Daniel Joseph McCullough speaks with ReGen about the history of his band, Silver Walks, along with some reminiscences on the evolution and current perceptions of industrial music.
An InterView with Daniel Joseph McCullough of Silver Walks
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Recently signing to Jim Semonik’s Distortion Productions, Silver Walks is on a fast track toward becoming one of the electro/industrial scene’s most compelling acts. Drawing on his experiences in Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Shadowland parties, Daniel Joseph McCullough has been honing his skills as a songwriter to create a sound that blends his love of emotive melodies with pulsing beats and insistent bass lines, sharpened by an adventurous spirit that bridges elements of synthpop, goth, trance, and industrial music. After several self-released EPs, McCullough refined the Tidal single to become his official debut, showcasing a strong songwriting sensibility and a keen collaborative drive; featuring remixes by the likes of GoFight, Interface, Null Device, Panic Lift, and Caustic to name a few, along with a striking music video, “Tidal” is only the first taste of what Silver Walks has to offer. Those who’ve seen McCullough and his cohorts onstage supporting the likes of Chemlab, C-Tec, Ego Likeness, and Assemblage 23 already know this all too well, and with the Songs of Love and Hate EP on the horizon, to be followed by the Various Positions full-length album, it’s clear that Silver Walks has a lot in store for the electro/industrial scene. McCullough took the time to speak with ReGen about his and the band’s history and musical approach, reminiscing on the evolution of industrial music as we know it, and what the future holds for Silver Walks.
Let’s start off with the obvious question about your history and how Silver Walks came to be. As I understand it, the band ‘almost happened by accident,’ emerging from your time spinning in Shadowland Lancaster?
McCullough: I had been in bands and involved behind-the-scenes in music most of my life, working as a DJ or promoter for shows. There had been a few fairly disastrous trial runs earlier that had led me to more or less view making music seriously as a pipe dream, but a dream it remained; those kind of hopes for your life die hard, and I’m glad they do. I had relocated from Chicago back to a town in central Pennsylvania where I’d attended high school, trying to get my life together after a few hard knocks. I had heard that these two guys from Philadelphia were coming to town to start a goth/industrial night and that I ought to hook up with them. Industrial music? In Lancaster? No way! At the time, punk rock and emo/hardcore were really the only kinds of subculture that had seeped that far west of Philadelphia, but I’d had a passion for it ever since the girl behind the counter at the local record shop handed me Tyranny >For You<.
I was skeptical, but upon meeting Eric and Dave, I had to admit I was impressed with their professional attitudes, senses of humor, and their passion for the music. So, I signed on to help bail the hay and feed the horses. The club night is now in its eleventh year, and seemingly grows with every passing month. Shows what I know, ha!
Eric prodded me to take another crack at a band, but I kept screwing around for a bit. The songs I was writing felt half-hearted and I’m pretty sure it’s because they were. I was gunning at what I thought others might like rather than what I liked. At an Assemblage 23 gig we set up, my friend Steven, who has a gift for straight talk, just walked up to me and said, ‘Dan, you obviously want to be doing this. Why aren’t you?’ He had me dead to rights; I just had to laugh and say I had no idea. Ergo, I started writing again, and this time, the songs were ones I’d want to hear, which was not something I was hearing a lot of. From there, a series of fortunate accidents have carried the band, where I would simply bump into the right people at the right time while working my butt off. Synchronicity. Ian I met at an Atari Teenage Riot gig; Tim lived down the street from me at the time in Philadelphia, and we all hit it off.
You’d released the Our Season On Fire EP in 2015 and a version of Tidal independently in 2017, both prior to your signing to Distortion Productions for the new release of Tidal, which are now no longer available; what motivated the decision to remove them from circulation?
With Tidal now available via Distortion, what would you say are the major differences between the two that you feel reflect Silver Walks’ stylistic evolution and current sound more definitively?
McCullough: Well, ultimately, I view that four-track version of Our Season On Fire as a demo, and it’s not uncommon for demo versions of songs to disappear from circulation once they’ve been more thoroughly realized. As my production skills improved, I felt the songs could become more powerful with some extra work, so I started turning screws and shining up the chrome. I think a big mistake people make in electronic music is viewing the songs as something static, that can’t be changed once completed. Due to its nature, that is a very easy thing to assume, but with tools such as Ableton Live, it gets very easy to create new versions and try new things. I want to be able to be flexible and do new and unique things with my songs. I’d like to be able to perform different versions live as well, to make it a more engaging and unique experience. For example, if you go see a band like Swans, it is very likely that you won’t hear the version of the song you heard on the record. It’s moved on.
Another factor is the simple fact that new, awesome versions of the song kept rolling in. We got a remix from Jim Marcus and Dan Evans of GoFight that was great that I wanted to include. We got a great mix from Caustic, Tim from Lonely Death Squad did an awesome synthpop version… and of course, you’ve got Ian Staer’s version at the end with Holly and Ashlei singing, which I feel is a really cool bookend to my own version – a feminine yin to my own more driving EBM yang. Timebomb will be coming back out through Distortion after the EP is finished. I’ve got four more tracks of vocals to finish and then it’s out the door. I should be working on that now, ha!
As far as the differences between the two… the new versions are noisier and more experimental. They’re more fleshed out and alive. I wrote the originals when I was still re-learning how to do this. I also don’t sound like a strangled frog vocally, mostly, so that’s a good thing, although I still didn’t quite get as far as I would have liked to. Silver Walks, especially on some of the upcoming material, is evolving to contain both that driving electronic sound, some more jarring, almost experimental noise moments, and some more nakedly human ones. There will always be a hard electronic edge to it, but I don’t want it to be cookie cutter EBM with some dude dressed up as a Nazi singing about how he can only get an erection punching ladies. It’s not transgressive anymore, if it ever was; it’s boring and trite. I was talking to my friend Marc about this. We live in a time when we’re overloaded on every level with violence, and political hypocrisy, and hopelessness. When all you need to do to expose corruption and hypocrisy is turn on the television, the only real way to be transgressive is to be sincere.
I think that’s what we do.
Tell us about the music video for ‘Tidal,’ how it came about and in what ways the visuals presented tie into the lyrical themes, if they do at all?
McCullough: ‘Tidal’ isn’t a happy song, although it is an upbeat one. I find often that the music that really moves me these days is the bittersweet kind. Life can be that way – a chaotic, confusing jumble of victories and losses. That is very much reflected in the song; taking a moment to breathe and look back on the story, even if it hurts. It’s about a very important relationship in my life running its course, and running headlong into someone else’s issues, knowing well that you’re not innocent.
I think that’s reflected very well in the video. Dylan, whom I’ve known for a long time and is a very good friend, shot it on a shoestring budget, but worked marvels with it. It helps that Holly, the actress in the video, seemed to grasp the meaning pretty deeply and brought it to her performance. She did a great job. I think the metaphor of an insect arising from a medication bottle is quite clear, as are a few of the others. Endings and beginnings, new problems borne from old solutions… that’s all Dylan.
There is certainly a very striking and catchy electro/synthpop style in your rather evocative vocal melodies, which (if you’ll forgive this comparison) are reminiscent of the futurepop sound of the early 2000s.
From my observation, there was a greater disparity between that and the more abrasive ‘industrial’ or ‘coldwave’ styles than now; it seems like people are more open to these differences, but that might just be me. What are your thoughts on the contrasting sounds of the electro/industrial scene and how the audience responds to them today?
McCullough: I don’t think they’re all that different. Heavy can mean many different things. I was around Philadelphia during the futurepop boom, and I suppose the scent of that might be around; there are people from that scene like Assemblage 23 and Covenant that I feel aged a lot better than the others. A thing that irks me a little is this whole pretending that didn’t happen nonsense. Yes, I understand it’s very different from Zoth Ommog, but I’m not going to pretend I didn’t have a real good time partying to those songs or that I wasn’t there enjoying some of it, like some of these people. I saw you there! HA! By the same token, what you might interpret as futurepop in my own vocals here are kind of a collision of industrial music with my childhood love of punk rock. I was a big Bad Religion freak; still am. Those kinds of soaring melodies still get me right in the feels, and I doubt they’ll ever go away.
I love the heavy stuff too. People don’t necessarily have to be one thing or the other. Both is possible. I like Leonard Cohen and Lustmord. Given the subject matter of the next record, I think you may find that reflected in the aggression level… I definitely broke out the Geiger Counter on a few of the Various Positions songs.
Isn’t this always the case, though? People view the stuff they grew up with as passé when something new rolls around. Our generation had VNV rising to the top of the heap, so when people started looking further back to older styles, it sounded super fresh and new. You can be bored by things that are always around and omnipresent. I’m just old enough to remember when that style first took flight, and back then, it was the new hotness to a lot of people in the way Youth Code or High Functioning Flesh is for a lot of people now.
I like that in a certain sense, the stylistic palette is cleansed for the moment. There are a lot of avenues and all of them sound pretty different. Now, if you could just get people to stop pretending one or the other doesn’t exist or isn’t valid, but a boy can only hope for so much.
Agreed. For those who’ve not seen Silver Walks live, you’ve opened for the likes of Chemlab, C-Tec, Ego Likeness, Assemblage 23, and more… tell us about the development of the live show, what sorts of challenges you’ve seen in translating your music for the live environment?
McCullough: The live show is all sweat and energy. You’re seeing a punk rock show with synths when you come to see us. For better or worse, when I go to a gig, I want the same. The rock band format can be really powerful, so get out, mix it up, and get your hands dirty; I usually end my shows drenched because I’m kind of barreling around the stage and interacting with people, as is my duty as the front man. There are bands in this scene that kind of stand around. We are not one of them. I love the live format because it’s so immediate and you can feed off of the energy of the crowd; it’s a high in and of itself. We also appreciate people being there, so we try not to do the same thing too often, not just rely on a static track list and backing tracks. With dense, sequenced music, it’s always a challenge to shake it up enough and get a really engaging live feel, but I must say we do it pretty well. Tim has a couple of synths live, an analog one for playing leads and such, and another for working with tracks and loops; Ian is playing live electronic drums. I also worked a lot personally in Final Cut creating backing films to add another dimension.
In opening for such well established and even legendary acts, what do you feel you’ve learned from them that you’d like to apply to future live shows?
McCullough: Keep it lean. Unless you are literally Rick Wakeman, you probably don’t need 20 keyboards onstage. Do as much of your own sound as possible. Stay as sober as possible. Don’t be a dick to people and they, probably, won’t be a dick back (what a concept). Get your tracks mastered, if you use them. Leather gets really hot onstage, ha!
You’ve got a new EP, Songs of Love and Hate coming later this year, with the Various Positions full-length planned for 2019; what can you tell us about the status of these two albums?
McCullough: Songs of Love and Hate is all but done; four tracks worth of vocals to go and we put a lid on it. Various Positions was written and scrapped once already. It’s about something really intense that happened to a loved one a few years ago and I wanted, one – to make sure it was okay that I was writing about it, and two – that the finished piece actually did the situation some justice. I’m going to be working on that through March, probably. Then it will be out once that is completed. It’s a lot noisier, more bracing. It’s the post-surgical medical report from the ICU.
What else is next for you and Silver Walks?
McCullough: Well, next on the docket is Various Positions, full stop, and a remix for Caustic. Then I’ve got this techno/EBM/spoken word thing that I’d like to do under the name Obliterature. I want to get some spoken word and short stories from some various writers I know and build some scorching dark ambient/dark techno with them. Then, I’m going to become a Scientologist, move to Idaho, and sell hot dogs for a living. The future is bright.
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