Thursday, February 5, 2009
Interview with Scott Thiessen of rRope / Turbine / VNC
There was no band more influential in my late teens than rRope from San Francisco. It was the mid late or late mid 90s and one era of SF weirdness had just died out (Thinking Fellers, Caroliner, even Primus?) and the next wave of noise rock wouldn't really get happening until about 01 when XBXRX would move to town and bands like Erase Errata and Coachwhips would start really kicking some major ass. What was cool was emo-hardcore, the Locust, and all that GSL gothness. You know, nothing too psyched out or f'd up. Meanwhile, rRope and a few amazing bands like A Minor Forest and Fuck would not stop fighting the good fight in that name of forward thinking rock kept beating the weird. I moved from LA to Berkeley in 96 to start college. I attended every rRope show from that time till their final performance opening for Sonic Youth on the Thousand Leaves tour. I tried to turn college peers onto rRope but it just wasn't emo enough or whatever.
Now its now and rRope still blows my mind every time I hear it. rRope still sounds unlike anything noise rockers are doing despite this being the wet season. Interviewing rRope guitarist Scott Thiessen reminded me of just how meticulous of artists the members of rRope were. In the sorta electronic Turbine and his current project VNC (once known as Vienna Noise Choir) this is the M.O. as well. Always playing guitar in way that is romantic and hopefully, Scott is a rare breed in noise rock. Definitely worth checking out anything from his body of work. Hopefully one day the movie score he did with a member of Thinking Fellers will come out! Anyway, this interview was done via an internet chat.
Brian: ok, this is for a new noise rock webzine starting up soon and I thought it would be fun to interview you since you have been in the bay area for a while. When did you move there, and what did you know about music in the bay before you moved?
Scott: I moved to San Francisco in 1991, and knew nothing about the current bay area scene, except its distant past. I knew the bay area music from the late 60's that seeped into popular culture. Mike the other rRope guitarist had already moved to SF and he convinced me to move here to play music. We both assumed that SF was more open to avant garde type music. We didn't realize how small that scene was.
Brian: In 1991, what other bands did you relate to in SF? Were Thinking Fellers and Caroliner active then?
Scott: I didn't relate to any of the bands at first. I was coming from a heavy guitar feedback vibe. I went out to shows as much as possible. Every other night or so, so of course I then discovered the great Thinking Fellers & Caroliner ...and the tail end of the Heinz
club scene. So yeah those local bands then had a huge influence...the plinky plinky sound.
Brian: Your guitar sound, as far as I have been aware, has always sounded a way that maybe no one else in experimental rock has, which is truly romantic. Even SY and MBV sound so existential to me that I can't associate your playing with them. And it is not emo either. Less
longing and more like true bliss. Do you ever think of your guitar playing this way? In any case, I am curious where your soulful style comes from.
Scott: My style doesn't fit into the popular notion of emo. I look outward as much as inward. Life can be better, our relationships, what a society values. So I do have longing and it does show up in some of my playing. Out of that longing comes bliss...an escape from that longing. From what I've heard from John Frusciante I would say there are similarities in our style. I think he gets over looked in the avant garde because of his rock star status.
Brian: People i trust really like Frusciante. i don't know much, but one early solo album is great. i actually like his RHCP ballads. my band foot village listens to them on tour :) So I'm not too off-base then in feeling a certain happy element in some of your work.
Do you think this is rare in noiserock?
Scott: I'm no expert on the noiserock scene, but often you get some artists that wish to shock. I have no interest in that even though I've probably in my past forced more people out of clubs while playing, this would mostly apply to rRope.
Brian: well, i guess I'm at no loss to think of happy or dreamy experimental bands, but usually they lack the forceful rock element that rRope and VNC have. Ok, lets talk about Turbine for a bit. Of rRope, VNC, and Turbine, Turbine was the least rock. the most just dreamy and romantic. but also fairly complicated in the arrangement department. What type of people did you find this appealed to most? At risk of sounding stereotypical, does Turbine have more female fans than your other bands?
Scott: Not the people who liked the onslaught of rRope! Turbine was my direct reaction to rRope and the narrow-mindedness of the noise scene. Turbine is so unknown, but there's such a funny story about that LP. All the feedback from people was that they liked for making love. David and I thought this was odd, but over and over those who we knew had the record would confess this. I still have to giggle over that.
Brian: That's pretty great, although it makes you wonder what the appropriate live venue is then. Its funny that you call rRope an onslaught. I don't disagree, but it was not an aggressive band really. Not like Jesus Lizard or a hardcore band though. Just really intense. But in many emotional categories. that, and loud as fuck. You seem to break a lot of rules, without doing total weirdo music. How intentional is this outsider perspective?
Scott: rRope somehow manged to be introspective. There were large dynamics...very quite sections..with the loudest I've ever experienced playing. You can not capture this on recording
medium unless there is no compression and the listener is using a very loud high quality PA. We did not keep up a constant din of volume or aggression. This approach was very deliberate, and confused audiences.
Brian: this was something all the members agreed on? knowing Mic's relationship to more academic music circles, it makes sense for him. But for a rock group this is rare.
Scott: Oh yeah, we all loved it. Of course it made us inaccessible, which we didn't want to be, but it was how we sounded. Its also why we used such powerful amps, and I got into building amps. I was broke and couldn't afford to have a tech maintain them.
Brian: you still use homemade amps. pedals too? are they based on any designs you admire?
Scott: My current VNC setup is all homemade stuff, I've modded all of our amps trying to get a certain sound that works for everyone. I'm not an electronics engineer, I'm self-taught so I usually base my work off classic designs then alter them to fit my needs.
Brian: Is there a simple way to describe this certain sound that works for everyone?
Scott: VNC currently is about blending, creating a large swirling sound. Its not done with volume but in the way we naturally play off each other. When you play an instrument its about how it feels as well as the sound that comes out. So if I make David's amp sound or feel a way that he doesn't like he just tells me. An example recently was when I made David's amp too rock n roll...he said "hey I want it to sound more like a chain link fence ...I used to get that sound." So I did that, tube amps are constantly changing sound...especially if you push them. The sound of the tubes and speakers change over time.
Brian: Ok, I'm gonna try to wrap things up. If there is anything clear here, I think it is that you have always been a really thoughtful musician. Which must be a good formula, cuz it has made a lifelong fan out of me. Who are you a fan of these days though? Who inspires you?
Scott: No one artist specifically...but the dreamers, those to strive to work with what they have, those who are not afraid to go against the grain...even though it makes them "uncool." Those who always want to learn.