As half of electronica duo Matmos, Drew Daniel is already pretty well known in the electronic world. Earlier this year, metal was made aware of him as well via his solo project The Soft Pink Truth’s latest album. Why do the Heathen Rage? was released earlier this year on Thrill Jockey, and consists of electronic covers of black metal songs, including Darkthrone, Mayhem, and the song that’s gotten the most exposure from the album, his take on Venom’s “Black Metal.” With The Soft Pink Truth one of the acts playing at this Saturday’s DLF Live show at Saint Vitus, we spoke to him about the album, his choice to immerse himself into black metal how in on the joke his collaborators were, and what the David Lynch Foundation means to him.
So Why Do The Heathens Rage? is a little out there for both the electronic music fan and black metal fan. How did the idea to cover a bunch of black metal songs come about?
Well, the last album I did, Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth, was a bunch of punk and hardcore covers, and I had a lot of fun digging into the records I really loved when I was in high school and reanimating them, getting into punk rock drag. When I thought about that Penelope Spheeris movie The Decline of Western Civilization, the first one is punk, and then she did Part 2: The Metal Years. I kind of joked to myself over the years that I kind of have to do a metal companion album.
That was part of it, and then I was DJing at a club in Brooklyn called Rainbow in the Dark, which is a queer metal party, and I was playing a Darkthrone track, and I noticed the lyrics were similar to a classic Chicago house record by Adonis called “No Way Back.” In the song “Beholding the Throne of Might” there’s a line “when hell calls your name there’s no way back,” I flashed on doing some weird Adonis meets Darkthrone thing, and it was this kind of intuition. Then I noticed in a photograph of Fenriz from Darkthrone that he has a Plasticman tattoo and a tattoo for the house label Guidance, which is a chilled out classic 90s house label. It struck me as funny and weird that he has a Guidance tattoo, so originally the album was going to be called Fenriz Has A Guidance Tattoo.
That sounds almost like an A.C. record or song title.
It’s like a particular call out of a particular person. Maybe in a parallel universe I should have called it that!
The album is meant to be somewhat serious despite the over-the-topness of it. Do you have a specific aim or something you want to accomplish with the album?
I have a lot of aims. It’s supposed to be funny and ridiculous and leave an “I can’t believe somebody did this” reaction, but it’s true I also want to flag the conundrum black metal fans are put in. We love artwork, but we’re also aware of bad opinions and views the artwork is used to disseminate. If you’re a black metal fan, are you some kind of racist? It’s a basic question mark surrounding the genre, and there’s so much defensiveness about it. I felt my record was my personal way of wrestling with those issues. It wasn’t to denounce other people, but it was to kind of work through the weird contradictions of liking black metal if you’re not a racist.
What about the overall seriousness/grimness of the black metal fan?
I think that’s what I find so perversely appealing about doing this project. It’s an unrequited love letter from someone who can’t notice the humor and irony but I’m fetishizing the grimness of black metal rejects that. The kind of bitter nihilism has a stance that black metal artists espouse and that’s rare in our climate especially with the way that media works and how people try to endlessly promote themselves. I think that makes black metal appealing and unique. It’s fanaticism and hostility is compelling. I can’t front or pretend I’m like that. I’m a goofy person. I admire that from a distance. I couldn’t pull it off.
How much do you expect black metal fans to understand or even hear this album?
It’s a funny time because of the nature of search terms. If someone is looking for the original “Satanic Black Devotion” they can discover my version of the song. In the era of YouTube it’s much more likely than ever that somebody searching for the original will find the cover, and that’s what covers are. At their worst, they are a self-serving barnacle of some crappy person trying to jump on board the train of what everybody likes. On YouTube, every pop song has a video of someone in their bedroom trying to sing that pop song, longing to be loved and accepted. I just happened to have done it with more gear and convinced the label to put it out. I’m one of those barnacles, but I’m a particularly clingy barnacle.
Have you heard black metal fans say “What is this?”
Absolutely, with the chat rooms, it’s inevitable. I would be disappointed if they didn’t denounce it. I have been struck by how many journalists in the metal community have wanted to talk to me about it and had smart things to say about it. That’s more important than somebody liking it. I would be delusional if I thought metal fans en masse would love it, that’s just not going to happen. I think a certain sort of metal fan totally gets what I’m doing and notices the sheer labor that went into formally following the shapes of these songs. It wasn’t done in a loose, trashy way, except for the Impaled Northern Moonforest track. I felt like I had to do it in one night because that’s the spirit of it.
Getting back to the guests you have on the album, how familiar were they with the source material, or did it not even matter?
Well, in the case of Terrence Hannum from Locrian, he’s in a real deal metal band and an artsy one, he knew the concept very clearly. For Jen Wasner (Wye Oak), she didn’t need persuading, she was very open to it. With Antony I had to explain the concept of why his participation would hit a certain target aesthetically, especially considering the gendering of black metal needs to be offset. People get so angry or threatened by some presence within metal that’s not a macho stance. Anthony’s voice is so amazing and he finds a different way of inhabiting our gender and I wanted that on the record.
It’s me, and it’s basically a black metal karaoke party. It’s obnoxious and a trashy assault on these songs. I have to be a front man and this isn’t music you can deliver with irony, you just have to go for it. After 25 minutes I’m dripping with sweat. I’ve done it with Jen doing vocals for her track, and I’ve done it with Brian Collins. I haven’t decided if I’m bringing them on the road with me. I typically have voguer with me and he vogues with me, so there’s this very embodiment of the spirit of the record, which is somebody in a wig and corpse paint vogueing and doing these completely queer ways of presenting themselves that are also in the garb of black metal. The record is about forcing things to overlap and having fun with the sheer unlikeliness that can happen.
Are you going to do all the stuff from your current album?
No, I’ll mix it up and throw in some tracks from the earlier record. The first album was 13 years ago. I’ve had people in advance of the show going “Oh, you have to play this song!” so I may pander a bit.
You might as well. The first album is pretty much all originals.
There’s one Vanity 6 cover, that’s it.
What’s next for The Soft Pink Truth. Are you going to find another genre to deconstruct?
I’m touring. I have a few covers I’ve done that have never come out. I don’t know if another covers album is something I would want to do. Maybe it’s time to get into some perverted psychedelic direction and leave other peoples’ recordings alone for a while.
What attracted you to the David Lynch Foundation and how familiar are you with the goal of it?
I think it was an interesting context for this material specifically. The David Lynch Foundation presses for awareness for what transcendental meditation can do for PTSD, rape, abuse, and how to respond to violence. At a certain level, this record is responding to a homophobic murder committed by a member of Emperor, and remembering that act and trying to think about how we might imagine regret in the wake of damage, harm, and abuse. It’s a bit of a stretch since my project is ridiculous and the foundation’s goals are serious. I also was specifically attracted to the idea of being in a sandwich with Dominique Leon and JG Thirlwell. I was listening to Foetus when I was eight years old. His early recordings were blueprints for what you can do with a sampler and are incredibly inspiring. The work he does for Venture Brothers now is still vital music. I’m pretty honored to be on a bill with him. Dominique is a friend from when we lived back in San Francisco seven or eight years ago. I feel personally connected to them, and I knew I wanted to do it.
Do you meditate or practice TM yourself?
I’ve tried to but haven’t been successful yet. I guess it emerged from a yoga practice. Some of what I get out of yoga is physical, and some of it is a calmness of the mind. I’ve tried reading about meditation and practicing it but I don’t think I’ve succeeded in chilling my monkey mind. I’m still kind of a spaz! It would be dishonest if I said I meditated because that’s not true. I’ve tried many times and I hope one day I’ll be able to do it.
The Soft Pink Truth will be playing with JG Thirlwell & Sarah Lipstate and Dominique Leone at Saint Vitus This Saturday, October 4. Tickets are available here.