Saturday, December 17, 2011

Interview with BY ANY MEANϟ NECEϟϟARY


BY ANY MEANϟ NECEϟϟARY is a one-man EBM unit currently based out of Asheville, North Carolina. The brainchild of Sam Witherspoon, BAMN  released its first album (available here: By Any Means Necessary) in the Fall of 2011. From the menacing, ambient pulse of the opening track "I [segue]" to the relentless synth-stomp of closer "Sinew", BAMN's eponymous debut is the work of someone who has mastered the musical vocabulary of the 80s EBM/Industrial scene and wrought their own dark and very distinct dialect from it. A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (AKITD) interviewed Sam Witherspoon (SM) about his project via email in December 2011.

AKITD: How long has BAMN been around? Has it always been a solo project, or were there other people involved at some point?

SW: By Any Means Necessary started around the fall of 2008... It started as just a live performance exploration (funny enough), figuring out what I wanted to do. It's pretty much always been a solo project, though I like to work with my friends from other bands/projects from time to time.

AKITD: What’s your musical background? Were you in any other bands prior to BAMN?

SW: Music and art have always been extremely important in my life, I think I would have gone completely crazy if I didn't have a way to express myself. Prior to BAMN, I'd been in various other bands in the Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Asheville area.

AKITD: How did you decide on the name of the band?

SW: I don't really remember how I picked "By Any Means Necessary" as a band name. Aesthetically for some reason it stuck, though I've come to learn there's some metal band that goes by the same name. Of course, it also can be connected with Malcom X or Jean Paul Sartre, although I'm not really a politically motivated type. It has some sort of urgency or importance implied, I guess. I haven't really bothered thinking about changing it to anything else.

AKITD: You’ve repeatedly identified BAMN as an Electronic Body Music (EBM) project. For the sake of those unfamiliar with the term, how would you define it, and what attracts you to this particular genre of music?

SW: Defining "EBM" depends on who you ask... I guess that a common thing that most people would agree with is that it's a industrial-spawned style of electronic music, and the name comes from Front 242 on No Comment. When people say EBM, a lot of the time the calculated/driving stuff comes to mind, like Nitzer Ebb, Front Line Assembly, Portion Control, 242, and groups like that. There's also a kind of "horror" camp that bands like the Klinik, Skinny Puppy, yelworC/AmGod really seem to define. Of course, I'm over simplifying this/not naming everything because I might just start ranting about it. I think the qualifiers for what "EBM" is have changed or morphed, and there are a lot of different moods going on within the genre.

What attracted EBM or Industrial to me was the notion that "electronic music" need not be safe. Nor does it need to lack all semblance of structure in order for it to be experimental. I think that a lot of hardcore EBM fans would make an uproar if you classified what they listened to as "techno" or "dance" music. Also, there's the culture behind it, a really interesting network of connected scenes and supportive fans.

AKITD: Because of the word “electronic” in Electronic Body Music, some people might be under the erroneous impression that EBM is yet another type of laptop-created computer music that doesn’t require any kind of special equipment OR musical skill. Can you describe the type of equipment you use to achieve your sound, and the sort of difficulties and expenses you’ve encountered using old-school synths?

SW: I've been a synth-geek for a while now. I always appreciate knowing when bands/musicians are going to use hardware over software, but I'm starting to get tired of the "analog vs. digital" debate. In my opinion, it shouldn't matter what you use, as long as it sounds good (which is subjective anyway), though I'm a little biased against software. On the album, I used a lot of hardware synths and electronic instruments, primarily the Roland HS-60, Roland D-550, Roland JX-8P, Korg MS2000B, Korg EMX-1, Korg DDD-1, Korg MicroX, Casio FZ-10M, Novation KS4, Novation K-Station, and Yamaha PSS-680... It's an expensive/stupid obsession, I've amassed a lot of gear and I've had to figure out how to make BAMN work in a live setting again.

AKITD: Despite having clubs like the Orange Peel and boasting musical events like Moogfest, Asheville is not particularly well-known for possessing any kind of an EBM (or Goth or Industrial) “scene”. Has that kind of isolation helped or hindered your creative work? And now that BAMN has started to play out live in support of an album, how receptive has the Asheville community been to your sound?

SW: It's true. Asheville seems a little isolated from anything in the EBM/Industrial range, but there are a few people/groups around here that are sort of interested in the same kind of things that I am. I'm not really great at promoting/selling myself regardless, so it's hard to say if it's really hindered BAMN in that respect, but creatively I think the mountains have helped me. BAMN hasn't played that many shows in general, and hardly any since I started getting more serious about the project. In 2010 we played at the local response to the focus-group-orientated "Moogfest", "Foogmess", and it was a pretty great turnout. People seemed excited, really receptive. More recently, we played again at Foogmess this year and downtown in November. I think a lot of people aren't sure what to expect, and when they see what the show is all about that they are generally surprised. Now that I'm trying to lug a lot of the "studio" onstage, it's not as much of a physically active show as it is a stage covered with tiers of synths. On the whole, I think that Asheville has a pretty receptive underground scene, though attendance and variety seem to have dwindled as of late. I can't make a good observation, I haven't been to that many shows recently.

AKITD: Your self-titled album came out this Halloween. How long did it take to put the tracks together, and what kind of considerations dictated which tracks were included and which were left off, or when a particular version of a song (like “Waiting”, for example) was ready for the full-length?

SW: A lot of the songs had been written in the late Spring and early Summer, and some even before that. I kept messing around and working with them, sort of taking my time. Eventually I had to just push myself to get it all together and finished, and that's what really decided what was going to be on the album. I recorded Waiting again, with my new setup, just because it's one of the first BAMN songs, and one that I still play live, and I wanted to give it a better treatment than the version that was on the demo.

AKITD: The album sounds and looks AMAZING. Was it all self-recorded, or did you work in conjunction with a studio at some point? What was the process of recording the tracks like, and what sort of aesthetic considerations shaped the packaging of the CD?

SW: Thank you. Yes, it was all self-recorded. In my dreams, I'd have access to a studio and true, up-to-date professional recording equipment, haha. This CD was the first time I moved to using a software DAW (Logic) to record tracks, and I'm pleased. Before this, I was always going to my Tascam digital recorder, and finding convoluted ways to get the audio mixed down. The cover of the album is a digital collage that I created, and I set up the lettering and design of the sleeve as well. I'm a "designer of sorts", and I tried to capture a bit of the style of that underground tape culture in how I set up the sleeve.

AKITD: There is a skilled use of samples on some of the songs that recall Skinny Puppy at their peak. How do you go about figuring out which samples to use, and how to match them up with certain songs?

SW: I try to grab small snippets from films/shows that I like, that have something to do with what's being conveyed. When I'm doing it on my own, I'm using the Casio FZ-10M, a giant rackmount sampler/digital synthesizer... A lot of the sampler tracks on the album were done/collected by Josh Reed, who has also been playing live along with me for the new BAMN shows. He's somewhat of a sound archivist, and a great musician in his own right, and does stuff under the name Kangarot.

AKITD: The distorted, menacing vocals on some of the tracks really contributes to the overall dark and dehumanized mood of the album. Was that an effect you deliberately sought to achieve? What inspired the lyrics for the songs that do have vocals, and what sort of factors determined which songs would have words and which would be left as instrumentals?

SW: I'm an unintentional frontman/vocalist. Lyrics are usually the last thing that I figure out for a song, and the songs on the album are a mixture of free-association, aesthetic themes, and just feelings that I had when I was working on these songs. Modulated "goblin" vocals appeal to me, obviously an homage to the SP/early Portion Control vocal style... I use a lot of stuttering delay, which I get from a Digitech RDS1000, a digital rackmount delay that is really fun to mess around with.

AKITD: What bands would you cite as influences? Are there any contemporary acts that you are enthusiastic about?

SW: I have lots of influences! I'm pretty aware that I look up to the classic Skinny Puppy vibe a lot. The complexity and density of Mentallo & the Fixer (especially the albums No Rest for the Wicked and Revelations 23) has left an impact on me as well, and I'm always trying to hunt down EBM records/tapes/CDs from the late 80s/early 90s that aren't mentioned a lot. Actually, it's pretty strange how many records and CDs I've found in record stores here in Asheville. I just recently picked up FLA's Total Terror part II and Doubting Thomas' The Infidel.

As for contemporary acts, it seems like in the past 3 years, there has been a revival of the industrial/ebm sound, and I think there are some bands that really do it well. //Tense// is really great, and I really like the sound White Car was going for on No Better, and wish that they went on to do more stuff like they did on the Loom 11 side project. I think that the "EBM" fad is sort of dying though, it seems like the aesthetic is morphing into wannabe rave culture.. which I'm okay with. There was a time where I knew a lot of people with an "ironic" or self-aware interest in the stuff that I thrive off of, and it seemed kind of shallow, like there was this scene that was appropriating aesthetics, images and sounds without realizing where they were taking it from. That's popular now, and I think that it's overdone. I'm looking for honesty in what listen to, and that's what I think is missing from a lot of music today.

AKITD: I know you are currently at work on a follow-up EP to the full-length. What kind of things would you like to see happen in the future for BAMN?

SW: Hm, I don't know. Create more solid ideas, explore new territory... I want to see a return to honest industrial/EBM music, not just "clubby" tracks, but experimental, uncompromising, not something trendy. I'm always noodling around, but I would be happy to know that other people are enjoying it too.

For more information on BAMN, check out the following links:

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