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When I Am Left To My Own Devices
A Zim Zum interview by Rosie Green
August 11, 2008

What does it feel like to start a new band with a new direction and already have so many people’s attention?
Publicly The Pop Culture Suicides seems new but it's been something I have been working on my whole life. It's still in a very stripped down 5 piece form. As far as the music, the direction is just the way I play and write and though it will always feel familiar to people that have heard a lot of music from me, it still changes with each day.
There hasnt been any publicity, there isnt a CD out and we have only done select regional shows, so any attention we are getting is based on the songs that are randomly placed on various music/social networking sites. That attention, is the way I want it, for the right reason; the music.

What are the fans saying about the band/music - are they picking up what you're putting down?
I'm sure i'm not telling anyone anything they dont already know, but, ev-er-y-one has an opinion. I dont get caught up in what anyone says, good or bad because different people are into different things. I make my choices based on how I feel and I dont second guess anything I do. With these songs, my goal was to really feel and transfer those emotions to music so when you listen to it, you feel how I felt. I am simply putting something out there, where it will go is unknown.

What differences really stood out between [your last band] Marilyn Manson and The Pop Culture Suicides?
The only similarity is that I was in one and I am in the other. Everything else is different.

Listening to your music, it's hard to put a definitive spin on who you sound like. How do you describe your music to people?
I've never felt that I needed to have a sound that is based on something already out there to bring people in. My describing it is nothing next to listening to it for yourself. You will hear what you tune into, which could be the complete opposite of what the person sitting next to you hears. You really do have to listen to it in a different way.

What image do you think your music conveys?
It's intimate and at times i'm sure it's unnerving because I write with the mindset that it could be the last time I do it so I am getting straight to the point.
More so than anything it is based on emotions. Emotions can be abstract or very detailed. There are visuals that people have for all of the varying emotional states but everyone knows it goes much deeper than happy, sad, optimistic or gloomy....

Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your musical sound, and how do you feel The Pop Culture Suicides has transformed over the years?
It's strange, I dont hear any of my influences in the music I write but I know they are there, subliminally. I am a bastard guitarist in that I come from 1,000 different albums but I have never tried to learn anything by someone else, note for note. I just played it how I heard it and that lead to; my way.
The music evolves from song to song, not from year to year. Every single song comes from a different place, even if they are written at the same time as others and I have to mature with each one and go someplace different. I do feel that I no longer rely on tone to convey a feeling. I can say more with one sustained note than people who play thousands in a song and it's for no other reason than I am bleeding that note out like I will never play it again.

Where would you think that you get the best response from your music?
With those that cant afford proper therapy.

Some people would say that rock & roll is dead; what element of rock or edge do you guys bring to the table?
Rock isn't dead. It's just back in the hands of those who really know how to do it.
It's underground. It's an illegal substance. It's anti social. It's unclean. It's a beautiful thing.

For years, musicians have been extremely vocal about their political views. Do you think musicians are blurring the lines of what a true rock & roll star is by simply becoming an activist or is that what makes them more rock & roll? How do you feel?
I say what I feel, regardless. Is it political or is it simply thinking out loud? Last time I looked around there were no "Rock Stars". I see posers and conformists saying what thier publicists think people want to hear from them which makes them exactly the same as the crooked, greedy, morally corrupt politicians they are railing against. Just ask any one of them to put their money where their mouth is. It wont happen. No one is speaking out. They are too afraid. They certainly wont say it in their music because that would jeopordise the almighty sales. Were they activists before they were publicly known? It's easier to talk shit about someone else than to stand up and do something yourself.
I have respect for the people that are willing to suffer for the things they believe in. That's Rock N Roll especially since we live in a country where freedom of speech and expression are urban legends and the general populous is so fucking uptight and dillusional they might actually think they are controlling their own future.

When people come up to you, do they talk to you more about the musical styling or your lyrical content?
It's usually about everything at once. I dont know how many people really listen to music for more than what is on the surface but the ones that do listen on a deeper level always have very specific things to say about how the music and lyrics apply to their own experiences and what they found in the song even after listening to it 100 times.

What are three substantial musical experiences of your life?
Getting a guitar.
Getting a 4 track recorder.
Being asked; "What are you going to do with it?" (After listening to a demo of songs I had written, the demo that was later sent in to MM) my Grandmother said; "That sounds great but; what are you going to do with it?" Also.. I had gotten an e-mail address from a friend who wanted to put me in touch with Tony Visconti (Bowie, T Rex - if you dont know who he is , you should find out) through a series of casual e-mails Tony was the nicest guy who answered all my geeky questions about production techniques, T Rex and Mick Ronson - even telling me exactly what Mick Ronson used on specific songs.

How has your songwriting process changed over the years?
Though it might sound strange I feel that my songwriting now is really similar to when I started writing, it just doesnt take me as long to get to where I want. It's more defined and mature now. I feel I have a better grasp on making a song visual in that when you hear it, you see it too. I dont feel I have to rely on anything other than the music to get a message across and I dont write with the thought of what anyone will think about it. I started as a guitar player and I now consider myself just as much a songwriter as a guitarist/musician.

What do you think is the most effective way, for you, to write songs/music?
I dont really have a specific routine. I experience life and music just happens. Having the ability to realize and interpret thoughts and ideas is the real skill.
I always experiment with the process too, in that I do specific things to change the outcome. I'll write a chorus then force myself to write a new chorus that makes the original one, a verse, which results in the song not actually having any "transitional" parts.

How long does it take you to create a song? – Writing and recording?
Sometimes a matter of hours and others are weeks. It depends on what I am going for and how clearly I can focus on what I hear in my head. I have had a lot of moments where it was all I could do to grab different instruments and record the song so I wouldnt forget it and I have had times where I write a part then come back to it months later and write another part so I get different perspective on what I was trying to convey. Technology does make some things easier but I am using the same recording set up as I used 10 years ago. It works for me and what I need from technology as part of my creative process.

In your opinion, what's the last great lyric you wrote?
Everything I write is an exorcism and somewhere between an open wound or an optimistic anthem. Some days I feel like I can do anything, some days I dont. There is no ego involved with my music, if you really listen you will hear it's just the opposite but if I didnt think the music was great, what would that say about what I was allowing myself to put out there?

Did you write a lot when you were growing up?
Yes. From the time I started playing. I got a guitar for one Christmas and by the next Christmas I had recorded so many ideas onto a personal casette recorder that I bought a 4 track recorder. I was in an all original band by the time I was 15.

What's the best part of the recording process, for you?
I am into all of the creative process. It's just something I really like to do. Experimenting with different sounds, applying non conventional tones or instruments, using the technology I have available, not using the technology I have available, recording dozens and dozens of different ways to play the same thing and then actually auditioning my own parts, it's always something somewhat unconventional. While writing and recording I am in the studio alone so it's very ritualistic. I can and have worked in a lot of different scenarios (Trent Reznor, Michael Beinhorn) but nothing compares to what I can do when I am left to my own devices.

You've have been all over the world - what place gave you the most culture shock?
Different places in different ways. It's not a small world. There is so much to see beyond the footprint we all stand on. We are all guilty of thinking everyone lives like we do and that couldnt be further from the truth. I'd say 90% of the places I went to I wanted to move to and the other 10% just scared the shit out of me.

What's your favorite type of place to play - arenas or clubs?
Each provides a completely different atmosphere to hear music in. I like the intimacy of a club where there isnt anything between the music and the audience and it's really just about the music and I like the huge production that comes with a large venue though TPCS has brought huge production into club shows. You can prove a point in different ways.

You've toured with a lot of bands in the past. Which band did you have the best time with and why? If you'd rather not mention specific names, can you tell me about an interesting story without mentioning another band?
Ozzfest with Black Sabbath and Pantera. I'm pretty sure that says it all.

Do you ever get sick of playing the same songs live, over and over?
No. The crowd is always different and I have never, personally, played the same show twice. If you really know what you're doing and are somewhat in control of the situation, you can improvise and find new ways of doing the song without actually changing it from what listeners who know the song might expect.

How would you define the word “success”?
It's not about fame or money. It never has been and never will be (for me). For me it's about being able to listen to the music I write and forgetting that I wrote it.

How do you feel whenever you’ve watch yourself on video/DVD…
I have a hard time with that. I have piles of videos, cdr's and dvd's that have been sent or given to me that I havent watched. I'm a bit too analytical to be able to just watch and enjoy it for what it is.

What current artists/music would you recommend people check for?
In my car I have Joy Division, Juliette and The Licks, Eric Avery and The Stooges.

What's the most important aspect of your job?
To never let it become a job.

What was the last CD or DVD you were excited to buy?
dvd's; "Casshern" and the Joy Division documentary.

What was the last song you listened to on repeat?
I listen to new songs and studio mixes on repeat in the car ALL of the time. It's part of hearing the music in a universal environment (not just in the environment I listen to music in)

What's your favourite CD that's not a typical CD that people would say is their favourite CD?
Anything by The Brian Setzer Orchestra or The "Valley Girl" soundtrack.

What are your long-term plans for The Pop Culture Suicides?
Right now I simply want the series of EP's (4 = Double Album) out and then follow them up with the visual versions.

Are you looking for an independent label deal or a major label deal?
I have an Independent label (ARTFIST) and the EP's will all be released through ARTFIST.

Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to the music industry?
It's just too chaotic and anyone who respects what they do is usually ahead of the industry in how they do it so I dont focus on what the industry is doing.
I do what works for me.

If you weren't making music anymore, would your art become your primary focus, or is there another hidden passion you'd like to pursue?
I will always make music but I have always mixed Music, Art and Design.

Let’s say you were to play one of your songs on a late night talk show, which song would you choose to play?
I would probably decide at the last minute...

Do you feel a strong kinship with any other Chicago bands? Any up and coming acts we should know about?
I love Chicago. It's home. It always has been and always will be but I dont consider myself or what I do as part of any scene. I am bigger than a scene.
I walk my own path and I feel that to really show respect for not only the place you consider home but for yourself, is to be yourself. Be original.

What would be the ultimate top 5 playlist for you?
I'm not really one of those people who can easily narrow that down to a top 5.

If you could live the rock & roll lifestyle of any band, which would it be?
My own.

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Zim Zum for taking the time out to answer my questions. ::top::

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