Made Out of Babies: An Interview with the Band

UPDATE: I’ve got an entire update/lowdown from Julie Xmas on her new solo record as well as what has been going on in the MOOB camp including info on their new record, new producer!, new loads of noisy AWESOME. I saw Brendan last Friday night at the Casbah, looks like he is doing some tour dates with Red Sparrowes. Hopefully we’ll see a spring release for the new record. The following interview took place on their first West Coast tour with Blackfire Revelation and Unsane in person at the Casbah. They had just released their Neurot debut, Trophy and I think I was the first person to interview the band. I’ll be adding the update/interview with Julie later this week so check back. Live they are magnificent, like a wolf pack in a cage covered in caribou parts, Julie as Asena stalking the stage, tearing through the crowd with her howl.

made out of babies


It’d be easy to do a bunch of metaphors using their name, but I’ll do my best to refrain from that lowest common denominator of writing gimmickry and provide a tale of my sordid encounter with Brooklyn’s fiercest “heavy” music act.

When Charles ( photographer) and I made it to San Diego’s Casbah, much to our chagrin Made Out of Babies was three songs into its set. We got our wrists stamped and entered the venue with a spring in our step. Noticing the lack of people standing near the stage, we took it upon ourselves to show support by getting close—close enough to see the veins pop out of vocalist Julie X-Mas’ forehead as she spit the chorus of “Gut Shoveler” into her white-knuckled fist that was strangling the microphone.

Fans started to trickle in as MOoB went deeper into its set; most of the gathered masses were there to see noise core progenitors Unsane, who are touring in support of their latest Relapse Records release, Bloodrun. Yet those lucky enough early birds in attendance got a taste of what can only be described as awe-inspiring. MOoB combines the best of The Jesus Lizard chain-saw guitar effect (Brendan) with gut churning bass lines (Cooper) and bombastic, Keith Moon-like percussion (Matt). The apex of MOoB (aside from the talented instrument players) comes in the form of an auburn-haired Siren named Julie X-Mas, whose tortured, rage-filled screams are punctuated by moments of melodic beauty, enchanting listeners and raising obligatory devil horns from even the most cynical scenesters.

Their debut record, Trophy (Neurot Records), has a dozen gems that range in feel from manic chaos to schizophrenic surrealism. Their live set had the same feel of controlled chaos as their album with Julie caterwauling, spinning like a winged airliner in a final dive to the beckoning earth below.  Brendan and Cooper wield their instruments like weapons and their bodies act as if in the midst of some transcendental aboriginal dance, swaying back and forth to Matt’s maple splitting drum beat. This is a band that demands your attention while simultaneously command a sound with a passion and fury more than worthy of the barbaric applause and exalted screams from the crowd.
My only complaint was that the band didn’t play my favorite song, “Sugar,” which guitarist Brendan explained “is in a different tuning.”

With their set finished, we gathered in the Atari Lounge in the rear of the Casbah. The Lounge is a room filled with games like Gallaga, Ms. Pacman and Centipede. With the cacophony of video game music and the second act, Blackfire Revelation for ambiance, we sit at a table with an inlaid map of the U.S. and make jokes about Red and Blue states.  I’m impressed with the bands generosity as I attempt to conduct a very intimate interview.

SR: How did you all meet?
Julie: I dated him and him (pointing to Matt and Brendan). Brendan and I started playing together first about two or three years ago. Cooper’s been with us for over a year.

They proceed to argue benevolently on the precise time when Cooper joined the band.

Brendan: We drafted him about a year and a half ago.
Cooper: Here’s how it went. I played in my other band that’s called Players Club, and they opened for us on their first show and they weren’t good
Brendan: We were terrible.
Cooper: But I loved them. Anyway, a year later they recorded some stuff with the guitar player from Players Club, Joel Hamilton, and they recorded a bunch of songs with him, three of which are still on the record [Trophy]. I was at a party with these guys and said, “If you guys need a rhythm guitarist I’ll totally play rhythm guitar.” So a week later Brendan called me up and said “Why don’t you play bass guitar with us instead?” So I said, “Doesn’t Matt’s sister play bass guitar?” and they said, “Not anymore.” Then we immediately wrote the rest of the record.
Brendan: We were already in the process of recording but we weren’t happy with it, and we knew we could do better so we decided to scrap most of it and start all over.
Cooper: They had about five songs and we kept three.
Brendan: We had written bits of other songs then Cooper came along and …
Cooper (mockingly): Then we gelled, man.
Matt: Like a three-cheese quesadilla.
Brendan: Four.

SR: How did the writing change with the addition of Cooper, and how does the process work in the band? Is there one person writing songs or is it collaborative?
Brendan: It’s pretty much everyone. Different songs have started from different places. Some start with a guitar riff. “Sugar” started with a drumbeat and I wanted to do something “jerky” sounding, and Matt said, “Well I have this drum beat.” And it kind of went from there.
Cooper: I try and bring in like two parts that go together and let it go from there.
Matt: Lyrics come together once the skeleton of the song is in place.
Brendan: The great thing about Julie is that the lyrics come fairly easy to her. We’ll be figuring something out and she’ll say, “I want to try something right here.”
Julie: I always think of things as a singer. In writing, these guys have their own specific job. But thinking of things as a singer … that changes the writing too.
Cooper: That’s the great thing ’cause she can say; “I only have words for half of that.” So we’ll shorten that. Or “I have more than that” and we’ll double it.
Brendan: And most of the time it works ’cause it will break the cadence of the song up in a way that we wouldn’t have written it. The vocals and the melody will lend itself better to the song.

At this point we are interrupted by Dave from Unsane, bringing friendly shots to his friends and band mate, Cooper, who moonlights as a guitarist and vocalist for Players Club.

SR: As a writer, do you have things that you’ve already set down on paper prior to hitting the rehearsal or is it more spontaneous, creating words on the spot?

Julie: Well, sometimes I’ll use stuff that I already have, but most of the time I don’t even think about the words. Even some songs now I don’t have lyric sheets for because I use more sounds than actual lyrics. But I definitely take influences from things that I’m reading or something that strikes me when I hear their music.
Brendan: Like “Gut Shoveler”; what was that book you were reading?
Julie: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
Brendan: She said to me, “We should do something that sounds like a machine” and that’s when I did that thing with the slide that makes it sound like something is churning over and over again.
Cooper: The other great thing about the recording process is all the stuff we had written together as a band had changed quite a bit.  The vocals were still pretty loose but when we went into the studio there was such a format and so many different ways to do it that Julie was really receptive.  We were in the control room and she was laying down tracks and we could say, ‘try the other one.’  She’s awesome because she can do the songs a million different ways.
Brendan: In some ways, Joel Hamilton who produced the record is in a lot of ways another member of the band because he came up with a lot of ideas that we ended up really liking.  Getting back to the song ‘Sugar’ Julie had a basic melody and when we recorded it she had a couple of different things she would do.  She would improvise a lot of things when we were in the studio and she would change something or do something different and we’d be like, ‘that, do that again!’  Joe sat down with that song over the course of an hour and came up with the melody in the chorus.
Matt: At that point it was nice to have an objective pair of ears cause we had been in the studio for a while and doing the same thing over and over and he’d suggest something and the light bulb would go off, ‘Bing!’
Julie: The song and lyrics are based on my sister and me. When I wrote that song I was thinking of a character so I took certain traits of my sister and I (who’s at every show that we play) and put it into one person.
Brendan: All right, enough about that song. [He says laughing]

SR: how did you get started playing guitar?
Brendan: Some friends of mine were starting a band right as I was finishing high school, and I was always going to the shows and I just wanted to be in the band with them. The guitar player was a really good friend of mine and he showed me how to play a few of the songs, and in about six months I was playing in that band. I played with them for about four or five years but it never went anywhere. I didn’t play for years and years and then Julie and I went out for a while, then split up.
Julie: Like a hundred and seven years.
Brendan: It lasted for years. It lasted forever! But then we didn’t talk for a year, and she called me and it was her sister’s birthday, and she was already playing music with Matt and they needed a guitar player. So I went and practiced with them for about four days and played the show for her birthday with Cooper’s other band, Players Club.
Cooper: I love ’em but they played awful.
Brendan: Matt hadn’t played drums for a number of years and I hadn’t played guitar for six or seven years so it was terrible.

SR: Did you just start playing bass for this band?
Brendan: He’s our celebrity.
Matt: Lets stick with bass; who’ve you played bass for?
Cooper: Sweet Diesel and this band. On guitar, I played for Thursday. Their first tour they were all 21 and I was 28. They are my best buddies in the whole world. They’re a bunch of dirt bags and I love them. Their first tour was a series of house shows from here to Florida for two weeks and back. I have great photos of that tour.
Cooper: They’re my boys. I love those guys. I went on tour with them and only had one practice with them. Jeff, aside from singing, is a really good guitar player and he’d tack up these teachings for me that were in guitarist speak that said things like, First chug-chug part, eighteen times—into second light emo part into second light emo part— two times.

SR: Matt, when did you start playing?
Matt: I started playing drums in the sixth grade, because there was a girl in band that I had a crush on. ’Course she dropped out of band the day that I started. I stayed in there and ended up loving it. So I was a band geek from sixth grade through junior high and high school. I played in marching band: bass, cymbals, triangle, snare, I played the roto toms. It was cool. I had a blast during that time.
Cooper: You played bass in the marching band?
Matt: Yeah. The bass drum.
Cooper: I pictured you walking down the street playing a bass guitar.
(Laughs all around)
Matt: I stayed all the way through school, learned how to read music.

SR: Julie, how did you get your start?
Brendan: Julie has the most formal training out of all of us.
Julie: I come from a big Irish family and everyone plays music. My dad still plays music. He started a local prison band in a minimum-security prison upstate—in his spare time. I started very young … and I can sing so I went to Julliard for six months and dropped out. [It was] all vocal training.
(Dave from Unsane interrupts again)
Dave: You’re still here?
Julie: We played with Neurosis last night. We didn’t play as well as we did tonight. It was scary. We’ve never played for that many people before.

SR: And how did the relationship with Neurot Records come about?
Julie: We sent our demo in to them on a gamble and they called us like a few months later. It was a joke that we sent it to them and we are constantly reminded that we are the only band that they’ve picked up from a demo submission. We were sitting there and talking about where and who we should send it to, and Brendan is a huge Neurosis fan so we sent it. It was out of nowhere.
Cooper: I’m on tour in California with Players Club and Brendan thinks I’m calling to [mess] with him.
Brendan: But then I called Steve [Von Till, owner of Neurot Records, lead man in sludge-core giant Neurosis] back and was like yelling, “Who is this?” And he’s like “Steve Von Till” and I was like, “Yeah, whatever.” And after I talked to him (and realized it wasn’t a joke), he said that he really liked the record and asked if we would want Neurot to put it out. And I had to think about for 2 seconds. I hung up the phone because I would start telling him how much I love him. Then I called every person in the band and blubbered it out.
Cooper: The funny thing is that we really like them, but they really like Red Sparowes, who we hate (he says smiling while wearing a Red Sparowes T-shirt).
Brendan: They’re knob-twiddling hacks.
Matt: Shoe-gazing long hairs.
Brendan: Please add into the interview Greg’s proclivity for hair products.


Click here to listen to the track “Swarm” from their album, Trophy

Zap Mama: An interview with Marie Daulne

Zap Mama formed in the early ’90s as an all-female, a cappella group fronted by African native Marie Daulne. The Congo-born, Belgium-bred singer learned a different way of singing when she spent time with a pygmy tribe in Africa. Marie and her work with Zap Mama is a reflection of a woman inspired by culture. She has a unique sense of self that is both African and European. This gives her a sensibility and confidence that makes her music that much more powerful.

Zap Mama’s latest record, Ancestry, is the culmination of collective culture told through music. While Zap Mama’s eponymous debut was strictly vocal-a cappella style-each successive album evolves and incorporates each new place Marie visits. Her first record was made possible by David Byrne of Talking Heads fame. His interest helped expand Zap Mama onto the world music stage where artists like Sting sung the praises of the band’s creative sound. It was only a matter of time before Marie integrated the sound of American soul music, and on the record, A Ma Zone, she utilized technology, adding percussion and keyboards, as well as some great guest appearances from members of The Roots and Arrested Development. The connection between Marie’s African roots and American hip-hop was being forged.

The writing process for Ancestry and all subsequent Zap Mama releases are different, according to Marie. “It depends. Each song has a different story. I may have a sound that I loop, and the sound brings me to my imaginary world and it depends on where I am to develop my idea. Sometimes it may come from lyrics that I wrote somewhere that I write in different places like the airport or waking up in the night, and sometimes after a movie or after I listen to another artist. But mostly, with, me it’s sounds that inspire me.”

Songs like “Yelling Away” on Ancestry are fascinating experiments in vocal melody. It’s unpredictable where the song will go, yet it seems as if the song is already there. Marie explains, “I learned this way from somewhere. I didn’t go to school to learn about music and harmony, but I learned from the music I hear. I think it’s because I’m born of two cultures. From my African heritage, I receive a lot of different harmonies and sounds and ways to express melody and probably all of this makes up what I do. And growing up in Europe, you have so much different culture. You have Italian, Spanish and Eastern European music, and I decided as a teenager to discover all of these different harmonies. Because of my double heritage, I said, ‘If these differences bring a plus [sic] on my culture, if I go to other country to discover these other vocal techniques, I will have more and more.’

“So I decided to discover as many as I could find. East European, Northern European, people of the Inuit from the North. I went everywhere. To India and Australia to discover all that I can!”

She adds, “What I decide to do is discover all these vocal techniques and bring them to the Western world.”

Marie worked with the Philadelphia Roots Collective, made up of the hip-hop group The Roots, Common, Mos Def and many others. It’s a collective similar to Afrika Bombaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation, a group that later gave inspiration to affiliate hip-hop innovators, the Native Tongue Posse, which included such groundbreaking artists as De La Soul, Digable Planets, Queen Latifah, Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers and Black Sheep. Unity, peace and love are all part of these pro-culture and pro-active movements in music; Marie is also part of that sphere. She brings a voice from two cultures and propels an agenda of mixo-musiculturalism with her own brand of music.

Working with Anthony Tidd and Rich Nichols of The Roots for Ancestry helped Marie cross that short distance between world music and hip-hop. “The Roots. Well, I met them or the Ahmir (Roots drummer ?uestlove) at a Beastie Boys concert in Philadelphia, and he recognized me and said, ‘Are you Zap Mama? Are you the one that does the sounds with all the singers?’ And I said ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘I like your feeling (style).’ I had known of Rahzel (Roots human beat-boxer), and I loved what he was creating, and the sounds he created with the band were inspiring. I thought that I could hear my sounds in their music as well.

“Then, when [that] was said, the day after I was there in the studio. They invited me to do some of my sounds in one of their albums, and that was where the relationship develop[ed]. The hardest [thing was] that at the time my English was so little that I had no way to express myself, so I didn’t know how it happened in the Philly world or the United States, or the way it work[ed] with studios. I was there, like in the middle of an ocean with my sounds, my spirit and my vibe. They knew what I felt at the moment, and they enjoy[ed] it. And I then asked them to do some beats for my songs, and they did two songs for A Ma Zone, and I called them asking them again if they want[ed] to do one or two more songs for my next record, and Richard (Nichols) said, ‘Send me a demo.’

“He got the demo and told me they could do the entire album. They love my sounds and love the spirit, and it was easy for me to work with them because I can express myself better. There are a lot of other people like Common and Bilal and Erykah Badu who are on the record.”

If music is communication, then Marie is an example of how well sound translates feeling. She says, “The cool thing is finally I meet musicians that have the same relations with music that I have. Here in Belgium on my first album, there were only voices. There was looping, but organically it was us doing the same sounds over and over. Like singing ‘a, tet-tet/ a, tet-tet,’ and I was telling stories in these sounds, and put the harmony and the composition of doing music isthe same of what the hip-hop world or The Roots was doing. It was the same with Michael Franti (Spearhead, Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcracy) in my first experience. They were doing this same thing within a loop, adding a beat, then adding a vibe, and we listen[ed], then [went] to eat and [came] back and listen[ed] again, one or two hours a night.

“We [came] back the day after and [found] the inspiration to add more sounds, and I [said] to them, ‘It’s exactly the same way I create music,’ and I was so happy. Finally I found my family. Because here in Belgium and in Africa, it’s not exactly the same. The way I build my sound is the same way the Afro-American was doing music, and I say probably that this mixture of African and European that Americans have [done] since [a] long time ago, and it finally makes it easier for me to explain the similarity of the African and European. Those ancestral sounds are what connect us. Some say it’s African music that I do, but definitely not. I’m not African at all. My harmony is from Europe. I use things from all over the place. I use all these sounds and people can hear it. It’s because we are all human-we all want the same things.

“We all want to find a lover, fall in love, eating and sleeping and enjoying. Even when I spent time with the pygmies, it’s the same thing. People are sharing a drink together and laughing. It’s really after I discovered all the sounds I discovered people and how they really aren’t that different. I try to find the essence of humans.

Whether when I was with the pygmies, they love the same way the big President Bush loves. The laugh is the same; they have different way[s] to see and different goals. But we have all the same problems too–the power and egos and sometime[s] the old people of the village struggle for the power, but that doesn’t kill thousands of people. That is the difference of being a president of a country. I always was very shocked about the innocence of the people being abused or oppressed, so I try and focus on just being a human, and I love to spend time with kids.

“Kids are really more human than adults. I try and remind each person that we were that, each of us was an artist and a painter and a singer. We shouted and were climbing and that was our freedom moment. I try to remember all this early childhood when creating sounds.”

Even though Marie’s English was slightly broken in places, her eloquence in describing her passion and motivation to create is understood. Zap Mama will be heading out on the road in the United States this winter. Please take an opportunity to go and experience the band live.
This was one of those interviews that was exciting. It took me out of my comfort zone musically and helped me expand my palate. I was familiar with the Native Tongues and Roots Collective, but I went back and researched further, which turned me on to earlier movements in African American music such as Northern Soul, and Southern Soul (Stax), and inspired me to shell out some cash for that great Trouble Funk disc, Live/Singles on Henry Rollins import. Information leads you to something. Connection leads you to further discovery.