Two Nerds Bullshitting Over Dinner:
with Michael from Dead When I Found Her
The rainy season had just started here in Portland, Oregon, which tends to last a majority of the year, and it was a lot colder than I expected it to be. I stopped in the army surplus store, which was conveniently located next to the restaurant, to pick up some fingerless gloves for my freezing hands. Nicholas’s is a small hole in the wall Lebanese restaurant just over the bridge on the Southeast side of Portland. Having been here many times I knew to arrive early, right around the dinner opening, to avoid a seating delay. The small restaurant sat about 30 people total, a true homage to Portland’s small big city ambiance; the half finished ceiling can attest to this. Taking a seat in the back I read over the questions I had prepared for the interview with Michael, knowing however that I would probably not get around to many of them due to the nature of the conversations we had in the past. The industrial scene in Portland is a small and cozy scene in which a lot of musicians are familiar with each other and are often on first name basis. I have spoken to Michael many times throughout my years in the scene and am a big supporter of Dead When I Found Her so this kind of prying into his life and music was nothing new to me; I have often prodded him for advice for my own project and shared similar stories.
After waving Michael over, we ordered promptly and began our discussions, talking first about our day jobs and regular people lives, and then moving then into the music realm. Michael works in a job that I would consider mentally taxing, and I was curious whether or not it went home with him and had in some way found its way into the music, as these things often do. Having experience from my own job, I was able to relate to the amount of disconnection he spoke of when talking about work issues and being able to leave them in that environment. The food arrived in the form of large Mediterranean-style bread and many plates of vegan mezza - a collection of chickpea, caramelized onions, and lentils. Every once and a while I would glance at my questions and try to steer the conversation towards them, but in the end we were just two nerds talking about music.
Skinny Puppy, an obvious factor for the everyday world that both Michael and I live in, came up in traditional nerdcore fashion. Too Dark Park played a large part in shaping the atmosphere of Dead When I Found Her’s new album, Rag Doll Blues, which was apparent and respectable to me. I think that the modern musician should spend more time in the pre-90s Skinny Puppy collection. Michael said that he tries to make the music that still holds strong to him, like Caustic Grip by Frontline Assembly; what he loved about these classic albums was the inventive sampling and atmospheric elements that are lost in today’s music. Rag Doll Blues uses an ensemble of custom shaped samples and horns that were not in the previous release, Harm’s Way. Another noticeable difference is the lack of guitars, which Michael says was not intentional. Up until the very end of the album he had been trying to place guitars in at least one track, but it just never worked out the way he wanted.
Another influence I was curious about was a strange Kate Bush feeling the new album had to me, which I find an infinitely beautiful addition to the sound. This is credited, Michael says, to the horn samples and the differences in timing. Tracks like Doll Parts really set this out from any tracks on the previous album. There is always an inherent fear when following up a debut album; will it sound too much like the last, will it just be a fancier version of the same songs, or will it be so completely different that fans will not like it? I shared my own fear of this, having recently released my debut album, and how I felt that most people in the genre simply just perfected the skills they had used on their first album and did not bother to venture out into different realms. In this respect I felt Rag Doll Blues was a perfect transition from Harm’s Way.
Dead When I Found Her has been labeled “Old School Industrial,” which to me is kind of an off putting label. Michael said that he did not mind this label at all because that is what he likes, old school industrial. He also expressed that he did not care for these subgenre labels and that since he has grown up he did not have the patience to keep up with the Aggros and the EBMs. We also discussed what a lot of people call “horror industrial,” and how the original label was a pretty great representation of the music, which at the time was based around horror movie samples.
I asked Michael if he planned to go out on the road and support the album with touring. He replied that when he was younger, like me, the urgency of leaving town and being on the road was far more abundant, but now as he holds a more permanent job and has had these experiences, the inclination towards a stage show has dwindled. He wished only that he would be able to release studio albums and have people respond well to them, and he said that if some of these shows came up, and he and his partner had time in their work schedules to take off, he would love to play live.
Having recently seen Suicide Commando up in Seattle, I brought up an interesting new implementation that I had observed – an Apple iPad on stage with live filtering and remixing. I asked if Michael had any plans to go out and buy any new hardware any time soon. He stated that he liked the idea of hardware synthesizers, and turning knobs is always fun, but in the end the software equivalent was good enough for his creativity. We discussed Ableton Live 8 and the difference between the DAWs that are out today (I personally favor Logic Pro Studio but understand the need to be comfortable in your creative environment.) We talked about how Ableton Live 9 was a mythical creature and seemed to be never coming out. Ironically, one day later the new features were leaked on the Ableton Forums – it was as if they were there listening to us, secretly stealing our hummus when we weren’t looking. Sneaky bastards.
Artoffact Records has been pushing Rag Doll Blues quite strongly, which is extremely good for Michael and Dead When I Found Her. We spoke about the release and how he had expected it to go versus how it was going now, which if you have not had the chance to check out any of the social media websites has been very well. Artoffact has really made it a point to focus on some of these newer bands and push them as far as they will go right away, to the point where the label executives contact me here directly and ask how it is going and how our dinner went – you can tell they are just huge nerds like the rest of us. Michael said that the reception of the new album has been more than he could hope for, and that all of the promotion around the album’s release took him by surprise at first. There is something to be said about a label that is upfront with you and in frequent contact.
As dinner wrapped up and the conversations centered on the local scene and the frustrations over finding the right MIDI controller, we took to the wet streets and went our separate ways. Reflecting now, I see Dead When I Found Her as not only a local act that has been paving the way here in Portland for band like my own, but has been paving the way worldwide. There are not too many albums that have come out in the last year, that I would consider under the Industrial umbrella, that have moved me emotionally like Rag Doll Blues. There are a lot of nostalgic elements in that record that really hit a chord for my old school nerd love for Horse Rotorvator that I had forgotten about. It is a great album, from start to finish and I encourage you to listen to it if you have not.