As a band that laid the groundwork for much of today’s modern musical practices, the return of Final Cut simply could not come at a better time; Anthony Srock speaks with ReGen on just what the innovative ’90s industrial/rock band has in store for the new generation.
An InterView with Anthony Srock of Final Cut
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x) & Candy-Chèrie Winter (MCherie)
Blending techno, industrial, and alternative rock together may not sound like an exciting new breed of music in this day and age, but in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was the stuff of a whole underground music scene. Headed by Anthony Srock, Final Cut was one of the ’90s coldwave scene’s most exciting and varied acts, releasing three albums over the course of the decade that defied strict categorizations and brought together a mixed bag of styles and some of the scene’s most revered personalities. Skinny Puppy’s Ogre and Dwayne Goettel, MINISTRY’s Chris Connelly, William Tucker, and Louis Svitek, Die Warzau’s Van Christie, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult’s Charles Levi… all but a few of the notable collaborators who brought their own distinctive touches to help make Final Cut one of the most exciting acts of the decade. Initially releasing via Srock’s own label, Full Effect Records, and later succumbing to the same major label pressures and pitfalls that befell many of the band’s fellows and peers, Final Cut had been virtually dormant since 1998 after the v2.0 release of the 1995 album Atonement. While Full Effect Records was revived in 2006 and became home to a new generation of artists like Rabbit Junk, Fashion Bomb, Faster Pussycat, and Crud to name a few, it was the death of Chicago’s Jamie Duffy that sparked the return of Final Cut, performing second on the bill at the first ColdWaves tribute concert in September of 2012. After more than two decades, Final Cut laid the groundwork for much of the now common practices in music, from the stylistic hybrids to the artist-run label, and now poised to take full advantage of new technologies and methods to create and distribute music. Anthony Srock now speaks with ReGen on the resurrection of Final Cut, dropping a few hints on what he and his cohorts have in store for us, his thoughts on the importance of the ColdWaves festival, the blessings and curses of technology, and just what territories music has yet to explore.
Aside from Final Cut’s reunion performance in 2012 for the first ColdWaves tribute, the band has not been heard from since 1995 (’98 if you count the Atonement v2.0 release). What can you tell us about the band’s dissolution in retrospect, as well as the band members’ activities since then?
: Final Cut I would say followed the progression of industrial music at the time. When industrial started to wane, it did so for a lot of artists as well. That was a huge contributing factor to why, I felt, after three labels in seven years, there was no real reason to put music out; especially after 2000.
Greg Lucas and Cr33py were Final Cut at the time and the general market for industrial was in trouble, but there is really no one reason why. We could have released more records; we had them. But there comes that proverbial fork in the road in your career, and as you get older and learn the music biz, you have to make some decisions. I was always DJing and working, so I was never void of that creativeness or musically starved; I just played through other people’s music, but the ‘musicians’ in the band started to drift in 2000 as well. A lot of the guys chose to go with more professional careers or worked on/in projects that were going forward, but I felt without completely changing our dynamic, we were headed nowhere fast, and I think a lot of the music released in that era bares out that assessment. When the music we were making (industrial/hybrid alt.) started to diminish, I just drifted to DJing more. But the underlying theme through all this was a promise I’d made to myself that if music became laborious or I had to sell out or change what I believed in, then I wouldn’t do it. And so… that happened, and I didn’t do it. My music is my music; it is not product. It’s my heart, and if it’s not in my heart, I won’t do it. It’s that simple.
How did Lafata’s death affect the band?
Srock: Well, it’s only now that I can look back with reverence and truly appreciate his contributions and friendship in full. Lafata passed away in 2003, and I had the opportunity to see him a few times before then in ’02-ish, so I got tell him a lot of the things I never did before.
He was the engine of Final Cut. I am more of the dreamer and he was the task master and time proved that he was a better steward of Final Cut. He was the balance. When we would go on tour or had project to complete, he was on point. He was the one that made sure we were on stage on time and, when he left Final Cut, that determination and relentlessness went with him. There was a period of 10 years when we lost a lot of people. William Tucker we lost in ’99 – he and I already had a frayed relationship. Tucker and I fell out before then for a lot of the reasons I stated before. He wanted to finish what would end up being Atonement, and I was already feeling, ‘Fuck this business after the Nettwerk BS,’ and our publishing company was holding checks over our heads commanding us to be more commercial. But people need those checks. We were being told how to make records by companies and to make songs that were more commercial and I was not feeling it. Another casualty was the people that put time into the music and didn’t get a lot back, and in my stubbornness, I turned a lot of opportunities down, essentially costing them. You never really think that when you say, ‘We will pick that up later,’ that there’s the chance that you will never be able to work with them again. Atonement, which was subsequently completed in Chicago’s Warzone Studios, was finished by a lot of good people – Vandi (Christie), Jason McNinch, and the crew… if it was up to me, it would still be on my CPU.
Tell us about Final Cut’s inclusion at the first ColdWaves, how the band came together to pay tribute to Jamie?
: When I was still in Benzopooloza – the term I affectionately refer to as the years 2002-2014 – I got contacted; I think it was Jim Marcus, possibly, or Jason Novak. I had always liked Jamie; he was a good kid. We were both DJs and used to talk DJ shit together in Chicago, so I was warm to the idea from the get-go. Final Cut had played with Meat Beat Manifesto and Acucrack in 2007 in Detroit, so Jamie and I laughed and talked about good old Chicago; Charles Levi was there as well. We had a good time that night, when good times were far and few between for me, so starting there, I wanted to do it for a multitude of reasons – much more of what I said before about Jamie, and in some small way for myself, because I too had gone and was going through some mentally challenging times with the passing of friends, parents, people I absolutely adored and loved were now gone in 2012. In a pretty selfish way, I wanted to prove I still could. But I think he would have wanted us to play, and I rocked out my RUN DMC tour shirt for him! Add the fact that Final Cut had not played in a while, so I thought what better way to do it? So I got a hold of Greg Lucas and a few of the guys and one gal back to play one last show. Most of us in Final Cut that night knew him, worked with him… it was a unique moment; a moment that I think we all needed to heal from another loss in our musical family.
How were you feeling after that performance?
Srock: Sad because of what I had mentioned before. And his passing was just another reminder of how short our time is with the people that we live/work with and know, how we sometimes take things for granted, and how fast it can just be taken. It just forced me to take things with a little more seriousness and urgency then I did in my younger years. It’s something you realize when you get older naturally that a lot of people we work with are creative, and most people that are creative tend to have very high highs and very low lows.
And that’s where you get to being a DJ; the allure is it’s therapeutic for me – being able to feel the energy, but not be subjected (unless you’re that kind of DJ), the interaction is like playing the piano for me…
So what would you have to say to any artist or anyone that has gone through the struggle as Jamie did? Have you had any similar struggles?
: I never wanted to share a lot of my personal life. I am just not a guy that likes the world knowing my shortfalls or weakness… or my shit in general. In some ways, and in some bands, lyrics and the music tell a lot; sometimes, not so much. But I’m not one for laying my woes on the social media channels. But then I realized, or I think sometimes, if more people knew others were out there struggling with some of the same demons, etc., maybe they wouldn’t feel so alienated, maybe they would choose another way of dealing with things, maybe they would feel more comfortable talking about it. I think a little, maybe a lot different than I used to about it.
My parents got sick in 2002 and I had to move back to Detroit from L.A. By then, I was on 4mg of Xanax among others. By the time I had said enough and worked to get off everything, it was 2014; by then, I was on 10 mgs and some lovely med Seroquel… don’t let the smooth taste fool you.
When I felt like I was getting better mentally, there was a seemingly never ending set of reasons and events to medicate myself to deal with it rather than confront it. I hold what happened with Jamie closer than most, because you never know what people are going through. They can put on all kinds of shit on the outside and can appear to be perfectly fine. Full Effect was running fulltime in 2006; I was not… I put it on maybe better than most, putting on that facade. But I was screaming on the inside, dying inside. You want the people around you to ask the right questions, to know, hopefully and most importantly, understand the way you are feeling so you don’t have or appear to be weak. If you need help, ask for it. There are more people out there going through mental issues than you think. My grandfather used to say, ‘A lot of people looking for the truth; a lot more trying to hide it.’ I apply that to mental health and addiction. Hopefully, you have surrounded yourself with people that ask the right questions, but if not, don’t be ashamed to ask.
So if anything, you could say that you have learned from ColdWaves?
From your perspective as a performer, what are your feelings on how this particular festival has developed in the last few years and what directions you see it going in, or that you’d like to see it go in?
: Jason and they have done a great job with it. I am glad they have kept it going. They still do it for a great cause and also they bring a passion to it as well. Some promoters, maybe most probably aren’t fans or don’t know half of the music they book, and this is not the case. Industrial and coldwave, along with other subgenres tend to have very passionate fans. Imagine going to a festival where you could go to a bar and see maybe someone you’re a big fan of or respect musically. I saw – not backstage or in VIP – some of the most talented artists I remember during that time at the bar, talking to people, interacting. I’ve been on tours where the only interaction they have is the 45 mins or one hour or so on stage, and I get it – you get 50k people in an arena, it’s hard to get personal or up close with everyone, but I remember having pool parties at the hotel in Sacramento after a show with fans, putting the Tiki bar in the shallow end of the pool in Houston, golf cart races in Oklahoma… the fun shit. So where there is passion, there is sincerity.
So the ColdWaves festival from inception to this point has only grown, seeing bands like Severed Heads, who I never had seen. To see Mary Byker with Pop Will Eat Itself and the rest was great. It gets us all together. So from that perspective alone, it is a great thing. And ColdWaves is just going to get bigger and bigger as the ’80s and EDM music winds down, and the more electronic music starts coming in. I think in the next couple years, you will see the ’90s is going to start become the more dominant genre. We had the ’70s in the ’90s, and the ’80s from ’04 ’til now. So when the ’90s comes in, all the fusions of industrial will as well, and ColdWaves will, in my humble observation, only grow
As far as who I would like to see? I would love some of the bands that started in our little patch come back and do some shows for the love, not the money.
So, what we have all been waiting for?
Srock: Yeah. It will give artists an opportunity to be rediscovered, because in the ’90s, there was no 500 million platform like YouTube to promote too… podcasts, satellite radio… so many ways to get music.
So, there is a new album in the works?
Srock: I refuse to answer that question on the grounds it may incriminate me. (Laughter)
There have been a lot of song ideas and inspirations in 14 years; thinking of possibly releasing one song, new, never before heard this year… a X-Mas present to myself. Then we are going to re-release the back catalog. Deep into the Cut is coming out on wax and on download. Then Atonement will follow along with some never released Consumed mixes and songs that were done in that era… I feel a lot more comfortable releasing music now than back then. Bands that couldn’t be classified, that couldn’t be put in the genre specific bin back then often fell through the cracks. I see a lot of bands that were obscure back in the ’90s finally getting some love. People are open to bands that entwine different musical styles, and you won’t get punished for being a poser if you drift a bit.
As you’ve been the sole consistent member, how did the current lineup come together, and what is the working dynamic like – especially in contrast to the way things worked in the past? And if you are coming out with new music, who has been working on it?
: Each era was unique in its own – the early years working with Jeff Mills, trying to push the envelope, experimenting with the boundaries of techno, followed by the early ’90s to mid ’90s with Lafata, Tucker, Connelly, and Lucas adding different instrumentation, leaning a bit harder as opposed to straight techno and the different tempos as opposed to being chained to a dance floor base tempo. So I think as I change, so does the music, but it will always be connected to electronic elements… but then again…
The working dynamic, unfortunately, was not working after the late ’90s. After Atonement
, we started on some tracks, then stopped. I came back to Michigan, started some tracks, went to California four or five times, but after my folks passed, that stopped. So we are finally getting back to a working dynamic, and honestly, as cool as it is now with home studios and not having to pay huge amounts for good studios to just track, I really miss the camaraderie we had in the past. Sitting in studios for hours experimenting, goofing around now, as we have gotten older, seems a little stiff… but it is what you make it.
Xristian Simon, Taime Downe, Jason McNinch, and John Garstecki, Max Edgin, and Kurt Cr33py… there are a lot of people who have worked on the new stuff. Some of it’s from the past that didn’t get released, so it’s inclusive of other people that are with us and not with us. There’s a track I did with Dwayne Goettel that I have on a four-track that has been locked up for 20 years. The rotation now would be Xristian Simon, Roger Lopez, and a few others who have been working on it for the last couple of months.
In what ways would you say Final Cut’s music has evolved since the last time we heard from the band? How much do you feel the changes in technology and musical styles have affected your outlook on both your music and music as a whole?
Srock: Well, the new stuff actually is again rooted in electronics, and the newer technology really doesn’t affect us because we were always using it. Style wise, I think the new stuff is both Consumed and Atonement sounding… I don’t think it is too far a departure from either of them; Deep into the Cut, maybe it’s a bit a ways in the sense that was strictly a techno record, but actually, the slower tempos were already being phased in then.
Sometimes, I think I wish I was born in today’s day and age. All the technology coming out is awesome! But then, I think of taking a snare drum and snapping a ruler and sampling it with your 2.5 seconds of sampling time, and layering it to give it that snap… or hairspray cans for hi-hats. Really, one can argue, ‘You have no excuse for not making music.’ With that being said, there is a certain beauty to using all the old samplers and sequencers. Some of the stuff we used in the ’90s we still use today. Funny; they make a digital plugin to sound analog.
One thing that I learned in 2009… The Prodigy used Final Cut in the track ‘Warriors Dance.’ The thing I took from it was that they still use the old analog crushing beats, old style MIDI sequencing. They use the old-school shit and it just leads me to… just use what you’re comfortable with, don’t chase the trends, and stay true.
People these days, myself included for a while, get caught up in, ‘I’ve got to get the newest keyboard! I got to get the newest…’ You should just get a studio that makes you happy, where you are comfortable, and can bang out music. Don’t always think, ‘Well, I need the next…’ whatever. Because people use this as an excuse. Too many avenues; this cloud or that cloud to put your creations up now… unlike the ’90s, where you were only as good as the money behind you.
As far as musical styles, if anything, I take from R&B. I listen to a lot of R&B programming today. Letting out a Final Cut secret, I would always listen to rap, hip-hop… because those artists tended not to have a lot of gear, so they had to get creative. Like when we had a Fostex; you take eight tracks and then you record and bounce down, record and bounce down, play a stereo record on a track to give it the ‘stereo’ sound. (Laughter)
Just go with what makes you comfortable. You have so much to work with, so much to be comfortable with – PCs, Macs, X-Boxes, your phone!
Besides Final Cut, you’ve been behind Full Effect Records since the late ’80s; as artist-run labels are much more common in the internet age, what are your thoughts on the way the business side of music has developed along with the artists?
: It’s still a lot of BS, but the thing is you can mitigate the BS you have to put up with now. Major labels have become big distribution centers; they aren’t really the A&R people as much anymore. The golden era of them coming to check you out at your gig has turned into you standing in line as they sit waiting for you to perform. They have made it now so that the independent labels essentially take all the risks. We sign the artists, we do the deals, we press and promote and essentially do all the heavy lifting… and all they have to do is distribute if the percentage is right. So for as much freedom as we have, and that freedom now – and always has – depended on how well you’re financed. Artist run labels that don’t go through any major distribution… I’m sure have their own set of plusses and minuses. We got lucky; I love the people who distribute, us, but I have heard some ‘wow’ stories. Majors went for content. Had I processed what I saw in around ’08 or ’09, I would have seen the gold rush for content. So in that way, the artist has many avenues for revenue that didn’t exist before on their music publishing. But then you go to allocation of time to track it all down, and what you make off streaming won’t pay for the power to run your CPU to track it down… so again, many opportunities, many challenges, but the one constant is you have to be able to perform what you play.
What are your thoughts on the validity or necessity of record labels currently?
Or to put it another way, what do you think is or should be the next evolutionary step in this particular aspect of the music business?
Similarly, many artists are much more involved in their own production; what are your thoughts on the level of production capability that is available to musicians these days versus when you first started, and how do you feel you’ve adapted to these changes?
: When you have the artist and the vehicles to put it out without a label, the artist becomes the label. You still need to track down your money, do the uploads, promote, etc. And I can tell you, trying to approach issues as ‘I am the artist’ as opposed to ‘I am the label’ has some challenges. So is it necessary to have a label per se? No, I guess not. But, you won’t be making much music while handling all the tasks you will have trying to run the label, I swear. And I have no idea where you can really go from here. The delivery of content is so instant; I mean, they can beam it into your head I imagine. It’s a perfect scenario for a musician or an artist really. If you are serious about getting your music out, the amount of people that can see and hear your music is amazing. You couldn’t buy this type of promotion up until 2004 with the internet explosion, for as shitty as it is because you get on a torrent site and see Faster Pussycat with 30 thousand downloads. That’s $300,000 out of the artist’s pocket with no recourse but to go there and impale them. But you can get eight-million views on a YouTube vid, so you take the bad with the good. The next battleground will be content and the money going to the creator. The good thing is on the production end, CDs, T-shirts, and merch have come way down. When we first started, CDs were crazy; wax is still wax, but CDs and posters have become a viable way to make additional money, and that’s the part about being on the production end of your own label, doing all that, but now comes the challenge of getting on the road and performing, and that may be the hardest thing to do starting out. Try booking a full tour as your own label/agent and getting paid after 35 shows… good times. You need people to handle all the BS so you can just worry about the most important part – the music.
Where do you feel music as a whole has yet to go – in any regard, compositionally, conceptually, technically, etc.?
Srock: Unless you can, just start hooking nodes up to your head and say, ‘My kick drum pattern,’ and Siri prints it for you, which I am sure is next. You can sequence anything, and I am saying anything you think of, sound libraries cover every noise and sound. Anyone can basically be a DJ, software has seen to that. At least with wax, you could separate the wheat from the chaff. Joe Lafata said a long time ago probably one of the smartest things anyone has ever said to me, ‘One day, it’s going to come back to songwriting and being a good musician.’ I think we are going to see that soon. I think we are going to see EDM… and I’m not picking on EDM at all; R&B even has the same loop/sound a hundred-thousand times. But I think it’s going to come back to songwriting. It already is and has a bit.
The thing I am most proud of in or about Full Effect is – and I’m not breaking my arm to pat myself on the back because I made some mistakes as well – Rabbit Junk, Faster Pussycat, NewelyDeads, Majesty Crush, Fashion Bomb, White Pulp, Marion Crane, all bands that are on the label. I really love them as writers and their skill set, their sounds, and them as artists. That’s the cool thing about having a label is that I am their biggest fan. And all write songs.
There is a notion that since sales of music are lower than they once were a band truly survives only by playing live. What are your thoughts on this based on your experiences playing live?
: Its 99% percent true, and that again goes back to being able to translate it live with musicians. Because live is the only thing you cannot steal. No one can steal you live. They can steal you playing live, but they cannot steal the experience. So if they are truly a fan of your band, they cannot download you into their living room. Now, there’s an idea – 5,000 downloads into your basement. We tried with Full Effect to be one of the first labels to do bundling. I was super stoned and thinking, ‘How do we stop illegal downloading?’ Because it is literally killing us, and I’m not saying that in a ‘woe is me’ way. Some kid tried to argue with me that we were not promoting enough, so that’s why they steal, because they are promoting for us. So cheeky; loved that excuse. When you steal and don’t support the band, however you want to paint it to sleep at night, it is stealing. I’m over that debate; you can’t debate morality. It’s a short term thinking, though, because you are ultimately going to only be left with the bands and music that survive via attrition. The only thing that can survive battles of attrition are major labels, high end bands that are well financed, or bands that can play live, because they are the ones who can generate the real revenue – T-shirt sales, ticket sales, and anything else you can drag on the road. This goes for any type of music, any discipline; you have to get out there. And having done it, it is really the best part of the ride, and it’s the most fulfilling part of the journey. If you are just relying on music sales, good luck, and may the force be with you!
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Photography provided courtesy of Anthony Srock/Final Cut