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Interview with Birchville Cat Motel

img  Tobias
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello. Im getting by thank you. Im In Lower Hutt, ‘Arse of the World’.

What’s on your schedule at the moment?
If I can get up and get to work on time I’m happy at the moment. Haha. I have a lot on my plate at the moment as far as music goes. Some big changes are afoot for me right now and in the near future and I guess Im preparing for doing things a whole new way. Some fresh air is needed.

So I guess Im tidying up some loose ends… I have LPs coming out on Melted Mailbox, Dekorder, and a double LP coming out on Riot Seasson which I consider to be my crowning achievement. Black Boned Angel has LPs and CDs about to come out to with 20BuckSpin, Riot Season and Conspiracy Records.

Its all go here for now.

You have several new releases out at the same time. Which of these, would you say, reflects your current artistic interests most clearly?
Well they all do. Otherwise they wouldn’t have come out I guess. In spite of the large number of releases under the Birchville Cat Motel name, I never allow anything to be released that doesn’t add to the meta-narrative. There are no releases that Im not proud of and they all contribute to the overall story.

‘Gunpowder Temple of Heaven’ on Pica Disc reflects my ongoing interest in religious/transcendental/psychedelic minimalism. Its probably the most beautiful thing Ive ever made. Its really important to me that the work is beautiful. I have no love of ugliness… its just that what I consider beautiful doesn’t often mean ‘pretty’.

‘Seventh Ruined Hex’ out on Important Records is a collaboration with Matthew Bower. Ive always loved Matthew’s playing and he has been a real big influence on me especially with regards to finding a means of using music to free you from time and space. The record is a world of prickling fuzz, flange, and wah… disjointed and brutal and I guess is playing with the sleep inducing qualities of constant loudness.

And then there is ‘Four Freckle Constellation’ on Conspiracy. A love album. Or a loss album. I don’t know. I think this record really nicely captures that sense of ecstacy that Ive strived for since forever. But worked out through a more shoegazey filter rather than the ‘metal’ thing which is over-attributed to Birchville Cat Motel. Im very proud of this record. I consider it to be my best thus far.

“Four Freckle Constellation” sounds both minutely crafted and very spontaneous. Which of the two adjectives is closer to the truth – i.e. was this album the result of a few intense sessions or of long and detailed period of work?
Both are equally true. Its true that I ‘craft’ music to an intense degree… that’s what makes it a ‘human achievement’ but its equally true to say it loses much of its humanity without the mundane, zero-energy, improvisations that form the core of this, and every other recording under the Birchville name. The album took shape over a number of months of on-and-off work. I very rarely sit down and make an album consciously. I record, and mix, and remix, and remix again more or less constantly and as pieces that have as similar ‘voice’ congregate together on my hard drive I start assembling them into albums. This is certainly true for ‘Four Freckle Constellation’. I spent quite some time looking for the right combinations of light and dark, drama and boredom, pop and noise. Conspiracy actually rejected my first attempt and Im glad they did… I reworked it into something a lot more satisfying.

What was the instrumental setup for the record? It often sounds as though it features a lot of acoustic instruments next to purely electronic sounds...

Well it’s a ‘pop’ album, and as such my methodology has returned to a more guitar focussed core… yes, those contrasts of instrumentation are still a part of the sound and deeper methodology… big versus small, loud versus quiet, ‘pretty’ tonalities coupled with deafening disonance. Perhaps I made a bit more of an effort to produce a record that contained movement and a sense of drama than I have made in the past. I am also quite happy to sit on a single note for an hour, but ‘Four Freckle Constellation’ moves about and is unified by something a little more ‘beneath the surface’ of the sounds.

Would you say that, in general, your albums are to be regarded more as coherent entities or as collections of individual pieces? “Four Freckle Constellation” seems to suggest that tracks really correspond with each other on a deeper level...
For me albums are full-length pieces of work. They have a voice of their own that is not shared by other albums and I hope this increases the emotional or spiritual coherence of a group of otherwise unremarkable recordings. It certainly makes it look like I know what I’m doing to a much greater degree. My favourite albums have always had this quality abou them… ‘Loveless’, ‘Zen Arcade’, ‘Number of the Beast’…

Many reviews have placed your work firmly in the drone sector. Do you find this term restrictive or is it merely that you hold a very open definition of what drone music can incorporate?
Aren’t ALL descriptive words for music hopelessly inadequate? Music is for your ears and your body. Drone is a very stupid description of what I do. With all I’ve written above about light and dark, and contrasts of sound qualities, and my favourite albums, and the effort I put in to sculpting wild electricity… can you still call it drone and not look ignorant? Drone is just another meaningless word. I consider Slayer to be drone. It embodies a singular aesthetic, production sound, each piece of music does the same thing in the same way…some of the best drone ever I would say. The word conveys nothing of the qualities of sound. I have no love of the term and usually find it a coded way of saying ‘Im a lazy music writer’. Haha. Same with the word ‘Noise’, or ‘Doom’ or ‘Experimental’… none of it means anything really. In the end you either HEAR the music and find a beauty in it that is unique to you and incomparable to other music, or you don’t. Words can only convey one way of consuming a medium designed for your EARS.

The artwork to “Four Freckle Constellation” seems perfectly adjusted to the music. Was there any kind of prior debate with Seldon on the direction of the design?

None at all. I think it was a ‘left over’ piece of art. I like other peoples discarded genius.

What’s the story behind the album title, “Four Freckle Constellation”?
I would never tell you. Not now. Not ever. You simply would not believe me.

I find it interesting that a quote of yours says “I just want to make beautiful things”. At the same time, you hold a deep interest in Metal, a genre fascinated by ugliness. How do these two things go together?
Yes. Once again lazy music writers have completely over-attributed the Metal thing to Birchville Cat Motel’s sound. Metal is the first kind of music that I really ‘owned’ in the personal identity sense of the world when I was a kid. It was the most exciting music I’d ever heard at the time. But then came punk. And ‘alternative’ sounds like SST era Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, and Husker Du… and jazz, and ethnic music, and industrial music, and shoegazey pop, and weirdo classical music like Edgar Varese and Krystof Penderecki. The common thread with all of these musics is that they held some kind of link with a really fucked-up, earthly kind of divinity. Somehow they all sound like they dropped outta the sky rather than grew up somewhere jamming and rehearsing and playing to nobody until they got ‘found’ one way or another. They weren’t REAL in the best possible sense. They were gods and they made me feel like I was part of a precious and closed religion, especially growing up in small town New Zealand.

The thing that was so inspiring about metal was the ecstatic, otherworldy POWER of the music. That beautiful FEELING of being so fucking excited about the music. Not the metal ‘sound’. Birchville Cat Motel is not a metal band and has no need to emulate or quote so obviously from other music like that. I wanted to create a minimalism that was equal parts boredom and ecstatic power. A louder, braver, Birchville Cat Motel that was exciting and had a bit of swagger… not just ‘mind music’… something with sex. I looked to metal as the feeling I remember are most pure memories of unadulterated joy with music. Now I am trying to outrun the ‘doom’ label that people who don’t care about music keep trying to tar me with. Black Boned Angel was created in part to separate that aspect off from Birchville Cat Motels mothership… so that it wouldn’t go down with the ship when the current neometal fad has waned.     

Since the very first start, you’ve released both on your own label, Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, and on other imprints. Is there a principle according to which you decide on which album is going to be released where?
Definitely. Celebrate Psi Phenomenon has always been a label for ‘paranormal’ music whose spirit and sound cannot be imitated and is not part of the ‘scene’. Not nessesarily high profile artists, just the best artists. Battlecruiser is for the blackest music ever made. Only the most revolting, anti-human, beauty is released. Not always ‘metal’ but always plumbing the depths of blackness.

From magazines like “White Fungus” and the excellent work done by some labels, I have the impression that New Zealand is quite an interesting country in terms of experimental music. How do you see that yourself?
Always has been as are many countries that through the passage of geological time find themselves a long way from the traditional centres of the music industry. The amount of incredible music that falls between the cracks of descriptive words here in New Zealand is really quite astonishing.

Would you say that there is something distinctly “New-Zealandish” in your music?
Yes. I made it. Here in Lower Hutt.

By Tobias Fischer

Birchville Cat Motel (Insample)     1997
Grey Wolves Gather (Secret Safari)     1998
Siberian Earth Curve (Drunken Fish Records)     1998
Blankangelspace (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     1999
Lion Of Eight Thousand Generations (Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers)     1999
Cranes Are Sleeping (Ecstatic Peace!)     2000
She Feckless Steed (White Tapes)     2000
Droop Drone Drops (Denshi Zatsuon)     2001
Jewelled Wings (Freedom From)     2001
We Count These Prayers... (Corpus Hermeticum)     2001
Birchville Cat Motel vs. The Ecstacy Trio (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)    2002
Creeping Frost Onset (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2002
Crestfallen / Winters Crackling Glory (Killer)     2002
Long Vanished Spirals (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2002
Mighty Spine Catcher (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2002
Copenhagen (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2003
Glass Harvest Mason (Veglia)     2003
Screamformelongbeach (PseudoArcana)     2003
Summer's Seething Pulse (Mar/ino Recordings)     2003
Beautiful Speck Triumph (Last Visible Dog)     2004
Chi Vampires (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2004
Nurse (Fencing Flatworm Recordings)     2004
Split (Reverse Recordings)     2004
With Maples Ablaze (Scarcelight Recordings)     2004
30th December 2004 (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2005
Black Void Orange Cat (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2005
Firepower Flagrant Cloud (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2005
Live At Cuba Street Carnival & Huttstock - 2005 (TWR Tapes)     2005
Stellar Collapse (Kning Disk)     2005
Bees & Wasps (Beyond Repair Records)     2006
Birchville Cat Motel & Yellow Swans (Important Records)     2006
Chaos Steel Skeletons: One (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2006
Chaos Steel Skeletons: Three (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2006
Chaos Steel Skeletons: Two (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2006
Curved Surface Destroyer (Last Visible Dog)     2006
Her Anger Is Limitless (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2006
Our Love Will Destroy The World (PseudoArcana)     2006
Small Christian Victories (diagnosis... DON'T! reCoRdings)     2006
Untitled (Kovorox Sound)     2006
Astro Catastrophies (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2007
Bird Sister Blasphemy (Battlecruiser)     2007
Birds Call Home Their Dead (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2007
Fear Falls Burning & Birchville Cat Motel (Conspiracy Records)     2007
Seventh Ruined Hex (Important Records)     2007
The Frog Prince (Anthem Records)     2007
Three Sparkling Echoes (Sparkling Echoes In The Invisible Alsatian Garden) (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)     2007
Four Freckle Constellation (Conspiracy Records)     2008
Gunpowder Temple Of Heaven (CD, Album) 2008

Birchville Cat Motel

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