NT Interview with Mike Fisher (1996)
by Mike Glader
Machines of Loving Grace, who graced the airwaves a couple of years ago with the hit Butterfly Wings are back with a new album and a new sound. During the tour for their last album, Concentration, the band decided to go with a more live approach to recording, resulting in a more direct and focused album. NT had the chance to ask keyboardist/programmer Mike Fisher about this and other changes the band has made.
NT: The new album, Gilt, is a bit heavier than your previous efforts, did that come from this album being recorded live?
Mike: Yes that’s actually precisely why it came out that way. We did a lot of touring for Concentration, and one of the things that we discovered about the material by playing it live is that we liked the sound of it better live. It had this sort of intensity and freshness to it that we really liked. So we made it our goal going in for Gilt was to record it as a live record. The main difference in the writing and recording process was that before we would write stuff on computer and basically take it straight to the studio, with Gilt we added the extra stuff by rehearsing and recording it as a live band, so that accounts for some of the difference in sound.
NT: Was it difficult to translate the older material to a live setting?
Mike: It’s actually something we’re still working on. I think for the most part they translate pretty well. It takes some time to make it work. I remember the song we had the most trouble with last year was “Trigger for Happiness”, it took us a long time to figure out a way to make that work live, and we ended up just basically deconstructing the song and put together a version that hardly anybody recognized.
NT: Were you happy with the first two albums?
Mike: Yeah, I think they both accomplish certain themes in their own way. They’re all different from Gilt, so I don’t necessarily like one better than the other, I just think they’re different. There’s things I like and dislike about the individual songs or maybe the album as a whole, butgenerally I’m happy with them.
NT: Now, it’s been reported that you took a Marshall stack out to a cliff, what type of sounds were you trying for?
Mike: Well, we weren’t after anything specifically, we were just interested in trying it. It was just basically an experiment. We had mikes out in the bushes and stuff – there was a huge cavernous echo there, so we were interested not only what the sound of a Marshall just absolutely cranked to oblivion out in the middle of a cliff was, but also the sound of the reflections.Actually it turned out pretty interesting. We also got the sound of some very pissed off birds at certain times because the guitar actually in certain places sounded sort of like a screaming bird, so there’s a point in the recording where you hear this particularly bird like noise and then it stops and you hear a bunch of birds get jostled and fly away. Pretty interesting noises.
NT: Did that make it onto the album?
Mike: No, actually it didn’t, but it’s kind of interesting because I always tell people that there are sounds on this record that we created when we were working on Concentration, so we’re constantly sort of collecting things like that, so there’s a good chance that it may end up on the next record.
NT: What other sorts of experimentation did you do on this album?
Mike: Our producer, Sylvia Massey, brought with her a lot of really interesting, odd devices and things that we played around with. The solo from “Casual Users” was played through a very small speaker that we put in a cardboard box and then put a bunch of screws on the speaker so that when it played really loud the screws would vibrate with a strange gravely sound. Some of the sounds from “Suicide King” are a toy piano that Sylvia brought with her that we sampled warped sounds from. There’s a lot of little things like that in there.
NT: Did you do more experimentation this time than in the past?
Mike: I think so, more so than Concentration, Concentration was made on a very tight time frame. We really rushed it, which is unfortunate. So yeah, to a large extent we had a little more time to play around with things and try different ideas.
NT: Is there anything on the album like what Filter claims is on their album – background noises such as trucks driving by the house or a toilet flushing?
Mike: No, not really. We had those kind of situations recording this record – our studio was very close to a train track, and when we recorded the vocals we had to pause about every ten minutes for a passing train, but we didn’t let that get on a tape. We’re a little more perfectionist about that sort of thing. I’m sure we could have let that kind of stuff slip, but we’re pretty anal about sound, so we just didn’t. Oh, I will tell you though, that there is a secret embedded message in between “Casual Users” and “Twofold Godhead” – nobody’s figured it out yet. It’s very hard to hear. It’s actually not a message, it’s just a passage. You’ll hear the sound of a record scratching, like the surface noise of a record, and there’s something underneath that. We actually mixed it just a little too low, it’s a little too hard to hear, but it was meant to be just slightly underneath it.
NT: How does the songwriting process begin? Does it start with any person in particular?
Mike: No, we all kind of take turns. They way we did it is that we have sort of a studio set up at home and we have computer-based sequencing set up, and basically everyone will just sort of come in at different times and lay down ideas. Sometimes it’s just a bass line, sometimes it’s a drum part. But then other people will come in and listen to that stuff and add to it. Scott will put down a bass line, and I’ll add drums and a keyboard part to it. Or Ray will lay down a bass line and I’ll add guitar or Scott will add something. So it’s a real round-robin collaborative process. We’ve always pretty much worked that way, and that seems to work pretty well for us.
NT: The song that you did for The Crow, “Golgotha Tenement Blues” seemed to have a different feel than anything else you’ve done, was that done specifically to keep the mood of the movie?
Mike: We wrote it specifically for the movie. We were very lucky in the sense that we were involved with that project very early on. I think we were actually the first band approached to be on that soundtrack, and we were familiar with the director and the comic, and we actually got to see the screenplay a year before the thing was even filmed, so we had a pretty good sense going into it what the film was going to be like. We tried to sort of match the mood.
NT: Both your songs and lyrics are fairly dark, especially on the new album. Is that something that you set out to do, or does it come naturally?
Mike: Generally I don’t think that the darkness of this record was an intentional goal. It wasn’t a stated goal of ours to make it darker. It was just a stated goal to make it more intense and closer to the live feel. And in terms of the themes of the songs, lyrically and conceptually, the songs are probably more specific than anything else we’ve done before.On the first record especially, and somewhat on Concentration the songs were conceptually sort of all over the place.They were just about whatever. Like on Concentration you have”Albert Speer” which is a reference to Hitler’s architect, and then you have other songs like “Trigger for Happiness” that are these abstract concepts. The themes on Gilt are more about personal experiences than about specific events or people.
NT: Do you have any personal favorite songs off the new album?
Mike: (jokingly) I hate ’em all! No, I like “Soft Collision” a lot. That’s one I did a lot of experiments with the sounds and it took me a long time to find some of the textures, but I was I was very happy with the outcome. I just like the way it flows.
NT: It seems like the songs are more layered on this album.
Mike: Actually, no, in a lot of ways Concentration has a lot more layering to it. I think that the layering on Gilt is more effective; it’s more thought out. With Concentration, I mentioned that it was done on a very short time frame and we tended to sort of throw things in to the mix hoping that they would work, rather than working on it and trying them.With Gilt we had a lot more time to really experiment with the textures and overdubs.I think there are fewer parts, they’re just better parts.
NT: It created an almost more hypnotic feel where as Concentration seemed a bit more disjointed.
Mike: It’s very dense. It’s a very dense record.There was a lot more conflict involved with the making of that record thanthere was with Gilt in terms of the band members arguing about “How are we defining our own sound? Does this song fit? Does this song not fit?” Gilt is a much more cohesive statement, and it sounds a lot more like something that came out of one band.
NT: Is that something that you still have problems with?
Mike: No, it’s still a struggle to define the sound.I’m not necessarily entirely happy with everything on Gilt as far as it being representative of our sound, but it’s certainly closer than a lot of other things have been. So, I think there’s always gonna be some struggle to figure it out.We’re a band that never really expected to be a band in the first place, so it’s been this long process of determining “OK, we’re a band,what the hell do we sound like?” And I think that process will continue.
NT: What do you think of being compared to bands like Ministry or Nine Inch Nails, what do you think of the whole “industrial” category?
Mike: I think people like to categorize bands. It’s not that we’re offended by the term industrial , because certainly we have influences that come from the real,true industrial bands like Einstruzende Neubauten and Throbbing Gristle and all that, but we’ve never considered ourselves to be an industrial band, so it’s a little awkward for us. We just sort of say, “Well, if that’s how you wanna categorize it that’s fine, but there’s more to it than that. And there’s more to it than that for most bands that get thrown into that category.
NT: Right, not all of them are like early KMFDM, where it’s nothing but vacuum cleaners.
Mike: Right, exactly. That more or less fits industrial. What we’re doing now, or even what other bands are doing now has very little to do with it except perhaps that it has roots in the same sort of experimental approach to making sound. But other than that, it’s not really industrial.
NT: You just got off the tour with Jim Rose, did you have any odd experiences on that tour?
Mike: We had lots of odd experiences on that tour. The last night when we were in Toronto,Enigma was coming around backstage trying to find somebody in the band who would eat worms with him, just as sort of a bonding experience and Scott actually ate a cricket with Enigma, which the rest of us thought was really fucking disgusting!
NT: What did Scott think of it?
Mike: He thought it was really fucking disgusting as well, actually. In fact, he tried one time – he took a bite of it then spit it out and the second time he tried it he was actually able to eat the cricket. These are live crickets, mind you.
NT: Are you into the internet scene at all? I noticed the home page listed inside the booklet.
Mike: Yeah, actually I do a lot. Obviously the band has a site that’s currently under construction right now. We have some very ambitious plans for it. I wanna make this site really comprehensive this time, so I’m kind of waiting until I can get most of it up there at once.
NT: So, you’re personally constructing the site?
Mike: I do site construction and site design, so the Machines one should be a showcase site when it’s done. And like I said, it’s pretty ambitious, so it might take a while.
NT: Are there any sights that you’ve seen that you enjoy?
Mike: You mean besides the one’s I’ve created? (laughs) I’m notinspired by all that much that’s out there. For starters, I don’t get to do a lot of surfing these days because we’re on the road so much. I have to say that most of what’s out there is disappointing to me.