Currently on a co-headlining tour with fellow industrial solo act I Ya Toyah, Mach Fox spoke with ReGen prior to the tour about the development of his style, the art of live performance, and drops some hints about the future of Zwaremachine.
An InterView with Mach Fox of Zwaremachine
By William Zimmerman (WZ)
Based in Minneapolis and headed by Mach Fox, industrial/EBM act Zwaremachine has been on a steady upward trajectory since the 2011 release of the Raumschiff EP. Seven years later, the Be a Light album followed, with Fox pushing his audio/visual skills even further with band mate Adam01 on synth and live bassist D-bot; with seven original tracks, Be a Light included a plethora of remixes from the likes of ENDIF, Roughhausen, Planktoon, Paul Birken, and Severin24, making for a behemoth of pounding EBM rhythms and grating industrial textures. After the “Remain Unseen” single in December 2018, along with a string of European performances, this year has culminated in the Code Blue Tour, on which Zwaremachine is co-headlining with Chicago’s I Ya Toyah throughout the mid-western United States. On top of that, the two up-and-comers collaborated on the “Smile that Killed a Country” single, which the pair has been performing exclusively on the tour. Mach Fox was kind enough to speak with ReGen Magazine prior to the tour.
You just got back to the States from some European shows. How was that experience for you?
Fox: The European shows in The Netherlands and Germany were highlights of 2019 and the year has just begun. The audiences really welcomed me, and a bit of luck and hard work landed Zwaremachine a slot on very cool festival for the final show. It is a bit of a different music culture where my music isn’t so jarring and people understand this type of performance technique. It was a bit of luck and hard work to meet my goal of bringing ‘minimal hypnotic industrial body music’ to Europe for the first time. I met so many cool people and sharing a stage with Portion Control, as well as meeting them and also meeting Dirk Ivens (Klinik, Absolute Body Control, Dive) was really special since they are the bands I was inspired by when forming Zwaremachine. Those gigs and the friends made showed me that people who are passionate about music all over can be instant friends quickly and easily. Performing at Downhill Festival XIII with the excellent venue and staff is something I will always hold as high point for the band’s history. These were solo Zwaremachine shows, but I plan to be back to Europe in September 2019 as a duo with my bandmate D-bot on bass guitar and vocals.
You’re preparing some dates with another U.S. solo electronic act, I Ya Toyah on the Code Blue Tour. Would you tell us about how that plan came to be?
Fox: Things are moving so fast right now that I can’t even remember if it was our tour plans that sparked a collaboration track or the other way around. The timing worked out well and our goals were aligned, so we just decided to run with the idea of booking some Midwest U.S. shows and then gave it a name and let it evolve. We were also in the process of recording the duet ‘Smile that Killed a Country,’ and the idea to release it as a bonus single and connect to the tour with exclusive performances was suggested by my manager/booking agent Kitty Sommer. Now we have fully embraced our personal, band, and tour goals and want to show fans what we have for them.
Speaking of ‘Smile that Killed a Country,’ can you talk about the lyrical content behind the track and who did what part in the composition? This will be a performance staple in the tour, right?
Fox: This track was released originally by my band Mach Fox in 2008 and I wrote it as a duet for male/female. The lyrics were about a female assassin having to kill the male, whom she has fallen in love with. It’s a whispering tale of deception and promise, a sort of Bond movie theme with a female lead. The original version was more of an electro/rock style and I had been doing an electronic remix version of it live in some Zwaremachine sets and singing both parts. Towards the end of 2018, I decided to reach out to some female vocalists to attempt a remake. I had already written the vocal arrangements and wanted to recreate those, so it was hard to find the right singer who could produce her own vocals but give me the arrangements and parts I needed. I Ya Toyah was able to do just that and much more. I am very pleased with her contribution to this track and her passionate vocals were a strong counterpoint to my brutal and forceful parts. We each got to truly be ourselves and also give a unique interpretation that is much better than the original version in my opinion. I also have D-bot on this track with his killer bass and he was in the Mach Fox band with me and also played on the original track, so that is very cool to have him back in the band and touring with Zwaremachine. We will only be performing this track live on the Code Blue Tour dates; we released the single and extended mix officially on February 18, 2019 via Bandcamp as a way to let fans support our tour efforts. Plus, I do not think anyone else could give that live vocal performance that we captured together, so the decision was made to make it a special part of the tour.
How do you find that the strategy changes when organizing all that is involved with such a collaborative tour as opposed to a solo tour? Do you find that it changes much depending on the continent?
Fox: Well, it’s nice that both bands are committed fully to working hard on this and driven to do what it takes to bring our live show and this tour to as many cities as we can in 2019. The fact that we are offering a strong co-bill for this tour has made the prospect of booking the dates a bit easier; now we just need fans and venues to help promote and share our efforts so that we have full houses! You won’t be disappointed on this tour as both bands have strong visual shows that are composed as one with the musical elements. The visual aspect is an important part of both bands’ live shows and live music in general to me – the performance should bring the audience to a different level and place where the music can fill many expectations. I have been bored to death by bedroom producers staring at equipment on buffet tables. As far as the challenge of booking shows on different continents, I would not know yet as I am lucky to have a booking agent/manager to work on my European dates. We will see about a Code Blue Tour in Europe for 2020 if all goes well in the States. We have already started booking east and southeast U.S. cities for this summer and look ahead to dates out west for fall and winter 2019 also.
What can fans expect visually on the Code Blue Tour?
Fox: This tour brings more than most independent tours on this scale. Both bands rely heavily on visuals as part of the musical concept, not only to accent the lyrics and mood but to immerse the audience in a world where the songs can live and breathe fully realized. I work as a VJ and do visuals, so Zwaremachine has a focused aesthetic that keeps with my ‘minimal hypnotic industrial body music’ approach. We have custom stage equipment, which includes black and white CRTs and projections, and these all combine to fit the cyber/sci-fi feel of the songs we perform in the set.
Both Zwaremachine and I Ya Toyah are solo performers backed by equipment and projections onstage. Can you take the readers through the intricacies of creating and sequencing such a show and how you balance what’s done live and what’s on backup?
Fox: As a VJ, I have found ways to present custom visuals and create a look that is a strong part of the band. Building and designing the custom stage equipment for Zwaremachine myself and the addition of multiple screens adds to the chaos and also creates a symmetry and balance all at once that speaks with the music we perform. The Zwaremachine live performance has sequenced drum machines and synthesizers. I also perform live synthesizer and do live vocal looping and effects, which creates a random element to every show as that type of manipulation lends itself to experimenting and is very hard to recreate the same way every show. These vocal loops are often dictated by my proximity to trigger the effects/loops and also my mood and audience feedback. Performing as a duo with D-bot on bass guitar and vocals also gives an edge that wasn’t there in past lineups. He is a great friend and musician, so to have him onstage to look over at when we both are getting into the sounds and the set is a real boost to us both and I think the audience will respond to that also.
Let’s talk just about Zwaremachine just for a moment. You just released a digital single in December where you state in the description, ‘It’s a cranky, noisy bit of cyber darkwave data scraped off a disk found in a pool of hydraulic fluid on an abandoned warehouse floor where a technocybercult has been hiding.’ Can you talk about the track?
Fox: I think that description sums it up nicely. I am a huge sci-fi and horror movie fan, so much of the lyrics I write tend to touch on those themes. I think that song leads us into a bit of new territory with a hint to the upcoming Zwaremachine sound. It was the first track to feature D-bot on bass and vocals, so the edge that I mentioned is present and I love this darkwave sound with a bit of grind, growl, and dirt added. I was also able to have Makattak on electronic percussion for this track and he is the best drummer I have ever worked with! We have done a few shows as a trio, but he is unable to tour and be a permanent member because of other musical obligations… and his talent is wasted on the ‘minimal hypnotic’ drumming approach I require for the band at this time. I had been performing ‘Remain Unseen’ as the opening track for most Zwaremachine live sets in 2018 and it could have very easily been a track on Be a Light, but the arrangement was not solidified at the time of tracking for that album. We had so much great support from DJs and radio that I decided to release it at the end of last year as a free download and as a thank you to all who have supported the band’s efforts. We will release the ‘Remain Unseen’ extended mix and several remixes in the spring, so grab it now from our Bandcamp while it is free! One of the upcoming ‘Remain Unseen’ remixes is done by Swedish producer Planktoon and we will be closing our set with this killer dance floor version. I am planning to work with Planktoon and D-bot on the production for the next Zwaremachine album release coming in 2020 and this set closer will be a bit of foreshadowing of the new sounds!
With Zwaremachine, you sometimes take a bit more of a musically minimal approach than some artists. Is this a stylistic decision or is it more important for you to get your lyrical message across without as much sonic interference? A track like ‘Be a Light’ might be a good example considering the uniquely positive message herein.
Fox: I was very adamant and focused about the sounds and sound design for this set of songs and the Be a Light album. I wanted a live set that sounded like a record and a record that I could reproduce as a live band. My plan was always to perform live as trio with an electronic percussionist and synth player as part of band with me. The percussionist was to fortify the drum programming with live hits on top of the sequenced drums for added depth to the sound and also the excitement of the movement onstage, and the live synthesist was for adding filter and attack/decay to the sequenced synth lines while firing off arps and additional sequences. This didn’t work out as planned with the 2018 lineup and I found it was better to perform solo and not spend the time and frustration of working with others and still not getting the results I was going for. This was a hard learned lesson, but also an important part of how I approach every aspect of the band at this point. The lineup is solid now as a duo and I can perform solo at any point if needed. The lyrics always come after the music is written and I use the phonetics of words with the music to get a starting point and explore the cut-up method quite often. The decision to have the minimal approach to the music was more about having space to let the reverb’s decay and that is why you may notice some slower tempos on this album. A lot of the sonic choices for drums and synth sound design were also a nod to the early ’80s pioneers of EBM and electronic music that I loved, but I chose a more current approach for the mixing and mastering. The title track ‘Be a Light’ is a good example of the hypnotic feeling for the album with one verse and four choruses driving the listener to focus on the message, which is a rare bit of lyrical optimism for me. This track is meant to be a chant or mantra that we can all sing together and share a brief moment of warmth in this cold dark world that is crashing in around us. For me, the lyrics and music both hold equal value to me, but they are constructed in a way that they interact in tones and colors as well as movement and phrasing. These are often mini-movies in my head and I consider them to be visual compositions as well as audio.
What’s next for Zwaremachine in 2019?
Fox: I hope to keep working with the amazing people around me currently, so being thankful for all that happened in 2018 and so far this year is something I will be doing, and also touring, touring, and most likely more touring. Zwaremachine will be releasing our next album in 2020, so this year will be spent presenting Be a Light and our sound live on stages all over. The current tour, which kicked off March 1 in Madison, WI, will continue into the summer and possibly farther into 2019 as we keep trying to reach out to the coasts and other parts of the U.S. We have new dates and cities being added, so with a recent booking confirmed in Brooklyn, New York for June 28, there will be a summer push to hit the east coast and southeast U.S. as well. And we are planning on more dates around a recent booking for Belgium in September. I had barely been back to the States a week when we confirmed the next Zwaremachine European show for September 2019. My longtime music collaborator and friend J-C from Vuduvox was kind enough to put in a word on our behalf with the promoter of Liege New Wave Festival in Liege, Belgium and within 20 minutes, my management secured that booking. Some of the bands on this festival are going to be very strong like Whispering Sons, Ash Code, and Vuduvox, so I am thrilled to share that stage. We are also looking into a mini-tour with Zwaremachine and Vuduvox and possibly more European friends… so check our site for those announcements!
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