DECAYCAST Interviews: “If it smells like noise, it must me noise.” – An Interview with experimental music mainstay Steve Davis / +DOG+
First hearing of +DOG+ they were somewhat of a mystery to me in history and intention, I think I first came across a split 7” between +DOG+ and The HATERS or maybe they were separate release I acquired at the time along with a Tribes Of Neurot CD maybe were the first “noise” albums I would own ? I could be crossing releases/synapses, but i remember +DOG+ was sort of enigmatic from the beginning- much like many of the out there experimental titles I was discovering at the time, who were the members, where were they from, what did they do during the day, and why were they making these wonderful and chaotic sounds. In the bay area, +DOG+ had built sort of a mystified legend around themselves, toting a modular lineup that seems to shift with nearly every performance and document (of which to both there are, MANY). +DOG+ was one of the first projects I saw that completely eradicated the boundaries between audience and performer, encapsulating the true spirit of noise, freedom from convention and maybe even a slight dissolving of the psyche, or at least a loud probe into it’s existence. +DOG+ seems to record an uncanny amount of studio material, boasting at times seemingly monthly output but overall, the work is intentional and nuanced, yet free and engulfed with the celebratory spirit of true avant-garde sounds and performances. Digging into +DOG+’s exhaustive discography, there is a nearly endless trove of sounds and expressions, but we are left with one constant, the man behind +DOG+, Steve Davis. We chatted with Steve about his longstanding +DOG+ project as well as his imprint LEM. Love Earth Music although largely focusing on noise, boasts a rather diverse roster of artists, everything from the nuanced, drone tone poem mastery of multimedia artist Conscious Summary “Flowers” or the blasting, alienating noise walls of +DOG+, or the angular, broken guitar rhythms of Intensive Studies, LEM keeps it refreshing, interesting and uncontrived in the most honest way possible.
Can you talk to us about the history of +DOG+ and your other various musical outlets if any?
Hi, I started doing +DOG+ around 1990 when I lived in Osaka. Prior to doing +DOG+ I was in a Boston band Expando Brain and The Flower Brothers in Osaka, I played bass in those bands. I had been doing another noise band J-Shi with David Hopkins- Public Bath Records and Sam Lohman- Nimrod , 36. Then made +DOG+ as a ‘studio’ extension of that sort of. When I moved back to MA in early 1993 I started doing +DOG+ as a regular band and did a lot of shows around MA/NY/CT with myself and a couple of others. We were blessed to have Ron Lessard release our 1st 7” on Stomach Ache in 1994 and Detector to do our 1st full album in 1996. I moved to CA in 1997 and continued to do +DOG+ there. That’s when I met you and the other Bay Area folks and did a lot of shows around CA as well as doing a tour of UK/Belgium in 2007 then did a tour of Japan in 2008. I moved back to MA in 2016 and have continued to do +DOG + here and have a new CD out soon called “10, 585” which is approximately how many days I’ve done the band. The line up has been myself and a large number of members coming & going. I’d say the core members besides myself are Eddie Nervo, Ron Karlin, Lob, Chuck Foster, Bobby Almon, Jack Szymczak and they send me stuff for the cd’s and then I mash it all up so to speak and add my crap.
I also have a couple other bands, Intensive Studies with Jack, we grew up together and started it when I moved back. I think that band is a mash up of styles from all the stuff Jack & I love; the Mothers, Punk, and just overall weird sounds. It’s a hard band to categorize as far as a “style” goes. I also just started a new noise band with Daniel Sine from L’elcipse Nue. That project is called Le Chien Nu and we just did a release on LEM. +DOG+ has a new release out spring and another probably out in the summer.
Speaking of releases, talk a bit about the history of your imprint, love earth music? How does running your longstanding label, LEM inform your creative practice, if at all?
I started Love Earth Music (LEM) around 1999 when I was living in CA. The 1st release was +DOG+ “Luddite Revolution” I started it just to be able to do +DOG+ releases and stuff from my friends and that’s how & why I did it. I used to make all the CD’s, covers, etc at home with my computer and printer but it just got too much so I don’t do that anymore . I have them made by someone else now. I have my friend Lob to help out with the art stuff on a lot of the releases and my pal Dustin ( Actuary) helps with a downloadable component of the label. That’ s stuff that usually is not on the physical LEM releases. A lot of the early LEM releases were friends from CA, but then it sort of branched out to bands from everywhere, mostly noise/experimental stuff at first. I’ve tried to do some stuff that is not noise/experimental stuff cause I’m really into everything. Weirdly, we did a Brutal Truth 8 track but I think we sold all of those. I feel that doing the label is a way to be a part of something that I enjoy and have respect for. Its easy to make crap, and have someone put it out. The stuff we / my friends do and release is hopefully something that isn’t boring and pushes the envelope a little. I have met so many great folks thru the bands and label and I have enjoyed many wonderful life experiences that I never would have imagined as a kid growing up in the woods in MA. I don’t get out to many shows these days, but when I do I am always blown away by the power of the sounds and the passion that my friends put into the shows. Even after all these years, it’s still inspiring. Last summer I was playing a show at a venue in Worcester, MA and there was this huge drum on top of a piano and was looking at it thinking how cool it would have been to use ( I’d already played my set) and then a bit later, Victoria Shen, a local noise great, went over and used it and it was soooo awesome..I so glad she went over and just mic’d it and wailed! It was very cool. Stuff like that is inspiring to me.
““If it smells like noise, it must be noise.”
I don’t know, it makes me happy to be able to get some of these sounds out for other people to hear. Seeing people and hearing the stuff they do keeps me interested in sounds and being creative. Doing the label has also let me get to know people from all over the world. Some upcoming LEM releases are going to be by Ego Death from Greece and God Pussy from Brazil. I’m also planning to do releases by some local / east coast folks here over the next year too, like Angelsbreath, Lean, Matt Luzak, Pas Musique, Martyr, This Is Not Okay, Bullshit Market ( MI), The Flayed Choirmaster (CA), Jolthrower (CA), Instagon (CA) and others that I can’t remember. I am looking forward to being able to release some interesting stuff in the future.
Having established yourself and your label on both coasts can you talk about the differences and similarities between west coast and east coast scenes, and if not the scenes the style/aesthetics?
I honestly don’t see much of a difference at all really. I think with so much stuff available online and the growth of these different groups online, everything is out there for everyone. So therefore there are no surprises …I see folks in NH doing similar stuff to folks from CA etc… I really don’t see differences..the only thing different here in the northeast is that the winter weather can mess up plans for shows/travel, but as far as styles or aesthetics it seems pretty much the same to me all over the country.
What was the most powerful performance you’ve ever witnessed?
I have seen a lot of shows over the years so its hard to pick just one, but if I had to I would have to say that the Swans at the Rat in Boston in the mid 80’s was one of the most powerful shows ever. They were terrifyingly amazing, the sound kinda went thru me and Michael Gira was awesome..it was an incredible show. The Boredoms 8-8-08 show in LA with 88 drummers was also great.
What are the main differences between recording and performing noise, is one inherently more valuable to you as an artist?
I think for me the differences is in the energy. I tend to be a little more harsh I think doing +DOG+ shows as compared to some of the studio stuff which is usually more varied. I also tend to play short sets ..usually between 5-10 mins so that would be different as well. When I ‘ve done ‘live’ on the radio sets..its usually a combination of studio and live cause I have to fill more time and bring a lot of extra gear as compared with a regular show. I honestly like both about the same…each year though I say to myself I’m gonna do less shows, but end up doing about the same number each year. One thing I do like about playing out is just seeing friends and seeing what they’re up to with regards to theirs sounds and their lives. I do feel that as an “artist” the recorded stuff is more of an accurate picture of where my head is at musically/sonically/sound wise. For example, the new +DOG+ studio album will have a couple minutes of acoustic guitar and actual singing on a track, which I doubt I would ever do live, and the sounds are more layered and clearer in general. What I enjoy about playing live are the physical aspects of playing, of making noise on the spot with all the adrenaline of it all, you know, getting to release some noisy energy. So I guess they both have value to me but just in different ways.
And lastly, how do you define noise?
I don’t know..at this point “noise” seems to encompass many varieties & styles. When +DOG+ first started it was easier to define, we set up a wall of amps with a few distortion & delay pedals, smashed metal all over the stage, screamed bloody fucking murder and made a lot of ‘noise’…it was very primal at that time. We considered ourselves a “noise band”…but now I don’t know…the noise scene now has so many sub genres…harshnoise, ambient noise..experimental noise, whatever…its noise if you wanna call it “noise”. I guess I could define it as anything that doesn’t follow the standard musical format and/or structures, but even that would be wrong cause a lot of noise folks do use structure and use regular instruments etc…so its really hard for me to literally define noise to someone else. If it smells like noise, it must be noise.