ReGen speaks with Contracult Collective’s Svart about the band’s forthcoming full-length album, the Los Angeles industrial/metal scene, the current state of the music industry, and more!
An InterView with Travis “Svart” Bacon of Contracult
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Over the last few years, Los Angeles has been something of a wellspring of budding talents in the realms of experimental and industrialized metal, with the Contracult Collective proving to be one of the more virulently dynamic acts to emerge. Through a series of single and EP releases, compounded by a thoroughly cinematic visual presentation in their live shows and music videos, the trio of Travis “Svart” Bacon, Nick “Culprit” Emde, and Bec “BX” Hollcraft have navigated through today’s industrial/metal scene with a distinct artistic vision; the band’s songs deal with those poignant and potently difficult issues of mental and emotional health, addiction in its various forms, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and the nightmarish societal stigmas that surround them. All this and more forms the thematic and creative core of Contracult’s soon-to-be-released full-length debut, The New Torment, with Svart taking the time to speak with ReGen Magazine about the album’s creation and the band’s artistic processes. As well, he discusses his perceptions of the industrial/metal scene, Contracult’s departure from Roadrunner Records and the current state of promotion in the music industry, and his production work for other artists, all part of his and his bandmates’ efforts to KEEP. GOTH. HARD.
First of all, how are you? How’s your health? How have you fared with the pandemic, and in what ways did it affect your working conditions?
Svart: Wow. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been asked anything like this in an interview. My physical health is good and I’m very grateful for that. My mental health is always a wild card; however, the pandemic really divulged it. Once all future plans were canceled and I was forced to be alone in my own head, I really learned how much I was suffering.
Your last couple of singles have touched on some grimly personal topics – issues of mental health, addiction, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, etc. It’s often said that music/art is cathartic as well as confrontational, a means to express ideas that one might be able to otherwise. To what extent is this the case with the songs on The New Torment?
Svart: I’ve always written from a very personal level when it comes to this band. I like to be graphic, specific, but still poetic and metaphorical in my choice of words and phrasing. It’s important to me that I show complete honesty and vulnerability when it comes to our lyrics. If I’m feeling it or have experienced it, I’m going to shove it in your face with all humility.
You’d stated that ‘It almost killed me’ when talking about the album and some of the personal experiences you endured during the writing/recording. Conversely, what was the greatest difficulty you felt you had to overcome in being so open with the topics you addressed?
The album also features guest appearances by drummer Jon Siren and Attila Csihar. Would you tell us about their involvement – how you first encountered them and how they came to be part of the album?
Svart: Attila and I toured a few times when I was still in Black Anvil. We connected on our love for industrial music and used to hit some clubs along the road. For those who don’t know, Attila used to have a really cool project called Plasma Pool around the time he first joined Mayhem. I always had a vision for him on this track and he was excited to collaborate.
I first became aware of Jon when I saw him drumming for IAMX. He’s undoubtably handsome and looks hot-a-f onstage and all I could ever think was, ‘fuck… I need this dude in my band.’ We finally met in the summer of 2019 through our friend Rhys Fulber and have been friends ever since. I really wanted live drums on a few tracks for The New Torment, so he naturally felt like the best fit.
Aside from Contracult, you’ve has worked with Miss Trezz on her most recent single, ‘Ugly,’ as well as ‘Choke’ and ‘Warzone.’ Can you tell us more about this working partnership? How did you come to work together, and in what ways do you feel your approaches to songwriting/production have strengthened each other?
Are there any other collaborations – either within Contracult or in a songwriter/producer capacity – that you’d like to tell us about?
Svart: As far as stuff I can talk about, I’ve been working with this really cool local artist called Pain Behavior. When he first came to me, he said his favorite artists were Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, Shade, and Marilyn Manson (musically), to which I said, ‘…yeah, I’m in.’ We’re in the middle of an EP, which is dirty, queer, hard, and totally sexy. You’ll want to dance, fuck, cry, and fight all at the same time. I’ve also been working remotely work a cool industrial/metal band called from Texas the Union. I believe they are releasing some of this material pretty soon and one of the tracks might just have another Mayhem-related feature on it. I also just finished a few tracks with a really cool industrial/metal artist named VIVIVEX, who I think is really taking the industrial/metal sound to new heights. Her songs are hard, emotional, and pissed beyond belief. She’s got a lot of trauma, which you can really feel in the work we”e doing. Stay tuned.
Contracult’s tagline seems to be ‘KEEP. GOTH. HARD.’ Of course, we have numerous categories and subcategories in the realm of ‘goth,’ like industrial/metal, death rock, darkwave, and we’ve had a resurgence of post-punk and goth/rock, synthwave a few years ago, etc. I’ve long held a belief that the concept of ‘genre’ in music is becoming obsolete. What are your thoughts on this? What do you find to be the validity of such categorizations?
Svart: I’ve always liked the concept of genre/subgenre personally. I think it’s fun and interesting to learn about and discover where it came from or what it means. If you’re creating something fresh, why wouldn’t you want to put a stamp on it? That being said, I feel there is a lot more genre-smashing/crossover than ever before, which is incredible and inevitable. Recently I did some music directing for an artist named Dana Dentata when she played this great party in Los Angeles known as Subculture, the perfect name for what I witnessed. The party was definitely queer-focused, and the clientele were a little bit punk, a little bit goth, a little bit fetish, a little bit emo, a little bit metal, and a little bit rap, which is just scratching the surface. There was a lot of gender fluidity, and a good percentage were APOC. I think that’s the subculture I’ve always wanted to see and what I would wish for my own band.
On the other hand, while industrial/metal is nothing new, there does still seem to be a distinct divide between the two worlds, bridged only by those ‘niche’ bands that seem more rooted in one or the other. What are your perceptions (at least as it pertains to Contracult and your own experience) on the two scenes – metal and industrial – and how the two have evolved, both separately and collectively?
You’ve released some striking music videos, from the lavish horror-movie production of ‘Meek’ to the rawer in-your-face performance style of ‘The Glutton.’ The MTV generation is long over, but in the days of YouTube and livestreaming, what are your thoughts on the significance of music videos – both as a promotional tool and as an art form unto themselves?
Or to put it another way, do you have a philosophy around the visual presentation of Contracult and how it complements or strengthens the music?
The band had been signed to Roadrunner Records for a time, and The New Torment is now releasing under your own Hogwasche Music imprint. Could you tell us about the circumstances behind how you first became associated with Roadrunner and what led to your leaving?
Svart: Roadrunner signed the band a few years back under our previous name, Hogwasche. They saw us play in a basement in the lower east side of Manhattan and wanted to take it to the next level. Unfortunately, the merge with Elektra happened right as we were in the midst of our deal, therefore everything drastically shifted from what we had signed. Every day was a new obstacle and hurdle with very little communication as to what was happening internally. Once the pandemic hit, they decided to let us go. All our festival and touring plans were out the door, so they didn’t see a viable reason to release any more music with us. Thankfully, they gave us all the masters back and we started releasing ourselves through Hogwasche Records. While I’m still scorned over the frustrating experience, I’m grateful for all the people we met and worked with along the way.
Based on your experiences, what are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry and the persistence of old models of business (record labels, ‘chart success,’ etc.) vs. now?
Svart: It’s a double-edged sword. There’s value in not needing a corporation to make, promote, and release your music. There are thousands of songs I would have never heard 20 years ago because the artists weren’t signed. It’s shifted the power dynamic and opened up a lot of independent possibilities for entertainers.
However, the algorithm industry also makes it harder than ever. You can’t just be a musician anymore; you’ve got to be an influencer, an actor, a video editor, then you have to showcase every piece of the process. Not to mention, these platforms are blocking posts promoting artists and releases because they want them to pay for promotion and the labels are making decisions based off numbers on a screen. I have friends signed to major labels now who won’t release certain singles because the song preview didn’t get enough engagement on Tik-Tok. I mean, what the fuck is that?
It has felt for quite some time like many are pursuing smaller releases – singles and EPs – more than full albums, and you’ve released a couple of EPs and a few singles up to now. It makes sense given the state of digital media, although we also have the resurgence of vinyl and cassettes. What are your thoughts on the album as a format – not just as it pertains to Contracult, but the whole of music?
What do you feel are the major lessons we learned in the wake of the pandemic? Or to put it another way, what do you feel artists, labels, venues, the industry as a whole should take away from the experience and use or think about going forward?
Svart: The only guarantee in life is that there are no guarantees. As far as the music industry is concerned going forward, I hope this experience shows you how much of a struggle musicians really endure out there. There should be more services and aid for artists and techs, especially the ones who tour a lot. They figured that out with the film industry, so there’s no reason we can’t provide the same support for artists.
Outside of music, what are you enjoying most right now? Movies? Reading? Hiking? Going for a drive? Painting? Anything… what gives you the most joy outside of music?
Svart: I do watch a ton of movies. I also make micro-horror films through a small imprint my friends and I created called Slashtag Cinema. You can find these films on Instagram and Tik-Tok under the name #slashtagcinema. I also train Muay Thai and cook dinner with my partner and our cats almost every night.
What’s next for Contracult? Anything we’ve not talked about that you’d like to add?
Svart: We’ll have more videos dropping for this release as well as a remix version of The New Torment sometime next year. Also, we finally have some long-awaited touring plans we’re working on for next year. I can’t reveal anything yet, but I’m really excited about it. The last thing I’d like to add is L.A. has a really cool scene right now of new artists who might not be on your radar. To name a few: Fact Pattern, INVA//ID, Pain Behavior, and Miss Trezz. Check them out – they could use your support. Oh, and KEEP. GOTH. HARD.
Photography by Steven Anthony Roe, provided courtesy of Contracult Collective