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.
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 (musicedge.com 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.
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