Jun 2016 14

One of several bands reuniting for the fifth annual ColdWaves festival, vocalist Marc Heal and programmer/guitarist Phil Barry of the techno/metal juggernaut of Cubanate speak with ReGen about their plans for the future.
 
Cubanate

 

An InterView with Marc Heal & Phil Barry of Cubanate

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x) & Brian McLelland (BMcLelland)

It’s been nearly 25 years since Cubanate first assaulted dance floors and ears alike. At a time when EBM was beginning to flourish in Europe and the United States was enjoying the success of Nine Inch Nails and MINISTRY, Cubanate cut a path that was uniquely the band’s own. Heavy beats coupled with scathing guitar and the chaos of Marc Heal’s vocals produced music that was all at once danceable, infuriating, and aggressive enough to challenge even the most bombastic of metal bands. Cubanate’s discography remains as poignant as it was when it was released and retains much of its vigor and auditory quality, but the band’s work remains the stigma of music lovers who organize their music collections by genre.
Cubanate’s genre-bending led the band to strange places such as tours with Carcass, Fear Factory, The Sisters of Mercy, and Rammstein, having the 1996 Barbarossa album cited as an influence on The Prodigy while still being accessible enough to be featured on the soundtracks for the best-selling Gran Turismo video game as well as in an episode of The Sopranos. The fourth (and so far, final) album, Interference was produced by the legendary Rhys Fulber and departed from previous albums in sound by including a heavier drum & bass influence, proving yet again that Cubanate can’t be categorized.
Cubanate was declared dead in the early 2000s, then resurrected briefly in 2011; in that time, both Marc Heal and Phil Barry have moved on to other works and remained busy. A Cubanate reunion show looms at this year’s ColdWaves V and the aftermath of such a cacophonous event remains to be seen. ReGen recently spoke to Heal and Barry to find out what the future holds for each of them separately and, perhaps if we’re lucky, together.

 

Firstly, a ‘welcome back’ is in order.

Heal: Thanks.

Cubanate had returned with the ‘We Are Crowd’ track, and you had worked together Compound Eye Sessions. Now, the band is reuniting for the ColdWaves V festival.
What prompted the two of you to finally bring Cubanate back to the stage?

Heal: Well, we’ve wanted to do a Cubanate retrospective album for some time and, hopefully, that will be announced soon. So we thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to play live, now or never.’ Besides, I think we’re more relaxed about it now. Perhaps that’s because we’re each doing other solo projects. It’s an experiment, so I apologize in advance to the ColdWaves crowd. I will fly in from Singapore a few days beforehand; Phil from London. Then we go onstage – could be a blast, could be a disaster!

Barry: This all came about because the contracts on our old albums had run there course and we wanted to remaster the old material and put it out ourselves, so a show seemed like the next logical step to take. Jason then kidnaped Marc and took some photos… ColdWaves it is then.

About the upcoming ColdWaves V show in Chicago, you mentioned that you’re traveling from Singapore to play the show. What prompted you to agree to such an undertaking?

Heal: I must be mad, but I like the idea of travelling around the world, making it truly global. I felt it was time to dip a toe into the shark-infested Cubanate waters again. My interest in music was reignited after a long break. I haven’t played live in 17 years, not even set foot on a stage. I’m nervous about it, but you should always do things that scare you. Anyway, time is moving on; I might be dead soon. Do it now, I figure.

Having now been working in the studio for some time, Phil having also contributed to Compound Eye Sessions, what is the working dynamic like between you two now vs. when you first started making music together?

Heal: But that’s not so. We’ve hardly been in studio together at all. Phil did some remixes and I used some guitar samples of his on Compound Eye, but that’s it.
I think the lesson of working on the Cubanate track ‘We Are Crowd’ was that to make a sound happen, you’ve got to be creatively in tune with your band members. It was fun to work with Phil again and, in a way, more efficient, but working even on one song made me realize how difficult it is to build up a sound, how special that relationship is when you find it. When we were in Cubanate, we spent a lot of time together. That meant we picked up the same things, went to the same clubs; when we saw a good band, we learned from them.
But now, I mean, I might have seen Phil five times in the past 16 years. That’s a lot of time gone by, a lot of change. So, while there’s no antagonism between us and we see each other very rarely, we’re literally on other sides of the world. That makes making music together very difficult.

Barry: We only worked together on the ‘We are Crowd’ single recently and even that’s about four years ago now. There were far less trips to the pub this time around (i.e. none), but I suspect that wasn’t Marc’s sobriety but him just avoiding me thrashing him at pinball!

What are your thoughts on ColdWaves and how you feel it differs from other festivals and events that you’ve participated in?

Heal: It’s special for me because we go back with Jason and Jamie from the old days. We toured a lot with Acumen and Acucrack, and I did both C-Tec and Cubanate with them.
I never got on with L.A., it gives me the creeps. New York, I liked. Seattle, yes. But I always felt bonded with Chicago. Mind you, these days, I don’t know if I could deal with the cold. Maybe it would have to be Austin – somewhere warm, with spicy food.
Plus, there are a lot of people at ColdWaves, which makes it fun for me. It will be funny to be playing live before Watts; last time Cubanate gigged with PIG was maybe 1994?

Barry: We were lucky to have toured with Acumen back in the day. Jamie was a lovely person and is greatly missed. ColdWaves is a fitting tribute to him; he would have loved to see Cubanate back in Chicago. I’ve liked the lineups at all the ColdWaves festivals – a good mixture of old and new, the kind of stuff I am into. There is also distinct lack of those horrible trance bands.

While the two of you have collaborated in the studio for some time, this live show seems to really solidify in many people’s minds the return of Cubanate – what is the possibility that it may result in new studio material from Cubanate?

Heal: It’s possible, but not likely until we’ve each finished solo stuff this year. Like I say, this is a test. We need some motivation to work together again; maybe ColdWaves will supply it.

Barry: No idea. Marc lives in Singapore, literally the other side of the world from me.

Heal: Easy does it. I’m still finishing my solo album this year. I’m excited about getting that done – new songs, a new sound. I think Phil has a new BME album in the pipeline too. So we have to figure if we want to do Cubanate, and more importantly, how?
I think the lesson I’ve learned from the solo album is to be led by songs, not simply a desire to do ‘something,’ anything because you think you ‘ought to.’ Regardless of the huge changes that have occurred in our own lives, just think that when Cubanate last played live, Bill Clinton was president. 9/11 hadn’t yet happened. No War on Terror. No selfies or broadband or iPods or Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. No financial crash. The Ramones and Joe Strummer and David Bowie were alive. Things have moved on.
It seems to me, listening to some of those old songs, that I was right. I saw that things were going to get mad, violent, and stupid. And now we’re where I predicted, there’s not much satisfaction.
So we’re doing the ColdWaves show because, although it’s a bit nervy, we just want to try it out; see if there’s a future. If not, no sweat. I wouldn’t want to force myself to do anything unless it was going to be fun. And I wouldn’t ask Phil to do it either.

Would you consider an actual Cubanate tour?

Heal: Depends how this one goes. It’s an experiment. By the end of Cubanate, I stopped enjoying touring, to be honest. These days, I suspect I’d have too much on my mind to relax, but I suppose it depends on where and who with.

Tell us about your feelings during the process of deciding a set list and assembling gear for the upcoming show.

Heal: I don’t know because we haven’t done it yet. I mean, we’ve sketched out a few set lists and I’ve gone back and listened to stuff; some of it I haven’t played in years… really, years. So, a bit of nostalgia, mostly thinking, ‘What was I on in the ’90s?’ But also, there’s some songs I’m looking forwards to doing live again.

Over the last few years, it seems that many groups and artists have begun to reunite and make music again, and ColdWaves has been a big part of that; if you had to guess, what would you attribute this to with regards to other acts – what do you feel is the imperative for band reunions?

Heal: A lot of the credit goes to Jason. He’s a persistent fellow and he’s good at twisting people’s arms. But I also think that it’s inevitable that when enough time goes by, people want to reexamine what they did.

Barry: Fans and promoters are the imperative for band reunions, aren’t they? The Cubanate albums have aged quite well, I think, better than a lot of stuff from that era. People want to hear those tunes again, which is nice. The other reason is nostalgia, which I have mixed feelings about.

Heal: I wonder too whether the spate of rock star deaths has contributed. I know that I’ve been more inclined to work at it since Bowie’s death. I keep thinking to myself, ‘Get on with it,’ because I don’t know how much time there is left.

Marc, yours is a very recognizable and singularly aggressive voice in music; are there any particular kinds of vocal exercises you like to do to help stay in key and keep from wrecking your vocal chords?

Heal: Actually, I find it quite natural. But it’s like exercise; you need to do it often. I was rusty when I sang on Compound Eye, but I soon got back into it. You can’t be too drunk before the voice suffers, I know that.
When I sing intensively, like on tour, the first date is fine; second and third can be rough. I’m a bit hoarse, but after that, I’m acclimatized to it. You need to be fit for it. It takes energy.

You worked with Raymond Watts on Compound Eye Sessions and on his Pigmata album (originally the WATTS album Pigmartyr). Are there any plans to work with Watts again in the future, or anyone else for that matter?

Heal: Love to, but I’m stuck out here in Asia. In any case, no point in pushing it. Raymond and I seem to form a brief alliance of convenience once every decade or so. In about eight years we should be well up for it again.
I think perhaps I needed to redefine myself before working with anyone else, including Cubanate. I feel I’m still warming up again after so long in silence.

You’ve successfully moved between creating music, producing television, and writing a book, is there anything Marc Heal isn’t capable of doing? When can we expect your art show and political office run announcements?

Heal: But it’s useful to switch between art forms. You should always try new things. Anyway, I only broke a long musical creative block by writing the book, and I only make TV for money, which is good because I can then do what I like in studio without ever caring about what anyone thinks or how I pay the rent.
Oddly enough, the isolation of being in Singapore has done me good. I’m where I always wanted to be – in a strange town, on an adventure, a pen and paper and a studio to hand.

Phil, your latest release with Be My Enemy was the ‘My Beautiful Psycho’ single – first of all, tell us about the song and what sparked its creation?

Barry: Actually, the song is over three-years-old and it started as an ‘All American Psycho’ remix, which then morphed into something else. Its creation? Charlie should have joined the army; they would have pinned a medal on him. The track is a free download, by the way. I also had a really old friend – Tom Badger, who works under the name of Nailed2Gether – do the artwork, which he then turned into a rather intense video.

In what ways do you feel it is representative of what directions the newer Be My Enemy material will take?

Barry: It’s not representative at all. It will not even make the new album. The new album is very eclectic. The last person I want to bore is myself. Actually, I’ve got some tough decisions to make about it all, which is good. Albums are snapshots of where artists are in their lives aren’t they? I am very happy with the material I have been working on, but I know it will confuse when it’s released. I think artists should take risks with their art, whatever it is. I don’t want to stay in my comfort zone and just produce the same album again and again, but with diminishing returns. What’s the point? It’s just product for product’s sake. Why bother? All my favorite artists and bands explore different emotions, sounds, and styles, and are interesting because of it.

While it is generally accepted that singles are still a good promotional tool, it does seem like more and more artists seem to be focusing on smaller releases – singles and EPs – rather than full-length albums. What are your thoughts on the album format?

Barry: The album format I think, is still for me the go to for any musician. Any band can shine for one song, but the album is the way to showcase if the band has any value. It’s the statement.

Heal: I still think that an album – 40-plus minutes of music – allows an artist to take you somewhere else in a way that is hard with just one or two songs. You can explore a theme, work variations on it. But with vinyl, there was a strong incentive to listen to a whole work, or at least one side. You might sit through a slower segment, allowing time for lows, then a build. Today’s culture and track-skipping technology demands instant gratification. Music is more mobile. People rarely ‘sit and listen’ like you used to do with a record player. It’s harder to hold attention. And artists abused the trust of fans by filling albums with padding. They don’t fall for that any more.

The last Cubanate album, 1997’s Interference had received some criticism at the time for its incorporation of drum & bass rhythms and textures in a departure away from the more techno-oriented sound of your past work. Now, drum & bass has come and gone and is now for many an inherent part of modern music (not just industrial/rock), so some would say that Interference was ahead of its time.
What are your thoughts on the way drum & bass progressed as a genre unto itself, and particularly as another ingredient in industrial/rock?

Heal: But the industrial scene never likes what you are doing now, especially if it’s something different. It always takes three or fours years for anyone to accept it.
On Interference… well, as soon as techno became mainstream, we were looking for a way to make things more extreme. The fragmented, splintered breakbeat sound seemed to suit the Cubanate mood at the time.
I don’t really care about genres, I try to steal whatever I like and make it my own. Don’t chase after a scene (unless you are right there, at the time). Steal and fuse it with your own vibe, make it your own.

Barry: When a new genre starts, it’s all fresh and very exciting; then, around 10,000 bedroom producers flood the market with slightly different copies, never saying anything new. Every time I go on one of those dance music charts, I listen to some stuff and get bored very quickly; same with a club. Perhaps it’s my age, but it doesn’t interest me anymore. Again, I ask, ‘What’s the point in this?’ In my opinion, the best two drum & bass albums were Roni Size’s Reprazent and Goldie’s Timeless from 1997 and 1995, respectively; great songs and loads of experimentation. They are great albums that happen to be in the style of drum & bass. Has there been anything interesting in that scene since? Not that I have heard. No doubt some people will argue differently but those two artists were huge in the late ’90s; household names. No one has reached that popularity since.
Because I have gone through all the Cubanate back catalog recently to get stuff ready for the retrospective, I heard a track we did before Interference, which was never released – a 4/4 tune. It’s absolute garbage! I suspect that’s one of the reasons we went down the path we did. I don’t think Interference was ahead of its time; it was of its time. It’s just everyone else in industrial in 1997 was stuck in 1990.

What styles of electronic music do you find exciting right now?

Barry: Ambient always interests me. Love that new Sequential track ‘Haumea’ and the video that goes with it is beautiful. Love some of Alva Noto’s work. Gazelle Twin is Genius. Perc is doing some interesting techno; he is obviously inspired by classic industrial like Throbbing Gristle, which is nice.

What do you see or would like to see as the next step in the evolution of technology – not just in music, but overall – and why?

Heal: Definitely closer coordination between brain and creative output. We are already at the stage where we can (still imperfectly) enable control of artificial limbs from thought impulses. That will find practical effect in creativity – eye control of software, possibly even thought generated tonality, even in my lifetime. Virtual reality is in its very infancy.
But more profoundly, we are reaching a point where humanity itself will become networked. It will change the nature of individuality – is already doing so, in fact. That will make the species virtually immortal. The private life will virtually cease.

Barry: The virtual reality thing is finally happening after what seems like an age waiting for it; there are so many exciting things happening there. I would like to see a Total Perspective Vortex built. I’ve a list of people, mostly politicians, who should be plugged into that. Other than that, to paraphrase Bill Hicks, it’s time to explore the Universe, inner and outer.

Similarly, what would you like to see as the next evolution in the way musicians engage audiences in the live environment?

Barry: It’s always been difficult, that one, making electronic music interesting live. I don’t have any answers really. Incorporating more video is one option, which is what people are doing anyway.

Heal: I don’t see the need for any fundamental change and I don’t think audiences are demanding it. Keep it raw. Watching a band let rip on a stage has worked for thousands of years. Where’s the impetus for something different?

What other new music are you working on now that you’re willing to share with us?

Heal: I’ve got a solo album coming out, hopefully this year. I’m about halfway through. I’m very pleased with the songs. It’s a new sound. As a working title, I call the album The Hum, after that mysterious noise that people hear – odd frequencies. No one knows what causes it.

What can we expect from the solo album? How is it different from your previous work?

Heal: Well, I had bashed my head against a wall so many times and I wasn’t happy with what I did. Started to realize that what I was doing wrong was trying to make Cubanate Mk537. And of course, it wasn’t me anymore. I don’t drink. I don’t go out clubbing. It felt fake.
At first, I thought, ‘Oh well then, I’ve nothing left to say in this genre.’ But then I started to look around and realize that if you are into dark music, and I am, there was a rich creative seam to be mined from being here, our East, and from what was going on around me. Because in a way, when you are young, the things you sing about aren’t real, are they? You want to live wild and party hard and get your heart broken? Well, that’s fine, because you can. And if you later decide to get a job, you can. And you’ll meet someone else. You’re powerless and puzzled and pretty, but really, everything will be fine.
But later on… divorce, suicide, bankruptcy, death, dealing with money and power. Suddenly I realized that this is my home territory. So suddenly, off I went. Musically, it’s more electronic, stripped back, slower. It’s gothic, in the proper sense – big, dark stories. It feels right. The first time I’ve been able to say that in a very long time.

There is a new Be My Enemy album in the works?

Barry: Yes, I am about 80% finished. I never put time pressure on these things so I have no idea when it will be finished. I have had Keef, Steve, and Debs involved in it this time around. Keef by chance moved 15 minutes down the road from where I live a few months ago, so we get together a fair bit. It’s good to have a fresh set of ears on what I am working on.

 

Cubanate
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Marc Heal
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Be My Enemy
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ColdWaves
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