Apr 2018 12

Finally laying the band to rest following the loss of singer Blayne Alexander with a final album, the surviving members of Los Angeles industrial/rock group Idiot Stare speak with ReGen about the band’s history, life in the L.A. scene, and what is yet to come from their future artistic and musical endeavors.
 

 

An InterView with Chad Bishop, Alan “Alien8” Premselaar, Bruce King, and Chad “Fin” Volpe of Idiot Stare

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Lingering in the Los Angeles industrial/rock underground for over two decades, Idiot Stare is a model of perseverance and tenacity. Even as the various band members have been involved in groups as diverse and as engaging as STG, Insight23, and UMag, Idiot Stare has carved its own darkly scathing niche in the scene, opening for the likes of Hate Dept., Babyland, and Kevorkian Death Cycle to name a few. The group has withstood every conceivable pitfall a band could endure, until suffering the most damaging and saddening blow in May of 2015 when vocalist Blayne Alexander passed away. As one can expect, this had left Idiot Stare’s future uncertain at best, until Chad Bishop called upon fans to contribute to a chant for a new track – a forceful protestive roar of “This Is Not Okay” that would be used in a new single, released in June of 2017, “Into the Dirt.” Cut to April 3 of this year, Blayne Alexander’s birthday, when Idiot Stare finally unveiled a new album, titled Enough. Continuing the band’s tradition of drawing on more personal and introspective themes that have broader ramifications, this album showcases everything that has been at the core of the band’s aesthetic, allowing the audience to draw its own interpretations, while laying the departed singer to rest with his final offerings of lyrics and vocals. ReGen Magazine is privileged to speak with Chad Bishop, Alan “Alien8” Premselaar, Bruce King, and Chad “Fin” Volpe as they weigh in on the band’s legacy and farewell as they lay Idiot Stare to rest.

 

You’ve said that Enough is going to be the final Idiot Stare album since it wouldn’t feel right to continue without Blayne; are there any concrete plans on your next endeavors? If so, what can you tell us about them and how you feel it will progress from the path you’ve led with Idiot Stare?

Bishop: I’ve struggled a bit with this one since Idiot Stare had albums out before Blayne joined, but to me, the band is kind of pigeonholed into a certain scene and time, and I want to move beyond that. Bands like HEALTH have come along that sound industrial but aren’t held back by ‘the scene.’ Industrial takes itself too seriously sometimes, and I want to be free of that. Alan and I had a techno project in the ’90s called UMag that we might release new instrumental tracks under… and iStare will continue to make our weird version of industrial, just under a different name. It’s a bit scary to have to make a fresh start, but it’s a bit liberating too. We’ll definitely miss Blayne’s vocals and lyric styles.

Premselaar: We’ve talked about closing the Idiot Stare door and opening a new one, and where that may take us. While I don’t think we have a definite direction yet, we know that we’re still committed to writing new music. I have to agree with Bishop though, sometimes the industrial genre is too pigeonholed and we want to explore a wider range of musical possibilities for ourselves. I think you can hear that in some of the tracks on this album.

Fin: Most of us in the band have catalogs outside the STG/iStare arena. While we all love this band and wish everything was different, we can’t control that and I’m sure we’ll all continue our various projects as well as continuing to find ways to work together.

The title Enough seems to evoke several different emotions. I know this is a bit of a loaded question, but how much of the album’s themes were in place prior to Blayne’s passing, and in what ways did they change afterwards?

Bishop: Blayne and I always joke that our next album was going to be our ‘party album,’ but we never got there. After the complete dismissal of Unknown to Millions by the scene, we figured we’d kind of had ‘enough.’ Then when Blayne got sick, it changed to, ‘Really God, haven’t we had enough down here?’ After Blayne passed, it changed to simply, ‘Yup, we’ve had enough of this.’

Were there ever any clashes in lyrical style or direction between Blayne and Chad, and in what ways did they manifest in the material, both on this album and on past releases?

Bishop: Blayne and I never clashed on musical material, ever. In fact, we strongly encouraged each other’s bad ideas. If one of us thought we could add a pop element into a song, the other would get totally onboard with it. It drove some of the other band members a bit nuts sometimes; ‘Are you sure you want to do this?!’ kind of thing. ‘Eye Candy’ is a great example of this. Or ‘NuFeel.’ It’s kind of punk rock in a way. Let’s see how pop we can get before everyone in the scene hates us.

Premselaar: While not a clash in style or direction, Blayne often wrote lyrics in a manner that was challenging to write music around, but because of that challenge, I think we’ve gotten some interesting results. The first, and I think my favorite, example of this would be the song ‘Saline’ from The Hate Cage album.

Bishop: ‘Saline’ is a great example as Blayne and I wrote that together long before we considered being in the same band. Insight23 has a version of that song as well (good luck finding a copy!) and it’s totally different than ours.

I’m glad you mentioned ‘the scene,’ and I would agree that the trappings of it are frustrating… especially considering it’s a scene that is a literal melting pot of different ideas, lifestyles, viewpoints, musical genres, etc. I’ve always loved the lyric ‘Just a fucking scene, but it’s all we’ve got.’ Since you mentioned HEALTH (and as we’ve seen ColdWaves champion new acts and give them a platform for ‘the scene’ to hear and see these new bands), let’s talk about the new generation and what you feel they are bringing to the table creatively and what ‘the scene’ can and should learn from them?

Bishop: Regarding the scene, I single out HEALTH specifically because everything about them is industrial; they should be a pillar of the industrial scene, but because their vocals are soft and melodic, they’re completely excluded… which I think is silly. There’s this whole parallel art-core scene in L.A. and they’re lumped in with that instead, and it’s arguably way more popular, even though to me, it largely sounds the same. I guess vocal styles really are that polarizing. So to me, ‘the scene’ needs to get over itself and its musical snobbery. Also, the scene needs to get over its obsession with how people look. HEALTH doesn’t wear black or look like riverheads, so they must not be industrial. I’d love it if the scene got over its obsession with fashion and just focused on good music, but it’s never been about the music, really. It’s always been about the pretty boy front men. Even STG benefited from that. People liked us 30% for the music and 70% for Shane and David’s mohawks.

Fin: I’m probably our most active member in the current ‘scene’ as I do the most clubbing and constant performing with my non-musical interests. It’s a sad shame the state of the scene is in, but I still remember the ’80s. Nothing is any different. It’s still ‘play nice with the popular kids or else.’

The band hails from Los Angeles, which has always been a hotspot for music, although the industrial scene seemed to explode with several new bands in a short period – Youth Code, 3TEETH, 9Electric, The Black Queen, etc. What are your thoughts on the music scene in L.A. now and in what ways do you feel Idiot Stare has both stood out and been exemplary of it?

Bishop: Total honesty time here – I’ve maybe been out to see a band three or four times over the last 20 years. In the late ’90s, it was all about DJs here in L.A. and since the live band scene dried up, I got bored and stayed home. So, I’m not really qualified to answer this question. To me, the industrial scene has been all about what I can find on Spotify that’s interesting, and in the industrial scene, that’s not much. I really dig bands like HEALTH that are from L.A., but not really in the scene. Having said that, I have seen Youth Code and thought they brought a lot of that ’90s vibe back. They remind me of Babyland a lot – totally raw. I enjoy ‘Anagnorisis;’ that’s a strong track with a lot of energy. Of the rest of the bands you listed, I’ve only heard of 3TEETH, which I checked out but haven’t given enough time to. The others I’ll need to check out.

Fin: My thoughts on the current scene are twofold. On the one hand, there are some really exciting things happening by kids/bands that have no idea what came before them. And on the other hand, we have a lot of cheaters running things with DJ software onstage, so they’re always ‘perfect.’ I’ve personally witnessed this with my own eyes. I won’t name the band or the software, but it was DJ software; the band wasn’t playing, at least not entirely. When STG and Idiot Stare first happened, the technology just wasn’t there yet for this kind of cheating. Sure, there were backup tapes and later MP3 players playing along with some bands, but the musicians still had to play their instruments. And we always did.

Babyland, thank you… I was trying to remember that in a past conversation.

Bishop: STG played lots of shows with Babyland. Great guys and what they did was pretty ahead of the curve. Their live shows were always impressive.
Anyway, back in the day when iStare was playing with Hate Dept. and Kevorkian Death Cycle all the time, we were the ‘rock & roll/metal’ band of the scene that always tried to bring the maximum energy to our live shows. These days, I think we’re completely under the radar of the new generation of fans. I’d be surprised if any 3TEETH fans even know we exist. We’re just not out there, and if we were, we’d probably be too ‘rock’ for them anyway.

Premselaar: Although I originally lived in the greater L.A. area, I moved to Tokyo in the early 2000s, so I’ve been out of the loop for quite a while. I’ve only heard of one of the bands you mentioned and then only heard one of their songs. However, having said that, while living in Tokyo, I met a few people that not only had heard of Idiot Stare but were fans. So, I guess we stood out from the L.A. industrial scene enough to get some worldwide recognition.

What would you say are the most important lessons you’ve learned – artistically or personally – throughout the band’s tenure? And that can include STG and Insight 23 as well… how do you feel you approach your music and art differently now than when you started?

Premselaar: Personally, I’ve learned that I work really well with this group and I really enjoy it. Since I lived overseas for a significant amount of my time with the band, it has really highlighted the challenges of collaborating remotely across time zones. We’ve always had a certain amount of distance between members and embraced technology early on to overcome some of those challenges, so in that context, we haven’t changed our approach much.
Interestingly enough, in 1994 a mutual friend was trying to introduce me to Bishop for the position of drummer for Idiot Stare, but he responded with, ‘He lives in Orange County? The answer is no.’ Later, I moved to the L.A. area to work with a different band and Bishop and I became friends. We started working on a side project together and in the middle of that, after I had moved back to Orange County, he inducted me into Idiot Stare, despite the distance. I spent a lot of time travelling back and forth between Orange County and L.A. County back then until we got the power of the internet!

Fin: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is this shit isn’t easy and it never will be. It’s a tremendous amount of work and effort.

The Idiot Stare Bandcamp only goes as far back as 2006’s Welcome to Babylon; are there any plans or possibilities of re-releasing earlier Idiot Stare material through Bandcamp or some other outlet?

Bishop: All the old stuff is on CDBaby and iTunes, etc., so it’s available. It’s not on Bandcamp yet simply because I’ve been too busy with real life to set those albums up there. I should do it.

Personally, while it’s wonderful to have several different outlets to release music digitally (and with physical options), it does get boring for me to constantly read about how one outlet is worse than all the others (i.e. Spotify doesn’t pay the artists enough, etc.).

Bishop: No kidding. People have forgotten that the major labels were all assholes in the ’70s and ’80s. Now we just have different assholes handling the money.

On the broader spectrum, what are your observations on the state of music – not just the business/industry, but as an art form? What do you feel has yet to be explored?

Bishop: That question is a lot deeper than I actually think about music. I just don’t have the cycles to worry about what’s next in music or where it should be going. I will say that it’s an amazing time to be both a music fan and a producer. There’s so much great music out there online; you just have to search for it a bit. It’s the same with putting music out – just finish your work and you can put it out to the world so easily.

To get outside of music for a bit, what are your interests outside of music, and what are some pursuits that you’d like to explore that you’ve not yet had the opportunity to?

Bishop: I used to road race motorcycles, which was a great way to get up close and personal with danger without using drugs. Now I’m into the moto rally scene a bit, but the past decade has been all about my new family and raising my kids. So, unfortunately, kind of boring for a music fan/audience. Parenting is by no means boring, but they aren’t the kind of stories that music readers are going to be into. ‘So not rock & roll!,’ Blayne used to say. He’d jokingly mock me for not wanting to be a rock star anymore, which is totally true. I just want to record music with my friends and put it out to the world. I’m kind of done with the rock & roll alcohol abuse and girl chasing. Obviously, that world isn’t for me anymore.

Fin: The whole band insist this one’s for me. Though I’ve been playing classical piano since I was six, my life’s greatest pursuit has always been to never be bored! I’ve been a serious martial artist for more than 30 years. I’ve been very active as a performer in the Renaissance Faire community for 25 years. And I’m a professional Japanese rope bondage expert with more than 10 years experience as a tie-er of people – performer and teacher (Instagram @rope.by.sir.fin). I’m always discovering new ways to avoid my real world responsibilities.

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 that quote up… industrial and heavy electronic music has often been rather politically focused, and there does seem to be a resurgence of that with the current state of the world; what are your thoughts on this? Idiot Stare, in my estimation, has seemingly held a more personal outlook rather than political, but how much would you say it has affected you and your music?

Premselaar: For me personally, I don’t write music or lyrics for other people. I write it for myself. I may write to express something I’m observing or feeling at the time, but not in an effort to move people. If people are moved by what I write, it is solely because they choose to be moved. Additionally, there are often times that what I write lyrically is extremely sarcastic or may have the exact opposite meaning of common interpretations. This can often be understood through context and nuance, but if you read the lyrics ‘as-is,’ then one can often completely miss the point.

Bishop: The quick answer here is that I table all that shit for STG, which is more of my (and Bruce’s) political platform band, even then though we’re not behind a particular movement. ‘Shut It Down’ was more about pointing out how that whole thing, from every angle, simply sucks right now. And, of course, Blayne has never been political; not with I23 or iStare. Blayne was extremely introspective and (pun intended) insightful. He just saw the world through relationships and human dynamics and wrote about things through that lens. I can walk the line between both styles of writing, but by the time iStare came along, I felt like being political was a bit pointless and played out. We said a lot of stuff in the ’80s and ’90s and nothing changed, so let’s focus internally. Of course, now is definitely the time to voice political concerns again, but how to do it without being exclusionary or cliché is key.

This is a bit personal, but is there a story or memory about Blayne, perhaps something his fans may not have known (not too private, obviously) that you’d like to share?

Bishop: Blayne lived in a place we lovingly called ‘Blayne’s World.’ He would just decide things, and that’s the way they were, even if his version of reality was totally off base. Of course, he slept with every girl he ever met, which wasn’t far from the truth, but he always took it that bit further. Oddness would show up at rehearsals too. There were several incidents where he’d decided that the bridge in a certain song was 16 bars, but the rest of the band remembered it as 32 bars. We’d be like, ‘Whatever, fine, it’s 16 bars then,’ but he’d literally go into a rage because we didn’t remember things like he did. His fits would be so over the top, it was comical. He’d always get over it though.

Finally, this is a question my brother came up with that we sometimes affectionately refer to as ‘the ReGen question.’ it’s the end of all things. The sun is the size of a red giant and about to swallow the Earth. You’re standing on a precipice about to see this star envelop you and destroy the Earth. What’s running through your mind now?

Bishop: It’s a boring answer, but I just hope my kids have figured out a way to survive.

King: I’ve played all the cool clubs in Hollywood, been on a national tour, and people all over the world have heard my music and watched my TV shows. This was fun. At least I’ll miss the drooling years.

 

 

Idiot Stare
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Photos provided courtesy of Idiot Stare

 

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