Amid the unrelenting hullabaloo of our modern society there are beacons of light, the occasional oasis of independence in an integrated world. Hidden within the stream of advertising, cross promotion and pop cultural overload are people who carry the spirit of DIY. The modus operandi may have altered over time – gone are the days of tape sharing and photocopying fanzines, the current day sees a more refined, digital approach – and the battle of swimming upstream against the powerful torrent of big business is still as challenging as ever but although the tools are different the ethos remains.
Swiss band Coilguns are the modern embodiment of this ethos, they operate Hummus Records completely independently and use the label to record and distribute music with the most pure of artistic intent. The aim is not uber-profits or world domination, simply to propagate the art of those who are like minded in their goals and objectives – those being choosing not to concede to commerce or compromise to commercialism but to keep purity and integrity at the heart of their work and their dealings.
So when I discovered the band with their exciting & unique sounds and the methods they employed to develop and disseminate their art I was extremely intrigued. The more I learned the more I was keen to hear directly from them about their work, luckily for me Jonas from the group was all too happy to answer my questions and explain a bit about the band, the label and his own musical journey
- Tell us about the history of your band?
It all started as a joke sometimes in the year 2010. After several months on the road with our former band, we thought we should start one fun and useless band with a lot of D-Beats. As I was staying in New York for a while I wrote a couple of tracks during that one shitty winter day and 2 weeks later we were in the studio recording them. The result was pretty solid, so we decided to have them mixed and mastered and released them as a limited handmade CD version. Very shortly after that we had our first show offer and since then, we’ve released three more eps (one coming up in sept), one full length and with the extensive European tour coming up this fall we are getting close to a hundred fifty shows played all around Europe to Australia. Now Coilguns is a proper band with its own vision and is no joke anymore, I mean…Of course we have this band to get money and bitches so you know, you gotta get your shit together at one point.
- Can you explain the unique structure and line up of the band and how it works live as well as in the studio and how it came about?
The main line-up consists of a drummer (Luc Hess) with a very minimal drumkit (Kick, Floor, Snare, HH and Ride), a singer (Louis Jucker) and a guitar player (me) playing through 2 guitar amps and one bass amp with a huge pedal board allowing me to control all these amps separately and fake that I am 3 players. For this to work, I have 3 different effect chains including all sorts of weird shit and a lot of switches that are allowing me to turn-on or turn-off the bass, the left guitar or anything really.
This all came about after our first show offer. When we recorded the first ep, we all did record separately and Louis played the bass. But when we agreed on playing that first show he just told me that he was not interested in learning my shit riffs and also that he was the bass player of enough band and that for this one he wanted to try out how it felt being a proper front man all-naked without any instrument.
The only difference between the live and the studio setup is that when we are recording, vocals are being tracked after Luc and I have recorded the songs. The music since our second EP “Stadia Rods” has always been recorded live and uncut, choosing one entire take of a song, without a click or instrument overdubs. When for certain songs we decide that my setup is not enough, we simply invite other people to record live with us. Songs like “Earthians” or “Blunderbuss Committee” from our album “COMMUTERS” were written for 5 guitars. We invited friends over, recorded these songs in a venue instead of a studio, place a lot of ambient microphones and setup the amps and the drumkit the way we wanted them in the mix and the result is pretty epic if you ask me. This way of working also allows us to stay open and we had to great opportunity to fly over Keijo Niniima from Rotten Sound just to record one song with him and for the song “Leveling” we met with Pete Adams from Baroness when they were playing Switzerland and recorded him jamming some killer solos over this track.
Now in the live environment and for some of the new songs, half of the set has songs where Louis also plays guitar, whenever we can we also have an extra member playing bass on certain tracks or keyboard…It’s great as depending on the line-up the interpretation of the songs isn’t exactly the same. For a song like “Blunderbuss Committee”, Luc is coming out from behind his drumkit and plays bass stage front.
But it’s not like we’re the first band without a bass player. It was a natural process. We wanted the low-end of the bass but didn’t want a permanent 4th member. This whole system I’m using definitely has an impact on the song writing as I always have to think my effect changes wisely so that it makes sense and to make it humanly possible. It’s very challenging and pushes you to write music with other concerns than playing scales fast. One thing is that for us it was a priority to sound as good on the record as on stage. In the age of sound manipulation and all that, useless to say that we all got very disappointed by many bands when going to a show…we’re not one of them.
- Is there a particular track or tracks you would recommend to the uninitiated as way of introduction to Coilguns music?
The one song we all agreed is the best song we wrote so far is called “Mandarin Hornet” and can be found on our split w/ NVRVD. The record is sold out but you can download all our music for free on the label’s website www.hummus-records.com. It’s a seven and a half minutes song and it was right in between our 2 first ep’s and our first album. It’s basically a great display of what we can do. It’s like a whole Coilguns record in one song. But then again, we have one minute and 20 seconds noisecore songs as well as 11 minutes tracks with the same chord progression all over…Sometimes it’s a bit black-metal inspired, sometimes it can be very punk-hardcore up to some 70’s jam rock on the latest stuff… In the end, our feeling is that we play some kind of extreme rock’n’roll. But go on spotify and make the following playlist and let us know if you don’t think it’s weird:
Mandarin Hornet / Commuters Part 1 / Commuters Part 2 / Plug-in Citizen / Leveling / Zoetropist / In the Limelights / Blunderbuss Committee / Minkowski Manhattan Distance / 21 Almonds a Day / Earthians / The Archivist
That will probably make you feel sick.
- Which of the following best describes your creative process and why – democracy, anarchy, socialism or dictatorship?
Well, I’m not smart enough to choose any of these words but here’s a brief description. I usually write a couple of riffs, record them and send them to Luc. We meet, jam the first riff forever, stop, sit somewhere, then luc takes a guitar, explains me for the 100th time I should learn to count bars to make my riffs more efficient, then he plays, make my riff better, go back in the room, jam the new riff and we end up writing a complete new song on the spot. It never takes us a long time to write stuff. Louis is pretty out of this process. He gets the pre-production; maybe ask to make a part longer or shorter but usually he’s happy with whatever we do.
Louis never rehearses with us. Like literally, in 3 years, we’ve had maybe 6 rehearsals together. Whenever we play a new song live it is surprise-surprise for us, and otherwise he just figures shit out when he records. He can write decent and meaningful lyrics anytime on the spot and since he is also a producer he knows how he wants his vocals to be placed and sound. He always wants to do this alone. He also likes to add noises and other weird thing…
On our latest work, a split with Swiss quintet ABRAHAM (to be released on sept. 20th 2014) we also had Matthieu Amstutz playing keys and he pretty much had the complete freedom to do whatever he wanted. I recorded him, and all I did was pushing the rec button, then the guy was going crazy with his keyboard, computer and effects and we just kept the best take for each song.
- You operate a record label during a time of seemingly continuous flux in the music industry. How do you plan on approaching the challenges of remaining relevant and financially viable in the current marketplace?
I think you’ll always be relevant if you are helping great bands getting exposure as well as allowing a couple of nerds in every country to be exposed to some great artists. You’ll always be relevant if you put the effort in what you do no matter the level you are working at.
Most of the underground bands nowadays have understood that it was time to get back onto the DIY train and instead of waiting ages on record labels that can’t take the risk to sign small bands anymore, well, they just do their thing. They self-produce their records, do the artwork, sometimes they even manufacture their own records…
We realized we had competences, network and experience in certain fields related to music but we did not have money. We mostly can’t pay for pressing records. BUT, we are a couple of people working part time for the label (unpaid of course) and what we do is working our asses of for unknown bands releasing their first album or ep. I can’t really think of many labels doing that. Nobody really wants to sign these bands, no matter if they’re good or not, and even if they had the chance to sign on a bigger label, most of the time they’ll be at the bottom of the catalogue and they’d feel like no one gives a shit. When we sign a band, we meet them, we make them aware we are a small structure in development, and we just lay down the cards. They can see what we’ve done, we tell them how we did it, don’t promise anything, only that we will do our best. So far, none of the bands we signed has left despite the label being small. We have more and more bands wanting to join us and that is very flattering.
Since we are not advancing so much money, we can offer bands giving us a record “ready to sell” a great royalty deal on sales, we just keep a small percentage to pay for the material we use (IT, packing shit, some PR stuff here and there etc..) And with this system you can release much more record per year than a classic record label. With the quantity of releases, even with our small part of the sales, it starts creating a healthy financial basis. We aren’t planning on doing this forever as we want to give our bands the full treatment, but for now it works out and we won’t risk to go bankrupt to press a record and have 15 bands homeless because we got too ambitious.
Another thing that makes HUMMUS RECORDS quiet unique is that we aren’t focusing on one scene. I like labels doing it though, it creates a very strong and you always know what you’ll get. I think our secret hope is to be seen as a label that releases the work of talented, inspiring and unique artists, period. We have everything from ambient-drone, lo-fi folk, indie-pop, electro dance floor, psych-rock, noise-rock, electro pop, acoustic music, punk-hardcore…And you’d be so surprise to know that some of these bands being at the opposite of each other have the same line-up or are sharing most of their members
- Was there any particular identifiable point in your life/lives that you realised music was going to be a dominant factor?
My dad had been a professional touring musician in the 70’s and now he owns a music shop since 25 years. Although he was playing in disco bands, variety and more mainstream things, I was clearly exposed to this since I was a baby. Between 8 and 12 I had an obsession with Michael Jackson, then I tried to DJ, it was a disaster (I was like 12) and then I switched to guitar. There are a couple of moments I can point out. The day when my sister got me the tab book of Nirvana’s unplugged, the day I first listened to Neon Ball Room by Silverchair and find out about distortion. After my first show with my very first band (I was 14), I realized that I’d love at least to try to do this everyday and see how it feels. Then 2002 was a major year. I was 16, a good friend of mine took me to a Dillinger show (first European tour with Greg puciato, was for the release of the ep with Mike Patton) and a couple of weeks later it was Converge on the Jane Doe Tour…After a short period into the whole new-metal thing I got exposed to these 2 now major bands and that changed everything.
- Who were some of the early musical inspirations in your life?
If we only talk about the earliest; Daniel Johns from Silverchair, Ben Weinman from the DEP, Meshuggah, Carpenter from Deftones…I also had my moment with the whole Swedish/german melodic death metal scene (In flames, At the Gates, Heaven shall Burn…)
I really had to find myself as I had no rock background through my family (I discovered later that my dad was actually a lot into queen, pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Emerson Lake & Palmer…) I was therefore very late on everything and thing were mixed up. I mean, I basically went from Korn and Slipknot, to Converge and Daugthers within 2 years.
- Who/what were some of the non-musical influences on your life?
Never really know how to answer this question…I guess my dad encouraged me a lot in playing music, both of my parents never went on my way and from the very first moment up until now they’ve always been on my side helping me out to keep living this life. I can also say that the last guitar teacher I had made me realized I should do my own shit instead of trying to go to a music school, which he was preparing me for. That guy basically told me to get off of his class and go show people what I had to say, which was sweet. I trusted this guy a lot and it gave me the guts to do all this shit.
- What was the last music you heard that blew you away?
“Ultraviolence” by Lana Del Rey and “Like a Clockwork” from QOTSA.
- If you were able to have any items you wanted on a backstage rider what are some of the things you would request?
We just added 2 funky things on our rider, 1 lottery ticket (idea courtesy of my man Matt), and postcards (idea courtesy of Cult Of Luna).
One very fucking useful item would be a decent wifi connection every night, but trust me, this is luxury to ask. But let’s say all the basics (including wifi of course) are properly fulfilled then I would ask for:
- A Fleshlight or a sex doll (but the very expensive ones)
- A beer tap (which has already happened a couple of times)
- Swiss Absinth
- A vending machine distributing free snacks and free drugs
- A soccer table
- A ping pong table
- A good hifi system to plug in your music and party
- A collection of LP’s from local bands
- A swimming pool with hot top
- A Sauna (that has happened in Finland)
- A lemon tree
Coilguns on lastfm: http://www.last.fm/music/Coilguns