Feb 2021 15

FTANNG! founder Dorian Deveraux speaks with ReGen about the band’s history and music, along with musings on the life of a musician in the days of COVID.
 

 

An InterView with Dorian Deveraux of FTANNG! and Jesus on Extasy

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

From Essen, Germany came the duo known as FTANNG!, presenting a raucous but refined style of industrialized alternative rock that simply deserves to be heard. Founded in 2010 by Dorian Deveraux initially as a solo project after his departure from Jesus on Extasy, he and band mate Peter Vignold presented on the ironically titled 2020 debut … And No One Seemed to Care … a set of songs that ran a gamut of emotions and influences, from ’90s alt. rock and coldwave to ’70s inspired progressive rock, and even hints of melody that harken back to the post-punk and synth-drenched new wave of the early ’80s. It’s a mix that sounds like it shouldn’t work, but the results spoke volumes on the album, followed later in the year by the State of Mind remix companion that featured KMFDM, the band’s own L.A. Streethawk alter-ego, and even heralded the return of Jesus on Extasy. In the twilight of the year, Deveraux was kind enough to speak with ReGen Magazine about the formation and development of FTANNG! over the course of the last decade to finally culminate in the powerful debut record, as well as offering some insights into the resurrection of Jesus on Extasy, and his perspectives on being a working musician during the dark days of the global pandemic.

 

Let’s start with Jesus on Extasy for now; it had seemed like the band broke up, although you still seem to create remixes under the name. What is the status of that band?

Deveraux: It’s nice to finally be able to talk about this. So, after I left Jesus on Extasy at the end of 2010, they continued for some time with a new singer, but eventually disbanded, I think in 2014. And we had absolutely no intentions in getting the band back together for a variety of reasons, but somehow Chai, with whom I started JoE back in 2005, and I reconnected and in early 2020, right before the pandemic hit, we met and realized the old fire is burning again. So, we decided to give it another go. We managed to keep things under wraps, before announcing the comeback last Halloween, but as a little teaser, Chai did a remix of the FTANNG! song ‘The Sun Will Shine Again,’ which is absolutely fantastic. So, that’s the story. JoE is back, we’re currently writing music, and I can’t wait to show people what we’re up to.

Having initially started FTANNG! as a solo outlet, in what ways do you feel this new band is a continuation of ideas you were unable to pursue in the previous band?

Deveraux: FTANNG! actually started in late 2010, when it became clear I’d leave JoE. To me, FT! was always about freedom of expression and finding my voice as an artist without making any compromises. Although also having creative freedom in JoE, there was always a sense of pressure from our label and publisher to ‘deliver a single,’ and on the other hand, the expectations from the audience. We didn’t have that with FT!, so that fresh start felt pretty good and gave us the opportunity to dive into a more experimental style and just see what sticks and, maybe more importantly, what felt right to us.

In what ways did the original conception of FTANNG! change when Peter Vignold joined – as it was originally a solo outlet, what changed in terms of the sound and creative vision?

Deveraux: Certainly, my mindset changed a lot. Before Peter joined the band, I was playing it quite safe musically and relied a lot on old recipes I knew would work. With Peter, I was able to get into more daring, unknown territory, which is always scary, but also pretty exciting. I don’t trust many people and therefore obviously don’t work well with many others, but Peter and I always had this blind understanding that is crucial for a succesful collaboration. Without him, FT! would surely sound a lot less exciting.

 

 

What is the interplay between the two of you in FTANNG! – what are you respective roles, not just in terms of instrumentation/performance, but in terms of songwriting and the creative process? Or put more simply, how do you two write songs together?

Deveraux: That’s a tough one, because there are no fixed roles, except the singing part. But mostly, it’s me delivering the rough sketches, like lyrics and the melody, maybe a rough demo, which I send to Peter. He then completely dismantles the song, strips it down to its essence, rearranges it, and sends it back to me. This way we created an organic back-and-forth system that shaped our sound significantly. As a pianist, I’m coming from a more classical songwriting background, while Peter has a vast knowledge of different musical styles and also a great understanding of how songs have to be arranged in order to work. Actually, what never really worked for us was trying to come up with a good idea while we’re in the same room. I guess we both need the solitude to channel our creative energy. That’s why the pandemic didn’t hit us as hard as other bands, in terms of writing new material. But once we got the basis, we get together in the studio, experiment with a variety of synths, and find out what works.

The band’s style on this album feels very reminiscent of the ’90s brand of electronic and industrially tinged rock – I found myself drawing comparisons to the likes of Sister Machine Gun, Machines of Loving Grace, and Hate Dept. – and the juxtaposition of very electronic sounds and programmed beats with organic guitars and especially pianos. What did you find to be the major challenges, both in terms of songwriting and productions, in bridging the synthetic with the organic?

Deveraux: I absolutely love that you mention Sister Machine Gun, as they’re one of the first industrial bands I came in touch with in the mid ’90s and they have a special place in my heart. To be honest, I’ve never really seen electronic and acoustic instruments as that much a juxtaposition. Of course, yes in terms of how they sound, but to me, they’re all breathing and living entities. I’m working with a lot of analog equipment, like modular or semi-modular stuff. For the tech nerds out there: The Arturia MatrixBrute and the Moog trifecta (Mother32, DFAM, and Subharmonicon) are my go-to synths at the moment. And these machines behave in unique ways, depending on room temperature, run time, how you patch the cables, etc. etc. They also have inputs for external instruments and sometimes I mic up the piano or an acoustic guitar and run it through the analog filters and oscillators. Another thing I really like to do is open my piano and manipulate the strings. I have an electromagnetic device called eBow, which is originally for guitars, but when you put it on the piano strings and press the sustain pedal it makes the strings vibrate and creates a wonderful dronelike sound. Maybe this is why blending these elements feels so natural to me, because they’re often really deeply blended in the recording process and not later in the mix. It’s also why I left the music university after a short time. This type of experimentation was very much frowned upon, and instead of widening their student’s horizons, most professors wanted to impose their own style on them. But that was a long time ago and I can just hope this mindset has changed by now.

On the other hand, the title track really put me in mind of ’70s prog rock with those soaring keyboard solos and the off-kilter rhythm (of course, it also reminded me of NIN’s ‘Just Like You Imagined’ from The Fragilee), and there was a saxophone in ‘Betray.’ So, as much as I loathe asking this kind of question… I now am curious, who would you count as your more profound musical influences, and what would you say you’ve learned the most about formulating your own style from them?

Deveraux: That’s always a tough question to answer, because I never know where to start. Some of my earliest musical influences are Beethoven and Queen, but I think it was really the ’80s and ’90s bands, that shaped me the most. You mentioned NIN, and of course they play a big role, but also acts like Talking Heads, ABC, Genesis, HEALTH… all these bands have incredible, unique songwriting. Being a teenager in the mid ’90s in western europe, I was exposed to a lot of Euro Dance. I’ve always liked the electronic aspect of it, but the music itself was too much on the happy side for my taste. Getting my hands on the first Mortal Kombat soundtrack in ’95 was a total life changer for me at a time I didn’t know I needed a life change and I still occasionally listen to it. It was my gateway drug into darker, more complex music. Peter is slightly older than I and brings up a lot of influences from the ’80s and ’90s as well. He would often dig up some long lost records from his collection and make me listen to it.

You also released the State of Mind ‘remix companion’ to the album, and besides your own Jesus on Extasy remix, you had KMFDM remix ‘King Of my World.’ Tell us about your association with KMFDM and how Sascha came to do that remix? Same for the other participants on that EP?

Deveraux: I first got in touch with Sascha in 2006. KMFDM has always been one of my biggest influences, and back then, I contacted him on MySpace and asked if he would do a remix of one of our songs from Jesus on Extasy. To my surprise, he wrote back and told me he loved ‘Assassinate Me,’ and a couple of weeks later, we had a KMFDM remix. That really helped our career take off and put us into the spotlight for the first time. After that, we bumped into each other every now and then at festivals and concerts and I consider him a good friend. In late 2019, we as L.A. Streethawk did a remix of ‘Piggy’ from the PARADISE album and were scheduled to be their support act for the 2020 Eeuropean tour.
 

 
So, there’s definitely a close connection. As for the other acts, with L.A. Streethawk basically being Peter and me, it was a no brainer that there’s gonna be a remix on the EP. Chris Gilcher is another good friend of mine and an incredibly talented composer and producer. We met during the ‘Soundtrack_Cologne’ convention and wanted to collaborate for quite a while now. Suki is a good friend of Peter’s and true electonic wizard; what he does with his machines is way beyond my understanding and he always delivers. And as mentioned before, I asked Chai if he was interested in doing a remix so we could tease the JoE comeback a little.

We do live in an age of nostalgia now, and there are bands bringing back old sounds of synthwave and post-punk revivalism, along with numerous older bands reforming and becoming active again. What are your thoughts on how these trends are being received by newer audiences? Does it inspire or enable a deeper dig into the past, or is it just a fad?

Deveraux: This is also tough to answer, since I feel I’m affected by not only one but two aspects you just mentioned. L.A. Streethawk is our synthwave outlet and JoE just announced a comeback for 2021, so I’m definitely biased. Generally, I don’t see nostalgia as something bad and enjoy listening to synthwave or post-punk as long as there’s something new to discover. I love that ’80s sound mixed with today’s modern production techniques. But on the other hand, I also see the danger of romanticizing an era that had nothing romantic about it. As far as I can remember, the ’80s weren’t all blue and pink neon colors, but also Reaganomics, not being able to play outside because of Europe’s mainland being hit by the nuclear fallout from Chernobyl, and the constant subtle fear of nuclear war.
 

 
But apart from that, I think the retro movement is great because it gives a younger audience the chance to discover the roots of this music and bands that stopped being active before they were born – it’s always nice to know who influenced your favorite band. And especially today, we have all the possibilities to really dig deep into the past, since it’s all on streaming services now. This is something I would’ve wished for as a 14-year-old growing up in a village right outside one of the big metro areas. We had a small record store that only catered to older people and exclusively sold a particularly despicable genre called ‘German Schlager’ (do yourself a favor and don’t Google that).

Live music is in a great deal of turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What possibilities do you foresee for live music to survive or evolve in the wake of the current situation?
On the other hand, a livestream obviously doesn’t hold the same power as a live show, but as it’s become part of the status quo, what sort of possibilities do you see for FTANNG! and other bands to use new and online technologies to keep music alive and maintain the excitement of audiences?

Deveraux: Yeah, the whole live industry has been hit incredibly hard. Not only musicians, but also the technicians, riggers, stagehands, mixers – the list is endless and it’s a shame how these people are being hung out to dry with very little help. As I mentioned, we had been scheduled to open for KMFDM on the tour that never was. It would’ve been a teenage dream come true and it hurt badly when the tour was cancelled.
But at the same time, I feel like we live in times of rapid change and have multiple ways to connect with our audiences besides the stage. We haven’t done a streaming concert yet, but I do regular livestreams on my Instagram or Twitch channels and it’s always fun to answer people’s questions or just hang out and talk. As for streaming concerts, it’s not something we’re entertaining at the moment, since we take the pandemic and the social isolation aspect of it very seriously. As much as it hurts me to say this and as much as I understand how dire the situation for the live sector is, I don’t think concerts or other big events should happen until we have the vaccine globally distributed and it’s safe to gather again.
I also don’t consider streaming concerts a proper substitute for live shows in a venue. The entire energy goes missing, everything is very sterile. A big part of the excitement of live concerts is the soundwaves hitting your body, letting you feel the music. That just doesn’t happen in front of a screen.
What I could imagine is recording or streaming an acoustic set with stripped down versions of FTANNG! songs.

What’s next for FTANNG!?

Deveraux: We’re still trying to figure that out. One of our goals is to produce a limited vinyl edition of … And No One Seemed to Care … and State of Mind. When it’s safe again, I’d like to find band members to bring the act on the road. As of now, we’re already collecting material for the follow up album, which will hopefully not take another 10 years. But first, we’re now in the finishing stages for the first L.A. Streethawk album and after that, I’ll be busy with JoE as well as my film music and TV music projects. But we got a title for the album already, so I guess you could say it’s pretty serious.

 

FTANNG!
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp
Jesus on Extasy
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube
L.A. Streethawk
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp

 

Photography by Marina Päsler and Alexandra Zita Zygar – courtesy of FTANNG!

 

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