Sep 2013 18

With three album releases coming this October and organizing this year’s two-day Coldwaves II event in Chicago, Jason Novak informs ReGen on the state of the Cracknation!


An InterView with Jason Novak of Cracknation

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Skating on the icy fringes of the coldwave underground for 20 years, Jason Novak has remained one of the busiest talents in industrial music. Under his Cracknation imprint, he has helmed numerous outlets for his creative visions, from the blistering industrial rock assault of Acumen Nation to the spastic electronica of DJ? Acucrack to the dreamy shoegaze of Fawn and now with the bludgeoning metal assault of CZAR. Yet, for all of his hard work, he and his cohorts in the Cracknation remain very much on the sidelines of the industrial underground, revered by many yet ever struggling in a landscape of changing tastes and trends, broken by the small but significant successes enjoyed along the way. With the passing of longtime musical partner Jamie Duffy in 2012, the Cracknation paid tribute to its fallen comrade with a massive event that showcased many of the past heroes of coldwave, bringing together a music scene in desperate need of reaffirmation. The success of the Jamie Duffy Memorial Concert gave rise to a new event, Coldwaves II, scheduled to take place at the Metro in Chicago on September 27-28, and bringing together a number of the industrial rock scene’s past and present luminaries. To top it off, Cracknation is poised to release not one, not two, but three brand new albums – CZAR’s sophomore album, No One is Alone If No One is Alive; Acucrack’s first album since 2007, The Mawn Reproduction; and the first new Iron Lung Corp. album in a decade, Body Snatchers.
Jason Novak now speaks to ReGen on the development of this triple assault, as well as the difficulties in organizing a major event in today’s underground music scene, reminding all of you why this year’s Coldwaves II in Chicago is not an event to be missed.


You have a pretty busy schedule with three albums being released on top of the Coldwaves II event.

Novak: Well, I didn’t intend for any of this to happen. Plus, with my job, the busy season is from July through November, so I didn’t intend for this. I started working on the Acucrack record two or three years ago, and mainly because of CZAR, I lost inspiration. After doing those two albums in 2007, I had sort of left the tank out. So, that took a long time. And we started Iron Lung in January, and I never thought that it would be September and I’m rushing. The other night, I was literally racing to FedEx with the laptop in my lap to cushion any bad asphalt or anything from burning the safety master for the ILC record. I’d just finished the other two and the Coldwaves compilation, and if I didn’t make FedEx by 8:00, then it wouldn’t get done on time. It was awful!

Tell us about how the new ILC album came together.

Novak: I think it’s a real punk rock record, and it’s fun, and hopefully, people will get off on the songs. It really is kind of a love letter from me and my brother to each other in a funny way. It’s really a lot of stuff that meant a lot to us in the ’80s and ’90s.
It all started with the machines, man. In fact, that’s what the first half of the process was, to get a few other guys to help, and a few people contributed while I programmed about half of it while other people programmed the other half. We started with the machines and built full electronic versions of these tunes, and then I sent them out to everybody involved and said, ‘I need guitars, I need bass, I need drums,’ and people started bringing that stuff into it. And then I’d put it together and say, ‘Okay, here are all the mixes with these elements in it; now, I need vocals.’
It can be tough, though. There are like a dozen contributors sending shit from all over the country, and all this stuff comes in and it has to be conformed – somebody’s using Logic, another’s using Ableton; somebody’s just got tracks without being mixed, somebody else completely processes and mixes the vocals; somebody’s got live drums recorded in a room, somebody’s got them recorded in a proper studio. Somebody has to pull this all together. There are a lot of people contributing to this, but it’s very electronic. That was the point – it was supposed to be Iron Lung Corp. Hopefully, people will be able to hear that. It’s pretty raw; it’s not overly processed in terms of being a really slick record. It’s about to explode in some parts. It sounds very rough and distorted and fun.

As far as the CZAR record, No One is Alone If No One is Alive, since that’s you working with the band and a producer and not doing it all yourself, how did that process evolve since the previous album?

Novak: Half of the album is songs that we had written and were demoing a year ago… over a year ago when we were out on tour, and after the tragedy of last summer and veering off into Coldwaves, we would’ve probably had a record release in January of this year. But everything got derailed for about six months when we put our focus elsewhere – the documentary and everything that Cracknation kind of went through with Jamie’s passing; all of the stuff that happened kind of tabled CZAR. So we picked those songs up again in the spring and said, ‘Hey, let’s get back to work on this record.’ There’s just a lot of free songwriting going on. Dan comes up with the weirdest stuff and I’m constantly writing. Those guys wanted to kind of move a little slower, and I’m not going to stop writing tunes, and they’d say, ‘Wait, wait, wait! We’ve still got to work on this tune that we’re working on.’ And I’d say, ‘No, here’s another one.’ I’m just not going to stop writing because you’ve got to get the ideas out.
We’d passionately been wanting to get back into the studio and recreate that, so in the last two months, we had about three songs that we had to really workshop and work really hard on to pull off. We recorded in July and we had one technical problem after another. It was a tough recording process. We’d dreamed about it for two years and so it was hard on all of us. It’s not even worth going into, but the devil was in the room and shit happened that just never happens. Even the producer Matt (Talbot) had a couple of things go awry that even he said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’ But we just kept going and going and we brought the beast home; Frankenstein got to work and brought it back to life. It definitely is part 2, or it feels like part 2 of Vertical Mass Grave.

There was a tightening of the CZAR aesthetic between the self-titled EP and Vertical Mass Grave. How much of that occurred between the last album and this one?

Novak: I think the only thing we really did was we remembered to bring the samples with us and we charged into an even denser and heavier direction. There are a lot more sounds of atmospheric samples, but every song is pretty punishing. On the last album, we think about these softer moments and the few moments on the album when we drop into these little acoustic bits… well, not acoustic, but…

Like Fawn…

Novak: Yeah! This album literally has one of those moments. It’s a much more visceral record, but it’s also I think more melodic. It just sounds a little bit like the next step, but with the way the album is sequenced, the cover art, the style of it, I think people will feel that it’s a logical progression. If you like the first one, then you won’t be disappointed. It’s not throwing any curveballs other than we think just getting better.

It’s interesting how metal in general has progressed and not many people realize the heavy amount of technology that goes into metal these days. As what you were doing in the ’90s and beyond is now very much common practice for regular rock and metal bands, what are your thoughts on the way people perceive the way technology is used?

Novak: Well, anything that we play on the CZAR record we can play live. The samples are things that I trigger with my foot pedals when we play live shows, and that’s kind of the same way we recorded them for this album. There are no triggers; there’s nothing like that on this album as far as samples go. I think it just is what it is. The sad thing is you listen to some of these albums and you think of them as being really technically proficient and you have no idea if it has been fixed. You can do anything you want with V-drums and triggers. You can get a drummer’s performance and then completely restructure. Where it used to sound fake and robotic, now there are just so many great sample kits, multilayered snare hits, and you can like velocity hit it to get the sound of a real snare and replicate that in the studio with a sampler. I think it’s a real bummer that you can’t tell, and it’s always fun when you can.
I’ll tell you what, man, I’ve seen Gojira a couple of times now and was floored by what that guy can do with double kick live! It was stuff that I would say, ‘Yup, I’m sure they fixed that,’ and you think nobody can play a pattern that long, that tight, but then you see it live and your jaw drops. That feels good when you see and experience that. I think collectively, the three of us in CZAR, that’s what we want to do in this band, and it’s exciting. When we went out with Killing Joke, none of those fans could give a shit who we were, but by the end of every show, we had that whole crowd on our side because they could all agree, ‘Those guys are killing it! Maybe I’m not going to buy the record or follow this band around, but they are doing it up there.’ That’s good.

They should buy the fucking record!

Novak: Yeah, well… screw that! Those guys are all old, and I’m old, and they’re like, ‘I’m here to see Killing Joke, I’m buying their shit, and I’m going home. I don’t give a shit about the opening bands.’ In the other bands I’ve been in like Acumen, people wanted to hear the loops, they wanted to hear the samples, they wanted to hear style, and not just a DJ pressing buttons. There’s this disconnect from when being a performer meant you had to be proficient and to have people go, ‘Wow, you’re playing!’ It’s a bummer that metal was always this thing that had to be played well, and now it doesn’t. But that’s also evolution, so what are you going to do?

You’ve played with Killing Joke, and now you’re going to be doing shows with Godflesh.

Novak: And we’ve played with KMFDM, so it’s like Michael Corleone in The Godfather – ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’ ‘Oh yeah, we have this new metal band that’s really organic and cool!’ But we’re playing with Killing Joke and KMFDM and Godflesh.

Well, KMFDM live shows are very metal when you actually see and hear them.

Novak: Yeah, it was a metal show. There was very little slow down with the electronics.

And on the other end of that, you have the new Acucrack record coming up, and Cyanotic’s Sean Payne will be picking up the reigns.

Novak: Well, I don’t know if he’s picking up the reigns; let’s just say he’s interning right now. Jamie and I worked together for a long time and I put a lot of solo work into this project as well. In the last couple of years, Jamie just got busy and we weren’t really feeling the partnership as much as we used to, and I said, ‘I want to keep going.’ I’d get an opportunity financially where I’d be asked to come out and DJ, and I’d say, ‘Well, I don’t really DJ.’ ‘Oh, you want to perform?’ And the next thing you know, I’d be offered to perform a one-man set, and then I went on the Front Line Assembly tour. I just got used to running everything myself or having Jamie contribute, so the idea of somebody else coming in is going to take a little while. That said, it took me years to get these songs up and running, and I was worried that I was in my own head a little too much, so I asked Sean if he wanted to contribute to a few of these tracks. He was more than willing and he actually came up with some very cool stuff and was very inspirational. He just made me feel good about what I was doing, and I had been trying for years now, and it’s another shame because I’d been talking to Jamie about this… ‘Let’s make a really dark, genre-free Acucrack record. Let’s try to capture the things that got us into industrial music in the first place.’ It’s weird. That’s the coolest thing about it. It doesn’t sound like any other Acucrack record. It’s not a techno record; it’s not a drum & bass record by any means. I don’t know, it’s got its own identity as this really experimental and weird thing.
It’s really fun for me because it’s all geared to this electronic sound. There are a lot vocals; more vocals than there’s ever been. There’s more guttural emotion put into it. It’s like Acumen tore itself in half – CZAR and Acucrack took over the halves. That’s pretty much what it will be; Acumen started it and now it’s been cleaved and it’s two other beings.

When the Rally and Sustain documentary was screened, you and your Cracknation cohorts performed as BBQ Tragedy, performing Acumen songs acoustically. What is the possibility that you might do something more in that vein?

Novak: Considering the internet, every single song is up there and anybody can check it out. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more excitement for it, but I’m pretty accustomed to that. We had so many people come up to us afterward and beyond saying, ‘Why don’t you just try that?’ And all these people had just watched the documentary where, for me, one of the defining moments was explaining how I spent my career getting interested in new sounds and new genres and by the time I’d figured it out, people had moved on, and I wasn’t going to do that anymore. And then all these people come up to me and say, ‘Why don’t you basically just do that again? Why don’t you put these songs out in these kinds of versions and just pitch that?’ Hey, if somebody showed up with a checkbook, fuck yeah! But there’s no way I’m going to put the time and effort into that. But it’s always fun again to prove to people that it’s not just about noises and samples. We write these songs and they’ve got hooks.
CZAR turned out to be the thing that works, and I don’t even know what that means, but it was the one thing that grew out of nothing for nothing. It was just about being 100% personal and payback, as opposed to other things where I’d hear sounds, I’d hear styles, and I’d think, ‘I can freaking do that,’ or ‘That’s badass, we have to learn how to do that.’ And then it’d be about chasing that production technique. I’m proud to say I never felt that way about dubstep. But I’ll be damned if when you hear dubstep now, if Skinny Puppy had done this 15 years ago, industrial would’ve climbed the mountain top. If you wanted people to understand why you dug Skinny Puppy or stuff like that and people looked at you funny, that’s the way I feel now when good dubstep comes on. That is just horrifying! I don’t particularly enjoy it because it’s just gone so mainstream and co-opted and it’s just a total lack of music actually. But some of the production in there, this is what you want people to understand and feel is just evil incarnate in this sound system. But looking at these 12- or 13-year-old kids listening to dubstep, and it’s like I don’t even know who these people are.

Regarding Coldwaves II, the lineup has 16volt, Cocks Members, and Clay People returning, and you’ll be performing as Acucrack, and ILC is performing as well.

Novak: Oh yeah! We’re getting some local press, and we’re trying to promote it as an aggressive event to raise money for this charity. We’re trying to promote it as something really special; hopefully, there will be a few hundred people ready to buy tickets at the door in addition to the presales. I just did a phone interview with Paul Barker and Chris Connelly, and there seems to be a lot of excitement around it. The people at the Metro said that the first year is the hardest. They said, ‘You can build this, and we will help you, but the first year is always tough.’ The goal is to make this a destination and have agents calling in January saying, ‘Who is on for this year’s Coldwaves? I’ve got so-and-so going on tour,’ and that’s how you end up getting things going, a festival identity. It becomes a relationship that builds itself up. We had bands that wanted to do it but couldn’t; we have bands on our wish list that now have contacts with that we can approach. As long as we can break even and pull this off as a quality event, raise money for suicide prevention and pay homage to Chicago industrial, then I think it’ll work out. That will be a success.


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