Sep 2015 19

Paying tribute to his fallen brother-in-arms while spearheading his own music, Jason Novak invites us to the fourth installment of the ColdWaves festival.
 
ColdWaves IV

 

An InterView with Jason Novak of ColdWaves and Cocksure

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

The death of a loved one is never an easy affair, and in the case of Jamie Duffy, one of Chicago’s most revered musical and audio wunderkinds, his loss was felt by more than his family and friends; felt by an entire scene that he helped to create. Since passing from this mortal coil in 2012, his brother-in-arms, Jason Novak has striven to pay tribute to Duffy’s memory – together with WTII Records co-founder David Schock, the pair have commemorated Duffy’s life and music with the annual ColdWaves festival. Held in the heart of the Windy City and entering its fourth installment, ColdWaves has grown into one of the industrial music scene’s most singular events, bringing together several different styles and even resurrecting several acts long since disbanded. Cooperating from the start with the Hope for the Day charity for suicide prevention, ColdWaves may be one of the most aggressively loud yet most emotionally poignant festival events the underground music scene has yet seen, all taking place in the center of American industrial music. ColdWaves IV takes things further into more experimental musical territory than ever before, featuring the more doom-laden and apocalyptically driven stylings of Godflesh, Lustmord, Author & Punisher, and Lead into Gold to the more rhythmic and rocking alternative sounds of Pop Will Eat Itself, Severed Heads, and Front Line Assembly. Of course, never one to stay too far from the stage, Novak himself has screamed and sung to the heavenly heights with his various bands and projects, with Cocksure – his collaboration with the renowned Chris Connelly – being his current primary outlet. Hearkening back to the primitive and less refined styles of rhythmic industrial, the likes of which have rarely been heard since the WaxTrax! era of the mid-to-late ’80s, Cocksure has bridged the gap between past-and-present in ways few bands can lay claim to… not unlike what he and Schock have accomplished with the ColdWaves festival. ReGen had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Novak on the challenges of organizing an event of such emotional and logistical magnitude, as well as some insights into his musical process.

 

ColdWaves

ColdWaves is now entering its fourth installment. Other than the financial considerations – which we won’t discuss, unless you’d like to – what have you found to be the most consistently challenging aspect of putting on this festival? How satisfied are you with your ability to overcome those challenges each year?

Novak: It’s hard to say as the challenges are still in full force for this year – really, a lot of logistics and planning, hours and hours of booking, negotiating, designing, scheduling; keeping track of all the costs and fees, it’s brutal! Throw in all the legwork for the Severed Heads dates across the country and it is full time work on certain days. Is the compilation CD master ready? Are the T-shirts designed? Is everyone getting fed? Wait, how much in gas for a dozen airport runs? I’ve always felt confident with solving problems and getting shit done, so it actually becomes exciting… when I’m not up all night running everything through my head a millions times, and that’s four months before the festival itself!

ColdWaves has also garnered a reputation for being an outlet for many reunions and returns to activity for bands that haven’t been seen or heard from in years. Can you tell us more about how you’ve approached this particular aspect of the festival (i.e. selecting which bands will play, how those reunions came about for ColdWaves, etc.)?

Novak: We try to give people something they can’t ordinarily get – a rare treat, a chance to see something special. There is a balance between that and our personal tastes, as well as making sure the costs are relevant to the amount of potential attendees. Some bands we’d love to host are just too expensive to pull off when you figure the fans that might pay to come out. Then there is trying to stay diverse, introduce people to new bands, as well as keeping a few core performers and styles together so it keeps a handle on our original identity… and last but not least, adhering to the WJDA credo (i.e. would Jamie Duffy approve?). And what is the six degrees connection? Each year, more than half of the bands have had some connection to Jamie and we’d love to keep that going.

Since the second year, ColdWaves has had a two-night format, with each night having a different focus – usually the first night is more of the rock/guitar-driven sounds, while the second is more electronic (generally speaking). How successful do you feel this format has been in appeasing audiences?

Novak: I’m not sure we have enough data yet, and haven’t tried anything else, so now it just feels right. However, there is also the logistics and schedules of the acts themselves; it could easily play out one year that we have to combine bands A, B, and C on a certain night and it breaks with our pattern. But I think I also feel obligated to respect the fan that doesn’t cross over that easily and make sure that we don’t intentionally split up bands that make sense together, forcing people to spend more money. I’d love everyone to come both nights, of course, but you also want fans and attendees who are engaged the whole way through, and finding ways to keep things affordable is a big thing with us.

This year seems much darker in tone with a great number of rather doomy and more apocalyptic sounds coming from Godflesh, Author & Punisher, Lustmord, and even the resurgence of Lead into Gold. To what would you attribute this shift, or was it even a consideration?

Novak: Godflesh was one of our first negotiations to solidify, and after careful consideration, we decided to focus on the more experimental styles that they tend to gravitate toward, to curate a night that might look like something they would put together, instead of the obvious choice of ‘guitar driven industrial.’ The recent boon of noise-centric and forward-thinking artists that are turning the tide of industrial back to its origins is very exciting and something we are proud to feature.

On the other hand, the second night still seems to retain the more electronic focus with Front Line Assembly, Pop Will Eat Itself, Severed Heads, etc. As well, ColdWaves has been featuring up-and-coming talents, several of which have a distinctly old school punk/EBM approach (i.e. Youth Code last year, High Functioning Flesh, Human Traffic, etc.). Speaking as one of the heads of ColdWaves, what are your thoughts on the current wave of younger bands taking on this mantle? What do you feel is the potential for this resurgence of the older styles to lead into newer developments and take the genre in other directions than it has before?

Novak: Continuing from the last question, I couldn’t be happier about this recent shift. Bands like you’ve mentioned, or even Statiqbloom, 3TEETH, and Haxan Cloak… these people have a real investment in their sound as unique and creative. I’ve made enough mention of our desire to stay away from the fashion driven component of ‘industrial’ music, but another factor has been the preset drum and synths sounds that have dominated the genre over the last decade or so. Even if some of these newer acts are emulating an older new wave or punk style of programming and writing, it’s manipulated and distorted into something much more unique and character driven if you will, an identity sorely lacking in some of the better selling darkwave or goth or whatever it’s called in recent years.

Besides the usual two days of the festival, there is also the kickoff and post-parties, with this year’s kickoff featuring you and your Acumen band mates performing Transmissions from Eville in its entirety, Rabbit Junk, and Die Sektor. What would you say is the potential for ColdWaves to expand further (i.e. additional nights, other features, etc.)?

Novak: I think it lies in staying just successful enough each year to put on another one. The costs associated with this thing are much more than I ever could have imagined, and even though we have incredible support this year from our sponsors (Kumas Corner and Revolution Brewing), there is a dangerous dance playing out across my credit statement! Last year we endured the airline shutdown the morning of ColdWaves and managed to keep all artists on schedule. But could you imagine the fallout if 242 had been unable to make it? This interview wouldn’t be happening. We try to expand a bit each year, make it more into a festival, but you find that that’s where the gambling occurs, because the meat and potatoes is the bands in the venue playing sets and people coming. Everything else you take a chance on spending more to make happen, hoping that it increases enjoyment, ticket sales, attention, etc.

Anything we’ve not covered that you’d like to discuss and let people know about?

Novak: This year we are excited to expand the event a bit, like you mentioned, to Thursday’s pre-party at Double Door, but to also offer more items for the charity raffle we hold in the venue, and are proud to invite WaxTrax! to set up shop once again. Attendees can move freely to the Gman Club next door where the show will be broadcast on a huge screen, and Kumas will be offering food in between the venues to finally give folks a chance to take a breather, have a bite to eat or sit down, shop, and amp up the ‘festival’ aspect. After the show, we will be hosting Neo DJs in the Gman backroom and hope to keep the party going!

 

Cocksure

Cocksure has often received comparisons to or is referenced as continuing the spirit of Revolting Cocks (with Cocks Members being featured in the past). As well, much of Acumen’s early Artifacts material often references elements of the WaxTrax! influence.
First of all, (in relation to the ColdWaves question), what are your thoughts on these comparisons?
Secondly, in what ways do you feel you’ve helped/are helping to personally to take the music and the genre in newer directions? (Yes, I realize this question might sound a little pompous, and I apologize for that, but I’d like to think it’s relevant).

Novak: I think Chris and I feel the same excitement when revisiting the good old days of industrial dance music and WaxTrax! in particular, as the fans do. I was just a burgeoning musician when it all launched and it made a huge impact on me. I don’t really see us as taking things in new directions; just paying homage to a dormant attitude and sound, trying to put the tongue back in the cheek a bit. Some of it is actually anti-innovative considering some of the ancient sounds and beats we are using!

You’ve recently released the second Cocksure album, making it the fourth release under this moniker in two years. Besides working with Chris Connelly, in what ways would you say your approach to Cocksure differs from your other projects that allows you to work at such a prolific pace?

Novak: There is a freedom there, in Cocksure, to explore the past with justification. As a writer, I always shoot myself in the foot trying to do too much, explore too much, try too many tricks; sometimes it’s just brain exercises, but sometimes you come up with some great ideas. Cocksure strokes the back of my head and says, ‘Shhh… relax. Amp up that beat. Crank up that noise. Respect the four-on-the-floor and don’t try to be a wizard. Make people smile.’

In the liner notes for Anticore, there is the line about how Metropolis Records wouldn’t sign Acumen because you didn’t sell enough, and we’ve discussed this in past InterViews – now you are signed to Metropolis with the two Cocksure albums; how did you come to sign with Metropolis for Cocksure, and to what would you attribute the label’s change of heart with regards to you and your music?

Novak: Well, that was fairly buried in those liner notes with a whole bunch of crap talk… and it was a piss take; they never actually said that… but if they did, wouldn’t it make sense? We just threw up (literally) a bunch of stuff in there and tried to be smartasses. However, no matter if it has been drum & bass or industrial or metal, I always feel like I’m on the outside looking in. Thumbing my nose at Metropolis bands was easy, but it was obviously masking a hurt little boy who just wanted to be liked. WAH! It was whiny and not really based in anything. We always have had a chip on our shoulder as the rock band mistaken for an industrial band and then forced to live a life in that weird costume. I love aspects of that costume, but also many others, maybe even switch genders, have the experience. For a while, industrial felt like a pigeonhole.

A quote from Orson Welles (1981, Filming The Trial), ‘Every work of art is a political statement. When you deliberately make it, you usually fall into the trap of rhetoric and the trap of speaking to a convinced audience, rather than convincing an audience. I think some movies and some books and… god, some paintings have changed the face of the world, but I don’t think it is the duty of every artist to change the world; he is doing it by being an artist.’
The reason I bring this is up is because 1. He’s my favorite filmmaker (back when they actually used film), 2. You’ve used samples of The Shadow radio show on TVMALSV (at least, I’m sure I heard Orson’s voice in there – ‘The Shadow knows…,’ so it reminded me of this), 3. I wanted to ask you your take on this on a philosophical level since you in your various bands (and particularly industrial and underground music in general) have a history of addressing politics and the contemporary sociopolitical climate.

Novak: I think it is spot on, but you write what you feel, you write what moves you. If you don’t, then I think you need to quit. I am acutely aware of what that quote means, and think about it every time I’m performing, nervously hunting for stage banter and trying not to preach to the converted or bring up easy targets… or even write from an obvious standpoint. Even at a young age, threading sarcasm and irony into things like ‘Gun Lover’ or ‘Father in the Wall’ and not just standing on a soapbox felt good and proper. Sometimes its fun just to be weird, like Connelly’s cast of characters throughout the Cocksure records, or hell, the protagonist in the Acumen song ‘Sirvix.’ But there is something also to be championed in taking your 15 minutes and making sure any impressionable minds hear even just one more voice propelling them in the right direction, when there is so much garbage to easily fall for.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Transmissions from Eville, which you’re celebrating by performing the album in full at the ColdWaves IV kick-off event. Could you give us your thoughts on the album 20 years on, regarding both the music and the lyrical themes – in what ways do you feel you still relate to your thoughts and ways of working when you were first making the album?
In what ways do you feel this translates to the music you’re making now in your various projects?

Novak: It’s been fun to revisit some of those lyrics; so much poetry! It all came easy; even then on our first record, there we were, droning into eight minutes of ‘Chameleon Skin.’ Never smart enough to play the pop game, we loved to make weird shit and it was a blast! We thought we were going to be huge. But then reality happens and then it was 10 years later, 20 years later, and I’m still writing stuff that juuuuuust doesn’t exactly fit anywhere. But back to Transmissions…, obviously there is a gaping hole where Jamie was, and we all feel torn between acknowledging that to each other, to ourselves, as well as trying to cover it up and enjoy our moment, our celebration. He is missing out. I still think of him every day. But you get busy living or get busy dying I guess, and that Thursday is going to be about what we’ve accomplished and how grateful we are to still be standing, you know? And to have the opportunity to play that record; in a sense, Jamie helped give that to us with more grandeur than we ever deserved, being that we are performing it under the ColdWaves umbrella. He will be there, that’s for sure.

 

ColdWaves
Website, Facebook, Twitter
Cocksure
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp
Cracknation
Website, MySpace, Facebook
WTII Records
Website, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp
Hope for the Day
Website, Facebook, Twitter
Metro Chicago
Website, Facebook, Twitter

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