying no. And if it were anybody else, I’d be pissed. So, I’m now at a loss, and I ask, “Well, what do you want?” He said, “I want it more Hirsute Pursuit. I want it more like ‘Cock Thoughts.’” I’m like, “Harley, you’ve got to come over. You’re going to be on a David J remix. Help me make this sound like that.” We’re now adding all of this gay sex and this sleazy beat and I’m not sure if this is what David J is saying to me, but it’s all I can think of. I sent it to him after that. “Fucking A! This is exactly what I was looking for!” So many e-mails praising the remix and so he had to credit it as a Hirsute Pursuit remix instead of Bryin Dall.
Five days after the CD is released, and only available via mail order from Cold Spring at this point, Cold Spring forwards me this e-mail: “Hello. I’m the heavily tattooed man in his underwear that you’re using to promote Hirsute Pursuit: Tighten that Muscle Ring. Contact me.” Cold Spring is like, “What is this about? Do we have a lawsuit on our hands?” I’m freaking out. Is he straight? Is he gay? Was this a shot that he did for his girlfriend? Was this supposed to be private? So, very nonchalantly, I respond, “You are the seventh person to write to us claiming to be the guy on the cover. Can you prove it? Do you have any other photos?” Next e-mail, a bunch of photos… oh shit! It’s him. He lives out in California. He says, “Are you using this photo ironically? Are you making fun of me?” I said, “No dude, this was the most ridiculously hot, masculine, good looking, dangerous photo – it’s everything that represents this album. We used this image because we couldn’t find anything that was better. It was the apex of what we wanted to represent this.” I get a response; “You have just done so much for my self esteem, you have no idea. I’ve been depressed lately because they say I look like George Castanza from Seinfeld.” I’m like, “What?!” We write back and forth for some time, and I said, “What do you want for the use of your photo?” He said, “If you could just send me a copy of the album, I’d really appreciate that.” Project officially blessed since before the moment it’s come out. So much has been happening so quickly before it’s even public.
Dancing with the BBC
James Pope – as everybody calls him, “The Dancing Twink” – is straight, and people can’t believe that, especially living in San Francisco. So, he says to me, “You know that I do music videos for a living, right?” I’m like, “No!” “Well, if you send me the Boyd footage, I’ll do a remix of the video.” How cool is that? There was a ton of Boyd footage in which he mouthed the words “In a uniform,” and he’s wearing these mirrored shades, and it’s so close that you can see the camera in the shades. Neither Harley nor I are adept enough at video to remove the camera from the reflection. James used mostly that footage of Boyd, and his edits are so amazing that they look like they were done by a real label. Justin from Cold Spring tells me that he’s got more news for me, “The BBC just asked for a copy of it. They want to put ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ in rotation.” This is a huge deal. Justin tells me, “We’ve never had the BBC play any of our songs. This is big!” I tell Alan from World Serpent, who I hadn’t really seen in a long time, and he says the same thing that “We’ve never had the BBC play any of our songs.” They can’t play another song on the album because there’s fucking and talk of fucking and sucking cock on the album. Then Justin says, “Oh, and they’re watching the video and thinking of picking that up for BBC television.” I said, “Please refer them to the James Pope remix of the video.” Justin said, “Why have we never heard of this? This is the first time you’re telling us about this remix.” The remix is a lot lighter, but it’s also a lot more commercial. That’s because it’s done by a guy who does music videos, full of quick cuts and all of these editing tricks that I don’t know how to do. And he’s twenty-something, so he knows what’s hip. So the BBC is putting this into rotation. Did I ever think I would have a song on the BBC? No! I do experimental trippy shit. I play guitar with a machete with Genesis reading over it. It’s not ever going to be Top 40, and we were hoping at best for it to become a big underground gay song. Now, it’s gone way beyond that. I had to call Boyd. He starts laughing hysterically and said, “I never ever thought that I’d ever be on the BBC.” He’s flipping out, and he says, “You realize if it gets any attention, they are going to fly us over for Top of the Pops.” Boy, would that be interesting, right?
Only the Beginning
As it was explained to me, every generation needs its rebellion, and it’s hard to have something these days that will piss off the parents. And we’re doing it. Later in life, I’m doing something controversial that wasn’t meant to be controversial and that I never ever thought would cross over into pop.
Hirsute Pursuit MySpace http://www.myspace.com/hirsutepursuitmusic#!
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Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)