After six years in hibernation, Brainclaw is back with a new album set for a 2012 release. David Giuffre and Tara Lessard speak with ReGen about the band’s renewed vigor.
An InterView with David Giuffre and Tara Lessard of Brainclaw
By: Ilker Yücel
With the release of Insekt/Angel in 2004 and appearances on several compilations, including the widely popular InterBreeding series from BLC Productions, the electro/industrial scene was introduced to the duo of David Giuffre and Tara Lessard, collectively known as Brainclaw. With a sound as aggressively caustic as it was wildly danceable, the band presented a wide range of virulently melodic and distorted sounds that stood on par with any of the heavy hitters in the scene, achieving an industrialized rock vibe without the need for guitars. Later signing to BLC for the release of the band’s sophomore album, Dead Monsters, Brainclaw’s lyrical approach focused more on the introspective, the sensual and venomous drives toward the darker sides to human nature and modern life, and then ultimately confronting them. Brainclaw’s music would also appear on such DVD titles as the Matrix and Spiderman series. And yet, despite such accolades and the release of several songs to be featured on their then-upcoming third album, the band has remained in relative obscurity, entering into a long period of hibernation since 2006. Now, with their sights set firmly on a 2012 release for Deceptor, Brainclaw is here to announce that it is back and ready to unleash a new batch of electro/violence. Giuffre and Lessard speak to ReGen about the gestation period of the album, touching on their various activities from photography and MMA wrestling to producing and performing with Carfax Abbey and Native American flautist Ian Haag. As well, the duo makes clear their intent to continue their mission to break down the injustices of the modern world and strive for a better, creative future.
Lessard: I came out, so there you go. We’re still best friends, and I think that’s the bottom line. So we still have a fantastic relationship and friendship and we’ve just transitioned to a different space and place. That includes a lot of good, creative things for each other and support of where we both are and our new relationships.
Giuffre: Yeah, we saw Thomas Dolby together a couple of weeks ago. So there you have it.
Since the last time Brainclaw was active, there were a number of songs in production. What can you tell us about the current state of those songs and if they will appear on the new album? How will they differ in their new versions from what fans might have heard before?
Giuffre: What happened basically is when Tara and I split and weren’t married anymore, there were a good bunch of songs that were in the very electronic state and I was pretty psyched about them. I had taken samples of my ex-Carfax Abbey guitar player John Ruszin; I had sampled him in the studio a couple of times, because I wanted the raw material to use for guitar stuff. I wanted this album to be heavier, harder, harder-hitting. The material is pretty dark, and it’s more serious.
Lessard: If we can just preface real quick, because back when we started this like six years ago, the political situation was really desperate with Bush. I’m not going to get super political, but we were really, really scared and sort of disappointed, and our content was definitely based on a very different space and time than now. It was definitely desperate, I think.
Giuffre: I would agree with that.
Lessard: And we had a lot of different equipment back then too.
Giuffre: Yes. Things have improved.
It’s interesting that you mention politics, because it does seem rather common in the electro/industrial genre. Dead Monsters seemed more personal and about confronting emotional and inner demons, so how much do politics come into play in your music, especially on the new material?
Giuffre: That’s a really good question, and I feel like we’ve always had a slight political bent. Brainclaw’s always been railing against the injustices of modern life.
Lessard: More so the media than politics, but definitely. I know that a bunch of our songs were definitely driven by the situation politically, but moreso, I think, the media than politics, mostly.
Giuffre: Mostly. This record is leaning a little bit here and there into…nothing obvious; nothing overt. We don’t like to be obvious. I’m a registered Independent, and I use my head, and I try to pick who the best person for the job is. I’ve got some left-leaning tendencies and I’ve got some right-leaning tendencies, so I don’t know what you do with that, but I think something more insidious is going on right now. I think that we traded an evil clown for an ineffectual rich guy who’s being completely made impotent by the right wing. So I think what we’ve got right now is this situation where everyone is paralyzed because we’ve become so freaking polarized. You can’t have a discussion on the Internet, you can’t have a discussion in a forum or chat. You can’t have more than three for four exchanges before it goes to left versus right, and when you’re paralyzed like that, you can’t make any headway. There’s no room to move forward for anybody. So both sides have got to get their heads out of their asses, and they have to work together to improve the situation, not only in this country but in the world. And that kind of frustration, that kind of absolute paralysis is…I always laugh and I always say like the right wing are all religious rich guy/white guy nut-jobs, and the left wing are all ineffectual, wimp, hippie, tree-hugging, ‘don’t get anything done’ people. It’s like they’re both complete assholes. We’ve got this super polarization going on now that prevents any forward progress. We’re going backwards. This album touches on those themes a little bit. The idea of deception is like the key thing in the album, which I think is so appropriate on so many levels.
Back to the changes that have happened…Tara came to me one day when I was fiddling around, trying to adjust these guitar samples from John Ruszin. She said, ‘Asshole, why don’t you just have John play on the album?’ and I was like, ‘But I don’t want a guitarist on my electronic album.’ And then I realized it would make it huge, so I gave it a try. John came in and started recording, and before you knew it, the songs were so big and so awesome. It’s not like a heavy metal album. It’s an industrial/electronic album, but the guitars have added this layer of ‘fuck you’ to the album that really blends nicely with the really guttural sense that we’re so well known for. So, yeah, it makes this, like Tara said earlier, wall of sound.
Lessard: I don’t curse nearly as much as David does, because I gave it up for Lent, so I’m trying to find other creative ways of describing the sound that has been created here. Also, the equipment has changed a lot.
Giuffre: I kind of think that, like anything else, what we’re looking to do is to create a powerful sound, and the guitars are certainly not up in the mix as they would be in, like, Carfax Abbey’s new record, which I’m producing and writing also, believe it or not.
Giuffre: Simultaneously, crazy man that I am. But that’s an industrial rock band. We are what I would call…I always use the term ‘electro-violence.’ I just made that shit up, but it’s appropriate. But yeah, the guitar has become an element of the low end, the low/mid end. They’ve become the chassis of…actually, they don’t become the chassis. They become like one of the weapons systems on a tank, you know, that’s already got a bunch of weapons on it. So what it is doing is really mixing in with the really deep synths and forming more of a low end wall rather than having the guitars hanging out like a big cock rock thing going on. So for me, as I said, I didn’t want to use a guitarist; I wanted to use samples that I could manipulate, and they’re on there too.
Lessard: Yeah, we started with them.
Giuffre: So they didn’t go away. They’re still there, but now what I have is the actual guitar under that. So what we’ve tried to do is make an industrial/electronic album that happens to have some guitar tracks on it, but not to the exclusion of the electronics because that’s where our heart really lies.
Lessard: Yeah, and it definitely super complements the sound and our vocals, which we’ve tried to play with a bit as well.
Giuffre: I would say that we’ve tried to move outside the box a little bit. We don’t want to write the same record three times, and we want to take it to a new place because, although we love 16th note synth bass lines and growly vocals, and I could do that all day long in my basement, you know it’s like…
Lessard: It is 2012!
Giuffre: We wanted to bring something new to the table, so with practice and training I’ve stepped outside the growly box on a couple songs: a little higher, a little more melodic, yet still really aggressive. And Tara too; Tara has gone from whispery, scary little girl to screaming banshee on some of these songs. She sounds a bit more like Vas Kallas from Hanzel und Gretyl or maybe Lucia from KMFDM on some of the latest tracks.
Lessard: I had a little bit more anger in me this time that I was getting touch with because I’m boxing now and MMA and such, so I was able to accent those parts.
Tara has mentioned that the equipment has changed a lot and you’ve touched on the incorporation of new elements in the music? As well, David mentioned working with Carfax Abbey, of which he had been a member, so in what ways have all of these factors affected the process and how you manage so rigorous a workload?
Lessard: David’s still in Carfax Abbey, actually. I don’t know if you knew that. He has a very juicy story about that, actually.
Giuffre: I have never been doing more work than I’m doing right now, and my tech level has never been better than it is right now. And with those two things combined, I want to modestly say that I feel like I’m at the top of my game right now. I feel like production-wise, sound design-wise, recording-wise, technique-wise…I’ve done so much work with Carfax. I’m doing a Native American flute album, for goodness sake, with Ian Haag, and all this stuff gives you more tools in your toolbox and it forces you outside of your comfort zone, which then gives you cool things that you can bring back to Brainclaw. So the things I learned while writing and recording and producing the Carfax album have come back around and given me more energy and tools to take a second critical look, third, fourth, fifth critical look at the existing Brainclaw tracks and go, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got this new thing I can hook on there that’s going to make this ass-kicking.’ So, yes, all that work and all those varied clients, production clients absolutely have me doing more music now than I’ve ever done in my life, so for me, it’s a glorious time. And, ironically enough, since I am remarried and I have two little stepsons, I have as little time as I’ve ever had in my life, but I’m doing the most music I’ve ever done. So, something’s working there. The pressure of deadlines, the pressure of being a family man, the pressure of never having enough time seems to motivate me. So there you have it.
And Tara has developed a reputation as a photographer, particularly for wrestling and MMA events, as you stated earlier.
Having now come to this productive and fulfilling state that you both are in, what are your thoughts looking back on the interim since the last album and what finally motivated you to continue with Brainclaw?
Giuffre: The reality of it is that, to be totally honest with you, the wind was so taken out of my sails initially by our break-up that I didn’t feel like doing anything. I stopped doing music completely for a period of time until I could wrap my head around the idea. I tried to make it about me for a year, and the reality is that it was completely about Tara and her journey and her transformation, being honest with who she was, who she was becoming. So once I got past that ego-driven need to have myself at the center of the universe, which we all do, I realized that this doesn’t have a damn thing to do with me. This is Tara seeking her joy, her peace, and who she really was. So once that was done, it was much easier to get back on the horse and realize that I’m still David of Brainclaw and this is going to continue and I have a lot more to say. And I know that Tara had more to say. We started this project together, and I know we’re intending on finishing this project together. I don’t know what’s going to happen after this record, writing-wise. Tara has expressed a desire to not tour anymore, and that’s totally cool, because it’s a giant pain in the balls, but I have every intention of touring the band, and there are some definite personnel surprises for the live show.
And when can we expect to see Brainclaw on tour?
Giuffre: We’re going to make it happen for you this year. The plan is to do so after the album release, this year for sure. And then we’re going to do a limited set of engagements just to support the album. That’s the plan.
Brainclaw has been influenced very much by classic artists like Thomas Dolby and Gary Numan. What are your thoughts on other current bands in the electronic/industrial scene?
Lessard: One of the best shows that I’ve seen recently besides Thomas Dolby was VNV Nation, and I’m really impressed with where they’ve taken their sound and their quality and their writing. I definitely am super influenced and impressed by them. Every time they come to Philadelphia and the local area, I definitely make sure and have a point to see them.
Giuffre: For my end, I’m a little bit probably more negative. I mean, Tara did mention a good band, but I think on the whole, I’m not as enthusiastic about the scene as I once was. I think that what’s happening now is a lot of this screaming, ultra-distorted, ultra-repetitive stuff that has no meaning at all for me because (a) I can’t understand what’s being said; (b) it’s the same four riffs, the same one riff repeated constantly throughout the song. There are no dynamics; there are no changes. There is no writing. And I’m not meaning to slag any specific band, because frankly I couldn’t name one of them, but I’m still following the bands that I love that were vital on the scene when I was younger that I still love now. Gary Numan’s latest album, Dead Son Rising…absolute master work!
Interesting also that you’ve both mentioned the album being darker and perhaps channeling more anger, which many, perhaps wrongfully, associate with youth.
Lessard: And Peter Murphy. Amazing!
Giuffre: Yes, Peter Murphy. I’m looking at these guys who have become masters of their art and I’m going, ‘Oh, God! That’s good! That gives me permission to continue to make music into my 50s and 60s because this is what I love to do.’ And these guys are showing me that I don’t have to stop just because a record label when Insekt/Angel came out told us we were too old to be signed to them. I won’t reveal the label, but we approached a label overseas and they had said, ‘Oh, you guys are way too old. No one’s going to buy your shit.’ So, I’m going to keep doing this. I want to be the Peter Murphy. I want to be the Gary Numan. I want to be the old guy doing this shit. I mean, Midge Ure from Ultravox looks like he’s 100 years old, but he sounds fantastic. So, yeah, we’re going to keep going.
You’ve always produced and recorded your music in your own home studio, AuroViral, and Tara has said that there were changes in the equipment. Can you tell us about these changes?
Lessard: Yeah, it’s going through a pretty ultimate transformation now.
Giuffre: When my current wife Stephanie and her two little boys moved in about a year and a half ago now, two years ago, my rehearsal space in Studio Auroviral became a playroom. So there’s this magic line, which the boys are not allowed to cross, and behind that is the recording desk, the keyboards, all the gear. Then you get the play room, and then past the play room is the sound booth for recording vocals and the little bathroom that is in there. I had to strike a balance with like real life and having a studio. So the practical upshot of all this is that we don’t rehearse down there anymore, but we’ve gone completely, utterly high-res digital at this point. I got rid of the mixing board, and I’m routing all 15 synths and drum machines directly into high-res MOTU audio interfaces. So there’s no mixing board at all. Everything goes directly into a gold-plated digital I/O right into the Macintosh. We’re using a nice Mac Pro computer running Digital Performer 7, the latest from Mark of the Unicorn, which we love and have always used, and we’ve added some soft-synths to the mix from Dead Monsters to now: things like The Dark Side, Battery 3, MX4 from MOTU, and I use them a lot. But I’ve got to tell you, I still rely heavily on my hardware synths, and I always will, because there’s something about that big, fat analog sound that just kicks so much ass. We acquired an Access Virus, which I just love so much. I got it used. And I got this new synth, which I have to mention because no one’s going to believe me how good it is. M-Audio used to make low-end, crappy gear, but here’s the deal. I heard their monitors, their eight-inch monitors, and I bought a pair; they were so good, and that’s my main monitor set-up is a pair of BX8As. The synth they just released is called Venom, and it sounds as good as the friggin’ Virus. It’s this little white plastic keyboard, and the fucking thing is like a powerhouse. It’s described in all the reviews as the ugly, dirty, mean, awful, demonic synth, and that’s exactly what it is! So that synth is featured very heavily on the record. So those are the main changes that we’ve gone through in gear, actually.
You had been signed to BLC Productions for the release of Dead Monsters and had been featured on several entries of their InterBreeding compilation series.
Guiffre: They were very good to us.
Lessard: No one knows what’s happened to BLC.
So with so many bands starting their own record labels to circumvent the older business models and come up with new ones, releasing music digitally through Bandcamp and similar sites, along with the fact that you’d stated a possible tour in the works, give us your perspective on the validity of record labels these days.
Giuffre: I am not one of these people that have jumped on this bandwagon of ‘record labels are evil, record labels don’t pay their bands, record labels are raping their bands, record labels are dinosaurs, you don’t need them anymore.’ Here’s the reality of the situation: all record labels from the top down serve a very important purpose for artists: they allow the artist to concentrate on what they’re good at, and that is making music. When a good label handles promotion and gets you all over the place and gets you out there, when a label handles ads and the media, when a label is able to press your CD for you and handle your artwork for you, when they are giving and giving and giving like that as part of your agreement, and then they take a portion of your sales to recoup the money that they’ve made and possibly make a profit so they can freaking stay in operation, ‘Oh God, it’s so horrible!’ You know, people have lost sight of the idea that the label exists to make money. Sure, it’s a profitable entity, but like everyone else, they’re under the gun now, and they’re willing to make good deals for good artists, and they help us! I mean, we had a great experience with BLC. Metropolis was great with us for distribution of Insekt/Angel. There were never any problems.
Lessard: There were never any problems, and none of us are quitting our day jobs. We all do this for love to begin with, so we’re not looking to go on a worldwide tour and sell our houses and homes and stuff.
Giuffre: Well, she might not be, but she does speak the truth. The deal is that if a record label…if Brainclaw really broke with this record and really started selling some units and had a lot of buzz, you have to see what happens. But the reality is it’s not the same as it was and we would like…I believe what’s going to happen is we’re going to approach a handful of labels that we know and love, and we’re going to submit demos through the channels of our best tunes.
So aside from the songs that had been released in earlier forms before the hiatus, what can you tell us about the progress on the record now?
Giuffre: The writing is nearly complete. The recording is nearly complete. We’re going to shop it through the summer and if we like the terms of an offer from someone, even if we don’t get any bites at all, which is always a possibility, we’re looking at a fall release. But it is definitely coming out this year, if I have to finance the whole goddamn thing out of my pocket. This record’s coming out in 2012. I was thinking about the artwork, and we’re absolutely going to ask Pam Methot, who did the beautiful work for Insekt/Angel and Dead Monsters. We’re going to turn her loose on this album, which is called Deceptor, by the way. The way she works is we send her the tracks, and then she goes into this sort of cocoon-hibernation state with it for like a month, and then she comes out with something where Tara and I both just look at it and it’s perfect. So Pam’s going to do the artwork again for sure, and we’re definitely pressing CDs. There are enough people who still love CDs and who love to read liner notes and who love the quality of a nice 44/16 recording over a shitty MP3 any day. So we’re going to do both. You know, we’re going to do the digital release…
Lessard: And not cry about it; just do it.
Giuffre: Yeah, we’re just going to do it. You know, because it doesn’t get you anywhere.
Lessard: We need to talk to somebody about doing some serious YouTube stuff.
Giuffre: Oh, yeah! There are definitely going to be videos made, somehow. Somehow we’re going to have an official video for this record.
Lessard: Which we didn’t in the past, and sort of, you know, relied on fans to sort of make their own, and any attempts that we had in the past of crafting a live show really sort of didn’t happen. That’ll look different as well, especially when they decide to take it on the road. We have this new equipment and some new people in our lives that are very skilled in that regard as well, and that’s another way that I know we’ll be attempting to hit the market, you know.
Giuffre: We continually have people posting homemade videos with Brainclaw music.
Lessard: Videos that have thousands of hits… it’s ridiculous.
Giuffre: We had a platoon in Iraq use ‘Strike’ from Dead Monsters to live fighting that they had taped of themselves, like in battle. I was just like, ‘Yes!’ That was like the coolest thing I had seen in a long time. I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’ So, there are about 50 or 60 fan videos sitting on YouTube with Brainclaw music, which just tickles me.
Lessard: Yeah, it still lives. It’s crazy.
Giuffre: It has its own little life and it just keeps going, no matter what we’re doing.
Lessard: But we would definitely be remiss if we didn’t use that as a tool. In my world of photography, it jumps out beyond 2D to go 3D and has a life of its own when it’s video versus pictures. So, it’ll be interesting to see how that also evolves.
Giuffre: We had even bought an HD widescreen digital video camera back in the day when we started working on this record with the intention of making videos. One thing led to another and then everything happened and we never made any, but we’ve got the camera, we’ve got the ability. My job during the day is lead video editor at Infobase Publishing in New York, which is an educational film company. I edit video all day, so I’ve got the ability to do that; I’ve just need to, of course, carve out a slice of life to do that, like anything else.
Now that Brainclaw is back in an active state, how do you look back on the way your music has been perceived? For instance, you’d mentioned that a record label wouldn’t consider you due to your age, and with so many bands doing styles and sounds so similar to each other, what are your thoughts on how you’ve been received thus far, and how does that affect your moving forward?
Giuffre: Well, some bands… it’s like, don’t they know the rules about reviews and the idea that they’re just an opinion? Oh my god. No, you need to have a thick skin. You need to realize that not everyone is going to like what you’ve done, even if they’ve liked other things that you’ve done. We’ve been very, very blessed. If you look at all of our press, we got one absolutely terrible review and it was from a shitty little magazine in Philadelphia. I don’t even remember what it was called, but it was some like Philly rock magazine or something.
Lessard: Yeah, it was like Heavy Metal Guide or something like that. It was basically just like…
Giuffre: ‘This is pussy metal…’ First of all, it’s not metal.
Lessard: Yeah, it’s like not hard enough.
Giuffre: But with that you do grow a thick skin and it was similar to our experience when we played our last live show for Dead Monsters, which was at Mojo 13.
Lessard: It left a very, very bad taste in my mouth, which is why I’m not all about it.
Giuffre: Yeah. This kind of killed Brainclaw for Tara, because we played this great show; the place was packed. We went back to our merch tables at the end, and we had the two albums, buttons, T-shirts, posters, every damn thing you’d want, all priced very accessibly priced, and people were like, ‘Why would we buy it? Why don’t you just give it to us?’ A whole crowd of people were like, ‘Can we take a CD?’ And we said, ‘Well, they’re for sale.’ And they said, ‘What do you mean they’re for sale?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, this is our label release. We just came out with this.’ It was $9.99, and Insekt/Angel was $5.00 for 14 tracks. It’s like, after playing a great show and then having…just, the idea that kids…I won’t say kids, but the next generation of people that is listening to music has this sense of entitlement that blows my mind! They think that they shouldn’t have to pay for anything, and there’s no value on music anymore. Everyone’s file-sharing, and you know how we feel about file-sharing. What do you do with that when you’re a musician? I mean, I have conversations with people and they have the five…I call them the five ridiculous reasons about why it’s okay to do file-sharing, and they’re so absurd, but they cling to them.
1) ‘I don’t have any money.’ Well, neither the fuck do I!
2) ‘There’s no good music out these days.’ And I say, ‘Sure there is. You need to look for it. And if there’s no good music, why are you stealing bad music?’
3) ‘There’s only one good song on the album. Why should I buy the album?’ I’d say, ‘Don’t. Buy the one song for $0.99 and shut the fuck up!’
4) What I call the Magic Candy Bar Theory, and I’m sure you’ve heard this. ‘Well, why should I buy something that’s not real? Like, if there was a candy store and I could go in and buy a copy of a chocolate bar. Like, if I could take the chocolate bar and have another chocolate bar magically appear, then the company hasn’t lost anything. So why is it wrong for me to copy songs?’ And I’m like, ‘Are you insane?!’ And I know grown people who are my age who feel exactly the same way about this stuff. Musicians who do it.
5) The assholes, the little mutant Generation Now fucktards use on me, ‘Bands should make their money touring.’ Really? OK! Most people at our level have to pay to play now. We have to pay the venue by selling tickets or giving them straight up cash to even go in there and play with six bands, not two or three; six or seven, which is a clusterfuck! None of the bands match and we don’t get paid; we pay them!
Lessard: The other thing is that, unless you’re on Amazon, where do you physically go anymore to get physical music? FYE at the mall, maybe. You know what I mean? But that’s only the big ones. In addition, the places in Philadelphia, you have basically three locations that you can play Monday through Thursday shows. The likelihood of getting a prime spot on a Friday or Saturday is 100 percent no. In addition, a Sunday night show is generally what you could hope to achieve as like a band that’s made it.
Giuffre: The reality of this is that this whole side of the business, this whole side of these Generation Now people who are like thinking they don’t have to pay for anything, it just pisses me off because they’re so ignorant. We’re never going to be millionaires from this, but come on! Let us get the money that will continue to keep the show rolling. The idea here is not so we can be driving a Mercedes and living in $4,000 a month apartments in New York.
So what motivates you to continue amid all of that turmoil?
Giuffre: I’ve just got this thing that I have to do. It’s like a mission that I have to do. It’s a biological imperative that I write electro/industrial music. As long as I can do it, as long as I am given the gifts that I have, I’m going to continue doing it. And I don’t really care. If it gets to the point where it’s just me throwing it up for free on the internet, then I guess that’s what it’s going to be eventually, but I’m hoping that maybe this album will get us to a point where we can command some more respect in the marketplace and maybe get on some movie soundtracks for real this time, and you know, just see where it goes. Video games, movie soundtracks, I’m really interested in that.
Lessard: Yeah, David’s a video game buff.
Giuffre: Yeah, I’m playing some serious video games. A little World of Warcraft, a little Lord of the Rings online…I just got into the Diablo beta. So it’s fun.