Apr 2013 01

After their performance at Seattle’s monthly industrial night Mechanismus, Legion Within spoke with ReGen about their sound, their new line up and their upcoming tour with KMFDM and CHANT.

An InterView with William Wilson, Shannon Cole, Paul MacKusick, Aaron Nicholes, and Erica “Raven” Branch-Butler of Legion Within

By: Corinne De La Coeur (DarkIvyException)

In 2000, William Wilson formed the darkwave/industrial musical experience Legion Within. Recently, having signed with KMFDM records, recording Mouth of Madness and going on their first North American tour with KMFDM and CHANT, the band spoke with ReGen before the big tour about their unique, romantic sound and their relationship with industrial giant KMFDM.


Legion Within has a new lineup right now. How did the new lineup come about and in what ways has this affected the sound of the band’s music?

Wilson: What kind of depth would you like for the response on this one, Shannon?

Cole: Certain scenarios required the lineup change. I got some nerve damage in my fingers and it was not helping with the guitars, so I needed somebody to step in.

Wilson: Paul does all the heavy lifting with the guitar. Shannon can’t play right now for more about 10 minutes without his hand spazzing out. But he can still do all the soundscapes and the samples and all that stuff. Legion Within would not exist without Shannon, so I decided that we either had to get an additional member who could play guitar, or stop playing entirely.

Raven: He’s applying his senses to keyboard and his sensibilities are a large part of what makes Legion Within Legion Within. It’s the creepy, the evil, and if we don’t have the evil, it’s just not us.

Wilson: And we’ve known Paul MacKusick for years; he’s the heavy lifting, shredding guitarist. He’s a Cornish graduate.

MacKusick: I attended.

Wilson: Well, alumnus. I had always wanted to learn piano, and I started taking lessons from Paul. He was also doing a side project with Aaron Nicholes from Blackmoore County Picture Show and he agreed to sit in and try it out. The chemistry was there right off, but Shannon had ultimate veto power.

What did you think about hiring a new guitarist, Shannon?

Cole: What did I think of another guitarist coming in? Ugh! But I felt really good with Paul right from the start.

Raven: At one point, Paul and I had worked together, too. We were both in Salon Betty, but not at the same time.

Cole: He has a lot of history. He also sat in playing bass before Erica joined.

Wilson: While Shannon is healing up, we wanted to be able to do shows and stuff. And then when Shannon’s back in the saddle, we’ll have two guitarists and a synthologist!

Cole: We’ll open up synth/drum pads for anybody to rotate back to. Onstage, we really leave no member behind unless they’re total douchebags. We trim the fat.

William, has the association of having now appeared on two KMFDM albums and being signed to the band’s label influenced Legion Within’s new musical direction?

Wilson: Well, I’ve learned a lot by watching the way KMFDM works, seeing how a band of upper-echelon success does it, and does it well. So I’ve just tried to incorporate that sensibility into my working relationships. Sascha (Konietzko) doesn’t take shit from anybody; if there’s a weak link in his chain, it’s removed. He’s a lovely guy, he’s super, super fucking nice, but if you don’t make the cut, you don’t make the cut. As a result, I think we’ve ended up with super top-notch people and they drill the material really hard and there’s no fucking around. People are ready and we’re not going to phone anything in, ever.

MacKusick: And that was the really nice thing about joining – I’ve only been in for a matter of months, and they’ve been together for 10 years. We just practiced so intensely three nights a week, just drilling the set that I felt really comfortable getting onstage tonight even though I’ve only been in a short time and it’s my first show.

Raven: Well, his first show with us. He’s been around forever!

Wilson: We played with his other band, Luminous Flux, years ago.

Raven: That was fun.

MacKusick: I’ve been in a lot of bands that nobody’s ever heard of… until now.

In what other ways, personal or professional, has the association with KMFDM been a benefit to how you approach your music?

Wilson: In what other ways?

Cole: Kicking us in the ass, for one thing.

Wilson: Motivational phone calls from Sascha. ‘So? Is your band mate going to be ready for this thing?’ I watched how he would drill his people, and so I picked up the staunch German work ethic, you know.

Cole: It’s nice to get a compliment from Steve (White) or Jules (Hodgson) on occasion too, so that’s motivational.

Wilson: They’re not afraid to insult; they will let us know when they don’t approve of something. It’s one of those things – if you associate with people who are a couple rungs higher than you, you aspire more. And so you know if you’re going to hang with those guys, you better fuckin’ dial it in. What else are you going to do, you know? Other than watch Netflix and eat Cheetos, which is my preferred leisure activity.

Legion Within started out with a very gothic/darkwave sound and it’s now leaning towards something heavier and more electronic and industrial. As more and more bands mix sounds and styles, what are your thoughts on the validity of those kinds of labels?

Wilson: You know, people always reference things with what they know, and I don’t really put too much credence in that. Goth kids are going to say we sound goth.

Cole: It really comes down to, in my opinion, that good songs are good songs. If you write good songs, even if you use sounds that fall within a category or not, you know that’s really not the point. The point is that we write the best songs that we can and just kick ass playing it and have a lot of fun doing it.

Nicholes: I don’t think we ever set out and said, ‘We want to be that genre.’ The music just comes about.

MacKusick: It’s just a matter of creating music that we like.

Wilson: I’m just a morbidly depressed individual. This is my therapy. This is my way to keep myself from… well, I’m not going to say that, because then someone will call us a bad influence. It’s a survival technique.

Raven: I think that we all have this plethora of influences, so what happens is we’ve all got this stark sensibility to everything and all of these different influences create something that, honestly, I think is a bit different than run of the mill stuff right now. It adds something.

Wilson: Aaron’s got an industrial jazz background, Paul’s classical, Shannon’s goal with music is communion with the sun.

Cole: Everyone’s really diverse and everyone brings a wide palette of influences in, and somehow we find a common denominator that we work from, and it just works out.

Raven: Evil is the common denominator.

Wilson: Raven’s obsessed with evil.

Raven: I do think the gothic scene right now could use a little more diversity and more influences.

Wilson: Less laptops, more music. Well, we actually use the laptop all the time for shit that’s arpeggiated that’s really difficult to replicate live. You can, but there are so many factors that could fuck it up. But the songs are usually driven by guitar, bass, drum. Then we do some programming. Aaron did a lot of the programming for the new stuff, Shannon’s doing a lot of the soundscapes. You need real instruments in there – I saw Combichrist about 10 years ago at the Vogue here in Seattle. It was Andy with a microphone and it was good, but it wasn’t exciting. It didn’t grab people. And then he came back to town with warpaint and drummers, and it was fuckin’ awesome. It was the live drums.

Cole: A laptop onstage just does not excite people.

Wilson: Given the nature of the music these days, you kind of need to have a laptop nine times out of 10, unless you’re a blues rock band or something. But you definitely can’t fall back on that. You can, but we don’t feel that you should.

Raven: We can do it without the backing tracks, actually. But they’re there to flesh it out and give it a fuller sound.

Cole: And it allows the live sound to replicate the sound of the CD to a much fuller degree.

Raven: But you know, barring the fact that it is still a live performance.

Wilson: I’ve been Milli Vanilli-ing this shit for years! No, why would I Milli Vanilli off pitch, huh?

If you had to describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before, what would you call it?

Wilson: I’d call it ‘dark moody rock’ or ‘dark electronic rock,’ maybe?

MacKusick: That sounds reasonable.

Raven: Evil!

Nicholes: I can throw adjectives out – dark, moody, danceable rock? But I don’t know.

Wilson: It’s hard to nail down because there’s a variety of stuff going on. Some of the stuff is definitely dance-y industrial, some of it is pretty rock, like the ‘Hand of God’ song.

You’ve touched on political and topical issues in your lyrics, which has helped to differentiate you from other, more traditional darkwave bands. Can listeners expect more of the same in your new music? What particular subjects are you connecting with in particular in regards to the new songs?

Wilson: Lyrically, on the new album, a lot of it is more personal and dark. ‘Hand of God’ was inspired by the Cafe Racer slayings here in Seattle, because we knew some of the people involved in that, and these people who sort of see themselves as sanctioned ministers of God’s will. They’re in a tragic place, but they view themselves as the smiter of man. Then there’s another one inspired by the fact that every woman I’ve ever dated in my life has had night terrors – I just attract them, I guess. They wake up screaming, and it’s not me, I swear to God! It just keeps happening. So the last new track we performed tonight is based on the night terror manifestations. People report having that heavy sensation, of not being able to move or speak or breathe… it’s like they have this swarming sensation of gloom and it’s just a recurring thing that happens to these people all the time. And I have my own personal theories about why these things happen, the sleep paralysis and the night terrors, and I don’t want to, you know, bark them at people. So I artfully worked them into a song that isn’t out yet. But basically, these guys craft the music and I say, ‘I like that’ or ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘that’s good,’ and sometimes I’ll bring in an idea and it totally per mutates or whatever.

Nicholes: I would say that’s something that’s pretty unique about us is that we all write the songs together. Usually, you bring in a bit here and a bit there and then you work it, but we actually come up with the bits all together in the rehearsal room. I’ll listen to the stuff over and over again and just wait for lyrics to come to me. I feel like the songs are pretty much there; it’s just my job to figure out what it is.

So you don’t write any lyrics beforehand? You wait for a song to be finished?

Wilson: I have journals for decades, so I’ll tap into that sometimes just to get me going and then I’ll kind of let the music dictate which direction it’s going to go in. It just takes its own form after a little while.

While you’re no strangers to performing live, what challenges are you finding in doing a full-scale tour?

Wilson: Gas… gas and a driver. We hooked up with this dude, Mike MacComber – an angel from heaven – who’s going to make sure that we don’t, you know, die on the road. And we’re just kind of working the pennies to make it. So if you come to the shows, for the love of God, buy merch! Just remember, it’s $4.00 a gallon and we get 8 miles to the gallon with the wind behind us, so… buy merch!



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