ViVi Vex speaks with ReGen on the history of The Rust Punk Tribe, hinting at future live shows and collaborations and proving why the industrial music scene is still a nurturing home for outsiders.
An InterView with ViVi Vex of The Rust Punk Tribe
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Founded in 2012 and already featuring over 60 guest recording artists, The Rust Punk Tribe is the brainchild of one ViVi Vex. Having stated that all of the project’s releases will be freely available as digital downloads, Vex is an artist who lives for the thrill of creation and the catharsis of self expression and acceptance – with a tough but musical upbringing, Vex found solace in the community of underground industrial music. From high profile figures like Sean Payne (Cyanotic, Vampyre Anvil), Uterozzzaaa, actor Colby Boothman (Jurassic World, Star Wars: Battlefront), and Grammy nominated guitarist Sin Quirin (MINISTRY, RevCo, Society 1), to a bevy of fellow up–and–comers, The Rust Punk Tribe offers an alternative to the alternative, a new brand of industrial free from the constraints of stylistic tradition or geographical vicinity. ViVi Vex speaks with ReGen now on the project’s foundation and where The Rust Punk Tribe has yet to go musically and artistically, hinting at upcoming live shows, future collaborations, as well as touching on the artist’s own personal history and how the industrial music scene still serves as a nurturing home for outsiders.
Tell us about your own personal history and how you first came to music?
In what ways do you feel your past experiences culminated in what you are now doing with The Rust Punk Tribe?
: I was taught to sing by my father, which was one of the only times I saw him before he became physically abusive to my mother and I and then left for good when I was around 13. He sang in a cover band and at an early age, my parents told me the songs he played were his and that he was a rock star, and that I would grow up to be the same. Music was a positive influence in my early life, until I got older. Then it became a more complex situation. When I was a young teenager, I was an outcast at school and at home for what I enjoyed, including by my father. At that time, he was starting to abuse me over witnessing him abusing my mother and attempting to call the police. He tried to teach me that bands I liked were turning me gay and he thought that he could beat it out of me. Music became much more than just music to me. It was a place to hide even after he left. I was still a target for others to bully just because of the music I enjoyed. So, instead of fighting back, I would hide and practice writing lyrics or singing.
Eventually I made friends who understood me and didn’t judge me. That’s how I met Jon Thoresen, Shadow Kuo, and Colby Boothman. We all met in high school and started a band together. After high school and moving around though, the band broke up and I had noticed that it was hard joining a new band when you’re just a vocalist. So at 17, I started my late journey into learning how to play the synthesizer and work music programs on a laptop. I was already familiar with the original MicroKorg because Colby’s dad kept one in a box titled ‘Master Bath,’ (which I later would call his dad for years because we joked that it was his name on the box), so I bought one along with an RP–50 guitar pedal for my microphone. I was flat out awful… still am in my opinion. Eventually, Jon asked me if I wanted to play a noise music event directed by Jamison Williams, who ended up playing with us on our set as well. This is what got me comfortable enough to play live and started the live performance act The ViVi Vex Show. After a few shows, Jon came back again and invited me to record on a track with him for a collaborative tape cassette album called Burial In the Sky. It had Jarboe from Swans, Ben Chisholm from Chelsea Wolfe, and a ton of other cool people on it. It’s what inspired The Rust Punk Tribe – that and Pigface.
You’ve a long list of collaborators with The Rust Punk Tribe, most notably Sin Quirin (MINISTRY) and Sean Payne (Cyanotic). How did they come to work with you on this project?
Tell us about some of the other people involved and what exactly their contributions have been?
In what ways do you feel their contributions have enriched the sound of the band and help to achieve or even surpass your original goals for The Rust Punk Tribe?
Are there any other collaborations you have in the pipeline that you’d like to share with us, or any that you’d like to see happen?
: The Rust Punk Tribe was nameless for years, and the beginning was really slow. For the first year or two, the only people who recorded for it were Jon Thoresen, Uterozzzaaa (who was an online friend of mine for a long time), Ben Hall of Eyes of The Naga, Dennis Hudson, and myself. I gave up on it for a full year until I had the idea again, and Iatro Glitch of Rest in Satin Silence pushed me to do it and recorded for it as well. After that, it just kind of snowballed.
Sean and Sin came into the picture later, and by pure luck. Sin followed me on Instagram and I followed him back; then, I sent him an invite to collaborate. He listened to two versions of ‘Outlet’ and said he liked it before I even told him the name and how small we are. He’s a really nice guy. We talked for a little bit during the process of recording, but I didn’t want to bug him, so I tried not to talk too much. I guess you could say I was starstruck! After that, I took another shot in the dark and messaged Sean on Facebook out of nowhere and he agreed. It’s sort of how this project operates. I either message someone an invite or they message me a request.
So far, everything has been done for free. Nobody paid to participate nor did I pay anyone to participate, not even Sin or Sean. I guess people are really coming together for something bigger than money – my guess is either to help establish a new industrial scene for fans of the older styles, or just for the sake of music. In any case, I’ve really enjoyed working with everyone so far, not just the big guys, although they have done a great job as well. We have a lot of creative people on here like Nequam Sonitus, a scrap metal robot monster who puts a metal grinder to its face for performances at places like The International Noise Conference in Miami, or Aesthetic Meat Front, who places contact mics to themselves to make noise music with bodily sounds like heartbeats and fetuses moving. There’s so much I could list!
You’ve stated that all of The Rust Punk Tribe’s releases will be available as free downloads only… why is this exactly?
What are your thoughts on the album format, both in the world of music as a whole, and how it pertains to you specifically?
Vex: When I was a teenager, we stole CDs. Then when pirating became popular, we did that. We of course paid to go to shows, buy the merch, and we paid for CDs we really liked; you can’t pirate those cool posters anyways! We were broke! We’re still broke! I remember when MySpace and VampireFreaks were a thing in the social media world. The first album by Ink Dot Boy was free on VampireFreaks and I had never heard of him before. I simply downloaded his first album because I was broke, it was free, and it was right there in my face and looked interesting. I loved it! That album not only inspired me musically, but the fact that it was free inspired me as well. So I wanted to pass on that little bit of fun to the next group of broke teenagers scavenging somewhere for free music online.
How important is it for you to keep up with the latest developments in music technology? What is exciting you the most in that regard, what new gear or software is appealing to you at the moment?
: I’d be more interested in new gear if it was cheaper, which is one of the reasons why I used scrap metal for percussion, other than being a big Neubauten fan, but I will talk about some things I bought that have excited me. I retired that old RP–50 guitar pedal I mentioned using for older project vocals like The ViVi Vex Show and Vex ViVi. I recently acquired a Roland VT–3, and let me be honest, as someone who is transgender, it was a very emotional moment when I had first heard a gender bent version of my voice. It felt right. ViVi Vex is finally going to be releasing a rock album soon, and I’ll be using vocals like that for it. On another note, Vex ViVi will be releasing an instrumental album featuring alternative versions of most of The Rust Punk Tribe songs, but only my parts. Most people think ViVi Vex or The ViVi Vex Show is my solo project, but Vex ViVi is entirely done by myself. I’ll also be releasing a remix album under Vex ViVi dedicated to ’90s songs – it’s over eight hours now and is estimated to be 16 hours long when finished.
You’ve talked about your family history, mentioning physical and emotional abuse, as well as mentioning that you are transgender – what are your thoughts on why industrial music in particular seems to appeal to many with similar experiences, why this genre in particular offers a haven?
Vex: To me, the industrial music scene and other scenes for ‘underground’ music genres are a haven or escape for people because it’s not visible to the majority of society, so in turn, there are more intelligent or at least more open minded people involved. You get to have more room to express yourself and there’s less judgment from others. As for the music itself, I think that it is a haven as well, but for me, it’s more so within the realm of preference. Most of the lyrics written by industrial artists I listen to are more political than personal. I relate to some of it, but I’m not a very political person honestly. Maybe that’s something I should work on. What makes industrial music a haven for me is the sound. Sure, I like a ton of genres, even mainstream ones! Pop, rock, rap, metal, noise, future funk, etc., but nothing beats the sounds of trash cans and synthesizers!
You also mentioned part of the reason for your adopting old school techniques was due to a limited budget, and there is a growing number of young and up–and–coming bands adopting a similar methodology – perhaps for different reasons, but what are your thoughts on the way industrial music has evolved thus far and in what way these young bands going back to the beginning bodes for new developments and evolution to take place?
: I think what we’re seeing with myself and other young industrial bands adopting these methods is indeed an evolution, but this is only the beginning of it taking place. We were all the people who didn’t want to be a part of the club music and aggrotech aesthetics. Some of us are poor crust punks, some of us are more cyberpunk than cyergoth, some are noise fans discovering industrial, but all of us want to see the old elements make a comeback, and thanks to the harsh noise scene and The Rust Punk Tribe, we’re finally banding together and creating our own scene away from the current, most popular forms of the industrial music scenes. I also believe that this may be one of the last waves of industrial, maybe even the very last. There’s new territory out there for industrial, but possibly only so much. I think that once all the new bands and myself do everything we can do, there won’t be much left for the next generation besides combining genres. For all I know though, we might just continue onwards in a loop. For example, after the rise and fall of this new generation, people could create new forms of industrial club music, and maybe mix it with genres it hasn’t been mixed with yet, or even new genres. Then, after that generation’s rise and fall, people could go back to the old elements, creating new versions of old school industrial all over again.
What is next for you and The Rust Punk Tribe? When do you expect that we will see an album release?
Vex: What’s next? Well, I’d like to use a quote from Pinky and The Brain but I feel like there are some other goals for the project I should address instead. For now I will continue The Rust Punk Tribe’s first full-length album, which so far, features 67 artists from many different genres and from many different places around the world. Once we have around 151 artists involved, I will then work on fitting everything together and getting it ready for a release.
Gotta unite ’em all I guess…
Will you be taking The Rust Punk Tribe live any time soon, and if so, what do you foresee such a show entailing in terms of budget/construction/visuals, etc.?
: We have actually! With my parts at least! So I like to bunch everything I’ve done together into one big show instead of playing individual shows for each project at the moment. This is why I only perform under the name ‘The ViVi Vex Show’ instead of ViVi Vex, Vex ViVi, or The Rust Punk Tribe. Eventually, I will do singular shows for each project, but that will probably have to wait until I’m signed or have more money. The visuals right now though are fun! I make all the costumes myself with my own style that I call ‘Rust Punk’ and sometimes another style I made myself that I call ‘Hologoth.’ Visible and audible originality is very important to me! I believe that every band should look and sound as unique as possible! Anyways, there are some other fun visual things we’re doing for shows now too, like shooting sparks at the crowds or starting fires. We also have some new visual elements that we hope to have ready in time for Complete Confusion Festival here in my hometown, but I won’t give anything away yet. If it’s not ready by Complete Confusion Festival, it should be ready by the time we play one the next International Noise Conference Festivals in Miami or at the Venture Compound (which by the way, is my favorite venue and I hope they never change that name because I’m a big Venture Brothers fan!) in St. Petersburg, Florida.
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Photography courtesy of ViVi Vex