Jun 2017 26

Two of the electronic scene’s most exciting talents speak with ReGen about the formation of their new creative outlet, Black Line.
 
Black Line

 

An InterView with Douglas J. McCarthy and Cyrusrex of Black Line

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Douglas J. McCarthy – best known as one of the pioneering voices in modern electronic music; his blend of punk inspired bombast, insidious raspy mystery, and sensual melody has made him one of the seminal figures in EBM and industrial music. While best known as the front man of Nitzer Ebb, his words and voice have graced such acts as Recoil, Fixmer/McCarthy, Die Krupps, MOTOR, Client, and KLOQ to name but a few. In November of 2012, he released Kill Your Friends, his first solo album, co-written and coproduced by the producer and instrumentalist known as Cyrusrex. Having worked with the likes of Skinny Puppy and ohGr, Kevorkian Death Cycle, Snog, and creating his own music under the Cyrusrex and Annodalleb monikers, Cyrusrex began what would become a fruitful collaboration with the renowned vocalist, culminating first in McCarthy’s solo album, and then forming the duo DJM|REX, released two EPs under their new project. However, this soon proved to be but the beginning of a new phase in their creative partnership; with numerous friends and associations in the music scene, the duo announced in 2017 a new outlet to feature a bevy of collaborators – Black Line, releasing the debut album, Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities. The album draws on the pair’s rich history and accomplished skills in powerful electronic music, defying strict categorization with elements of EBM, industrial, techno, synthpop, and all points in between, and including guest performances form the likes of Paul Barker, Ken “Hiwatt” Marshall, Mark Walk, Bon Harris, Christian Eigner, Derrick Baseck, and Zack Meyers. Now with the band’s first live shows looming on the horizon, Douglas J. McCarthy and Cyrusrex speak with ReGen Magazine on the band’s formation, philosophy, making music in Los Angeles, and hints at a darkly seductive future.

 

The two of you began working together initially on Douglas’ solo album, Kill Your Friends, and since then, you’ve cultivated a dynamic musical partnership. Having stemmed off from the solo album to the two DJM|REX EPs into Black Line, how would you describe the evolution of your working dynamic across these projects? What would you say differentiates Black Line from your prior work together?

Black Line: Thank you for noticing! As you suggest, there has been a steady evolution in our process and intent with each project we have embarked upon. Black Line is, in many ways, close to the pinnacle of what we have been striving to achieve together. Ironically, but not surprisingly, it actually took the involvement of a healthy number of other participants. That open house approach to the creative process is definitely a departure from anything we have done individually or collectively before.

In any creative partnership, there is some element of conflict or clashing; in what ways do your approaches differ and how would you say they strengthen the end result?

Black Line: Given the amount of ‘personalities’ involved with this project, it has been a surprisingly harmonious endeavor. Maybe the fact that people were free to come and go as they chose assisted that feeling. The main day-to-day was Zack Meyers, Cyrus, and Douglas, but everyone else certainly put in their fair share of commitment. The old ‘creative discourse’ is always healthy and we certainly have not shied away from that, but we are also prolific so if there seemed to be a dead end that could not be solved, we’d park it and move on. Sometimes the idea would rear its head again; sometimes not. ‘Breathe’ is a case in point – it was a great ‘verse’ for about six months and then left until reworked into an idea, actually based upon that idea, that Zack managed to seam together.

Tell us about how the album Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities came about – was it a gradual process that necessitated the forming of a new band or moniker, or did you have a concept or set of ideas already in mind?

Black Line: Once we had decided that we couldn’t just keep adding more and more participant’s initials, à la DJM|REX, it was clear we needed a name. ‘Blackline’ is a term that is, or was used to describe comparing revisions of a document, usually a legal document. It denotes that the document maintains all revisions. It seemed somehow appropriate. Also, it looks good typographically, which, after all, is why anyone makes records. Once we were a ‘band’ with a real name and everything, it really made the process of whom we wanted to represent and how totally free.

The album title also evokes some specific themes and images – political and even a bit sensual; what can you tell us about the lyrical themes and how you approach them?

Black Line: Much as with the musical content, the lyrics and themes stem from everyday life and observations – some imagined, some real, others cathartic, others still a mask; the normal jumble of fact and fiction that everyone wraps around themselves in one way or another. Our approach is holistic. If the theme suits the music, or vice versa, it sticks. As mentioned above, punches were not pulled. It’s about life living in L.A., living in the U.S.A., living with horrific acts, living with humans… over and over again.

 

 

You’ve both worked with a number of excellent talents over the years, and Black Line features the likes of Baseck, Ken ‘Hiwatt’ Marshall, Mark Walk, Paul Barker, and Christian Eigner. In what ways did these various contributors affect your musical outlook or approach for Black Line? In what ways did songs mutate or evolve as they became part of the working process?

Black Line: When we first started working with Ken as DJM|REX, he was like our version of ‘The Wolf’ in Pulp Fiction. We’d send him sketches of ideas that had over 40 tracks of music and he’d clean it up and send it back. We’d get excited that there was actually a song in that mess and he’d say, ‘Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks quite yet.’ Actually, Ken is far too much of a gentleman to ever say that, but we think he wanted to. The bottom line is that Ken, Mark, Christian, Paul, and others on the record are ‘a safe pair of hands.’ They are reliable in a way that is extremely rare and are cherished. We pretty much gave each and every one of them carte blanche to go where ever they wanted with the idea or process. Then, we would cherry pick their brilliance and mould it into what we consider Black Line to be.

While Los Angeles has always been a hot bed of musical talent and activity, it does seem like in the last two or three years, the city’s been the center of a lot of the new and latest electronic and industrial music (i.e. The Black Queen, 3TEETH, KANGA, Youth Code, to name but a few, and all alumni of ColdWaves like you). What are your thoughts on this?
On a wider tangent, having seen and participated in many innovations in music, what would you like to see as the next evolution in music – from any direction, be it compositional or technological?

Black Line: One great development in the music industry would be to abandon categorizing everything into genre specific parcels. We are friends or reluctant acquaintances with pretty much every band or artist in L.A. who is using electronic methods of creating sound and music. We are all possibly derivative at times, but in essence, the idea is that you want to move forward and challenge yourself and your audience. That elusive ‘evolution’ can be wrong footed at times, but at least you’re trying. We’d rather be accused of being idiots who don’t know their audience than being safely in a bubble of mutually self-assured predictability. Having said that, L.A. is a fun place to be making electronic music and it looks like it’s going to stay that way.

To Mr. McCarthy, are there plans to perhaps pursue another solo outing, or would you say that working with Cyrusrex in Black Line satisfies your creative urges (at least, for now)?

McCarthy: No plans whatsoever. Between what I do with Black Line and Terence Fixmer as
Fixmer/McCarthy, I feel like I have copious amounts of outlet. That doesn’t mean to
say I won’t in the future – never say never.

 

 

Also, if I may ask, your voice sounds as forceful and as vibrant as ever; what do you to help keep your voice strong and in check over so many years?

McCarthy: Absolutely no fucking idea. I stopped smoking a while ago. I sing a lot. I drink red wine, whiskey, and tequila a lot. I talk A LOT!

Black Line will soon be performing live, with the first shows to take place in L.A.; without giving away too much, what can you tell us about the live show you’re putting together? What can fans expect from a visual standpoint, and in what way do the visuals interact with the music and vice versa?

Black Line: There will be a visual narrative that resonates with the artwork by Steven R. Gilmore we have already made available. Onstage, there will be as many of the participants who are available and then some sprinkling of fairy dust by way of friends and fellow travelers on the road less trodden.

To Mr. McCarthy, when we spoke in 2012, you’d mentioned that you enjoy cooking, hiking, and bike riding when you’re not working on music; I’m assuming those still apply?

McCarthy: I am constantly cooking. I love it. I’m still hiking. I got a doggie backpack for our Chihuahua/Terrier mix (Adolfo Guzman Lopez) and set out for a relatively brief bike ride from Downtown L.A. to Elysian Park (Adolfo’s favorite park). I hadn’t been riding for at least six months, so it took me a while to realize that the reason I felt like I was dying wasn’t only not being at Tour form; it was actually 93˚F (34˚C) and I was climbing a hill. I had to lay down for a very long while in the park. Adolfo still loved it.

 
Black Line
 

To Cyrusrex, what do you do when you’re not working on music?

Cyrusrex: Outside of music, I own and invest in multiple companies, including one called Dark Place Manufacturing, which makes synthesizers. Music is mostly a hobby for me.

 

Black Line
Website, Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Photography provided courtesy of Black Line

 

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