Genghis Tron: Revenge of the NerdsThree Dweebs from Vassar Take Brutality About As Far As It Can Go
By Scott Wood
With Dead Mouth Mountain, Ghengis Tron has
stepped up their songwriting game
A bus whizzes by, then a homeless man stumbles past us as we trudge into the alley outside The Pic Pub inVancouver. Mookie Singerman and Michael Sochynsky from Genghis Tron have a few minutes before they storm the stage.
This grindcore-electronic-metal trio have been touring all over North America, kicking ass and taking names to support their CD Dead Mouth Mountain. With this CD they have taken their grindcore meets industrial music hybrid to the next level. And they are doing something that no one out there is doing right now.
Leaves and discarded newspapers whirl around in an eddy further down the alley. The cold wind makes us huddle together and get down to business.
Scott: Everyone loves your name. People who have no idea who you guys are immediately perk up when I tell them that I am going to see Genghis Tron tonight. It sounds like an evil Transformer, but it also fits what you do so perfectly.
Michael: A friend of ours actually blessed us with the name. As sad as it is, we didn’t come up with it. But, it turned out to be pretty appropriate. ‘Combining the brutal with the futuristic’ is the lamest way to say it, but it ends up describing it pretty well.
Mookie: Our friend’s band was a jazz funk fusion band. He’s proud to have us using it.
Scott: A lot of people have a hard time describing your music. I remember reading ‘Depeche Mode meets Death Napalm.’ When I read that I was like, “Hmmm that wouldn’t sound at all like them.” I wouldn’t want anyone to pick up Dead Mountain Mouth thinking they were gonna get Dave Gahan’s dulcet tones.
Mookie: One thing we’ve learned over the past couple of years… Music critics can be super, super lazy … We get some ridiculous comparisons. ‘The Postal Service meets Agoraphobic Nosebleed’ was my personal favorite. And, like yeah, we have these weird sort of ethereal electronic parts, and these brutal grind parts—but it goes a lot further or deeper than that.
Michael: The other thing I would add… I’m 23 and the other guys are 22. I’ve been listening to music since I was ten years old and we all have pretty diverse backgrounds… to just narrow it down to just two bands… like a synth pop band from the 80s… sure there’s some of that somewhere in there… but our influences are very wide and all over the place.
Scott: Absolutely but it’s part of the critic/reviewer job to lead people to music right? They need to be able to say, ‘Ok this is Genghis Tron and you’re gong to like them because they are sorta like this and this…’ Thinking about it that way, how would you guys turn other people on to the Tron?
Michael: Uhm… It’s really, really tough. I worked in a record store and the music guy asked me to write a blurb for my own CD. It was really, really hard. One band that we surprisingly don’t get compared to that much, but I think is an influence on us, is The Locust who are a hardcore grind-esque band that mixes in electronic stuff. Obviously they are doing it in a different way than us, but I would say they are an immediate influence on us. Of course Nine Inch Nails is the one band the three of us grew up loving. Even though we don’t really sound like them at all, the idea of combining these electronic elements into a more live…
Mookie [interrupts]: …Loud rock context that’s where they’ve really been a huge influence. Also if you listen for it, you can hear some clear musical Nine Inch Nails influence on us…
Scott: You can definitely hear the skeleton of NIN on Dead Mountain Mouth. I got into you guys when I read that your sound was almost an intellectual experiment of what a grindcore-electronic music hybrid could be.
Michael: It started more as a comical, almost tongue and cheek, and then when once we noticed the songs were turning out pretty good, we started taking a more serious approach to combining disparate genres and blending a lot different stuff from our musical backgrounds. But I wouldn’t say it was just slamming two genres together. We try to be—especially with our CD Dead Mountain Mouth—a little more delicate with how we are combining things and trying to develop a more cohesive sound than just grind and metal and then electronics and then back and forth.
Scott: The back and forth is a really unique styling of your music. I was reading one quote from a reviewer and he was talking about a ‘poignancy as you segue from on genre to another.’ That’s a great way of describing it. But I read interviews where the band started as an idea that you weren’t sure if you were going to be able to actualize it.
Mookie: It was a struggle, the first year in a half, translating it to live setting, and also making it cohesive enough sound to not run out of ideas, and to be able to succeed with a full length CD. I feel we hit a brick wall in a lot of senses after the first EP was written. There wasn’t much more we could do just slamming the two genres together. There was a lot of element of surprise in the EP and that’s why it was so successful—people didn’t know what was gonna happen next. After the EP came out and we started the new record, we realized that we had to step up our songwriting game and make it a lot more cohesive. Instead of taking as many different genres as possible and slamming together, try and take those genres and transform into something unique and new. As far as the live show goes, we spent a year and a half building up all the gear that we need to be as powerful and loud—and as sonically awesome—as all the metal bands and everything else we grew up listening to. …It still is a struggle. We’re pretty happy about here we are now, in terms of the technical stuff.
Scott: It’s cool you guys are trying something so different. You guys don’t have a drummer and it’s talked about in every interview about you. And I’ve been looking forward to see how that will come off in the show tonight. Even electronic rock bands like Nine Inch Nails will have a drummer onstage when they’re performing.
Michael: It’s funny that you mention Nine Inch Nails, a band that we really admire, that have a lot of electronics on their album and [who are] able to convincingly to perform it live. As far as us not having a drummer, when we started the band we were writing the songs, having no idea we would ever be playing them live. We never knew that we were gonna put a record out, or tour, or anything. It wasn’t really a consideration at the time. Once we stared playing live, we made an effort to make as much of it live, except for the drums, which are prerecorded and stuff. I think people are impressed we are able to pull off the other electronic elements, in terms of the synthesizers, and a lot of the weird guitar stuff is all recreated in the live setting. In addition to that, we learned the hard way we need to be as loud as a band that would have a live drummer.
Mookie: As far as the Nine Inch Nails thing… Trent Reznor has millions of dollars at his disposal to get a really solid hybrid set up with his drummer who can play all the electronic stuff convincingly through a live-ish kit. We are a hand-to-mouth band, so we don’t have the luxury of buying thousands and thousands of dollars of equipment. And also, I feel to say that we don’t have a live drummer implies that all our drums sound live—half of the drums are very electronic sounding. They sound like Boards of Canada or Squarepusher or bands like that. None of those bands have a live drummer and it would be impossible to do so. In many ways, it would be impossible for us to incorporate a live drummer completely, because half the music is based around electronic, sampled, programmed drums. And that really makes us who we are, and makes us unique.
Scott: It does make you guys unique, but when you think of most typical hardcore bands… They all have a drummer and that’s an integral part of the energy onstage. That must be a huge hurdle for you guys—or is it?
Mookie: We’ve caught lot of flack for not having a live drummer, but we catch a lot of flack before they see us… I think we pull it off and I’ve heard nothing but solid things from people who’ve seen us.
Michael: At first they are suspicious, but then by the end of the show, they seem to buy it. In terms of comparing us to other hardcore bands, people at first are confused, because they often will often watch the drummer for visuals cues as to where the songs go next. Even though we’re playing intense music, people often will be watching us instead, as opposed of flippin’ around and movin’ around. Most of the time, people are more interested to see what we are doing onstage. So there’s definitely visual activity onstage, but it’s different than a drummer energetically flailing his drums onstage.
Scott: Cool. I thought we had to address it, since you are asked it all of the time and it does make you guys unique. It’s funny… Hardcore is supposedly this rebellious genre, but when you do diverge from the formula, it’s like, ‘Whoa! What are you doin’?’
Mookie: Yeah… but at the same time, right now, especially in the more brutal experimental music… It’s going through an awesome period… Bands like Sunn O))), anything on Southern Lord or Hydra Head… Any number of those bands are doing really crazy, unheard of things with harder music and reaching large audiences. People are more receptive in that community to weird, untraditional things. So, it’s a good time to be in our band.
Scott: In a lot of interviews, I’ve read a lot of references to you guys laughing at the ‘absurdity of the music.’ And it’s funny… I played some tracks to a friend who is into classic heavy metal, like Scorpion, and told him that Genghis Tron is three guys from Vassar. And we just started laughing too. [Note: Vassar is a prestigious and exclusive liberal arts college in New York State.]
Michael: Yeah we get called nerds and dweebs in a lot of interviews …because we look like it.
Mookie: A lot of people think the music we’re making would come from drug-addled maniacs. When it comes down to it, we are just three dweebie dudes who are holed around a computer for 10 hours a day, programming drums. It’s not like the traditional rock’n’roll super-metal lifestyle.
Scott: When I hear, ‘Three guys from Vassar…’ I’m thinking of strumming guitars and knit sweaters.
Mookie and Michael laugh: Yeah, there is a lot of that.
Michael: We have these weird sort of ethereal electronic parts, and these brutal grind parts-but it goes a lot deeper than that Vassar is in Poughkeepsie, which has a tremendously huge hardcore scene. We never played there, because we couldn’t get accepted into the brotherhood-oriented hardcore scene there, because the promoters knew that were from Vassar, not from the streets of Poughkeepsie. That was frustrating, but there was much we could do about it at the time.
Scott: Do you still get that?
Michael: Even though we like to think we could appeal to any one who has a respect for experimental music or anything that’s sort of out there and heavy, a lot of our fans seem to come from that hardcore background. And I am totally happy we can reach those people, the kids who like a lot of hardcore metal bands, or metalcore as they call it nowadays.
Scott: Well, I am glad you guys are finding an audience, because you are doing something really innovative. Dead Mouth Mountain is a challenging album, but also a very rewarding album. And that leads me to the other thing I wanted to mention… It’s also very short.
Michael: Would you want to listen to music like that for much longer than a half an hour?
Scott: Oh sure, but here’s the thing… If we look at other metal albums, there’s like big long solos, there’s a lot of, for lack of a better term, wanking.
Mookie: A big part of the band is we try to cut all the wanking out. The first EP was 12 minutes long. It was the music we wrote, and I feel we are the closest people in the world to it—and even we couldn’t imagine listening to it for mote than 12 ½ minutes. When we got to writing the full length, we didn’t want it to be more than half an hour, cuz we thought that would be far too much to abuse your ears with…
Scott: A half an hour is pretty short.
Mookie: It is pretty short, but there’s a lot in that half an hour.
Michael: We made it very dense on purpose. We try to give every element a purpose; not really have any songs that were filler or have long extended parts that don’t really go anywhere and things like that. For me personally, I find it a challenge to get all the way through. I really enjoy it, but it is definitely a workout of an album. I couldn’t imagine it being longer than 31 minutes.
Mookie: The best allegory or metaphor for our music would be like a piece of really decadent, rich cake or cheese. It’s not very big, and when you get it you’re like, ‘Aw, what the fuck?! This is not much food at all.’ But then you put it in your mouth and there’s a lot going on. And at the end of it, you are glad it’s over.Tune in to the interview show with host Scott Wood, every Monday @4:30pm on CJSF 90.1FM for more interviews with your favorite indie artists. You can also listen online at www.cjsf.ca.