Protests and Theremins: An Interview with Intro5pect

Nov 27, 2004

Dave: Main vocals, guitar, and programming stuff
Chris: Guitar and vocals
Gregg: Bass and vocals
Rich: Drums and percussion
Claire: Electronics/keyboards

Interview by Todd Taylor and Heela Naqshband

Heela: Intro5pect started out as a one-man band and now has four members. Why the need for such a huge line-up change?
Dave: Actually, being a one-man band was never my intention. I was sort of in between bands for a while. I just started writing songs that combined the aspects of punk I liked with the aspects of electronic music that I liked and after a couple songs, I figured I should just stop waiting around to find a "real band" and put something out. Since then I've just managed to come into contact with people who were into the idea of Intro5pect and had something to contribute.
Heela: Your political views obviously play a huge part in your lyrical content. Why do you think it's so important for a punk band to be political?
Dave: I'm not sure if I'd say that all punk bands have to be political. When you say that, you fall into the trap of having to validate everything in life by its politics, and sometimes you need to just let things be or you have a hard time just enjoying life.
Heela: Oh, of course, you can't be too serious all the time.
Dave: Right, and that being said, I happen to be a political person, so I think that any type of music or most any artistic endeavor that I find myself doing would end up being political. But I also think that it's a misnomer to think that punk is the "political" music. People have been singing songs about oppression, unity, racism, and equality for thousands of years and in thousands of different forms. It is really great how the political punk scene can exist as a community and as such, gives a certain amount of strength to the ideals and values that it embraces. It's easy to believe wholeheartedly in a certain set of social values when you are in your bedroom listening to albums, but it's a completely different thing to actually put that into action when relating to other people in the real world. I think that one great thing about the punk community is that it does help to foster that sense of community, while at the same time forcing people to learn to relate to each other.
Todd: The following question isn't accusatory. It's a question I asked myself and was sparked by your music. Where is it written anywhere that the rich and powerful have to give a shit about you and me?
Dave: Well, the short answer is that the rich don't have to give a shit about anyone but themselves. And they don't. However I think that if we want to ever believe that our society is "advancing" then we have to try to make fairness part of the equation. As children I think we all get drilled with the idea that you can do or be whatever you want to do with your life, along with countless rags to riches stories of what other people from poor backgrounds have achieved. But the fact of the matter is that almost everyone - no matter how hard they work - ends up living in the same social strata that they were born into. Living in southern California, if you happen to be a thirty-five-year old migrant worker, it is very unlikely that you're going to be able to end up as the CEO of Washington Mutual no matter how hard you try. Unfortunately this is a concept that most people do not want to admit, because it sucks. Everybody wants to live the idea that if you try hard enough you can do anything. But this just gives people in power more and more power, because we're expected to believe that the life we have is of our own doing. If you end up in a homeless shelter because even with two minimum wage jobs you can't afford to live - and who can with the disparity between the minimum wage and housing costs? - then somehow it's your fault and if you really, really worked harder you could change that. Likewise, I don't want that statement to be misconstrued as saying it should be perfectly acceptable to sit on your ass demanding that everybody else pick up your slack, beause it's not. But I think it's fair that we should be working toward a society where everyone with a full time job can at least live a comfortable existence. We should all have the right to be treated fairly. And we should all have the right to determine our own destinies to the point where the idea that you can be or do whatever you want, provided you work hard enough, shouldn't be a joke.
Gregg: I definitely agree with Dave. Even though I wasn't in the band at the time Intro5pect wrote that song, to add to that, I don't think that the rich and powerful are the only ones who should be concerned about the rest of society. I think that all of us need to at least be conscious of the way in which we live and treat others. After all, we humans are all a part of the same species. It seems today, especially in this country, so many people live a cutthroat life and don't care who they step on to make it to the top. I know it's asking for a lot from some people, but right now we have plenty of external problems like overpopulation and our environment. If those who weren't so self-centered gave a little up, it'd be easier to deal with the problems we face as a species together.
Todd: Did you sample the sound to the action sequences in Knight Rider for your song, "Education"?
Dave: Nope. But it is quite similar, isn't it? Actually if I had realized that at the time, I probably would have. There's an obscene amount of samples on the record and I've actually been surprised by how few people seem to pick up on stuff. Whenever I play the album to people I just sit there and wait for people to be like, "Hey, isn't that from..." But then they don't. So maybe it's just too easy for me to hear because I know where everything came from.
Todd: What samples did you think were obvious? Where did they come from?
Dave: We take stuff from everywhere. There's stuff from the most obscure 7" of some unknown '80s French punk band to drum sounds from Brittney Spears albums - well, not really, but we would if there had been something cool on there. We basically have the philosophy that if something fits the song, we use it, no questions asked. One of the things I like so much about sampling and electronic music in general is that you can decontexturalize stuff from pop culture so much that it basically becomes something completely new and exists only in the context that you create and define for it.
Todd: When you were growing up, what was a definitive "rock through the veil of another liberation" for you?
Chris: In fourth grade, I was listening to Ace of Base. In fifth grade, after some CD swapping, it was the Adolescents. Out of all the music I had been listening to, punk rock prompted the realization that the world was going to be a different place than what we were being taught, and I had to be ready to stand by my beliefs.
Gregg: Getting into punk in high school was huge for me, too. It taught me to be open minded, and the DIY ethic was an added bonus.
Dave: I guess getting into punk was a big thing, being exposed to bands like Crass, Minor Threat, and Op Ivy and realizing that music could be more than just something you listen to. Taking my first sociology class was pretty awesome, too. It was the first time that school actually related to life in an interesting way. My first thought was that it was like getting credit for reading Crass lyrics.
Todd: What do your parents do?
Dave: My father is an engineer. He designs stuff. My mother is a piano teacher and a musician
Gregg: Both of my parents have worked at a corporate pharmaceutical company for most of my life. They've dealt with a lot of shit and taught me how much the corporate environment sucks, and I'm grateful to know that now.
Chris: My father is a fire captain in Orange County, and my mother works for a greeting card company.
Heela: Who do you think are some of the most politically influential bands in the punk scene right now?
Dave: I know it's gonna sound contrived, but I honestly think that Anti-Flag are definitely at the spearhead of politically active bands. I thought that the whole thing they set up where you wear an armband for peace, and then putting up all the legal info you needed to defend your right to wear that armband was brilliant. It's really inspiring to be on their label 'cause I think that most, if not all, of the bands on A-F are very political and very positive. I also really like the angle that The (International) Noise Conspiracy has taken. I think they've done a really good job at helping to make the connection between politics and everyday life. I think that the biggest threat to our way of life is not going to be in the radical anarchy and culture war-type fight, but rather in the slow but steady creep of capitalism and the erosion of personal freedoms and I think they do a good job of presenting that in a way you don't normally see. It's funny, but I think that the Dixie Chicks may have inadvertently been more politically influential by scaring the shit out of anyone concerned about freedom of expression, blacklisting, or McCarthyism, than most political punk bands are in a lifetime.
Heela: What's the weirdest band comparison you've gotten?
Dave: Once we got called "ska-tinged hardcore." I thought that was kinda funny. I realize that the cliche thing to say is "We don't really sound like anybody," but I think that's more true with us than most bands, but people still need to find some way to describe you, so sometimes you end up with some weird descriptions. One review said that I sounded exactly like the singer from Youth Brigade, another one said that we did the Bad Religion/AFI vocal thing, which I can't really even figure out what that means. A couple had said that we sound like Anti-Flag with electronics. It would be interesting to see if they had said that if we weren't on A-F. And of course people have a hard time not comparing us to Atari Teenage Riot, simply because we're both doing stuff in sort of the same direction, though I think we sound totally different. Oh yeah, and we got one bad review because the reviewer said that we were trying to be the Clash, which to be honest, is fine by me. Go ahead; say we sound like the Clash. It'll make me happy, anyway.
Todd: What liberties or advantages do you have that you're damn fucking happy to have?
Gregg: I'm damn fucking happy that I'm still free from any dogma I don't willingly get myself involved in. I'm also damn fucking happy that I get to play in a band I was a huge fan of with awesome people who I get to tour the U.S. with.
Dave: Obviously I'm pretty happy that I can shout my personal views on politics, philosophy, and religion and get away with it, for the time being at least. I'm pretty happy that I've had the chance to be exposed to a lot of different ways of thinking. Hearing other peoples perspectives on things has an amazing way of opening your eyes to stuff that's right in front of you but incredibly hard to see because of your own biases and prejudices.
Chris: I would have to say voting is most important to me. But what has happened with certain higher powers taking their "liberties" on other countries regardless of public and world-wide disapproval, the ideology of voting must never be overlooked.
Todd: Can you suggest a book about racial genocide or ethnic cleansing?
Dave: No, I don't really sit around and read books about ethnic cleansing/racial genocide. I mean I try to keep up on what's going on in the world as best I can, but I don't think that reading about it is really going to have a significant impact on my feelings about it.
Todd: There's a book on racial genocide by Philip Gourevitch that I can't suggest highly enough called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. It's a book that, I believe, will change what anyone thinks about the topic.
Dave: I didn't mean for my statement to come off as close-minded as I think it sounded. I simply meant that regardless of what is written about it I still think it's wrong. However, I didn't want to imply that there is no value - I actually believe quite the opposite - in learning and attempting to understand why such atrocities do occur at all.
Gregg: I couldn't really suggest a book to you about it either, but I do probably know a little more about society's problems with genocide just because of my Armenian descent. My grandparents were lucky enough to have escaped being killed in the genocide in the early twentieth century, so I kind of grew up knowing we lived in a fucked up world. There have been a lot of atrocities throughout history to a lot of different people and cultures, and I think we should recognize them, realize that those were mistakes of the past and move on. It's 2004, it's about time people got a little more civilized and worked out global problems together instead of continuing the separation we have based on religion, nationalism, ethnicity, class, etc. Besides there are a lot more obvious and hidden problems going on right here and now we need to worry about.
Todd: What's one thing that people would be surprised about you if all they had to go off was your music?
Dave: That we don't sit around and read books about racial genocide or ethnic cleansing for fun. That we actually have a sense of humor. Not everything is black and white, so it's important to not take everything too seriously, try not to judge people too harshly, cause everyone has reasons they do what they do. I think that we probably come off as a lot more hard-line than we really are. I mean, we're all very serious about our views and beliefs, but that's not all there is to us. We just want to get people to actually think about things, and the broader effects of their actions. That's really our point, is to just get people to try and be a bit more aware of how their actions affect other people and the world they live in.
Gregg: Definitely, we don't just sit around and discuss politics and problems all day. However, we do try to encourage open mindedness and thinking for yourself. That, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Todd: So, you're saying you like Meatwad?
Gregg: The group favorite would be Carl.
Heela: Have you gotten any shit for having such strong leftist beliefs?
Dave: Yeah, but I think anyone who thinks for themselves is going to end up getting shit for it at some point. It's the nature of people.
Todd: What do you feel are the main elements that are decaying the left wing underground?
Dave: I think Jello Biafra stated that the right wing is so much better organized because they managed to be much more united - even if only by way of hatred. If someone attacks gay rights, the rest of the right wing gets behind them and backs them up 'cause they all hate "gays." Unfortunately the left does a better job of dividing people. If you're pro gay rights, then you have a number of left wing factions bickering amongst themselves and putting each other down about how the others aren't pro gay rights in the appropriate manner, or that some other group once ate lunch with a republican, or they don't specifically claim to be pro vegan gay rights, and so on. This is really unfortunate right now, because with the political pendulum swinging so far right, everyone that leans towards the left needs to be pulling together. I read an article that one of the A-F staff wrote one time about how the left wing really needs to hijack the Democratic Party and take it over for themselves in the same way that the ultra right wing conservatives have taken over the Republican Party, basically using it to achieve their own ends of defeating the right wing while changing it and pushing it further to the left from the inside.
Gregg: I think another one of the inherent difficulties of the left wing being successful is that our goals are not completely selfish. A lot of us are very passionate and have a sincere desire to promote the common good on most issues, and to help promote our rights to freedom, which is actually a great attribute if applied properly. It's tough to get organized when a lot of us have so many issues we want to change, whereas, as Dave implied, conservatives tend to play follow the leader just to keep things the way they are. They remind me of Agent Smith from The Matrix. But, I think we need to realize we have a common goal and we should use our sincerity to our advantage. We need to let people know we really care. The current administration is pretty infuriating to the left wing underground - much like the Reagan years to early punk rock - so hopefully that'll spark some action.
Heela: Why drum machines? Is the song-writing process any different than with a live drummer?
Dave: Well, it's actually mostly samplers, if you want to get technical. I guess I've just always had an affinity for sampled drums and loops. I remember when I first started to get interested in music, I always thought that hip-hop records had way better drums than rock records, but hip hop never had the cool distorted guitar that rock records did. I always wondered why other people didn't seem to realize this and combine the two. Actually, the first thing I ever heard that I thought was perfect in this way was a 2 Live Crew tape my friend had. We were like seven or something and everybody else was freaking out about the words they was saying, while meanwhile I was just blown away by the fact that they had this awesome guitar riff that they had sampled and then added hip-hop beats to. I actually borrowed the tape and recorded the first sixteen bars of that song over and over so I could just listen to that part non-stop for like a half-an-hour straight. It probably makes the songwriting process go slower, but that's also probably related to the fact that I have very specific ideas about how I want the drums to sound, to the point where I will spend months chopping and cutting and pasting in order to have the drums the way I want them. Sometimes I think that people who do electronic music get so caught up in the idea of making things sound different and cool that they forget to actually write songs. That's something that I'd like to avoid.
Todd: Do you know anyone who has hand-made a synthesizer? Are there any instrument-making inventors that we should know about?
Dave: That's funny that you ask, because I am currently in the process of building my first synth. I've always been interested in building my own stuff, but some of the math and engineering is a bit daunting for anyone who isn't an electrical engineering major. As far as inventors that people should know about, we have a theremin, which is an electronic instrument that you play by moving your hands through an electric field. You never actually touch anything, which is kinda cool, but they were actually invented back in the 1930s or so, so it's not exactly new. I think it's kinda cool to see the different directions that people are going with electronic music and computers and stuff, but unfortunately I think that people are horribly lagging in the performance aspects of electronic music. Maybe I'm just too used to the punk scene, but pressing play on your laptop and sitting there moving the mouse around just doesn't do it for me. So hopefully people will get a little bit better at making instruments to bridge the gap between electronic music and live performance.
Todd: For a great documentary on theremins, Theremin: An Electric Odyssey is a pretty rad movie.
Dave: Funny, I saw that documentary, and went out and got a theremin a few weeks later. We're still trying to figure out a way to use it live, but we'll get there eventually.