Welcome to Tattoo.com and thanks for taking time for the interview today. The first couple of questions we have pertains to your experience in the advertising field. First, how does your experience in the advertising industry translate to the ever-changing landscape that the music industry has become?
I think the answer is a whole lot and not at all! On one hand, my experiences in promoting certain narratives and massaging content to appear for different people fuels the topics Derision Cult addresses– mainly around being aware that your information has an agenda behind it. They say write what you know about so that’s what I do. But on the other hand, it really doesn’t at all. The music industry is a wild animal for sure. The things people will gravitate towards, what trends will matter and all that. The landscape and how artists make money doesn’t really translate to the work I did in that world- at least at this level. But having said that, I think it’s almost critical to shut that part of my brain off when it comes to being creative. I don’t endeavor to write music because I want to target a certain demographic. I make what I make and don’t really give much thought to what audience will receive it. It’s always interesting hearing from people who dig the tracks, but I’m not out analyzing that and trying to do retarget lookalikes and stuff (although that absolutely goes on the music business).
The new release is ‘Mercenary Notes’ Pt. 1. The theme maintains a harsh criticism of how marketing and advertising can not only mislead people but manipulate them. Is that fair to say?
Yes! The days of Don Draper are gone. I saw advertising become particularly politically charged in really subtle ways the average listener or viewer may not be aware of in the past 7-8 years. Lots of campaigns, how news is sponsored, where messages are retargeted and so forth are designed to provoke reactions and charge emotions in people first, and inform them second. It seemed like the 2016 election in the US really is where everything became political. And regardless of your political beliefs, there ARE targeting systems and analysts out there who are sizing you up, and figuring out how to piss you off and destabilize you. As many reasons as we have to be thankful, there’s a lot of things people are fearful of right now. The climate, personal safety, personal liberties, the economy, and on and and on. And fear is big business if you know how to play the game. I see a lot of organizations playing that game right now and Mercenary Notes Pt 1 is sort of my call-out of that game. It’s a little more broad and universal than the prior album but we’re still on that track.
To whom does the “mercenary’ in the title refer to?
Myself. Mainly from the perspective of doing some of the things I’m calling out. We talked a lot about titles and this one came about because it’s like the notes and commentary of a mercenary who preyed on the fear of the public for years. So rather than looking at it from afar, these are the direct notes from the frontlines. Some of the samples in the tracks come straight from meetings and planning sessions over the years.
Did your project name come out of inspiration from your marketing experience?
Kind of. Derision Cult came from a phrase in an article I saw referring to that movie The Room. The movie was sort of noteworthy because it got famous for being so bad. Kind fo like the following Ed Wood movies had. The author made the comment that the movie had built a cult of derision– whereby people came together out of just hating on this movie. Of course, the movie makers laughed all the way to the bank. At the time, I thought that was a really interesting concept– just how things can bring people together because their common hatred of it. Then I thought about all the movements like that.
When I started Derision Cult it was right after all the Occupy Wall Street stuff had happened, and I used to hang out down there in the financial district at that time and saw sort of the tribal vibe that went on. Same with other movements like MeToo or Black Lives Matter. It was in the thick of big ad agency land at the but i could see how brands were figuring out that there’s money to be made off all this common derision. And when that started taking place, and the inertia of the campaigns that got launched in the wake that, it was like there was just more and more heat on things. When I saw that happening, that’s when Derision Cult and my ad experience really started crossing paths.
Will ‘Mercenary Notes’ Pt. 2 expand on some of the same or similar themes? What vision do you have for that?
Yes! Most of Part 2 is already written. Sean and I talked a lot about how best to put these out in the world and it just made sense to break it up. We picked the tracks that ebbed and flowed well together and grouped them into parts 1 and 2. So the second piece of this is going to continue on this theme. We’re still refining it but if I were to say what’s different about those tracks and these, it’d be that those are a bit more light hearted. We’ll definitely go further in the blues and outlaw country flavors we injected into this industrial soundscape too. You hear a bit of it on tracks like “Slaves” “Rebuild” and the bridge of “Life Unlit”. There’s one track we’re working on for Pt 2 that really has some proper Chicago blues cadences in it- with call and response to the vocals and instruments I’m pretty excited about. We’re pretty proud of our Chicago musical heritage and like finding ways to wear it on our sleeve!
You have some pretty special guests on the release. How did you establish relationships with them?
Some through dumb luck some through friends and acquaintances. Chris Connelly came by way of The Joy Thieves. Dan Milligan had already done some stuff with me on another project and the demo for what became Deaf Blood just HAD to have Chris sing on it. Fortunately, Dan was able to facilitate a connection and Chris picked up right away on what we were hearing. Then with Reeves Gabrels, he was always a guitar hero of mine and I knew things were kind of stagnant for a lot of musicians because of the pandemic so I thought there was a chance he might have some bandwidth to help out and sure enough he did.
Then for remixers, it went without saying I had to hear a Joy Thieves rendition of Deaf Blood and they delivered in spades. I knew Martin a bit from just being around the scene in Chicago and I thought it’d be interesting to hear two drummers from different phases of Chris’s career remix the track. That was super cool because Martin played live drums on his and the kit he used is the same legendary one on all those Pigface, Ministry, Killing Joke and NIN albums. My friend Gabe Wilkinson from Microwaved was actually who helped me make connections to Justin Broadrick. He and I started assembling a list of dream remixers and Justin was right at the top of it. Incidentally, it was Gabe who made the connection between Sean and I too. I first became a fan of Cyanotic around the medication generation era and I played guitar on an album Sean produced for Gabe. When I told Gabe I wanted to work with a producer on Derision Cult and infuse some big beats and percussion he was like “dude, you gotta call Sean”. So I did and that all came together really quick.
Since we’re a tattoo publication, of course we have to talk about tattoos. Do you have any noteworthy tattoos you’d like to tell us about and what they mean to you? Do you have any that you regret?
I have a few. Some are just random things I got because I thought they looked cool. The first one I got is this sort of angry leprechaun guy on my shoulder. To be honest, I just picked it out of a book at the tattoo shop my buddy owned. This probably violates every osha law in the book but we sat there drinking beers while he did it. As a result I bleed like a stuck pig while he did it!
When Hunter S Thompson died I got a tattoo of his logo with the slogan “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” the very next day. Odd how that has become a life motto for me since. I didn’t plan it that way! Then I got some random other things, flames, a Celtic cross, some dice and so on. The tattoo I have that is the most meaningful to me is one of this crow on my arm. It’s the signature crow Wes Freed created and puts on all the Drive By Truckers artwork. It’s significant to me because my wife has the same tattoo. She originally picked it out because she wanted to cover a burn mark she got from a cooking incident. But when she designed it, I thought it looked cool and got one myself. That was like the first year we were married and that band has played a big role in our lives in a lot of ways so that’s pretty special to me.
Why do you think it is that people say after some people get tattoos, they become addicted to it?
I think they’re just inherently collectible in their own weird way. You build this collection of body art and each one represents a piece of your personal history. From what I’ve observed, people who have a lot of them have a personal connection to each of them. I could be wrong, but I don’t run into a lot of people who just show up for a tattoo appointment, pick something out of a book and get on with it. Maybe for the first one, but after that, they start injecting their own creativity into it and then you’re off to the races. Once that happens and you can create something that lasts forever, that is where the addictive element comes into play I think. It’s funny too because I’m old enough that I’ve seen the attitudes towards tattoos change. It used to be only like, the super hard ass people had them. Somewhere maybe 20 years ago that started to change it became far more common. I think that’s a good thing. People can literally wear their individuality on their shoulders!
Given the themes of the new album, do you envision that perhaps they might in some ways be translated to a live performance if you do shows?
We’re talking about it! I’ve really embraced video in the last couple years and I’d love to translate that work to a live setting. I could definitely see some cool things on that horizon. These tracks definitely WOULD translate live and I could envision there being some strong energy in them. Sean and I have talked about what that would require and assembling a coalition of the willing. Maybe do some one-offs in Chicago and maybe later next year a bit of a Glitch Mode mini tour. Lot of variables to figure out but it definitely could happen! Everything is figure-out-able!
Thanks for your time today. Any last words for the readers?
Thanks to everyone who has supported Mercenary Notes thus far! You can check us out at DerisionCult.com for our bandcamp and also, check us out on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/@derisioncult). We’ve just recently started a YouTube channel and will be blowing it up with a ton of stuff in 2023!
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