An Interview with kAINE D3L4Y, Jeremy Inkel, Matt Girvan & Galen Waling of Left Spine Down
Signing to the eminent electro/industrial label Metropolis Records for their sophomore album, Canada’s iPunks warn audiences to heed caution as they charge forward.
by Ilker Yücel
The quartet of kAINE D3L4Y, Jeremy Inkel, Matt Girvan, and Galen Waling – collectively known as Left Spine Down – blazes forward with a new album that shows them further evolving their style and sound. The band’s debut releases, the Smartbomb EP and the full-length Fighting for Voltage, both released via their own Synthetic Sounds/Entertainment imprint, presented listeners with a raucous and technological style of punk music; fast and aggressive, yet melodic and forward thinking. Obtaining distribution with Bit Riot Records, subsequently releasing two remix albums, and embarking on two North American tours alongside industrial rock luminaries Revolting Cocks, 16volt, and Chemlab, Left Spine Down has in a few short years become one of the hottest new acts in the underground electro/industrial scene.
Now signed to Metropolis Records and undergoing a lineup change that has pared them down from six to four members, Left Spine Down has released their sophomore album, Caution, unveiling a concise set of songs that evolve their iPunk into new areas of melodic electro/industrial energy. Now poised to cast a wide net across the underground music scene by incorporating different musical modes and refined musicality, ReGen speaks with the Vancouver quartet on the development of their music and what the future holds for them.
There have been a number of changes Left Spine Down has undergone since the release of Fighting for Voltage – signing to Metropolis Records, the lineup changing from a six-piece to four, Dave ‘Rave’ Ogilvie coming on board as producer, not to mention the musical developments…let’s start with the lineup. The previous album was not recorded necessarily with the full six-piece band at that time. However, as you’ve been performing in the current configuration for a little over year, how did the paring down to a four-piece affect the outcome of the album from a writing and performance standpoint? In what ways was working on Caution different from Fighting for Voltage, just from the band’s perspective?
D3L4Y: Well, for starters, getting all the members of this band together to do anything under the same roof at any given time is like herding cats, so it basically became easier with less cats to herd. I don’t think it really changed the way we made the record, though; it was still primarily Jeremy, Matt, and myself, with Galen on drums and a few others involved in the studio process. Fighting for Voltage was written over the course of quite a number of years, being our first album, whereas these songs came much quicker. We also decided to try a lot of different things and approach the recording of Caution with new experiments and tricks. We actually even brought in outside musicians, lushing certain songs with piano and live strings this time around.
Inkel: In all honesty, at first we tried to get the whole band working on songs, but it proved very hard, and when you get lineup changes happening, the focus becomes blurry. The only song on the album that reflects the live band is the song ‘Overdriven.’ Everything else is a result of myself, kAINE and Matt. Galen came in much later in the picture. Rave came in as a creative element five months before the album was mixed, and he really spiced things up in the studio and challenged us to do new things.
Waling: Everything is a lot more streamlined now since being a four-piece, which has thusly made everything for focused and finely tuned, as I’m sure also reflects on the writing of Caution.
Girvan: Yeah, Fighting for Voltage was just kAINE, Jeremy, myself, Jared (Slingerland), and it is possible Denyss (McKnight) may have played bass on one track. I could be wrong. And all the drums were all programmed. From a writing standpoint, I think it was a classic example of not having too many cooks in the kitchen: less egos to satisfy, which also means more progress is made and we can move on to the next task much quicker. This album was pretty different from that due to the fact that we actually went into a studio to track drums, the guitars were amped and mic’d, and it was mixed on a full on SSL console instead of mixing in the box (within a computer).
This lineup embarked in the United States for the MIDI Ghetto tour in early 2010. How did that experience contribute to the band’s approach in writing and recording Caution?
D3L4Y: By this point, we knew the album was going to be titled Caution. Honestly, by the RevCo tour, we really started using caution tape on stage a lot, and throughout the MIDI Ghetto tour I started decorating my bullhorns and mic stands and even myself in caution tape. Jeremy likes to write on tour, as do I. Many experiences and thoughts climb in your head, and when you spend hours on a bus or a van getting from one town to the next, it can be quite productive to jot it all down. It’s pretty funny actually; ‘Troubleshoot,’ the album’s opener, was written on one of our tours with SNFU in 2008. When we get home, we review each other’s work and begin jamming on them, and Jeremy presented the demo to me and I had the perfect set of lyrics for them in my notebook written on the very same tour. ‘From Thirty to Zero’ was a conceptual idea I had on the RevCo tour, and we ended up fleshing it out over the winter after the MIDI Ghetto tour. We’ve also become much more solid after being on a tour. Matt’s guitar style has definitely improved over the years, Jeremy’s stage presence is as energetic as his playing, and my voice has become used to yelling every night, so I’ve been much more comfortable coming up with a new approach to singing on this album. Galen being in the band also contributed to the album. His playing style and attitude complemented the band appropriately, and you can definitely hear him on this record, solid as a rock, playing like he’d been in the band forever. We put our drummers through what we call Drum Camp. We’d place the drummer behind his kit, strap on a headset with a metronome clicking away into his ears, and not let him out of that seat until he sounded good. This could take months or weeks or days, depending on the drummer. Galen practiced for a week solid and jumped on the MIDI Ghetto tour bus with us. So basically his Drum Camp lasted six weeks, on and off the road.
Inkel: I think the MIDI Ghetto tour lineup simply solidified us as a new four-piece band and got us ready for what we are about to do.
Waling: The MIDI Ghetto tour gave the four of us a chance to really solidify as the band we are now from playing as many shows as we did.
Girvan: The MIDI Ghetto tour…I think the whole 16volt/Chemlab experience definitely made an impact on us somewhat, resulting in a rockier record.
On Fighting for Voltage, you had the distinction of working with Chris Peterson of Front Line Assembly, Decree, Delerium, etc., a legendary figure in the industrial/electronic music scene. Now on Caution, you’ve worked with another legend, Dave ‘Rave’ Ogilvie. First of all, how did you come to work with Ogilvie on this record, and what prompted the decision to work with him this time around instead of Petersen? Secondly, in what ways have you found Ogilvie’s production style to differ from Petersen’s? In what ways have his methods affected your outlook on or method to your music, and how is Caution exemplary of that?
D3L4Y: Chris Peterson was an incredible mentor and really helped us shape our sound on Fighting for Voltage. And that, honestly, was half blind luck, half tactful decision on our part to bring on one of the noisiest radicals this scene had to offer to produce it. We wanted his wall of sound effect; he truly is the Phil Spector of industrial. I think ‘Last Daze’ had like 17 guitars on it. With Caution, we wanted to experiment with melody and dynamics a bit more. We had several producers in mind, as well as a few offers, and when Rave’s name came up, it made sense for us to take him on board. He’d been sniffing around us sneaking into shows and checking us out for years, and he then began working with Jeremy on some Jakalope stuff. Once he had an initial meeting with us and heard the demos for Caution, he immediately jumped on board, excited and bursting with ideas and approaches to the album in a way that almost made him a member of the band for a while. He really got his hands dirty on this record and it shows. We also for the first time mixed the album on a real SSL console at Vogville Studios. Rave’s most comfortable in that environment, and sonically it came out a lot warmer than mixing digitally. Rave also taught us to not be afraid of showing a vulnerable side to the group’s sound. Caroline Sullivan’s Melody Maker review of Depeche Mode’s ‘Shake the Disease’ comes to mind: ‘Football hooligans as sensitive wimps.’
Inkel: Rave came to some of our shows, and I started hanging out with some of the Jakalope kids as well. Then, when the time came to hire a producer, he just seemed like the right fit, and he was. Peterson was not on this album due to his getting married and moving out of Vancouver for a while. As well, we wanted to go a different direction, and I find working with different people can change the flavor, which is important to me. I’m sure you will see us and Chris together again at some point. Well, they are both completely different artists. Chris comes from a more electronic background, and Dave has more of a rock background. Rave focused more on the songs then the technology. He would come over to my house almost every day, and we would work on the songs in my studio, really focusing on song ideas and structure, trying to do new things. Both Chris and Rave are talented in their own ways.
Waling: Jeremy had the hook-up with Rave. He was a lot of fun to work with, had some amazing stories, and really just clicked with the group like he was a part of the band. He put his own touch and feel on the record, which is always amazing from a legendary producer like Rave. I think we will probably use Rave for the next album, too, but I’d like to see Peterson in the fold, as well. In my personal opinion no one mixes drums better than Chris Peterson, and if we had him and rave working on album with us together, we would have instant gold.
Girvan: Rave is part of our network of people who all kind of know each other or work together or know this person or that person, so it was only a matter of time before that happened, if you ask me. He’s got his own style, that’s for sure. He’s got a bit more of the spit-polish thing going on, although we did have more to work with this time around in regards to production and technology. Peterson is true to his hardcore style, and he was the perfect fit for an album like Fighting for Voltage; the songs themselves are so abrasive. It sounds the way it’s supposed to, and Peterson is directly responsible for that. He got it. He understood the songs and how to present them, and the album as a whole benefited from him.
Left Spine Down has signed with Metropolis Records for the release of Caution. While the band was briefly signed to WTII’s Bit Riot Records offshoot, that seemed more of a distribution deal for Fighting for Voltage, which was self-released. How did the band come to sign with Metropolis and how has this new association benefited the band so far?
D3L4Y: We’ve wanted to hook up with Metropolis for ages. I think Dave Heckman (Metropolis’ president) wanted to see us establish ourselves a little more, and I think by the time he saw us on the MIDI Ghetto tour, he saw a side of the band he liked, and upon much persuasion from Jeremy and Mark Sommer (Synthetic Sounds/Entertainment), we sealed the deal.
Inkel: Well, I’ve been working with Dave since I started working with FLA seven years ago, so we already knew each other. It was simply a matter of a phone call and giving him the album. He wanted to see that we tour and work hard, and we proved that to him over the last few years. LSD is not a normal band for Metropolis, I’d say; we’re not EBM or industrial, really.
Waling: Metropolis has helped push our name a lot more since they have so many connections in the industrial/electro scene. Also with a larger distribution deal from them, we are in more stores, digital sites, etc., which we can only benefit from.
Girvan: Basically, I suppose that all boils down to Jeremy’s involvement with FLA, our steadfast approach to artistic progress, and our constant harassment of Dave to be a part of that label. It’s actually been one of those things we’ve talked about as a younger band, you know. ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be crazy if we end up putting out an album on Metropolis someday?’ And then through perseverance and hard work — and a really good set of songs — it actually happens.
What are the immediate plans for the future with the label?
D3L4Y: We hope to work together on a multitude of things — videos, remixes, touring, etc. — but at this stage, it’s hard to say what will happen next. We’re just really excited to be on board and wish the best for all parties involved.
Inkel: To tour and sell records!
Waling: The future is going to hold touring, touring, touring to push the record as far as it can go.
What have you found to be the major benefits to signing with an established label like Metropolis versus releasing the music yourselves?
D3L4Y: Having the label logo on our record is kind of a weird branding of sorts; the general public takes us more seriously now that we’re on the same label as many other acts in the scene. The accessibility of our music is most important to me, though. I want people to be able to go to a real record store and buy Caution, I want people to easily download/order it online, I want to hear it in record shops and – dare I say it – Hot Topic. It’s most important to me that Metropolis can meet the demands of the fan. This makes it much easier for us to focus our energies on touring, writing new material, and trying new things.
Inkel: I’m not sure. Ask me that in a year.
Girvan: I don’t even know where to start. It’s like apples and oranges, really. Distribution in today’s market is such an asset, and the DIY thing can only do you so much before you start to burn out. Having a company such as Metropolis behind you not only helps you get out there, but they also have you step up your game and represent.
Caution seems much leaner and more straightforward in terms of the track listing – none of the ‘Tape’ segues or interludes. As well, there seems to be a greater emphasis on melody, particularly with regards to the vocals, for while the music is no less aggressive, there seems to be a great balance between this melodic singing style with the punkish shouts that dominated much of your past work. Similarly, the arrangements are much more ambient, some of the songs slower and more introspective, with some acoustic guitars appearing, as well. What was the thinking behind these changes, or was there any?
D3L4Y: With the slower songs, they just kind of happened. None of us had a meeting and decided, ‘OK, let’s write a ballad.’ We just liked what we heard and kept working from there. As far as the vocals were concerned, both Jeremy and I had agreed the shouting, punky vocals were great for the last record, but with Caution as a whole being a lot more melodic, we wanted to take a different approach to the vocal delivery. ‘Overdriven’ was probably the first song I wrote for the record, and vocally, I deliberately pushed myself to hit notes and ranges I’ve never been able to hit before. It took me a lot of time and perseverance to get it right. Both Jeremy and Rave really coached me on this album to hit every possible harmony until we could weed through them all and pick the ones that sounded best. I imagine there are well over 50 vocal takes on each song off Caution. As far as arrangement and instrumentation is concerned, we wrote the songs and then decided on embellishing them with acoustic instruments because they sounded appropriate. It all came very naturally, really; for example, Rave decided ‘Troubleshoot’ should have a string quartet, so we got our friend Meghan Engel to come in and do the whole thing. The ‘Tape’ interludes are there still, hiding behind every other track on Caution. If we were to title them, I’d call them Films now. The whole interlude session for this album had a very Ennio Morricone, eerie crime film soundtrack kind of feel to it.
Inkel: I think we just let it happen. It wasn’t a matter of forcing it. We wanted this record to sound how it is, and I think over time as a musician you want to get more musical. I think doing Fighting for Voltage Part 2 would be predictable, and I hate the idea of only doing one thing. I think it was a lot more work, but everything just felt right. We wrote lots of songs that didn’t even make the cut.
Waling: This album I think is true LSD. A first album is almost always just that: a first album, a band trying to find their sound and voice. With this album, I believe we have found our sound and voice and honed it down to a nicely sharpened razor blade.
Girvan: I’m not even sure if the change was purposeful. It seemed very natural to me anyway. I’ve always, in my own personal tastes anyway, leaned towards ambient-ish, often acoustic, or mellower tunes. But Jeremy and kAINE are into that kind of style as well. I think it has just been a bit more defining for my own tastes, especially lately. This record more directly reflects not only my own personal music tastes, but more importantly represents just how musical Left Spine Down actually is. I mean, so far, musically speaking, we’ve really just shown people a small part of what we’re into.
As on your past album, your musical themes seem to touch on sociopolitical topics, apocalypse, fear of government and technology. In what ways do the themes explored on Caution contrast with the previous album, and how is the title Caution indicative of that? Also, there is a certain element pertaining to cars and speed in the song titles. What is the reason for this, and how does it pertain to the themes you’re touching on?
D3L4Y: In ways, those topics you mentioned are still touched on this record, but I do admit it’s a lot more subtle. I always found it funny that while songs like ‘Welcome to the Future’ and ‘U Can’t Stop the Bomb’ are clearly sociopolitical, I have more often than not written from a personal perspective, yet nobody really notices that at all. Songs like ‘Last Daze,’ ‘Fighting for Voltage,’ and ‘Hang Up’ were written about or around personal issues and topics I had going on in my life at the time, but a lot of people interpret it as songs with more of a sociopolitical theme, and I don’t mind that at all. In fact, I welcome other people’s interpretation of our songs, because it makes it that much more special to the listener. I often, as a music lover, take on meanings of my own when listening to songs, and I’m flattered others can relate to our music in that special way. Caution was written with that in mind, and its concept really helped lend us these criminal, radical elements like car crashes and gunshots and murder scenes to help paint the picture a little more. I’m sure all that time on the road writing had a lot to do with the vehicular theme running on this album as well.
Inkel: Both the albums when it comes to theme are very different, I think we felt that doing another political record would just be repeating ourselves. This album is more personal in theme and it hits closer to home, and it’s up to the listener to figure it out. The car songs are all kAINE; for a guy with no license, he sure likes to drive.
Girvan: Well, to me — and kAINE may feel free to interject — I wholeheartedly believe that constant touring (i.e., being locked up in a traveling vehicle full of freaking lunatics and psychos for months) has just a tiny bit of influence on this new theme, although songs like ‘Overdriven’ were written quite awhile ago. Not only that, but also an overdose of things like CSI and Twin Peaks! Crime dramas are off the hook these days.
Waling: It’s all in the album name. The first record, we were fighting to be heard or noticed, and we did just that with extensive touring. With the new album, we’ve been seen, we have been heard, and now you need to watch yourself, because the next step is taking over the world, so all other bands need to be cautious. As for need for speed/car themes, I’ll say what kAINE always tells me: ‘Shut up and drive!’