Dead C Music’s Poor Bill of Health

If noise rock were a country with
its own currency, Bruce Russell's face would be on a dollar bill. As one of the
guitarists for New Zealand's avant-rock trio Dead C, Russell blows minds about
as often as he blows amp heads. For the past 19 years, the trio has cranked out
feedback-ridden post-punk jams and basement sound explorations.

The band will celebrate their 20th anniversary next January with the release of
Vain, Erudite and Stupid, Selected Works 1987-2005, a double-CD
compilation on Badabing Records. A new LP, Future Artists, has also been
recorded and will be released later this year on Dead C's own Language

TMT recently snapped out of the haze rendered by listening to Harsh '70s
too many times in a row and caught up with Russell at his home in
New Zealand. The interview turned out to be as experimental as a Dead C record
as tape falterings, automated long distance operator interruptions and loud
motorbikes in the background. [Part of the interview will be published in a
separate piece.]

Trapdoor Fucking Exit sounds like no other album because of the
production value. How did you guys record that? What do you hear when you play
it back to yourself? Do you listen to your own music?

Funny you should ask that question because I don't spend a lot of time listening
to my music. I have been for the last three months because I've been trying to
compile a double CD compilation, which is going to come out this year on
Badabing. Interestingly enough, I had to listen to everything. I'm amazed by
some of the things at the time I though were not too good. Some things that I
thought were particularly good were like “Uggg”…Trapdoor is a funny one
because Trapdoor originally was a cassette on…Michael had this little
cassette label on the side that kind of semi-existed called Precious Metal. It
was largely a rehearsal done with a guy called Chris Hazlewood playing extra
guitar. The only time we ever played with him, really. It was quite interesting
the effect that he had on the band having like three guitars instead of two. And
he could actually play which was serious because Michael can sort of play the
guitar but I certainly can't. And…um…he…um Michael compiled it. I can't remember
why it became a CD actually but it was reissued by Siltbreeze on CD with the
Helen Said This
12” added to it. So, although there was already an
abbreviated version of 'Bury' on the cassette, it then acquired the full-length
version of 'Bury,' which is the B-side of the 12”, and, then, obviously the
A-Side, which is 'Helen Said This.' Some of that I really don't like. Some
tracks on that really irritate me because I think they were constructed out of
kind of loose…

[Bruce fades out and MCI Operator Lady interrupts me to tell me I have 15
minutes left and promptly disconnects the service. Why? I don't know]

[We talk about the disconnected phone line. Bruce laughs.]

I've been really into the 'Free Noise Manifesto' lately. Did you have a
background in philosophy?

I did a couple of degrees. I was in the political studies department but my
focus was on political philosophy. I've always been interested. I've done a bit
of reading, I guess. Part of the manifest…part of the presentation is slightly
tongue-in-cheek in the sense that it's couched in some fairly oblique
indeterminate language. Also, at the time I was trying to make a point that
there is more to music than writing the perfect pop song. Where I was in the
south island of
New Zealand
basically there was this overwhelming orthodoxy that writing the perfect pop
song is all that matters. I was trying to make a point that there is a lot more
to music than that and maybe that's a worthwhile pastime but a sad ambition. I
don't regret having written that manifesto by any means. At times, it has become
a bit of an albatross for me because people tend to regard it as the
be-all-end-all of what I do. It's a little bit limiting in some ways but I stand
by most of what I said. You must understand, I wrote it…when did I write it…I
wrote it about 15 years ago. It was very combative, at that point, because I
felt that I was kind of going to bat against the odds in terms of where I was
coming from in New Zealand. I've recently republished it in a book of essays
that I've done. I certainly still stand by it, I guess. 

What are you working on right now?

We have the double CD. Now that we have an approved track listing, we can
hopefully organize the master. That's a little bit of a problem because some of
the stuff we are putting on the CD has never been on CD before. In the case of
[inaudible], we don't even have a master of it anymore. We actually have to
re-master from the vinyl, so that should be alright. We have a new album, which
actually was completed about eight or nine months ago. There was a bit of a
delay, once we finished it, trying to get the money together to put it out. We
now have the money but we haven't gotten around to putting it out. The albums
called “Future Artists” and we'll be releasing it ourselves on our own label
sometime between now and July. We want it to come out to coincide with our
compilation, which will be released in the states, so that they can promote each
other. Personally, I'm working on a solo album for a Spanish label. It's called

21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs and it's kind of a
dub album really. All source material was stuff that I used for my last
solo…well actually it was a collaborative album with Ralf Wahowsky called
Midnight Crossroads
Tape Recorder Blues.

I've taken the original analog recordings that I used for putting together that
album and kind of basically dicked with them digitally to produce other pieces.
I call it a dub album. It's not going to sound like I'm Burning Spear or
anything. That's where my influence has been going lately. We're talking about a
major gallery based installation project, which Michael is planning. He wants to
get public funding for arts council to do it but I don't think it will happen.
 It's a video and audio installation that runs for 15 hours or something. It's
quite a megalomaniac scheme. That's supposedly going to be sort of a 20th
anniversary thing. January of next year is our 20th anniversary,
which is a shocking thing in itself, but we want to market in some way. I don't
know if that's going to happen or not. It might, you never know.

“I get bored with endless recycling of
things that people have done before. I'll often hear some exciting new band and
think they sound exactly like someone else.”

What do you see going on with music right now
that you like?

That's an interesting question. It's hard to say really. There are people whose
work I'm interested in and it tends to be either in the improvised sort of area
or I guess electronic music. For instance, lately I've been listening to a lot
of John Weise -- the guy from Hollywood. He played with Sunn O))) but he's kind
of a harsh noise guy. I'm doing a collaboration with him at the moment
supposedly. I like a lot of what he does, particularly because he's succinct.
He'll release a CD that's 12 minutes long but it's enough. It's great because if
it went for 70-minutes long, you'd fucking explode, probably. Tetuzi Akiyama, a
guitar player from Japan, who I've done a bit of work with myself. Over here, he
has toured a couple of times. He did a fantastic electric blues album called
Don't Forget to Boogie
. He'll take like John Lee Hooker riffs and just play
it for like 10 minutes really without changing. It's fantastic to see live
really -- the concentration required to do that non-stop without screwing up and
letting your hands fall off is interesting. The single mindedness of it really
appealed to me. It focuses your attention because there is no development; there
is just a riff. I really like that kind of thing because it focuses your mind on
questions about what music is all about. I've been listening to the two Stooges
reissues that just came out. I was absolutely dumbstruck to realize that they
had released “Down on the Street” as a single where they had overdubbed organ
onto it. I just cracked up at the though of that. it was hilarious. It sounds so
stupid. Today with modern stuff, there's bits and pieces that I like. I don't
overall think that music is in a particularly healthy state at the moment.
There's nothing that really blows me away. I can't think of a label at the
moment that is really fantastic. Distribution and the whole mechanics of things
is really difficult. A lot of people are finding it real difficult to release
things because it's real difficult to sell it. I don't object to downloading but
I just, personally, like the object, the artifact. LPs and CDs can be well
presented as a total aesthetic statement. To me, a download is not the same
thing. I'm curious to see where things go from here. New Zealand is pretty dull.
There's nothing much happening here at the moment that interests me. I just keep
puttering along with my own stuff. There are a couple of people over here that I
like. Greg Malcolm, who is a friend of mine who plays guitar, he's pretty good.
He's got a new album that's coming out in Belgium. Birchview Cat Motel does a
lot of good work.

What do you dislike that is going on in music?

I get bored with endless recycling of things that people have done before. I
guess it's partly a factor of when you've been listening to music for a long
time and you're familiar with a lot of the history of the last 40 or 50 years of
music. I'll often hear some exciting new band and think they sound exactly like
someone else. If there isn't enough new ideas, it kind of comes across as stale.
It might be great for people who never heard of the people these bands
flavorlessly impersonated. If the impersonation is too obvious, that's not a
good thing…[tape ends] It's the same with musicians, I think. You have to try
new things. I've moved in the last five years to where I started to experiment
with the reprocessing of stuff that I previously recorded. I went through a
period where everything I released was simply a document of a live performance
with a minimum of editing and nothing done to it afterwards. Now I'm interested
in taking recordings that I've made and doing other stuff with them to try and
process stuff afterwards and see what that does. I'm very happy with some of the
recordings I've done recently. My last actual solo album, which was released in
Spain, Los Desastres de las Guerras, was a solo guitar recording. I'm
very happy with that also. I'm very tense about my guitar playing and I tend to
think it needs a bit of pipping up or kicking along. I was happy with that
record and it may well be that I'll do some more of that. It's good someone
who's blatantly not that dexterous at playing the guitar but can express
themselves. I quite am interested in that because there's too much virtuosity
out there and I think that it is overated, personally. Maybe my efforts will
encourage people out there who don't feel like they're virtuosos to just do it

Back to the Free Noise Manifesto -- Is noise beyond music and how so?

I guess my general position is that music is just a specialized subset of noise
and one of my problems with the Western tradition of music is that it tends to
overvalue music, which is just organized noise -- noised organized according to
certain generally accepted rules. I don't necessarily think that that's better
than just noise. This is nothing new. It certainly goes back to John Cage or
whoever. You can stick outside of what people call music and still express
yourself as an artform by using sound more audibly conceived and I guess that's
sort of a fundamental thing that I've been involved in is trying to ruin
people's perception of what music might be or, alternately, getting people to
see that music might be only a small part of what's worth listening to. There's
more to life than just music.