Favorite Albums Of 2017(so far) : Timothy Fife’s ‘Black Carbon’

Normally by this time in the year I’ve posted at least two lists of my favorite albums of the year, first in April at the 3 month point then in July at the 6 month point. It appears that the year keeps rolling by whether I want it to or not. Needless to say I haven’t made a list of anything(other than that weekly grocery list on Thursdays.) There will be a year-end list, and even though no major lists so far this year I do plan on sharing a few of the records that have been blowing my mind thus far in the year of our Lord, 2017.

First up is Timothy Fife’s Black Carbon.

I first came across Timothy Fife last year with his Victims’ Form Hell release with Chris Livengood. That record really blew me away, both in how it seemed to appear from out of nowhere(via Death Waltz Originals) and just how fully formed the two tracks were. Fife and Livengood(along with Aaron Dilloway) seemed to pull some Komische magic out of the ether and created two beautifully dense tracks that I’ve played more times than I can remember. I talked to Timothy and Chris here.

I made it a point to keep tabs on Fife as I’d heard he was releasing his debut solo record via Death Waltz Originals. 2016 turned to 2017 and before I knew it I was holding Black Carbon in my hands. At only 3 songs(4 in its digital form), I have to admit I was hoping for a whole hour of bubbly synth and vast space vibes. Fortunately, Fife packs quite a punch with those three tracks. His debut for Death Waltz Originals is a tasty bit of synth voodoo that will pull you out of the everyday doldrums.

The album opens with the epic “Sydney At Night”. When you listen to this track there’s an oppressive quality to it at first. Crackling distortion, ominous electronic howls emanate from the speakers, and there’s just a general sense of dread. You can hear crickets begin to chirp and a distant wave of synth begins to emerge from the darkness. Pulsating synth starts up and at this point you feel as if you’ve taken flight. Soon enough the chirps subside and a dark melody emerges. This is very much a journey track. Whether you’re cascading through the black of an Australian night or burning miles on the open road with a slight buzz putting you in some other headspace, “Sydney At Night” is a track that takes you somewhere. Where that is lies firmly in your brain. Side A is dominated by this 17 minute mind melter.

“Black Carbon” opens side B. It’s the shortest song on the album but it makes its presence known quickly. Ponging synth structures bubble up and down as the track moves along effortlessly. Three and a half minutes, it’s in and it’s out. Its sits perfectly on this record, very reminiscent of Fife’s work with Chris Livengood in Victims.

The great thing about Timothy Fife’s work is that he has a very deft touch when it comes to compositions. He never lays it on too thick, while the tracks never feel overly sparse. His songs are carefully layered to reveal maybe something new you didn’t hear the first time you listened, but he’s never going to reveal too much. What’s the fun in that?

The real sonic surprise here is closing track “Low Plain Landscape”. It deviates from the Komische atmosphere of the previous tracks and gives us a lighter, contemplative ambient track that is reminiscent of Daniel Lopatin’s early Oneohtrix Point Never albums(check out Betrayed In The Octagon, Russian Mind, and Drawn and Quartered for beautiful counterpoints.) I feel that this track is what distinguishes Fife from other artists working in the heavy synth realm. He’s not afraid to set the pulsating arpeggios and Edgar Froese-isms to the side and just open the universe a bit in one track. There’s a free floating quality to “Low Plain Landscape” that I just can’t get enough of. I imagine some futuristic visions of floating cities and double sunrises, or unlocking some “Pandora’s Box” of life meanings when this song is playing. There’s a serenity throughout, though at the 9 minute mark a slight turn of the knob creates tension for a moment. Like enlightenment is great, but it comes at a price. You dig?

Timothy Fife just announced a new release coming out in October via Polytechnic Youth. I’d buy it from the artwork alone, but I’m sure it’s gonna be another amazing track from one amazing musician. If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of Black Carbon at Mondotees. There’s still some of that wax available. Or just download it here.

Joel Grind : Master Of His Domain

There’s quite a few talented folks that have mastered the art of writing and performing music. Those numbers drop a bit when you add in the process of recording, mixing, production, mastering, and general studio wizardry. It’s one thing to have some amazing ideas and being able to plunk them out on a few instruments, but it’s a completely different beast to be able to make those ideas a real thing and make that thing sound amazing.

Enter Joel Grind.

Joel Grind is the man behind the extreme metal outfit Toxic Holocaust, which he records all the albums by himself and has a crew that hit the road with him to perform the songs live. He’s also recorded several more experimental and synth-based albums under his own name. One album, recorded under the name X-77, is described as “Sound collage of bizarre sound clips of black masses, LSD trips and documentaries cut up over ambient analog synth drones and arpeggios.” It’s a trip, man. Grind has also opened his home studio to other bands to lend his mixing and mastering expertise. Some of his clients have included Poison Idea, Sunn 0))), Integrity, Midnight, Ringworm, Lord Dying, Black Tusk, Spellcaster and labels such as Relapse, 20 Buck Spin, Magic Bullet, Hells Headbangers & Southern Lord. He’s the go-to guy for some serious metal heavy hitters, and that’s because he knows how to get a live, raw sound in the confines of the recording studio.

I came to Grind’s work through his great synth record Equinox. I was blown away by that record’s capturing of that Carpenter and Goblin magic while never just giving me a carbon copy version. He’s got a unique style. I reached out to Joel to see if he’d be interested in answering a couple questions. He said why the hell not?

J. Hubner: So Joel, where are you from? Have you always been in the Pacific Northwest?

Joel Grind: I was born in Pennsylvania and grew up on the state line between Maryland and Delaware, mostly bouncing back and forth between the two states. I’ve moved a lot in my life though and have lived all over, after moving to the Pacific Northwest about 10 years ago though I decided this is where I would like to stay.

J. Hubner: You’re a pretty multi-faceted kind of musician, playing multiple instruments, writing, composing, and performing all the songs on your albums, and taking care of production duties. You also run your own studio and are a sought after producer. My question is how did you get here? How old were you when you found a love for music? Was there someone in your life that steered you towards music?

Joel Grind: That’s a great question that I haven’t really given much thought to. I think I got here by working really hard, being goal oriented and knowing what I wanted to do. Even from an early age I was always fascinated with music and specifically recording it. My uncle gave me an old cassette deck when I was a kid and I always loved recording things around my house. I feel like with being a musician your heart has to be in the right place with it especially nowadays. I get asked a lot on how to “make it” and I guess everyone’s definition is different, but if it involves lots of money…that doesn’t really exist anymore. You have to truly love it and be willing to sacrifice and lot of comfort and stability to continue with it.

J. Hubner: What instrument did you start out with? 

Joel Grind: I started with drums actually. Didn’t learn to play guitar until I realized there wasn’t many musicians around me into the same kinds of music I was and figured if I wanted to write songs I better learn a melodic instrument.

J. Hubner: What was the first album you bought with your own money?

Joel Grind: I think it was Megadeth “Rust in Peace”. But I get that confused with Motley Crue “Shout at the Devil”, which I had before the Megadeth record but cant remember if I bought it or it was a gift.

J. Hubner: How old were you when you were in your first serious band? Did you play the high school talent show?

Joel Grind: I started jamming when I was 13, but my first serious band that played shows was when I was 15. Never played a talent show but did do local DIY shows.

J. Hubner: When did Toxic Holocaust come into play? Who were some influences on that sound?

Joel Grind: Started in 1999 when I was 17. Venom, Misfits, Black Flag, D.R.I., and Nuclear Assault were the main ones.

J. Hubner: Besides Toxic Holocaust you work with heavy synth sounds as well. I came to the Joel Grind world thru your synth album ‘Equinox’. It’s a great synth album, man. Has all the eerie undertones and Carpenter-esque vibes that get me excited about music. When did you first get into synth music? Were you a fan of horror first?

Joel Grind: I’ve been interested in it for a really long time but started to pursue it more seriously around 2010, took up until the end of 2015 with touring schedules to actually start working on it though. I remember as a kid hearing this type of music and always wondering what made those creepy sounds.

J. Hubner: On both ‘Equinox’ and your 7″ single ‘Fatal Planet’ you list some pretty classic analog equipment that was used in the making of those recordings, including an ARP Odyssey, Moog Sub 37, Elektron Analog 4, and SCI Prophet 600. When working in synth mode do you prefer to use old school hardware as opposed to software? It seems to me it would add to the aesthetic of the work.

Joel Grind: For me it kind of boils down to (without trying to come across too new age-y)the  relationship you have with your instruments. You get to know the quirks they have, especially with vintage stuff. I also enjoy the tactile controls as opposed to pointing and clicking with a mouse etc. I wouldn’t want to play a VST guitar ( if that even exists). I like the feel of a real Les Paul. Even if the sound is equal, I feel like you approach things differently the way you interact with them. That’s not to say I’m anti-software or computer, I just prefer the hands on approach to making music.

J. Hubner: How did you get hooked up with Spencer Hickman and Death Waltz? 

Joel Grind: I just emailed him and asked him if he’d be interested in working together.

J. Hubner: What are your top 5 horror films? Are there any horror film composers that you look for inspiration or have been big influences on your sound?

Joel Grind: I’m not good at these list things because I always forget something, but ‘Phantasm’ is at the top for film and soundtrack. John Carpenter / Alan Howarth music is one of my biggest influences as well.

J. Hubner: What are some differences between composing in Toxic Holocaust mode as opposed to the more film-leaning synth mode? Where do you pull inspiration from? Do you concentrate on one or the other, or do you work on both simultaneously? 

Joel Grind: Inspiration is one of those things you almost cant describe or pinpoint, one day I’ll wake up and have this urge to write something. I do approach both somewhat similarly though, with Toxic it usually starts with a riff, and same goes for the synth stuff.

J. Hubner: How did you get into the production side of music and running your own music studio? Do you enjoy that aspect? How do you like producing and recording other artists? 

Joel Grind: It really stemmed from a lot of years of recording with other people and not liking the results and/or the experience. You know the saying if you don’t like the results…do it yourself.

J. Hubner: What upcoming projects do you have in the works? Will you be releasing with Death Waltz again at some point?

Joel Grind: I recorded a New Age-y type synth record that will be coming out on a label I cant divulge yet. It’s kinda like Tangerine Dream/Klause Schulze/Jean Michelle Jarre spacey synth music. As for working with Death Waltz again, I’m definitely open to it. It’s up to Spencer, really.

Spencer, give Joel a call. As for the rest of you go listen to Joel’s music over at his Bandcamp page grab an album or two. Keep checking back for the new age-y record. I’m sure it’s gonna be amazing.







Wojciech Golczewski : The Signal

Wojciech Golczewski’s The Signal could possibly be the most beautiful collection of electronic/synth pieces you’ll hear all year. Golczewski captures that feeling of awe one might feel staring out into the blackness of space for the first time. An overwhelming sense of peace and solace as you realize just how small we all are in the scheme of things. The Signal is also a prequel record to Golczewski’s first album with Death Waltz Originals, the excellent Reality Check. You do get a feeling of some kind of emotional arc throughout both albums, of which The Signal is the beginning of the story. It’s pared down sound-wise from its predecessor, but still very much full, ornate, and pristine in its sound. The Signal is simply exquisite.

Here’s the backstory to The Signal: “A sole rocketeer lives through her daily routine on a solo crewed space station orbiting a red dwarf star. One sol, the station is hit by a magnetic storm carrying a signal. The transmission provokes the decision to leave the station and start a journey into the unknown, looking for answers on the past, present and future of the species.

There’s two composers that immediately come to mind while listening to this record: Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre. I hear a lot of their work sewn into Wojciech’s synth patchworks and emotional movements throughout. “Orbiting” puts visions of space and astronauts as it rides on a beautiful synth line. Golczewski never falters in the emotional heft, from his solo records to his film work in 400 Days, We Are Still Here, and Dark Souls. There’s a lot of really great people making sci fi and horror-based heavy synth music, but at times the emotion is left off to the side in favor of Berlin School mimicking. Wojciech Golczweski seems committed to emotional heft every time out. “Childhood Dream” almost has the vibe of an early 80s pop track. In fact, The Signal is the most pop-affected album to date from Wojciech. It’s the perfect mix of catchy hook and heady composition. “Robotic Assist Module” puts me in mind of Disasterpeace’s work on the Fez Soundtrack. There’s a wee feel to it, but in a sweetly melancholy way. It’s not saccharine by any means.

This record flows wonderfully and leads up to the epic closer “1348000 Miles”. It’s drone-y nature and emotional ambivalence almost feels like a tragic ending to our sole rocketeer, which leads into Golczewski’s Reality Check. That final track sits in contradiction to the rest of the album’s woozy synthscapes. It lingers in your ears long after its fade out.

Wojciech Golczewski has proven to be one of the premier composers working today, and with his records Reality Check, End Of Transmission, and now The Signal he’s shown he can create original musical worlds without the help of a film script. He does just fine on his own.

8.4 out of 10

Timothy Fife : Black Carbon

Timothy Fife seems to have locked into another realm on his Mondo/Death Waltz Originals debut Black Carbon. Within these three key tracks there seems to be worlds and entities that bubble up from the cascading synths and eerie oohs and ahhs he creates with nothing more than circuitry, wires, and electrical impulses. You get a feeling of traveling through space and time as you let the album roll over you. There’s both a sense of new age enlightenment and darker cult realms, sometimes in the same song. Fife is a student of both music and of the macabre, and he works them both into one momentous work of art on Black Carbon.

I first came to know Fife’s work on last year’s excellent Form Hell, a release by Fife and fellow synth enthusiast Christopher Livengood’s project called Victims. With Form Hell, Fife and Livengood released two immense tracks on the world that brought to mind the best of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and even John Carpenter. My eyes were opened to what serious voodoo Fife could summon with analog devices. When I’d heard Timothy Fife was releasing his solo debut album with Death Waltz Originals I knew it was going to be one of the best of the year. Well Black Carbon is here and it lives up to all my made up hype, and then some.

“Sydney At Night”, even before the music starts, sounds like an epic journey. It opens with the sound of evening overpowering you. Chirping creatures, distant winds, then electrical disturbances slowly take over in your head. Buzzing feedback, horror film dissonance, and eventually a synth melody makes itself known. Propulsive, electronic rhythm moves you along through a makeshift night sky. Blackness pushes over your face as chills take over your body. Musically we’re in komische territory, all bubbling synths and desolation. Beautiful, beautiful desolation. Fife has worked out a krautrock masterwork here. All 17 minutes are vital to the overall atmospheric beauty here. A frayed psyche never sounded so good.

For the digital-only crowd there’s a bonus track in “Alebedesque”. It’s a dreamy, hallucinogenic track that feels like you’re slowly falling through space. It suddenly switches gears and turns into an almost industrial noise track before dissolving into the atmosphere.

Lead track “Black Carbon” powers through a mere 3 minutes and some change, but what it accomplishes in those few moments feels like one hell of a journey. Those familiar with the Victims EP will find “Black Carbon” familiar and inviting. It’s an ominous riff with bits and pieces bobbing in and out of earshot that make you look around the room thinking someone is sneaking up on you. It’s short and sweet, but nonetheless overpowering.

We finally arrive at album closer “Low Plain Landscape”, a sort of aural journey into the ether. It carries new age tendencies; swaths of dense soundscapes that swell and collapse onto themselves, revealing new layers and emotions the deeper you get. It’s this gentle walk through the mist. “Low Plain Landscape” is the peace and enlightenment we searched for through the darker journeys taken before.

We began in the dark and have now reached the light.

Black Carbon is a stunning debut from Timothy Fife. He brings to mind many of the greats that came before him, but brings something completely his own to these excellent songs. There is a flow and continuity here that makes this record an engaging listen from start to finish. So put on your headphones, close your eyes, and get lost in Black Carbon.

8. 3 out of 10

Grindhouse : Joel Grind’s ‘Equinox’

An equinox is when the day and night are of equal length, usually around March 20th and September 23rd. An equinox is also usually the start of spring or fall, or metaphorically the beginning of life or the end. I’m weird, so I like to look at it in terms of one’s life. I can remember being in high school and writing terrible poetry and going heavy on the metaphors. There was one in-particular that I wrote about how each season was a representation of one’s life span. Born in spring, living and growing through summer, aging through fall, and death comes in winter. Ridiculous crap to impress some girl or my creative writing teacher(it did neither.) But at 17 it was some profound shit, I tells ya.

I imagine musician/producer Joel Grind was more interested in the fall equinox, where everything starts dying. The days get colder, the nights start to become longer, and the glowing, orange-hued harvest moon makes its appearance. And I bet his favorite Peanuts cartoon is It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

When you see a picture of Joel Grind, with his bleach blonde hair and bandana tied around his head, he looks like an L.A. glam metal dude. It would be a mistake to assume anything about Grind. He’s not that at all. He’s a true metal dude with a love for horror and classic synthesizers. Grind is also a heavyweight producer, putting his handiwork on some of today’s best extreme metal albums. With each thing he does he seems into it 100%, whether it’s extreme metal, hardcore, or in the case of Equinox, gloomy synth music. It’s a great shot of retro horror and dystopian synth sounds.

Joel Grind? Who? What? When? For those not in the know, Joel Grind is a one man musical operation. His main gig is the speed/thrash outfit Toxic Holocaust. He records everything in the studio and then tours with a band. He’s one of these super talented guys that can do everything without anyone’s help. I mean, they say if you want something done right you should do it yourself. Grind takes that very literally. Besides the Toxic Holocaust stuff, he records under his own name. There’s The Yellowgoat Sessions that sounds a bit like the Toxic Holocaust stuff, with maybe more of a hardcore slant. Goat heads, pentagrams, and songs about masters of Hell and bloody vengeance. Then there’s his synth-heavy stuff. There’s the two song EP Fatal Error that has the hallmark of a doomed group of cosmonauts heading into a black hole or some dark star purgatory. Then you have his full-length Equinox. Equinox, Grind’s debut on the Mondo/Death Waltz Originals label celebrates all that is dark, gloomy, and sprinkled with dust, cobwebs, and bad juju. In other words, it’s a hell of a fun listen.

My affinity for retro 70s and 80s synth is no secret(you didn’t know? Stay after the meeting and we’ll talk.) Death Waltz and Mondo have taken a good portion of my money(and my childrens future fortune I imagine), but I’m not complaining. The trip these albums take me on are worth not having any sort of inheritance when I pass onto the great beyond. Joel Grind seems to appreciate all those old horror soundtracks created heavily by the synthesizer. A song like “Secret Oath” wouldn’t exist without A Nightmare On Elm Street and that film’s music composer Charles Bernstein. Then there’s “Psychic Driving”, a cross between John Carpenter and Ms. 45s composer Joe Delia. It’s sickly synth and sleaze disco groove make you feel like you need to take a shower. “Open Wounds” has a dystopian, post-apocalyptic vibe to it. It puts me in mind a bit of Finland’s Nightsatan, with even some touches of Depeche Mode. “Funeral Arcana” is a big nod to Carpenter and Fabio Frizzi. It has a bit of a metal vibe as well with the drums and driving bass.

Grind tips his hat to Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, Fabio Frizzi, and Jean Michel Jarre as influences and inspirations for Equinox and you can definitely here their spirits haunting these tracks. But the cool thing is that Grind has been doing this for years and that experience and the style he’s developed permeates the album. There’s a harder edge to these tracks. You can definitely bliss out on something like “Seance”, as well as the ominous vibe of title track “Equinox”, but there’s always an existentially heavy vibe looming just around the corner.

We’ve just passed the spring equinox. Only six more months till the fall equinox. Until then, pass the time with Joel Grind’s Equinox.



The Puppet’s Dream

A few months back I sat on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, ate some tacos, and watched this little indie horror film called We Are Still Here. A good friend told me I should watch it, so I figured why not? It was Sunday, gloomy, and there were tacos to be eaten. Turns out the film was pretty damn good. A creepy ghost story that was surprisingly moving. A story about parents in the throes of grief and depression over the death of their adult son who move far away from their home to a quaint little town in the middle of nowhere to an old farmhouse they found incredibly cheap. Of course there was a reason it was cheap. I’ll spare you the details as you should really seek this one out and watch for yourself. What struck me about it was that it had nothing to do with teens or 20-somethings partying and doing things their parents wouldn’t be proud of getting slaughtered in the usual grotesque manner. It was written with some maturity in mind. There was build-up and nuance. It was subtle horror that ends up in a massive hallucinatory moment of violence and gore. The end sends a chill down your spine.

I’m telling you, watch the movie.

The score was done by a composer named Wojciech Golczewski. It was subtle and nuanced like the film. Not overbearing, it worked to build those moments of surprise, melancholy and dread. Golczewski has been doing movie scores for sometime now, and a couple months ago he released his debut solo album called Reality Check. Of course when Mondo announced they were releasing it I had to drop the money for it and grab it. It was a wise decision as it’s a stunning piece of sci fi-inspired music.

reality-checkThere’s not much I can say about the album that the album can’t say for itself, really. There’s all the great synthesizer work you come to expect from a futuristic sounding album that sort of plays out like mini themes for film scenes. Tracks like “The Puppets Dream”, “Sid Vortex”, and “Solitude” are dense pieces of synth-inspired electronic music that pull you in to their world. The album cover, complete with disintegrating astronaut floating in space, elicits the casually doomed vibe you get as you make your way through Reality Check. But never do you get the feeling that Golczewski is heavy-handed in his approach to composing. It’s not weird whizzing and buzzing for the sake of making futuristic noises or doomed drone. You can tell he’s worked in film for awhile as each piece has a purpose. “Find Me” is reminiscent of Le Matos’ work on the Turbo Kid S/T; there’s a vastness in the track that also has an undertone of, strangely enough, hope. To me it sounds like a modern take of Le Parc-era Tangerine Dream. A populist take on the heady sci-fi sounds of the 70s. “Being Human” carries the weight of the title. It feels like the robot attempting to understand the meaning of mortality…or something like that. There’s elements of so many great electronic composers here, yet Wojciech Golczewski puts them all through his own unique creativity and point of view that it becomes something wholly original. “Reality Check” is barely two minutes, but within it he creates this almost hallucinogenic feeling, as if you’re listening as a black hole is devouring you.

Here’s the description of Reality Check, courtesy of Golczewski’s Bandcamp page:

Reality Check is a concept album compiled of material composed and inspired by Wojciechs various work for the motion pictures. It can be described as a horror sci fi soundtrack with influences from his previous demoscene and chiptune heritage together with more recent synthwave and electronica.

But don’t just listen to my blubbering, you should head over and check the album out for yourself. It’s another stunning piece of synthesizer/electronic work from someone you’ll be hearing more of. At least from me for sure(working on an interview with Mr. Golczewski himself. Look for it in the next few weeks.) While you’re over at his Bandcamp page, you should check out “Tonight She Comes”. It’s a 7″ he did for another indie horror film. Two great synth pieces. Missed out on that 7″. It sold out pretty fast. But it’s alive and well in digital form. Check it!

So yet another incredible instrumental album I’ve picked up this year. If this sort of thing tickles your fancy pick it up. And if you haven’t yet seen it, watch We Are Still Here. Well worth your time, friends.



‘Form Hell’ : A Conversation With Victims’ Timothy Fife And Chris Livengood

It seems we’re in a bit of a synth phase, musically. Five years ago you had to go digging for those great heavy synth albums by newer artists or head to some obscure record shop that smells like a mix of mildew, takeout food, and cigarettes and spend and afternoon digging in the crates for cats like Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese, Wendy Carlos, and Popol Vuh. This really wasn’t a bad deal. The thrill of the hunt was what it was all about, if I’m being honest here. Then back in 2013 I started reading about this record company over in the UK called Death Waltz Recording Company. They were reissuing the scores to all those films I used to rent in the back room of Video World when I was a kid. City of the Living Dead, House By The Cemetery, Zombi 2, as well as countless others were being beautifully pressed on splattered and clear vinyl, as well as standard black. For a guy like me that grew up in the early 80s on all of those great horror films on various Betamax and VHS copies, to have these scores on vinyl was like being able to jump into the Wayback machine every time I dropped the needle. Death Waltz Recording Co and it’s originator Spencer Hickman saw there was a need to revisit these underappreciated musical scores and hear them in a different light(or at least a slightly brighter one.)

Besides the old film scores, Death Waltz has gotten into releasing original artists as well. Under the label Death Waltz Originals, Hickman(along with his partner in this venture Mondotees out of Austin, TX) have filled ears with new,exciting artists exploring the far reaches of heady, dense synth music. These aren’t guys and gals reinterpreting the musical past, they’re expanding what has already been done and putting their own creative stamp on composing with the synthesizer. I’ve been personally blown away by artists like Law Unit, Pentagram Home Video, Pye Corner Audio and Miles Brown just this year. Recently Death Waltz Originals put out a 10″ by a band called Victims. The released titled Form Hell, consists of two tracks of extremely dense and heady synth explorations. I was immediately blown away by this release and wanted more. “Profecy” and “Cleonova” both swirl and sway like a mix of science fiction dread and existential wandering put to music. If these two tracks were the appetizer, I’m ready for the full-album main course(sorry for the food analogy, I’m hungry.)

Victims consists of musician and film composer Timothy Fife and musician Chris Livengood. I reached out to the guys to see if they’d want to talk about the band and their music and they said absolutely.

J. Hubner: So tell me about Victims. How did you two get together? 

Timothy Fife: Victims was started out of a few failed attempts to make a record.  The first was more of a mood record of sorts, that might have been a lost 70’s electronic score.  Another was a more full band giallo experience that I honestly just wasn’t right for.   During both Chris and I would play for fun during the writing process and we would always play music that was similar to the Victims record.

I sent Spencer a soundtrack I did for a film called Normal, and he liked it a lot.  He posted about it on Twitter, then offered me a record deal with his yet to be unleashed label Death Waltz Originals.  I knew Chris from seeing him in a couple of great bands, AM Frank and Video Nasties being the ones that really grabbed me.  We both shared similar views on music and had similar influences and he seemed like a good person to try and work with.

Christopher Livengood: The first time I ever saw Tim was probably around 10 years ago. He was in a Portsmouth venue that my band at the time, Visitations, was playing. I remember it clearly because he was wearing a corduroy or tweed sport jacket and was walking deliberately across the room. He had 2 or 3 big box VHS tapes in his hands, almost as if they were business documents and I thought, I should definitely know that guy.  As it turned out, we had some friends in common and from then on, whenever we would run into each other, we’d chat about Italian horror, soundtracks, and stuff like that. At a music festival in the summer of 2014, after my band, Video Nasties played a set, Tim approached me about working on the Death Waltz record. I was totally thrilled because I had bought their Zombi 2 LP when it first came out and was well aware of who they were, not to mention I’d get to work with Tim who shares many of my interests and influences. Over the course of the next year I would lug my synths from Portland to Portsmouth or Tim would drive his rig up to Maine and we worked on a lot of material, some of which became ‘Form Hell’.

J. Hubner: Can you tell me about your previous musical projects? Are you still currently in them, as well as Victims? Tim, what are some of the films you’ve composed music for? 

Timothy Fife: I haven’t been in band in a long time.  I used to be in a lot of noise bands that would play a few shows and then move on to something else, so nothing really substantial.  I got into doing soundtracks around five years ago.  In the beginning I did lots of movies for Scorpio Film Releasing out of Providence, which was great because I shared similar influences with the director and I had a lot of creative freedom.  Since then I’ve done work for Troma, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Ungovernable Films, Nick Principe, Izzy Lee and a bunch of great directors.  I even have some music in Paul Schrader’s new film.

Christopher Livengood: I was fortunate to grow up in a small town called Windham, where for whatever reason, within my age group there was a tiny group of total weirdo art/music nerds that ended up doing cool things. I grew up and was in bands with the artist, Scarecrowoven (who, coincidently, has done some work with Mondo),  the avant-garde drummer/multi-instrumentalist, Mike Pride (who just toured in the opening act for Amy Schumer…!??), the noise artist ‘id m theft able’, and my current band mate in Video Nasties, Brendan Evans…

Although I’ve been involved with a lot of projects over the past 15-20 years, some of them were important in my development: Visitations was I guess what you would call a ‘freak folk’ band…we were an improvisational trio (including Brendan) that used a mix of acoustic and electronic instruments in our sets. We played spontaneous songs about occult-type stuff, apocalyptic scenarios, horror tales. There were elements of harmony, noise, song, ritual, performance…it was pretty exciting in that we never knew what was going to happen at shows…but we played really, really quietly.

Things got more energetic when we started a side project (A.M. Frank) which was kind of like a Suicide tribute band, in that we played 60’s garage rock songs as if Suicide was covering them. I performed all the music on an old Korg MS20, Moog Prodigy, and simple drum machine while Brendan freaked out on vocals and Janane Tripp (our 3rd in the trio) did some unnerving and confrontational dancing underneath a bunch of strobe lights. It was the first time I found myself playing minimal electronic music to crowds of dancing people and in some ways it led into a lot of what I’m doing now.

Video Nasties is my current, ongoing project with Brendan. We’ve been doing it since around 2011. It’s basically the band we both wish we had had together when we were in high school, meaning it is noisy bedroom electronic/punk that has been deeply influenced by a heavy consumption of sleazy horror videos in said bedroom…basically an extension of what we were both doing alone as teenagers. Our initial plan for the band was to pre-record a lot of our backing tracks (drum machines, synthesizers, etc.) to a vhs tape on which I collaged some gore scenes and other weird elements from our tape collections and sutured together using some old analog video mixers and fx machines. We’d project the tape onto the stage and play along with the tracks. We did this a couple of times before realizing that the crudity with which I edited the materials together caused the vhs to flutter and distort, repeatedly putting us out of tempo and pitch.  Now our shows consist of the video reel projected over us while we play our guitars, bass, synths, to a rhythm track which I control from the stage. We have a male dancer/tambourine player. It’s a lot of fun. We released a string of cassingles and we just finished reworking a lot of those releases along with some new material for our first LP.

victimsJ. Hubner:  What got you guys into heavy synth? It seems a lot of the heavy synth guys I talk to start out in hardcore band and find themselves tinkering on synthesizers at some point. Are you two coming to it in a similar way?

Timothy Fife: I certainly grew up on punk and hardcore, and Void has always been one of my favorite bands.  But I was always into synth stuff too.  My dad would come home from yard sales with casio keyboards for me because he knew I liked Skinny Puppy and bands like that.  So even when I was in basement hardcore bands as a teenager I was playing on my synths trying to make an arpeggiator type sound.

Christopher Livengood: I was really really really deep into punk and experimental music as a teen, but the first instrument I ever owned was a large but simple Yamaha keyboard that my parents bought me from Service Merchandise. The 1st song I ever wrote was on that keyboard, circa 1987. It definitely involved the automated arpeggiator and built-in drum machine…so I had an early start on this type of music I’m doing today. When I finally got a guitar and started writing punk songs, I thought it was perfectly acceptable, and in fact economical, to use that keyboard for the drums and bass. I would teach my younger brother James (10 years old at the time) the bass lines and he would play them, pushing the ‘start’ and ‘stop’ buttons on the drum machine, while I did guitar and vocals. We had some originals but also did G.G. Allin, Misfits, and covers of 60‘s garage rock tunes. It helped that bands like Big Black were around to demonstrate that you could play punk music to drum machines and it would sound cool.

I think I really got into heavy synth music in my early teens because I was completely and totally obsessed with cheap horror videos. I spent a great portion of my youth riding my bike to the local video stores and renting everything they had. I noticed early on that when a movie had a score performed entirely on synthesizers it was a strong indication that something totally surreal and uncanny was about to unfold. It seemed to me that the more synthetic the score, the more whacked out the content of the movie. I always wanted to make movies and music like this and it took me a long time to realize the reason those synths sounded so dense and vibrant was because they were analog. It was even longer before I would eventually be able to afford some of these machines.

cleonovaJ. Hubner: How did the ‘Form Hell’ 10″ come about with Mondo/Death Waltz? How did it get into Spencer Hickman’s hands? It’s one of the best things I’ve heard all year, honestly. Beautifully textured music.

Timothy Fife: I already had some correspondence with Spencer because we both knew Fabio Frizzi and I was very excited about his label right from the beginning.  I sent him a demo because I really admired his vision and I really wanted to be a part of it.  So when he asked me to do a 10” it was a pretty cool moment.

J. Hubner: So the 10″ is comprised of two tracks, “Profecy” and “Cleonova”. Can you tell me a bit about the composing process for the band? Are the songs equally written between the two of you? Or is one song more Tim’s and another more Chris’? I’d also like to mention Aaron Dilloway. His sonic touches seem to add just the right amount of graininess to the proceedings. Is Dilloway’s process the last thing that happens in the composing process? 

Timothy Fife: I would say the composing process is equal.  There would be some sections that would be more Chris, then I would go home and tinker with them later.  Throughout the process we did a lot of editing and changing sections together.  

Yes, Dilloway was basically some of the last part of the composing process.  I really wanted to have him on there because I grew up on Dead Hills and was really influenced by Wolf Eyes and his solo work.  Plus he is also into the whole soundtrack, horror thing just like us.  I also wanted to have something that was really harsh and snapped you out of the moment.  It is a much different experience to hear Profecy without his sounds in it.

Chris Livengood: Tim and I are always sharing ideas with one another (sometimes, fully completed tracks) and trying to add to each other’s efforts. In the case of the two tracks on the 10”, we spent a lot of time watching horror trailers and talking about specific films with scores that possessed certain textures. I think Tim would describe a feel or ‘vibe’, I’d come to the table with a arpeggiated sequence, and we’d build off that…sometimes spontaneously jamming over it together, sometimes adding elements independently in our studios. Tim definitely handled much of the organization of the individual tracks and atmospherics and I don’t think that he would argue that I am more of the ‘melody man’.

Tim sent Dilloway rough edits of ‘Profecy’ and he (very quickly and efficiently, I might add) sent us back a series of loops that synced up perfectly with different parts of the track. Tim and I, with the help of Caleb Mulkerin (our mixing and mastering engineer and a seriously amazing artist in his own right) organized them and mixed them in. I think they blend in very subtly and sound organically a part of the overall mix. Tim and I have both been active in noise scenes so it’s pretty thrilling to have a figure as important as Aaron Dilloway collaborating on the record.

dwblogJ. Hubner:  I’d like to know who or what are some of the inspirations you guys are pulling from when going into something like ‘Form Hell’? “Profecy” reminds me a lot of ‘Phaedra’ and ‘Rubycon’-era Tangerine Dream, while “Cleonova” puts me in mind of Boards of Canada and old Betamax copies of horror films I watched too much of in the mid-80s(Gorgon and Vestron Videos come to mind.)

Timothy Fife: Certainly the Krautrock, Komische, Berlin-School movement was a huge influence on the recording.  For me Klaus Schulze is one of the greatest and his way of hypnotizing you with very simple repetitive patterns is very engaging to me.  But also lot of the early electronic pioneers were influential to us like Mort Garson, Phillian Bishop, and Marcello Giombini.

Christopher Livengood: Well, you’re definitely in the ballpark with these estimations: Those horror tapes left a lasting impression on my aesthetic development and over the course of my life I’ve consumed more than any healthy person should. Tangerine Dream, Moroder, early Steve Roach, Jarre, Michael Hoenig, Terry Riley, Kraftwerk, Goblin, etc. etc….I fell in love with this stuff in the early-mid 90’s. Back then you could find some LP’s like this in the ‘New Age’ bin for about 2 bucks. I used to be self-conscious about being a punky-goth kid browsing that section, but once I got them home I’d daydream to those records and truly feel transported. To me it was total alchemy as to how they made that music…all those different synth lines that seemed to be played impossibly fast. I had no idea about sequencers!  I think B.O.C. is also a bit of an influence…I’m not huge into their kinda beat-driven tracks, but I love the little miniature interstitial pieces that they do…not to mention all the masking and subliminal stuff going on in their mixes. I was really in love with the production and mix on Geogaddi.

J. Hubner: Was there more music you two created as Victims, but “Profecy” and “Cleonova” were the two tracks you decided to go with? 

Timothy Fife: Oh yes, I’d say there’s about two LPs worth of music we didn’t use, most of it is unfinished.  Right from the beginning Spencer wanted a 10” so we knew how much material we could fit on the record.

Christopher Livengood: This project went through 3 distinct phases: We recorded a number of demos in the vein of Bruno Nicolai or Morricone with the intent to have an orchestra perform them. We probably have nearly an LP’s worth of this material.  When that proved too difficult and expensive to organize, we pooled together a large number of electronic ‘miniatures’…strange, distorted, synth pieces inspired by the more bonkers cheapo horror scores, like The Severed Arm, or Messiah of Evil.  We have a lot of material like this that we hope to do something with at some point, but it didn’t seem appropriate for the format of a 10”. Finally we settled in on doing side-long pieces and that’s what made it to the record.

profecyJ. Hubner: Could you tell me about your music/recording set up? What are your main synths/instruments? Do you guys record to tape or are you recording to a DAW? The songs have a very warm, analog feel to them, that’s why I ask.

Christopher Livengood: For this record, we employed a variety of recording techniques, both analog and computer-based.  In my home studio, I mostly record and mix on a Tascam 388 1/4” reel-to-reel. I also use multitrack cassettes when appropriate. I’m clueless when it comes to DAWs (absolutely nothing against them, I just can’t keep up and like to stick with what I know) although I use a computer for final editing. Tim, through his film work, is much more adept at using computers for music.

I have a number of analog synths from the 70’s, none of which are midi-equipped. For the past 10+ years I’ve been trying to make synth music that sounds like I’m using sequencers despite not having one. I’ve developed some strategies for convincingly playing this way, but it’s difficult and inefficient. Only recently did I get a newer model Moog that can be synced to other devices and has a built in sequencer. ‘Form Hell’ was, in many ways, the first opportunity for me to express my excitement about that. Analog synths and CV gear has become so much easier to acquire in recent years….it’s really exciting!

J. Hubner: Tim, can you tell me about your full-length debut with Mondo/Death Waltz? Is this just you or is this a Victims full-length? If it’s a solo release will you and Chris be putting something else out together as Victims or in some other form?

Timothy Fife: My full length solo album will be called Black Carbon and it should be coming out near the end of this year or early next year.  I know the art will be made by Eric Adrian Lee, who does a lot of the covers for Death Waltz and Giallo Disco.  I’m not sure what else to say about it, I just know that Spencer really likes it a lot and that’s pretty good to me.   It definitely feels to me like it could be a companion to Form Hell in a sense.

Soon, I really want to start work on the next Victims record.  Chris temporarily lives in New York and I live in New Hampshire, so it’s a little bit tougher to work on music at the moment.  I also would like to work out a live Victims show as well.  

Christopher Livengood: I’m hoping for a Victims LP in the future.  We’ve also bounced back and forth some ideas that are a little different from Victims, but we’ll see.

J. Hubner: So what do you two think is the appeal of analog synth? What’s the appeal for you guys?

Timothy Fife: For me, analog synths are very nostalgic.  My dad used to play me The War of the World Musical by Jeff Wayne and the Flash Gordon soundtrack, both of which have some really great synths sounds in them.  So I feel like others might be like myself, that they remind of a time when all of this cool, very creative stuff came out.  I also look at analog synths in the way Sun Ra might have, as a textural instrument that you can very expressive sounds with that other more traditional instruments could not be able to do.

Christopher Livengood: There is something uncanny about the purring harmonics of VCOs that you can practically visualize. Like a string on a guitar or cello vibrating, you can feel the constant undulations and transformations of the sound waves.  It’s almost as if there is an acoustic presence to the sound yet there is no physical object moving around. When I was a child and heard synthesizers in PBS station breaks or in re-runs of Dr. Who, I got chills…I thought those moments were scary. Vocoders and talk-boxes in pop songs creeped me out. But those were also the moments that stood out and fascinated me the most.

I’ve always appreciated any element in art or narrative structure that intrudes into and disrupts the fabric of a narrative. It’s what I like about the horror genre (or poorly made films in general)…that reality as we know it can suddenly be ruptured by the incomprehensible or the abject. So in ‘Lucky Man’, Keith Emerson’s out of tune Moog solo suddenly transforms a fairly straight-forward song into a something casually transcendent. Boring Steve Miller songs sound like drifting ambient music for just a moment before returning to rote blues-rock…I swear I’ve ‘seen’ and felt sawtooth synth tones from a well-recorded prog album slash their way through the speakers and buzz across the room.  It’s definitely a palpable, tactile sound.

J. Hubner: What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you guys? Are there any live performances planned? Chris, Video Nasties has a debut LP coming out on Feeding Tube Records. Are you gearing up for that? And Tim, any other projects we can look forward to?  

Christopher Livengood: 2016 has been a big year for me. My wife (Sascha Braunig, who provided the artwork for ‘Form Hell’) and I have temporarily relocated to New York City for the year while she participates in an artist’s residency and prepares for several upcoming shows. While this will add some challenges to my existing collaborative work, I’m still very excited about the Victims 10” and would love to do a live performance if the opportunity is right for what we do.  The Video Nasties album is something I’ve been working on for the past several years so its completion is kind of a dream finally realized. When that album comes out (very soon) we plan to do a number of shows and perhaps upload some of our video works to the net. We also have some new material we’re working on.

Tim and I have a lot of unused material from various ‘Form Hell’ sessions in addition to some rejected tracks we recorded for Paul Schrader’s new movie, ‘Dog Eat Dog’. I think we’d be into developing some of that stuff for a future release.

Another collaborator, Nick Barker, of the band Tempera (formerly the drummer of Herbcraft), and I are finishing the final mixes of an album we recorded almost entirely on various beaches in Maine. We used a portable rig to record ourselves playing small digital synths while surrounded by sunbathers and surfers. I think the atmosphere was definitely captured on those recordings.

I’m also sitting on hours and hours of tapes full of unreleased material including a couple of finished ‘garage psych-pop’ (best way I could describe it) albums and lots and lots of synth music. I have a habit of filling up tapes with material, not labeling them, and then tossing them into boxes for later, so I’ve got years of boxes overflowing with stuff that I don’t even remember making. My goal for the year is to organize all this material and maybe figure out what to do with it.

Timothy Fife: Right now Dave Ellesmere (ex-member of Discharge) and I are finishing work on the score for a film called Streets run Red.  I’m also working on a collaborative project thats a bit of a secret for now, but I will probably be able to talk about it very soon.

Want a copy of Form Hell? Just head over to Light In The Attic Records here or get one of those triple color variant copies at Mondotees right here. And be on the look out for Timothy Fife’s Black Carbon via Death Waltz/Mondo, as well as Video Nasties’ debut via Feeding Tube Records.