Cold as ever, but adopting a more mature songwriting mindset and a more dynamic range of production, Eric Gottesman brings ReGen into his world of supervillainy and industrial mania.
An InterView with Eric Gottesman of Everything Goes Cold
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Since the 2008 release of Prepare to be Refrigerated, Everything Goes Cold has played well into the echelon of modern industrial music; employing no small amount of sardonic humor but with a heavily distorted and guitar-driven sound that has placed them on the heavier side of contemporaries like Caustic and The Gothsicles, Eric Gottesman and his retinue of collaborators have gradually built on the band’s cold audio/visual style to bring listeners into visceral world all its own.
With the band’s 2014 album, Black Out the Sun, Gottesman took Everything Goes Cold into a new level of musicianship and lyricism. No less sardonic, but perhaps less humor-oriented and employing a more dynamic level of production, balancing crunchy machine rock with chiptune textures, Black Out the Sun and its following IAMERROR single have proven to be a significant stepping stone for the band, musically and conceptually.
Eric Gottesman now speaks with ReGen about the nature of the band’s cold sound, providing insight into the more satirical and downright cartoonish qualities that drive the music, particularly the nature of supervillains and their motivations, while also touching on the state of industrial music’s new wave, and what the future holds for Everything Goes Cold.
You’ve had a number of collaborators over the years, with drummer Mike Blodgett and live keyboardist Josh Ostrander contributing to the latest album, Black Out the Sun. In what capacity do your collaborators add to your creative process in the studio?
Gottesman: I don’t wind up taking a lot of creative input from the other guys. In theory, I’d like to, but it’s difficult the way that I write my stuff. Usually, by the time I’ve got a song ready to do anything with, it’s pretty firmly in there. Everyone has their role during the recording process – Mike was heavily involved in a lot of stuff this time because aside from doing the recording, he’s been a bit of my right-hand man. That’s been very helpful and cool. As the band’s lineup has changed over the years, I tend to fall back on one person or another; who that person is changes over time. When Conan Neutron was playing keys for us, I really leaned on him for his touring experience. When Josh was there I leaned on him a lot for his general way of dealing with people, and definitely as of late, Mike has been helping me out with everything that I can’t handle, which is a lot.
One of the most striking aspects of this album is that the humor that was present on past releases seems to have been diluted and the songwriting seems to take on, if you’ll forgive my using this term, a more mature mindset. Was this intentional?
Gottesman: All of the overt humor is gone. The last thing we did that was overtly humorous was ‘EBM/OGS’ on the The Tyrant Sun, and after that, I went, ‘Okay, that’s it; I think I’m done with that.’ Mature songwriting is a really good way of putting this. It took me a long time to get comfortable enough with my songwriting to feel okay about abandoning the humor. I think the humor was something I knew I was good at and could pull off. Humor is inherently less, shall we say, emotionally revealing than being serious. If you want someone to laugh at you, you don’t have to worry about someone laughing at you. So, I think now that this project has been going on for a long time and I’ve been writing songs in a semi-professional context for so long, I finally reached a point where I was able to really comfortably write an entire album of something serious and ‘mature.’ But also, I think that with the last album, I didn’t necessarily have a cohesive point to make other than ‘I really like industrial music.’
The last album being The Tyrant Sun?
Gottesman: No, no, I was referring to Vs. General Failure. The Tyrant Sun was sort of a prequel EP to the new album. But during the Vs. General Failure time period when it was much more humor-oriented, that album was about, ‘I really like industrial music, I really like these things about it, and I’m going to do an album that’s sort of about that.’ So lyrically, the content was… well, for example, ‘I’ve Sold Your Organs on the Black Market to Finance the Purchase of a Used Minivan.’ It’s a funny song; it’s satirical and to some extent, there was some point about healthcare in the United States and shit like that, but it was sort of about the violent themes in industrial music and what I like about them. So it was a way to talk about those themes without directly writing a song within the theme, because that doesn’t make sense to me. And I think that’s true of a lot of the funny, humor-oriented songs on that disc. They were about industrial themes without really being them. But there’s definitely continuity between that disc and the new one. They both fit within this basic concept of the supervillain trope taken in a serious way, or to its logical conclusion, thinking about it in more human terms and trying to eke out what the emotions and motivations of these characters that are very common in fiction, but would seem totally ridiculous in real life and nonsensical.
One thing that I noticed with the last disc is that some of the things I was doing that weren’t supposed to be obscure points were lost on a lot of people because I got a little too wrapped up in my own internal mythology. While there’s a lot of subtlety in both the songs and the artwork, I tried to bring out things that were important to me that I felt the general audience could pick up, like including these villain archetypes in the artwork to hopefully give people the right frame of mind to hear these songs and understand the mentality it was supposed to be about.
So it took me a while to get that out, and I knew I was planning on doing an EP before the album anyway, because that’s how we did the first album. We did Prepare to be Refrigerated and then Vs. General Failure, and I like doing that because I take a long time to write, and that way, we can prime the audience. With The Tyrant Sun, I had a lot of ideas; I knew I wanted to do that last humor-oriented track and I didn’t want it on the album because the album had a pretty firm concept already, and I knew I had an art idea with special packaging that we did the Kickstarter for. That all worked out for that reason. I started working on the full-length soon after, but it was hard to get going. I wouldn’t say because of the songwriting, but because I was changing how I approached sound. I had started getting into chiptunes – I had liked it before, but I got really involved in it during the time after the EP, and I knew I wanted to work the processes and ideas from that music into the album really closely and thoroughly, so I had a lot of songs that I left sitting while I relearned a lot of ideas about structuring sound. One big challenge was that most chiptune music has no vocals, and I’m sure people will hear that and say, ‘What about bands like Crystal Castles,’ which is a fair comment; those guys use a lot of 8-bit sounds and that’s cool and they were a great band.
And then there are bands like Bitshifter and Anamanaguchi and CrashFaster. Aside from the latter, those bands are very not vocal-oriented. What makes the genre what it is is that the vocals are replaced by these really heavily laid in chiptune leads, and so there was a big challenge in figuring out how to write the songs in such a way that I could get that feel of the super melodic chip leads and have it work with a vocal genre and style. I think the song that was the biggest challenge and came out the best was ‘When the Sky Rips in Two, You are Free,’ and when you listen to that, there’s a prominent chip lead – that’s a real Nintendo, a real NES.
Along with the more serious tone to the songwriting, the vocals seem to mirror that, employing more layers and less effects than in the past. Your voice in its natural tone seems to really shine on Black Out the Sun.
Gottesman: I should say that there were just as many vocal layers on the last album as there were on this one. The difference is actually that I stopped relying so heavily on effects. When I went in to do Vs. General Failure with Ted (Phelps) from Imperative Reaction, I had a pretty rigidly defined idea of how I wanted to address the vocals; I came in with examples and I wanted heavy choruses and distortions all over the place and things like that, and Ted knows my taste really well. So we did what I said and it came out how I wanted, but when I got to Chicago to work with Wade Alin, the producer on the new album, he was sort of like, ‘No, this is ridiculous. Let’s not do that. I’m going to mix these totally dry with a light compressor.’ That made me really nervous at first. I feel good about my vocals in general, but it’s industrial music – everyone expects a degree of processed sound. When everything came together, it worked really nicely and I think it brought out some of the cool things I did with the vocal arrangements. One of the first people to hear the whole album was Tyler (Newman) from Informatik. He liked it, but his immediate reaction was, ‘There’s too much vocal harmony. I can’t follow the melodies anywhere,’ which I thought was kind of funny – there is no one melody. I’d write three melodies at the same time and I didn’t want to necessarily drive one ahead of the other.
Interesting that while the album takes on a much more mature tone that the first track on the album, after the instrumental of ‘SL.R1S,’ is called ‘The Joke.’ Was this an intentional thruway from the past into what this album was going to offer conceptually? How did that work?
The other thing about it is that, in a more direct manner, the song is about abandoning the humorous side of things. It’s about not being taken seriously. One wouldn’t take Skeletor seriously; even the poor villagers of Eternia seemed like they were laughing at him in that show. But it’s a lot about that – trying to communicate through humor and failing to do so.
Everything Goes Cold has a very distinctive mascot…
Gottesman: (Laughs) Edgar. Yes.
Perhaps you could let us in on how Edgar came about and how he symbolically represents what Everything Goes Cold is about… I mean, beyond the obvious relation between cold and he being an angry refrigerator?
Gottesman: When I first started working on Everything Goes Cold, I had this idea about what the band was going to be. I had this band that went from 1998-2003 called C:/ and as humor-oriented as some Everything Goes Cold stuff has been, C:/ was much more. It was humor-oriented in the way the Gothiscles are, and like the Gothiscles, it was a serious project – I took it seriously. We did a lot of things I was very proud of, but it had the humor foot forward. When I stopped doing that because my bandmate Greg had moved away, I decided I was going to do this totally serious thing that was going to be all the sort of industrial stereotypes like Numb and 16volt and Hate Dept. and all those things I was into at the time, so I came up with this name and I released some remixes for Ayria (on the two-disc version of Flicker) and one for Unter Null (on the Sick Fuck EP). I released things under that name, and when the time came to put something out and do shows, I wasn’t feeling quite so serious anymore. I was fighting against my own instincts, trying to write this music that at the time just wasn’t me. But I already had the band name and didn’t want to abandon the work, so I wondered how to fit these things together. What could be less serious about Everything Goes Cold with this morose, dramatic band name? And I decided that an angry refrigerator robot was probably the best I could do with that, and I’m glad I came up with that idea. I was getting drunk with my friend Stitchmind, who’s the artist that designed Edgar, at some night club some night, and I’m explaining this issue to him, and I scratched out on a napkin a picture of Edgar. I had this idea in my mind of what he’d wind up like, and Stitchmind did an absolutely perfect job with it. He is very much the spirit of the project. So that’s how he came into being.
Given the guitar-driven nature of the band, I had wondered if the ‘cold’ aspect was also related in any way to coldwave?
Gottesman: No, it was! You are completely right. When I came up with the name Everything Goes Cold, I was like, ‘Well, American coldwave is very important to me,’ and this is 2003 when everyone was listening to Tactical Sekt and the first Psyclon Nine album, so there were no guitars anywhere and none of the stuff I really loved about that ’90s guitar stuff. Hate Dept. and Diatribe and Society Burning and Christ Analogue… that stuff was all gone and that was weighing heavily on my mind. I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a guitar-oriented project that was going to bring in a lot of that stuff. That is where the Cold comes from, but I had to bring it back around and make it jive with what I’m doing.
Mentioning Christ Analogue, Wade Alin produced this album. How did you come to work with him?
Gottesman: Well, that’s a good story. I’ve known Wade from when we’d gotten utterly destroyed at an afterparty for a Chemlab tour he was doing sound on, that was a crazy night. Myself and Tyler (Newman) and Gabe Shaw and Jason Bazinet.
I recall that tour; was that the one that Cyanotic was also a part of, around 2007 or 2008?
Black Out the Sun also contains a continuation of ‘Ice Brigade’ from Vs. General Failure. As each subsequent release seems to contain alternate or updated versions of songs from a past release, in what ways do individual songs relate to each other across each album?
Gottesman: When we did ‘Ice Brigade’ on the first album, it was supposed to be more of a centerpiece than it turned out to be. I wanted that to be an anthemic track that would hook people into the theme of the band, and ultimately, it turned out that it didn’t quite come out that way. The aspects of the songs that were important to me kind of fell to the background, but ironically, that sort of wound up playing into the character-portraying with the band very well. A lot of the themes in this whole supervillain thing have to do with failure and repeatedly trying something that doesn’t work, and having a song that was structured in that way… it became an idea floating around in my mind where the fact that it didn’t work out made me want to use it even more. I like albums that are full and have some coherence to them, so I knew that I was going to want to do some interstitials and when I was thinking about what I was going to do for them, I thought, ‘What if we brought that song back, but made it even less of what it was originally trying to be than it was in its original presentation?’ So I took away the dance-ness and the structure and the aggressiveness and brought it down to possibly the least important thing about the original song – I brought in the difficult, almost atonal lead line. I took the repetitiveness and drew it out to the point that the words lost their meaning by the time you got anywhere into the song, removed any semblance of melody from the vocals by pushing them far into the background. I actually had someone tell me recently that it was his favorite song on the album, which I found really funny because I had designed it around being a little inaccessible; not that I designed it to be not good, and I think that it worked out nicely. It brings the atmosphere back down after a lot of aggressive and more upbeat tracks, and I think I may even wind up doing it again and do a third part that addresses some other aspect of the concept of the original track, because it is so central to the original idea of the band. If you have the special edition of Vs. General Failure and you have the comic that came with it, there’s this whole thing where the evil underground ‘Cobra from GI-Joe’ organization that builds Edgar is the Ice Brigade – that’s what they’re called – and the original track was sort of their theme song. And that’s a sort of a very humor-oriented concept; very cartoonish, not something that easily plays into the more serious ideas I had on this album, so I liked the challenge of recontextualizing this track that was in no way serious to carry the serious ideas of the disc.
The Tyrant Sun was sort of a prequel EP to the album, so the songs on there were written with the idea of integrating into the album; ‘Iron Fist’ especially. That was sort of the single. You’ve got to put the single on the album, so that idea was there from the beginning. ‘Iron Fist’ was sort of a maximized version of the emotions I’m trying to convey in the album. It’s really the undirected, needlessly angry supervillain with – in that Skeletor-like way – no motivation. There’s no particular purpose in the portrayal of the character who’s speaking in ‘Iron Fist;’ he has no real reason behind this clearly out-of-control fury he’s got.
That reminds me of a segment on Robot Chicken with the parody of The Smurfs, in which Gargamel is called out on what he actually wants and says, ‘Actually, I’ve never really been clear on my motivations.’
The first track, ‘SL.R1S’ is another track that continues from a previous release…
Gottesman: Yes, I really wanted to mention why the alternate version of ‘Solaris’ is on there. One thing I didn’t hear a lot about (and I don’t know if people noticed on The Tyrant Sun) is that the chord progression for ‘Solaris’ is the same as the chord progression to ‘King of the Impossible.’ The whole thing ties together, and that chord progression is a very important progression to me, and I wanted that to tie in smoothly to the new album in a way that was interesting. So I took that progression from ‘King of the Impossible’ and reinterpreted it into ‘Solaris’ and then I had it drastically reinterpreted again for ‘SL.R1S’ on Black Out the Sun. I’m hoping if people listen to these things together, that chord progression will stick out and have that level of familiarity you need to latch on.
In adopting a less overtly humorous tone on this album, has it ever been a concern now or ever how people perceive your lyrics and themes?
Gottesman: Well, the greatest concern I ever had about someone misinterpreting something was on the first EP. On the song ‘I Will Harness the Powers of Darkness to Destroy You,’ there’s a line in the chorus – ‘I have the essence of evil on my side.’ Long after the song had been released and we were performing it live, I realized if you weren’t listening closely, it’d sound like I was saying ‘axis of evil.’ And this was 2008, so closer to that phrase being in the popular parlance, so I was really concerned about someone hearing that and interpreting it as being some sort of rightwing thing or something like that. I had a similar thing – I’m hesitant to mention because it’s such a difficult topic – ‘Crawl of the Nameless Beast’ on this album was originally named ‘Crawl of the Black Beast.’ I changed the title because I realized the way it was written, someone could easily think I was saying something about race, and it couldn’t be further from the topic of the song – it has nothing to do with it at all – and I realized the reason it felt like that is because there’s a lot of Lovecraft influence in there, and I was trying to use Lovecraftian terms and it’s come up a lot amongst my friend group that Lovecraft, as much as we all love him…
He was pretty obviously racist.
Gottesman: Yeah, he was absolutely a product of his time and place and it’s not just a backdrop of racism; it’s right out there.
It’s rather overt in a story like He or The Horror at Red Hook. And then there was the cat’s name in The Rats in the Walls.
Gottesman: Yeah, well, that’s not nearly the worst thing. He’s got tons of stuff that’s horribly, horribly racist. Like I said, product of his time. I spent a solid week toying with the title of that song trying to figure out how to get this horrible element out of it to not come off that way. I was really stressed out about it. It was at the very end of the album production that I suddenly realized, ‘Oh my God, this is awful.’ And it really does have absolutely nothing to do with that at all, but I haven’t had anyone come up and say anything really misinterpreted in that horrible a way, but the thing is (and this is with the humor, too) I’ve always tried to keep the ideas of the lyrics open enough that people could listen to it and associate it with whatever they wanted and find something to identify in it. I think that’s how great lyrics and poetry and even fiction should be. You should be able to make your point on one level but leave it open so at the same time people can have these conversations about them, talk about their interpretations, and get something out of it that’s meaningful to them. One of the things that bothers me about industrial music sometimes, as much as I love it, is that most of our current generation of artists I don’t think are operating that way with lyrics, and I think it’s to our detriment. If anyone reading this remembers the old RMI FAQ, there’s a joke on there that lists one of the notes about industrial music. ‘If you like industrial music, don’t listen to the lyrics because you’ll probably be disappointed.’ And it’s funny because it’s really true. A lot of the lyrics in a lot of the music we really love don’t feel right. They don’t feel satisfying in the way lyrics to a lot of just crap pop music does. And in the process of developing my songwriting and trying to figure out how to be more serious, I spent a lot of time thinking about that and looking at songs outside of industrial music that were meaningful to me and why. And I realized that the songs with the best lyrics are the ones that are frequently most difficult to interpret, the most difficult to figure out what the artist was really getting at. In some cases I’d even go so far to say the more difficult it was, the better the lyrics. There are songs like ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’ by Echo and the Bunnymen, which have an insane mix of imagery that doesn’t go together and seemingly nearly violent lyrics on top of the sappiest sounding music ever. And it’s amazing and beautiful. So I’ve kept my stuff open in that same manner where you can listen to this album and think it’s about a relationship gone bad or something and it isn’t at all.
As you’ve been making your particular style of industrial and coldwave for some years, what are your thoughts on the current wave of resurgent bands adopting similar older styles and being heralded for it?
I have a funny relationship with the music from 3Teeth, because on one hand, that band put out this amazing album that I love. On the other hand, I’m frustrated watching the reaction to them because they’re doing the same kind of stuff that Cyanotic was doing a couple years ago, and people who were insulting Cyanotic and Left Spine Down and talking smack and being dismissive of that stuff are embracing 3Teeth because they have this great imagery and concept. I’m like, ‘Really?’ That bums me out a little bit. I would like people who are getting really into 3Teeth now to go back and look at similar awesome stuff over the last few years and pick that stuff up.
And you recently performed on the same stage as 3Teeth at Terminus and at the Coldwaves III festivals, and the live show does certainly add to that band’s musical appeal.
Gottesman: The thing that struck me as I was sitting there rocking out to 3Teeth was that I was going, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m watching Killing Floor or something,’ some old-school reconstruction band in the ’90s. For me, that’s super cool because I was too young to see those bands when they were actually around, but to hear people reacting to it by saying this is totally new and original… well, let’s not overstate what’s happening here. They’ve done this amazing job, and they’re super cool guys, and their imagery is awesome. I know everyone makes fun of all the triangle shit and the Unicode characters, but I really like it. It’s misusing technology. It’s an extension of the ideas that are important in this type of music. I think they’re a fantastic band doing great stuff with these older ideas, but I want to make sure the audience is aware they’re not unique in the way they’re thinking; there are all these other acts doing great things with the same kinds of tool kits and they shouldn’t get left by the wayside.
I feel like I’ve got to give a shout-out to ∆Aimon right now because that’s another band that always comes up in these conversations. They’re one of my favorite bands right now. They’re awesome guys who did a remix on our single for ‘IAMERROR’ that was incredible, and they just could not be a better band.
I’ve also got to give a shout-out to Terminus; they are doing an absolutely amazing job. I was extremely bummed about the end of Kinetik this year. I didn’t get to the first one, but I went to every one after and performed at every one and it was an incredible festival. I didn’t make it out to Aftermath, which I understand was fantastic, but Terminus just blew me away. Two years in a row they’ve had every band I wanted to see all at one time.
Besides performing at Coldwaves III with Caustic, you also recently embarked on a West Coast tour. What can you tell us about that, and what does the future hold for Everything Goes Cold to continue touring?
Gottesman: The band that worked on the first track on the new album, ‘SL.R1S,’ is a band called CrashFaster. They are a local band that are very much part of the chiptune scene in San Francisco and very much part of making those shows happen there. I sang on one track on their last album and one on their new one. We’re very close with them and we did a mini-tour with them from the end of August to the middle of September. We hadn’t played any full shows or toured in a long time, so that was really fun. If you like us, you will like them, and vice-versa. They are one of my very favorite bands and that was a really good time… man, what else can I say about that? We’re planning an East Coast leg early in the next year.
Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
If you haven’t checked out the Cryogen Second remix then you’re totally missing out because it’s the best thing on there! (Laughs) Eric Sochocki blew me away with this. I will go on record as saying that prior to a couple of weeks ago, while I very much like Eric, Cryogen Second was not my favorite band. But first he blew me away with this remix, and then he sent me an advance copy of his new EP, which (I hope he doesn’t get mad at me for saying this) is all the best things about Stabbing Westward or something mixed with modern industrial with all the sensibilities informed by the stuff we’ve talked about today and bands like ∆Aimon. It’s amazing and I cannot wait for everyone to hear it. Check that out. These other remixes – ∆Aimon did a remix of ‘Conquerer,’ and Die Warzau (another one of my favorite bands of all time) did a remix of ‘Iron Fist of Just Destruction,’ which they directly inspired that song existing. If you especially listen to the version on The Tyrant Sun, there’s this Latin percussion going on in the background, and that’s there because I was listening to Die Warzau constantly while writing it. So the fact that they came in and remixed it was just awesome.
I’m also currently working on the next album, so… there’s that.
Everything Goes Cold Website http://www.everythinggoescold.com
Everything Goes Cold MySpace http://www.myspace.com/everythinggoescold
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Everything Goes Cold SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/everything-goes-cold
Photographs by Matia Simovich, glitched by Morgan Tuckervi