Talk Show Host: 035: Controlled Bleeding

It isn’t often that I get the chance to interview someone who can justifiably be called an industrial legend. That said, there aren’t many bands in any genre, never mind industrial, that are like Paul Lemos’ band Controlled Bleeding.

A band that over nearly forty years has touched upon pretty much every aspect of industrial and many, many realms besides, they released a well-received new album last year (Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps), and release a new reimagining of that album this week.

I was curious about more than just the new album, though, so this interview touches upon a number of parts of his work. Thanks to Paul for his time. Your latest release is a hefty remix collection with one new song (TROD (Defiler’s Song)). The new song is a monstrous, impressive beast – did this just not make Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps, as it’s obviously hewn from the same materials as the others, or was it written later?

Paul Lemos: TROD is an entirely new song, recorded for Carving Songs, a way of stating that this is an album of new music, not just a tossed off collection of remixes. I see the album as a set of reconfigurations of our basic ideas, not simply a remix. A lot of the pieces are much better, much more intricately designed than the originals. Remixing and reworking is something you’ve made a habit of over the years, with it often happening when albums were re-issued on CD later on. What was your thinking behind this? Was it new ideas with new technology to “improve” what you’d already done, or was it simply a retrospective unhappiness with your old work?

Paul Lemos: When I was given the chance to reissue old LPs on CD, it was an opportunity to fix the errors and weaknesses in some of the music that had made me shudder for years. So, yes, I was able to rework those areas that I was unhappy with. Also, a lot of the master tapes for the original LPs were long gone, so I had no alternative but to create new ones. You’ve crossed a whole multitude of styles over the existence of the Controlled Bleeding sound, making you a genuinely difficult band to classify (as a writer, this is always a tough thing to deal with). Do you take this as a point of pride, or as something that made your music more difficult to “market”?

Paul Lemos: I don’t think about it. I work on intuition and generally go with the feel of the session. If we are excited by the results, that is all that matters. I have always been interested in a lot of different music, and I think that sometimes what I am listening to at a given time permeates the tone of the music we might be recording. I am sure that it has made it very difficult for listeners to stay with the group and perhaps we have alienated some along the way with jarring shifts in style. Although I generally give up on bands who radically change direction, I hope that listeners will trust us to deliver something worth their time and effort. Listening to your really early material – like Wall of China Love Letter – is something of a shock now. While it’s very much indebted to the post-punk of the time, it seemed to me that there are some sonic links to the latest material (I couldn’t pick out exact bits, but the feel was similar?). How do you view your earlier work nowadays, and what are your memories of the circumstances in which you made it?

Paul Lemos: I love some of the very early recordings. I can still feel the passion and drive that spawned that first 7” single, Wall of China / Veal and some of the pieces recorded live at CBGB in the late 70’s (Most of those recordings are collected on the Before The Quiet CD).

And really, I don’t think that music sounds like anything else that was being done at the time. No question, it was imbued with the spirit of punk, but I think we wanted to be a punk version of Mahavishnu. There were some great moments in those early recordings, but so too, looking back, a lot of the songs were poorly structured and dragged down by generic, plodding chord structures.

But you are definitely right that some of the music on Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps reflects and even revisits that early period…mainly because after Joe and Chris died, I began working as a guitar player once again with my old drummer, Tony Meola…and that same chemistry that produced the early work inspired Driving Through Darkness and all the BISI session material from Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps The CB line-up was often quite fluid (and indeed your later collaborators passed away some time back). Was this just the nature of being such a prolific group, and the demands on time that this must have caused, or were there other reasons?

Paul Lemos: You know, over time I have had very few collaborators…Those early albums, from Knees and Bones right through later records like Gilded Shadows featured the same core of Chris, Joe and myself. We would generally work in pairs…But there are very few guests that appeared through all that time. That was just the line up of the band. Today I am fortunate to work with Mike Bazini and Chvad SB, who are both good friends and great collaborators. They have allowed me to explore musical places that were never possible before. With the technology that is available, we are able to feature many guests and create a sort of musical collective in which friends can send musical parts from across the globe…Joe, Chris and I were restricted by the technology at our disposal. One thing that does strike me, no matter what I listen to, is that there is an utterly uncompromising nature to what you do – there is little bending to trends as such, even with your drastic changes in styles at points. How do you see your relationship with your listeners/fans?

Paul Lemos: I think that is generally true, although in our WaxTrax!/Roadrunner days, we were following trends, trying to be part of something that was not really a natural fit… I deeply appreciate the listeners who have been patient enough to support us through all the various paths we have taken…But I rarely have made music with an audience in mind. Chvad, Mike and I simply create the music we want to hear, and all we can do is hope that listeners will enjoy it. There is a long history of artists at the extremes of alternative music using (and twisting) religious or ritualistic symbolism in interesting ways – and you had a period of doing so in the eighties. Where did your interest in this come from?

Paul Lemos: I love a lot of early sacred music and was probably inspired to some degree by what I was listening to, but Joe and I tapped into something that just seemed to naturally evolve. The richness of Joe’s, voice and the state of our lives at the time allowed this music to come forth. I struggled with pretty deep depression in those days, as did Joey. So many of those songs blossomed from our melancholy. Interest in WaxTrax! has been growing again in recent years (with Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records finally nearly done – disclosure: I was one of the funders for the kickstarter – being the latest part of that revival of interest). What are your thoughts on the music – probably the closest you came to “fitting in” to a pigeonhole, perhaps – that you released through WT, and what were your dealings with the folks behind the label like?

Paul Lemos: The people at WaxTrax! were great. I loved Jim Nash and everyone we worked with at the label. They were completely devoted to the music. It was not about profit margins for them. And in the end, maybe that was their undoing. Certainly, we had little in common with most of the other bands on the label, and it was a fluke that we were even signed to WT. No question, that opportunity to suddenly move from experimental obscurity to a highly visible label like WT reoriented our priorities, and I think we compromised ourselves a bit, trying to create music in keeping with the WaxTrax! aesthetic.

But so too, we were excited by the things that we were hearing from Al Jourgensen, Meat Beat Manifesto, Greater Than One and others, so we were genuinely inspired to move in this more mainstream direction. I really liked some of the songs on the Songs From The Grinding Wall EP and a few of the songs on Joined At The Head EP, along with a few tracks from Trudge, but a lot of the songs could have been so much better had we known what the fuck we were doing. We recorded all that music in my shitty Eight Track studio, with almost no technical recording ability. Had we gone into a full studio with a capable engineer, who knows what we might have made. Who know what Words of the Dying might have sounded like. Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps was, as I understood it, the first CB album in over a decade. What was the catalyst for you returning, and how did it feel to be releasing an album that had such a positive response?

Paul Lemos: Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps developed over the course of five or six years. I guess it was a long time between albums, but I didn’t feel like I had ever left… In those intervening years, I gathered music for two big retrospective projects, and for the CD release, Odes to Bubbler which featured outtakes from the BISI sessions and some live stuff that Tony, Mike and I did in Brooklyn.

Artoffact Records did such a great job with Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps, and I think we are all pretty proud of it. But If I could go back and redo it, I would remove four or five tracks from the second CD. The concept that “LESS can be MORE” has always escaped me. What period, if any, of the CB work are you most proud of? And conversely, are there are parts that make you cringe at what you recorded?

Paul Lemos: I don’t think there is one period that I’m most proud of, but I really like the period that produced The Poisoner and Gilded Shadows…I was ready to throw in the towel after that because I felt that was about the best we could do and there was nothing left to say…But really, I think I’m most excited by what Mike, Chvad and I are doing today. For me, tracks like Perks (remix), Carving Song, Driving Through Darkness and TROD are some of the very best things the group has done, The potential of the new music seems endless.

As far as stuff that I don’t really like…Well. I do cringe when I hear some parts of early LPs like Curd and sections of Between Tides. There are a few parts of Core that seem pretty lame as well. I was just working too fast and recklessly at the time and was not much good at quality control. Some of the music from the mid-eighties does not sit well with me today. What’s next for you? Are you continuing to write and record music – and do you have any plans to return to playing live?

Paul Lemos: We are hard at work on music for a new album which we hope will see light of day next summer…A lot of really strange, exciting ideas are developing. How they will evolve is anyone’s guess right now, but the album is slowly taking on a life of its own, and it’s very different from Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps. Hopefully, through the winter months we will get a good live set together to support the new music next year.

The new album Carving Songs is out 04-August on Artoffact Records, Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps is already available.

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