How To Avoid Art is no boundaries industrial project from Sykesville, Maryland USA which is driven by one man, Rob Stangle. I accidentally got in touch with his music and I must say, it made good impression from first minutes of listening. After that I knew that Rob is the right person to interview for SOB magazine. That is really what we are aiming for. Good underground electro industrial music which has its own way and direction. Also recently I heard from Rob that he is in the making of first How To Avoid Art album.
SOB: Hi Rob! How are you doing and what’s been up lately?
I’m doing well, thanks. Also, thanks for this interview! I’ve been up to quite a bit, recently: I’ve been working on a remix of “Estranged” for Endless Sunder, recording an acoustic musician (Greg Kneller), and slowly plugging away an completing my album (all this in between trying to catch all the Pokémon).
SOB: Please introduce your band shortly and your work so far.
HTAA started as a side project with a metal/punk guitarist (Dave Ward) and that was back in the mid-90s (some of the work can be heard ret onned as “The Stangle Ward” (MySpace.com/thestangleward)). We were limited to analog equipment and four tracks. Neither of us put very much into it – we spent most of our “band time” in a local arcade playing Galaga, pinball and nearly anything else that accepted our tokens. Fast-forward to now: HTAA is mine and I am no longer restricted as to what I can write about or any direction I wish to go in (I still play video games a great deal, but the musical effort is far more concerted).
SOB: How you came with idea for the name? Must admit that I like it very much. Because everyone today is making some kind of art and being “artsy” but in fact most of that art is crap or replicated art.
“How To Avoid Art” is a string of words that doesn’t really make sense…much like (at least to me) the bits that Paul Morley wrote in the liner notes on “Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise”. Originally, I think it was intended as self-deprecating humor, but now that I’m older, I see more to it than that. Well, not more, but less. “How To Avoid Art” lacks punctuation, and as such, the insertion of a comma, question mark, or colon changes the meaning completely. I kind of like that. You can’t do that with Madness, Metallica, or Madonna. Having said that, there is no way to avoid art…and created things point to a creator the same way that design implies a designer. I think I’m happiest with that definition because it’s a nod to philosophy and theology instead of a misunderstood joke.
SOB: Also your logo is awesome and looks great on t-shirt! who made it?
Thank you! The logo is my design, but it was influenced by Dave’s designs when we were passing ideas back a forth in the 90s. It’s been tweaked since then, thanks to The Gimp – a GREAT freeware image editor.
SOB: How would you describe your music? I ask this because I saw and heard that you also have some Christian/religious influences. What connections are there between industrial music and Christianity when you compose music?
I would describe my music (at least the bulk of it) as “cybercore” – mix of hardcore punk/thrash with electronics. In 1987 when I was listening to Kraftwerk, Art of Noise, Peter Gabriel, Depeche Mode, etc…I was also very into Metallica, Anthrax, Fear, Circle Jerks, Nuclear Assault, etc. I approached my thrash buddies and asked if they wanted to try “techno metal”. They laughed. Now, technology has advanced that I can create my own work without the help of others who don’t share my vision. Which is the other reason I work alone now. I don’t have to water down or subversively veil any message I want to get across. The lyrics are my primary thrust in making music.
I remember one day, my wife had come home from work and said
“I had the horrible song in my head all day long!”
“That “Hell Night” song!”
“What?!?! That’s one of the BEST Misfits songs!”
What she meant was the SONG wasn’t horrible, the words TO the song were “horrible”. It was at this time, I realized that if you can put something good into a song it might help someone at sometime, or perhaps change a distorted view. When I was very young, I heard some preacher talking about how bad pop music was…the backwards masking, devil worship, and all that stuff. To the point that I was almost scared to listen to AC/DC. That stuff stayed with me for awhile. I was a long time before I bought a Slayer or Iron Maiden album, but once I did, I realized (that at least for me), I didn’t care what the lyrics were. I have a very short attention span and typically never even noticed the lyrics. In this light, if the content was “bad”, it didn’t matter. Likewise, if the content was “wholesome”, it didn’t matter either – at least to me. That said, I do recognize that garbage in is garbage out. That’s the primary reason for sometimes lifting entire passages out of The Bible instead of writing my own lyrics. God’s Word never fails.
SOB: How do you make How To Avoid Art music and what instruments or things you use while making it?
Blenders, sand, and the teeth of dead animals.
Or not…but definitely one of the two.
I’m very conservative. I still have and use equipment that I bought in the 80s (SPX90, DX27S, TX81Z, Mirage, DX100, RX7, RGX 612S)…but I also use more recently bought stuff (Aphex 204, microKORG, a B.C. Rich Warlock, Line 6 Gearbox Gold) and I’m no longer using my MT44D/ for recording – I’m using Cakewalk Sonar Producer 8 – which is great for those that are visually oriented like myself. Nearly everything I do is an experiment. I don’t have any formal training (though I did once take two weeks of guitar lessons before I quit). My lack of skill at playing any instrument gives me an advantage at times. Here’s what I mean: when I record guitar, I use a process I call “striping”…I loop one section of the song and play the same riff multiple times. These are recorded in separate takes and look like stripes in Sonar (or any DAW). I’ll review those takes and while most get deleted, some may have interest parts (bad fretting, feedback, a broken pick, inadvertent wrong string hit), and there are some that are usable. The scraps can be reversed, edited, slid around and whatnot. That’s what I do best: exploit the incidentals. When the chorus of “Control” was too thin for me (I will never be accused of being a minimalist), I “striped” with an Ebow and later sculpted and processed the takes. It sounds like synth parts, but it’s guitar (also what sounds like guitar (a single string lead) in the verses on “Control” are synths, not guitar).
SOB: Who would you mention as your biggest influences? I saw on your MySpace page that you besides preachers (religion) also mention video games and movies. There are not any bands or artist because you say its replication. I am really interested to hear your opinion about that.
I listen to a large variety of music and I’ll often come across an artist trying his best to sound like Tupac, or a “alternative” band that’s nothing more than a homogenized version of Pearl Jam and Nirvana. To me, that’s more than homage, it’s contemptible at worst, and sad at best. There is nothing new under the sun, but that doesn’t excuse a lack of creativity. Still worse are the hip hop “artists” who lift a section of well known music and say “Chyeah, it’s ya boy…I’m back” over top of it with slightly augmented percussion. Drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa and signing it, isn’t creating a new work of art, after all. You know, there’s actually a term of this, it’s called “vandalism”. With the advent of laptops and cheap loop-based software, the rise in audio vandalism has increased.
Sorry, let me step down off my soap box and answer the question. I think there’s a couple of ways to look at this issue, so I’ll try one way first, and the second way, you’ll see why I prefer to sidestep this issue on myspace (and elsewhere).
Let me first define influence as I am using it, here in the first sense.
Let’s say there a person who drinks a bottle of absinthe and then decides to drive to the park. Now, this is a drive taken many times sober, but on this occasion, the person swerves and rockets through someone’s living room. The person isn’t convicted of “Paying an Unexpected Visit To A Stranger”. No, it’s called “Driving Under the Influence” Why? Because more often than not, there are things you do under the influence (in this case alcohol) that you wouldn’t do otherwise. In this light, I see influence as a doing something you wouldn’t do otherwise had you not that influence at all. With music, let’s say an artist lists The Smiths as a primary influence…in my experience, a lot of time, it sounds like said artist is trying to write the follow-up album to “The Queen Is Dead”. That might be a weak example, but I’m trying not to name the group that I bought that sounded EXACTLY like VNV Nation back in 2003 . It was a very good album, but it sounded like “Praise The Fallen” or “Empires”.
Take two. These are the groups that probably most influence my thoughts about music: Misfits, Juluka/Johnny Clegg, Art of Noise, Kraftwerk, U2 (prior to the 90s), Celldweller, The Crucified, D.R.I., Celtic Frost, VNV Nation, Front 242, Xymox, Controlled Bleeding, Minor Threat, The Sisters Of Mercy, Believer, ohGr, Clannad, Front Line Assembly, mind.in.a.box, Cyberaktif, Grave Robber, and The Police. But then again, I suppose that I should also mention Miles Davis, The Rippingtons, Flim and the BBs, T Lavitz, and Peter Erskine, and Minoru Amino…but they are jazz artists and I certainly don’t hear any of that in my music. Do you? I love their work, so I suppose they’ve influenced me to some degree, but then again, maybe not…but here is where I would be applying the general use of “influence”. That is, one becomes a product of their environment, and in this sense, it would be sonically and I don’t feel that can be strictly applied to my work. While it’s true that there can be many forces that influence us on a variety of levels (so true is the phrase “bad company corrupts good character”), I think my influences come from other than music.
SOB: What about lyrical part?
That’s crucial. I’ve already touched on this, but once I have an idea for something, it’s researched internally and externally. It’s great if a piece helps me through an issue, but can others apply it and/or understand it? Currently and going forward, there will be blatant theological and/or philosophical underpinnings to my lyrics. Here’s some quick background; “Field Of Blood” is about betrayal, regret, and suicide, specifically that of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-19), Sons Of Hell is paraphrased from Matthew 23, “Monk Q” words were actually written by King Solomon (Proverbs 3), and “Ideas Have Consequences” came from the writings of Dr. Norman Geisler and Greg Kokl as well as the self-evident laws of logic (that, and post-modernism’s self-defeating ideas).
SOB: What do you think about American underground industrial/dark/electro scene?
I honestly don’t know much about it. When I was in my bar-hopping/clubbing days, I wasn’t recording…now that I’m recording, I simply don’t have time for that – even if I had any interest in it. I’m not completely out of that loop though…what I see is trends within trying to avoid the trends without…whether it’s a certain type of goggles (Cy-X), boots (New Rock) or whatever. Scenes are like-minded trend followers – even if that trend is underground (Hot Topic chain stores are a primary catalyst for this). Nothing wrong with that, mind you (I have 6 pairs of New Rock boots), but once a scene defines you, you’re finished as an individual.
SOB: Are there any interesting industrial/electro bands or projects in you area?
I’ve heard of one: mine. Kidding, but not really. I’m kind of in a rural area. Let me paint a picture. When I first moved here with my wife many years ago, my friend took me to a local hot spot. There, I saw the garden variety rednecks, complete with flannel shirts and blue jeans. Here’s what I found interesting: it wasn’t country songs being played. It was pop music. Here’s what else I saw: Country Line Dancing to DMX. It was then I knew that I wasn’t going to be hanging out around town.
SOB: Have you ever listened to some underground industrial/dark/electro music from Balkans and what’s your opinion about their music?
I think. I had to look up “Balkans”. According to what I googled, the Balkans go into Serbia and there’s a very good band there. Perhaps you’ve heard of them, “Dichotomy Engine” – they are also one of the few projects I’ve heard recently that impressed me instantly. Other than that project, I’m not aware if I have or have not. When I’m driving, I primarily listen to podcasts of talk shows…Stand to Reaon, The Bible Answer Man, Enduring Truth, Insight for Living, Giving an Answer are among my favorites.
SOB: I’ve seen that How To Avoid Art has many friends and fans on websites like MySpace and stereofame. Have these websites helped to promote your music and how much?
MySpace may not be the promotion tool. For the most part, Myspace – at least to me and my projects – it a vanity fueled engine. You can get loads of “fans” – teens taking pictures of themselves in the mirror that are far more concerned with themselves than they are with your music. I set up an experimental account of garbage music and got plenty of friends (Joe Grambles’ Searing Crotch Pain Orchestra) and that was a joke (When someone would add the account, I would leave a comment in huge caps thanking them for enjoying searing crotch pain (it was very amusing to me one late night)…so numbers don’t mean much when you tak into consideration the motives why a person will add you on myspace. That said, I’ve met some wonderful people, heard great bands, and reconnected old friends through MySpace. Oh, there’s the aweseomness of being an unsigned artist with radio play in other countries that would not be possibly outside of the internet – that’s huge.
Stereofame has yielded far better results and not what I expected. Blues artists, rock and folk bands, country artists – they have became my fans and supporters. Possibly because what I do is new to them. Stereofame can be a huge waste of time if you don’t want anything from the point store, but it does serve for good exposure to fans and other artists. That said, there is a great deal of artists patting each other on the back – which might be likened artists helping one another find the treasure in the corner of a round room. I don’t mean to sound so cynical, but my friend Ron from M Theory described it best, calling what people leave on that site as “polite lies”. ReverbNation and Songvault are also quite good and do not seem to be plagued with expected reciprocation (but it might be there…I’m not as involved with those sites).
SOB: What do you think about SOB magazine? Because we are fairly new here on the net.
SOB mag has a lot going for it: excellent layout, cutting-edge graphics, easy to navigate and no fluff and a nifty favicon as well! Oh, it covers the music that is closest to my heart as well.
SOB: Thank you Rob. It was my pleasure to do this interview with you. I wish you all the best! Hope that in the near future we could do new interview and review of How To Avoid Art’s upcoming album.
You got it. I’ll start back to work on it after just a few more things distract me. That, I can promise.