Interview with Scott Benzel and Stuart Kupers (1993)
by Jon Bains
The first time I heard of Machines of Loving grace was when somebody came up to me at a club I was DJing at and asked had I ever heard of them. My answer at the time was, of course, no. Luckily I managed to acquire this first album and first couple of 12″s “Rite of Shiva” and later “Burn like Brilliant Trash (At Jackies Funeral)”. My first reaction to the band was one of confusion, I couldn’t pigeon hole them. Oh no, my life as a pretentious rock journo is over. I can’t place the band in a neat little catagory and sleep easily at night. The eponymous album sounded horribly familiar and terribly new at the same time. Could it be that a band has defied description? Well, were as I could not judge, the American music press deemed them a NIN ripoff, a claim which as you shall discover is bollocks. I talked to Scott Benzel, the singer, songwriters and Stuart the guitarist of MOLG just before we went to print to discuss this, that and the OTHER. The name ‘Machines of Loving Grace’ is from a poem by Richard Brautigan according to your press kit. I don’t consider myself stupid or terribly ill read but who is Richard Brautigan?
(Scott)He was a san francisco beat era poet and he later joined the whole Hippy thing. He is sort of obscure, more obscure than people like Ginsburg although he was in the same scene. The name was actually something that I dreamed up in High school a long time, and he is not one of my favourite poets now by any means. He is not actually that great, but it turned out to be a good name, its works for us conceptually.
How did you get together in the first place?
(STUART)SCOTT HAS A VIDEO PROJECT ON FOR A CLASS IN COLLEGE AND HE WAS NEEDING A SONG THAT HE WAS GOING TO MAKE THIS COOL VIDEO TO. HE HAD A FRIEND MIKE FISHER WHO I WAS WORKING WITH, GOT HOOKED UP WITH MIKE, WE CAME OVER AND ADDED GUITARS TO THIS COLLAGE OF KEYBOARDS AND HENCE TERMINAL CITY WAS BORN, WHICH GOT SOME AIRPLAY ON LOCAL RADIO AND WE THOUGHT “HEY, THAT WAS NICE, LETS DO IT AGAIN”.
It was all kind of accidental at that point, in fact the whole thing up to this point has been pretty accidental.
I didn’t see a video for Burn Like Brilliant Trash, with the benefit of being produced by Trent Reznor, surely there must have been one?
Unfortunately what happened with BLBT in terms of a video was that it came at a point when they were sparing with their record company and they basically dropped the ball and we didn’t get a video made for it. We are kicking ourselves, actually more kicking the record company a bit, because we feel that we could have made a really cool video for it.
How did the collaboration come about?
Basically Trent had heard ‘Rite of Shiva’ and Mammoth had been trying to mail him stuff and again we accidentally met up with him through a mutual friend when he was passing through Tuscon, had a good conversation with us and offered us his help. So we took him up on it. He was doing us a huge favour in a lot of respects, the name recognition with NIN has got us into a lot of places that probably wouldn’t have looked at us before, got us a little bit of radio play, that sort of thing.
What has been the media reaction in the United States?
Mixed to fair, we get a lot of flack for sounding like NIN, that usually comes from people who haven’t listened to the record, who don’t understand what we are trying to do. I think that the limitations of the fact that we are on an independant record label, their press department weren’t quite up to speed and so a lot of things fell through. In terms of general reception we’ve done quite well really.
I understand that you toured this summer with both the Swans and Peter Murphy, how did you find touring with the inifitely imposing Swans?
It was funny because we were sort of terrified, at first it was like “Shit, the Swans!”, because I had been a big Swans fan for a while and I also knew their disposition. Then it turned out that they were really cool and we got along quite well, we got along better with the band than with Michael or Jarboe, but they were very nice, they kept to themselves. The only problem we had touring with the Swans was that in certain cities, certain areas we would get a crowd that were very orientated towards what the Swans were doing and obviously we are not doing the same sort of music. I got a few things thrown at me.
How do the live shows compare with the music on the first album?
THE LIVE SHOW SOUND IS SIGNIFICANTLY HARDER THAN THE FIRST ALBUM, WE’VE HIRED A DRUMMER AND A BASS PLAYER WHO HAVE NOW BECOME PART OF THE BAND. WE WANTED TO GIVE IT A MORE ORGANIC FEEL, AND WE ACHIEVED IT. IN THE EARLY STAGES IT WAS LIKE – GET USED TO THE STAGE, LEARN HOW TO PERFORM – AND THAT IS WHAT THE SWANS DID FOR US AND THAT’S WHAT PETER MURPHY’S TOUR DID FOR US, GOT US USED TO THE STAGE AND FORCED US TO GET ON TRACK.
Prior to that we had been studio based, Stuart and Mike had played live before in other bands and I had been on stage once or twice with other bands, but it is a totally different thing. But it was the live shows sound has shaped the sound of the new record, we are using live drums and I think we have become harder. We have been thinking a lot about what does work and what doesn’t and throwing a lot of what doesn’t away.
What can we expect from the new album?
WE GOT ABOUT 13 SONGS AT THE MOMENT, WE ARE SHOOTING FOR 25 AND THEN WE’LL WHITTLE IT DOWN FROM THERE. WE ARE PRETTY HAPPY WITH IT, WE HAVE TAKEN THE IDEAS WE HAD ON THE FIRST RECORD AND PUSHED THEM FURTHER AND WE HAVE SONGS THAT I THINK WORK BETTER. THE LIVE EXPERIENCE HAS SHOWN US WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T BECAUSE YOU HAVE THE DIRECT INTERACTION WITH THE AUDIENCE. IN TERMS OF THE SOUND WE ARE USING LARGER GUITAR SOUNDS, BUT THERE IS STILL A LOT OF MELODIC STUFF GOING ON. THAT IS THE THING THAT WE HOPE DIFFERENTIATES US FROM A LOT OF THE BANDS THAT ARE DOING SIMILAR THINGS. WE ARE A VERY MELODIC BAND. WE ARE USING KEYBOARDS IN DIFFERENT WAYS, WE ARE SORT OF EXPANDING ON THE WAY WE USED THEM ON THE FIRST ALBUM. WE ARE MORE KEYBOARD TEXTURES AND USING IT MORE IN A PRODUCTION WAY A LOT MORE LIKE THE WAY THE YOUNG GODS USE THEIR KEYBOARDS.
Where do you place yourselves in the grand scheme of things?
THE REASON I THINK IT IS HARD TO PUT US INTO A CUBBYHOLE IS THAT SCOTT, MIKE AND I EACH HAVE VARIED INFLUENCES. NONE OF US ASK EACH OTHER TO DISCARD IT. I’M INTO CLASSIC ROCK WITH THE GUITAR STUFF, MIKE IS INTO A MODERN PIECE SO THEY CLASH, THEY CLASH IN A VERY VIOLENT WAY, (Scott – Sometimes physically), AND THAT TENSION WORKS, IT FORCES US TO FIND A MIDDLE GROUND, WHICH OTHER PEOPLE HAVEN’T FOUND, OR DISCARDED IT AND DECIDED THAT THIS IS THE WAY THIS BAND IS GOING TO BE. WE HAVE KIND OF SAID LET IT TAKE ITS SHAPE WITH THE DIFFERENT INFLUENCES THAT WE HAVE , SCOTTS PUNK BACKGROUND, INDUSTRIAL METAL BEATING BACKGROUND, MIKES TECHNO AND MY CLASSICAL.
I think that the bands that we are more spiritually or conceptually aligned with are bands like The The, people who are doing interesting music which incorporates electronics but is not overwhelmingly electronic.
Are you happy with Mammoth?
At the moment we are, what has basically happened it that we have got another deal with Atlantic, a distribution deal, so we are sort of Mammoth/Atlantic and we are much happier with that.
THE COMPLAINT WE HAD WITH MAMMOTH IS THAT THEY ARE SO SMALL AND INDY THAT THEY DIDN’T REALLY HAVE THE MECHANISM TO MAKE THIS INDUSTRIAL/ELECTRONIC INFLUENCE POPULAR. THEY ARE INTO COLLEGE ROCK AND GUITARS AND HERE IS SOMETHING NEW INTO THEIR REPERTOIR. THEY ALSO DIDN’T HAVE A NETWORK LIKE THE WEA NETWORK WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY BE OUR SUCCESS.
Now we have the funding to carry out a lot more of the ideas we have, before we were like touring in a little van, we hired a lightshow, but now we can do a lot more of the conceptual ideas for the live show and we can do better stuff. There are arguements for and against indy labels, but now I think we have the best of both worlds, we still Mammoth on board and they can handle the grass roots organisation and we also have Atlantic who can give us a couple of videos.
Can you support yourself through your music?
No. I work for a radio station, I produce a couple of talk shows
I AM INTO COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION.
Ultimately we would like to make the band a career, the whole band is looking forward to a time when we can just play music and give it all of our focus. I want to be able to focus on it a lot more.
How do you feel about the hype machine which rockets bands to stardom then grinds them up within a year.
I would rather have a nice smooth ascent, a long term career that gradually increases than some explosive short career that I am out of work in a year. I want to be doing music for a long time, this is what we do.
What is the Rite of Shiva about, related to Robert Anton Wilson?
Its taken right out of the illuminatus trilogy, basically it was a sex act that was performed at a black mass at one point. The idea behind Rite of Shiva was to get this obscene sex act on the radio without them knowing what they were playing. It seemed to work out pretty well.
With that the conversation descended into various rants about American culture, TV and other fairly irrelevant topics. Stuart is a big fan of Discovery. Scott isn’t. Anyway, although I have yet to meet them in person, I am sure that they are a cool bunch of individuals who will certainly go far, even if they are not from Chicago. If you can, find the first album, listen to it with new ears and accept the Machines of Loving Grace into your life, before it is too late!