THE ANTI-M INTERVIEW 2008
Ruston, Wedge & Guest Ronnie Montrose
By Darren Tracy - Flush Magazine
This interview took place during the recording of Damage, from early 2006 to 2008
Flush-Now that Damage is finished can you tell us why it took so long?
Wedge-The album was supposed to take 6 months to record and 3 months to mix. It was to be released in Sept of 06. However songs kept growing and getting better, Jon and Barbara are raising two girls (one was only 2 when we started the album) so recording dates were limited and timing was often bad. Then when the album was done it was supposed to be mixed and out by July 07. However, our mixing engineer (Mark Casselman) who has done all our albums was busy on other projects and his wife was pregnant. She acutally had the baby early and boy was I shocked when we were back in the studio mixing two days later. So that music is great but the timing of everything couldn't have been worse. I was sick of working on the album by the end.
Flush-What was it like working with a "full band" as opposed to a duo or trio?
Wedge- Jon's a great guitarist. He has all those great influences from the 80's like Van Halen, plus he is a huge Rush fan and I love Rush. Derek who played the electronic kit on the album is a Rush fan too and can play a lot like Neil Peart. Barbara is a great vocalist and song writer and I have now found someone new to write with. She and I co wrote two of my favorite songs on the album. Plus it was good to write with Ruston again after all those years in between.
Flush-Did Ronnie Montrose contribute to this project?
Wedge-Sadly Ronnie never had time in his schedule to play when we needed him. But we were so happy with Jon's fantastic guitar work that in the end it is probably better that we stick with our own sound. I would love to work with Ronnie again, perhaps if I do a solo project. We did have another guest artist though. His name is Tim Landers. He did some sessions for two songs on the album and we chose to use a fantastic bit he did during the guitar solo on the song DAMAGE. Tim is a real pro. He has recorded with Tori Amos (Y KANT TORI READ), Al Di Meola, The King Crimson Jazz Trio, Loreena McKennitt and many many more. It was a pleasure to have him on the cd.
Flush-Will there be any music videos to the new music?
Wedge-Absolutely. Probably Let U In, Into The Rain and Damage.
Flush-What music are you currently listening to?
Wedge-I Can't speak for the rest of the band but I am really into Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation-THE HEART OF EVERYTHING (the song THE CROSS is just amazing) also Godsmack IV, Disturbed 10,000 fists, The Gathering "Home" (the song ALONE is great). On the pop side I really like Timbaland's THE WAY I ARE and Gwen Stephani's songs Early Winter and Wonderful Life. Oh, and the new Rush album Snakes and Arrows....I could go one but there is so much cool music, you just have to filter out the crap from american idol and the stuff they try to push on you.
And now the historical stuff
Flush-Your bio alludes to the fact that Wedge and Mark had been calling themselves Anti-M for six years before NO WAVES IN HELL came out in 1992. How did the pre-Ruston Anti-M compare to the group that recorded NO WAVES IN HELL?
Wedge- Neither of us (Mark and Wedge) were trained musicians. I had piano lessons as a kid but I can barely read music and don’t know my scales. Mark had no musical training at all at the onset of the band. He is a gadget freak. He loves to fiddle with sounds, percussion and intricate timing of things. So what Mark and I wrote together was based on repetition and patterns. For example IT’S FULL OF STARS is a 4 chord, 7 1/2 minute song. Its really just space music. I BECAME A DEMON is also just a drum loop and a sample loop from an old Mirage keyboard with me trying to sing (or sort of rap) over it. Even THE SENSORY OVERLOAD CHAMBER was drum patterns and chaotic keyboards in its original form. All of these songs ended up in some form or another on NO WAVES IN HELL. When Ruston joined he brought musicianship to the band. Ruston can plan many instruments (keyboards, flutes etc) can sing and had already played live. So we went from a band that was all about repetition to a band that was more about the performance and composition.
Flush-What was the genesis of the group that recorded NO WAVES... ? You mention that the project was intended as a one-off, after Wedge heard one of Ruston's tapes. Had Anti-M receded into the nether-regions of the minds of Wedge and Mark?
Wedge-Mark and I recorded together as Anti-m from 1986 or so until 1988. During that time we had worked with guitarist Steve (Salty) Weber who I met in 1987 at the University of Oregon. Mark had taken bass lessons around that time so the three of us recorded the song SILICON ROSE. This was about the last time we recorded together for a few years. In 1991 I had bought a guitar and was working on a few basic songs (I had one guitar lesson from Salty and that was it) when I heard Ruston’s tape (I don't even own a tape deck anymore) IN A QUIET VALLEY. He seemed to know a lot more about music than I did so I asked him if he would help me with one of the old songs Mark and I had written (I BECAME A DEMON). At the same time I was beginning to want to be more of a producer type. I asked Ruston if I could rewrite THE WATERFALL SONG lyrics and produce a new version of the song. We worked together for several sessions and came up with a new version of I BECAME A DEMON and THE WATERFALL SONG had been converted to NO WAVES IN HELL. I pulled out the old tapes that Mark had left around and found THIS IS SATAN, a drum and sample song Mark had made as a joke. I was also working on an instrumental called GATES OF HELL (named after the effects patch in my Digitech DSP 256 that I was using). When we realized that we had all these “HELL” related songs and we thought it would be funny to make a whole concept album. Ruston and I had become surfing buddies so the concept became the story of a surfer who cuts off another surfer causing him to drown. He then dreams he goes to hell and finds no waves there. Mark came back to help write songs like STRESS AND BURN and to update songs like THIS IS SATAN, Ruston wrote some pop like rock songs, and Salty came in to play guitar on songs that needed guitar solos. Ruston and I were the core of the band but Mark was a key player in the development of the music. Salty was a guest. We pressed the CD and really thought that was it. We had no real plans to record again. I did name the second cd (POSITIVELY NEGATIVE) during the photo shoot for the NO WAVES inside cover. It was based on Ruston writing upbeat music and my dark “negative” lyrics.
Flush-A toss-off comment regarding the lyrics of NO WAVES... led to the title of the next record and, in fact, the decision to continue working as Anti-M. At what point did each of you know that... "Yeah. This is it. This is the band and the music that I've been working toward."?
Ruston: We did "I became a demon". It had a catchy little loop, and was very cornball. Then we started taking samples from improv comedy cassettes that Wedge and his friends did in jr. high. Kids can be very creative and often ignore boundaries. So that's why the first CD is so novel and refreshingly immature. We were having fun goofing off with these samples, so we just kept it going.
Wedge- I discovered working on NO WAVES that I really liked producing. At the time I wasn’t much of a songwriter, though I was happy with my work as a lyricist. I had produced the “sound” that was ANTI-M and that made me happy. So to me Anti-m became an outlet for my love of music and working with Ruston worked really well because he was great at helping me get my musical ideas from my head to actual music. So to me ANTI-M is my band more than it is Rustons or Marks. We are all part of it but the sound and feel of the band is my thing. At the same time I it wouldn’t be Anti-m without Ruston. A lot of the music and structure is his. Ruston has other projects, mostly solo works, that are more personal and to his style. I think Ruston considers Anti-m something fun because it is music he would never do by himself. With all of that said, it wouldn’t be Anti-m without both of us involved. It is what we have done together that makes it what it is.
Flush-I guess from some of the things that you mention in the bio, that the subject matter of NO WAVES IN HELL was taken a little more seriously than you intended. Did that (or has that) had an adverse affect on the band's approach to music?
Ruston: I was'nt aware of any adverse affect.
Wedge-Ruston has never really been involved on the “sales” end of the projects. While we didn’t get any hate mail we did get comments like “it was a bit too satanic for me…” which is silly, because it isn’t “Satanic”. Religion is always a sensitive subject. There are fans of NO WAVES that think it is our best music, and this has nothing to do with the lyrics or subject matter. There are those who won’t buy it because of the mention of the words SATAN and HELL. The album is not Satanic, anti-religious or in any way pro or con to any religion. Yet it was labeled by some. It was all done in humor, like something Frank Zappa would do. In fact, WRAP THIS AROUND YOUR HEAD, another religion based song we did that was on the second album was slated for NO WAVES and it has received praise for being musically interesting as well as funny, politically incorrect, offensive etc. It has been referred to as the SGT. PEPPER RAP SONG. The response to the album did cause us to back off on the subject a little.
Flush-Wedge did several videos for the NO WAVES... release. Where those part of a planned full-length exploration of the ideas and music of that album? If so, will the finished product ever see the light of day?
Wedge-While we were recording mixing the album in 1992 I was also attending film school. I friend at the school asked me if he could use the music to one of our songs (Stress and burn) and do a music video for his portfolio. Of course I said yes. This gave me the idea of making a music video for NO WAVES IN HELL the song and doing this as my portfolio project. I was involved in helping to write the video for BURN which was directed by MICHAEL WILCOX. I then wrote music videos for the bulk of the album and we discussed making it a mini rock opera. We shot a lot of footage on 16mm and super 8mm film as well as betacam video. By the time I graduated in 1993 there were 4 music videos and a lot of unedited footage. But when I graduated I no longer had access to the editing facilities and the footage sat dormant for 10 years until I got Final Cut Pro for the Mac. In 2004 and 2005 I finally cut the videos using mostly the original footage shot in 1993. We had to shoot some new stuff but we plan to release all of this material when we release Damage or as downloads. The DVD disc is tentatively titled DELUSIONS-THE COMPLETE ANTI-M MUSIC VIDEOS. Almost every song on this DVD will have a different mix from the cd version to help make it original. Like a best of dvd. If there is no DVD then they will be online.
Flush-Ronnie Montrose was scheduled to play guitar on that disc, but scheduling made that impossible. He did appear on the second Anti-M record, POSITIVELY NEGATIVE. How did you hook up with Ronnie and convince him to play on your record?
Wedge-I really didn’t have to convince Ronnie to work on the project. Ronnie works on projects he finds interesting and feels he can contribute to. I was a big fan of the Montrose founded band GAMMA, more specifically GAMMA 3 and Ronnies solo album THE SPEED OF SOUND, an all instrumental guitar album. Again being at film school I needed music for a film project and wanted to use a song from THE SPEED OF SOUND so I sent a letter to the Management address on Ronnies album. A few weeks later the phone rang and I was talking to Mr. Montrose. I sent him the demos to NO WAVES and he found them interesting. When the schedules didn’t work out I figured that was that, but I sent him demos when we were doing POSITIVELY NEGATIVE in 1994. I met him backstage at a show at the Ventura Theater and we worked out some details. A few months later Ronnie came and sat down in our home studio which consisted of a 16 track Fostex and a Mackie Mixing board Ronnies Guitars and amp and then Ronnie, Mark and I had a very cool recording session (Ruston never got to meet Ronnie).
Flush-How did having Ronnie play on your record effect your outlook on recording and performing? How did it effect the bottom line? Other than the fact that he's an amazing guitar player, what did his participation mean to Anti-M?
Ruston: His playing really helped the songs. I feel he's one of America's best rock guitarists.
Wedge-When I saw how easy Ronnie made playing on our songs look I knew just how much talent and experience was behind that guitar. I learned more just watching Ronnie warm up before takes than I learned in the few years I had been playing. While our songs were already very solid I felt that every little part that Ronnie played made our songs that much better and stronger musically. He was also very respectful of our project. He never tried to tell us how to mix the album. He made some suggestions on effects but that was it. Having Ronnie play on our album also put us in a position to sell cds to people who would have never heard of us. And while we definitely gained fans from his performance we also created a few more fans for Ronnie. Many people who purchased POSITIVELY NEGATIVE later returned to buy THE INSTRUMENTALS cd as well. One email we got even stated that they purchased the cd only because of Ronnie but ended up loving the whole album. It was very pleased to get the chance to work with him and hope to do it again during the ongoing DAMAGE sessions.
Flush-Ronnie, what about Anti-M, either musically or personally, was the deciding factor for you to record with the band? If the group decided to put together a tour, could they convince you to go out with them?
Ronnie Montrose-"I didn't actually know them personally, I simply heard the tape of songs on which they wanted my playing, and liked it... It was serendipitous that I happened to be traveling from somewhere to somewhere (don’t actually remember the specifics) and a stopover at their studio was easy to accommodate... "
Wedge- Ronnie was working on the MR. BONES Sega game soundtrack in the Los Angeles area and we are only a short drive away.
Ronnie Montrose-I enjoyed the process of helping their songs out with my guitar playing/texturing, and am happy they like it as well! As far as touring goes, I'm pretty much set for that at this time, so I'll just ask them for a backstage pass and cheer them on!"
Wedge-Obviously if we could ever have Ronnie join us on stage we would. It would be great. Getting a chance to record with him would be more important to the band at this stage.
Flush-What is "YOU ONLY DIE ONCE" and how did Anti-M become involved in that project?
Wedge-YOU ONLY DIE ONCE is a film I wrote, directed and starred in while at film school. It is a James Bond Spoof. It was shot on film and produced in its 83 minute form for less than $15,000. Understand, it was not a film school project. We utilized school gear and friends as crew. If you like really bad low budget movies you might love it. If you think movies like Airplane and Monty Python Films suck, then you would hate it. Of course it is much, much lower budget than those types of films. It’s kind of a how to (or how not to) make a film for less than 20 grand and have fun doing it. It was great fun and a lot more fun to score it and release it on dvd. The theme song is a rewrite of STRESS AND BURN and is featured on POS NEG. We used another remix of Security (with Ronnie) in the soundtrack. You can buy it at amazon.com and Filmbaby.com. Hey, I had to make a sales pitch!!!
Flush-Obviously, this band works on their own schedule. POSITIVELY NEGATIVE came three years after NO WAVES... , though it was obvious from the decision to continue after the first album that creative juices were flowing. You're still working on album number three, DAMAGE. Is this a simple matter of finding the time to put the music together or is it a matter of Anti-M being such perfectionists that they will, to paraphrase, "Release no album before its time."?
Ruston: If we had done an album right after POSITIVELY NEGATIVE it wouldn’t have been as good as DAMAGE is now. We're not a commercial band so there's no need to crank out product.
Wedge-While POS NEG wasn’t planned you are correct, the creativity was flowing and we took only a little time off and then we were right back in the studio again. For both of the first two albums I brought in songs and Ruston brought in songs. And of course I would have a grand idea of the overall concept to try to control. Ruston worked on many solo projects over the past several years. I on the other hand, didn’t record at all. I did finally take Guitar lessons (From POS NEG guest vocalist and now Anti-M member Barbara). However the concept of DAMAGE fit the original time frame. Almost all of the lyrics for DAMAGE and many of the musical ideas we in my head by the summer of 1998. But Ruston was busy and I don’t work well on my own, I need that push so I just kept thinking about the music. I am in no way a Mutt Lange producing a Def Leppard or Cars album that takes 3 years. However, Ruston and I got together last summer (2005) and realized we would both have time to start recording in the fall. And we did.
Flush-Discuss the writing/recording process. Mark's participation seems to be peripheral, adding little pieces of technological know-how or production insight. Within the three-piece (four, if you would include Steve Weber) that recorded NO WAVES... and POSITIVELY NEGATIVE, how did things break down in the writing and studio processes?
Ruston: During the first album, me or John or Mark would start a song and the other members would usually add something to it. I usually added chords to Wedge's loops. Sometimes I would add a bass line. John added samples and synth sounds to a lot of my songs. Mark added some interesting drumming to the opening of "Stress and Burn" The new album "DAMAGE" is more fluid and loose. There's more improv playing and recording in the moment.
Wedge-On No Waves Mark only wrote one new tune, it was called STRESS and it became the intro to BURN finalizing the song STRESS AND BURN. All the other songs he had written we older songs that existed from our earlier recordings. However he was instrumental in getting the right sound from and engineers point of view. His input was very important. So I would bring in songs like GATES OF HELL and Ruston would add bass lines or keyboard parts. Ruston would bring in songs like YUPPIE MUSIC and I would change the sounds and effects basically producing it. Most of the lyrics were mine with some from Ruston. Steve Weber was basically told PLAY HERE which was n’t too cool of us. In fact on THE SENSORY OVERLOAD CHAMBER we told him he could listen to the song once, ( all 15 minutes of it) and then he had to improv it using a ZOOM effects box. His performance really rips on that one. The album wa s mixed directly to Hard Drive in ProTools which was really slow back them. The guitars were on tape the vocals were on hard drive and the rest of the sounds were recorded to protools while the original classic mac played the midi data. (I have a photo for you of this). We mixed during the evenings for two weeks.
Again on POS NEG I brought in songs like NOTHING, ANESTHESIA and INIKI and Ruston brought in songs like SECURITY, TELEVISION and POSITIVELY NEGATIVE. Just like on NO WAVES I wrote most of the lyrics and Ruston sang most of the vocals. I would basically “produce” the sound of Rustons songs and he would make mine more musical by adding bass lines and such. But it was much more like a duo on this album. This time around we owned our own 16 track Fostex B16 recorder so there was no time frame to record. Mark was only involve in the mixing of this album and a few added tweaks to some drums patches and percussive stuff. Steves performance was not quite what we were looking for but we didn’t give him much time to prepare and again kind of told him PLAY THIS PART HERE. So perhaps we were not to helpful at giving him time to improve his performance. Steve did write three songs on the album of which one was an instrumental. The other two Ruston and I took turns writing lyrics and singing one each. We mixed the album in 4 12 hour days at SOUND DESIGN here in Santa Barbara the same studio where Depeche Mode Recorded Exciter and Playing the Angel and where YES recorded MAGNIFICATION. I am a fan of both bands so that is cool to me.
The one big difference from the way we did those two albums and the way we are working on DAMAGE is that this time around I am writing nearly all of the lyrics and producing the whole project. Most of the song concepts are mine this time around but the music for the songs is being written by the whole band which is now a 4 piece. When we started writing the song RAGE it was the first time that Ruston and I wrote a songs music together from Jamming. We also now work entirely within the digital realm. We are using Digital Performer to record this new album and mixing on protools.
Flush-As a "stop-gap" type of thing, you released IT H-HURTS: THE INSTRUMENTALS in 1998. Other than to keep the name of the band out there, what would you say this release adds to the Anti-M canon and why should we care?
Wedge- A lot of the Montrose fans were followers of Ronnie’s solo career which is mostly instrumental. There are some other listeners who didn’t like our vocals but liked our music. By emphasizing the instrumentals we made a lot of people happy on both sides and it gave us a chance to redo some things we were not happy with. For one I prefer some of the more raw mixes with lots of effects on IT H-HURTS. If I could do it over again the album would have included MELTING PENGUINS instead of WHY. But considering the power of the new material don’t be surprised if we release MORE P-PAIN THE INSTRUMENTALS PART 2.
Flush-With NO WAVES IN HELL, the sound was very tongue-in-cheek surf music filtered through '90s New Wave alterna-rock. POSITIVELY NEGATIVE had a much darker, kind of a Gothic pop thing happening. Can either of those albums be cited as examples of the "Anti-M sound?" Or would you say that the forth-coming DAMAGE, which looks like it will have more of a band feel, be more indicative of what Anti-M was/is about?
Ruston: Hopefully each alblum will sound very different from the last, otherwise your not being creative.
Wedge-Anti-M have been labeled as unclassifiable and for the longest time I agreed. Recently, however, I realized that while we show the many sides of the band we are in fact a very dark goth like band. While NO WAVES is very tongue in cheek it is also very sad, if you take a look at some of the music videos that accompany the songs they can be very mysterious and sad. Songs like GATES OF HELL, IT’S FULL OF STARS, NO WAVES IN HELL and GOD’S REVENGE are very dark and Depeche Mode like. On POS NEG songs like NOTHING, POSTIVELY NEGATIVE, DELUSIONS and ANESTHESIA are very gloomy and dark. I think the POS NEG album focused the direction of the band but we were bouncing back and forth between Ruston’s upbeat themes and my darker concepts.
So without knowing it we were becoming more and more like a goth rock band. But I still wouln’t put us in a GOTH category, there are just some similarities. In the time since I started writing the music for DAMAGE I discovered bands like LACUNA COIL and Italian band that plays Gothish Metal as well as EVANESCENCE, NIGHTWISH, Within Temptation and THE GATHERING. These bands all mix male and female vocals and a mix of “pretty” and metal sections to their songs. I have also been listening to bands like DISTURBED and GODSMACK. This is very far from my YES, GENESIS, PINK FLOYD, KING CRIMSON, SAGA, RUSH backgound.
So I think the end result is that DAMAGE is the current focus of what we were leaning to all along, however I expect this will change with the next one, if there is one….. The album will have a much more cohesive band feel. The songs are more my concepts and band performances. Damage is also a concept album so all the songs are wrapped around a single theme of the pain we inflict on ourselves when we interact with others. Or more simply when you find your mind LIVING IN THE PAST and Reliving pain you should have let go a long time ago.
Flush-The line-up has expanded for the DAMAGE album. Does this mean that Wedge, Mark, and Ruston are ready to take this "one-off" project to the next level... wider distribution, playing live, everything that one associates with a "band?"
Ruston: The criteria for me is am I enjoying the experience and growing creatively. As long as that continues the future is wide open.
Wedge-Currently the line-up is a 4 piece. Jon is a great guitarist and I am working really well with him. I recently finished one of the albums only ballads, if you can call it that, with Barbara. Ruston works well with both of them as well and we are both pleased with the “larger” band format. We even have a drummer ready to come in when the songs are near completion. Steve is no longer involved simply due to distance. He lives almost 2,000 miles away. Mark is not currently involved in the project but may be, you never know. We discussed this being the LAST Anti-M album but you should never put rules or conditions on things because this may turn into something great. Jon told me he hopes it isn’t the last album and if things go well I’m sure there will be more to come. We do plan to have our first live show. It will be at the cd release party for Damage and we plan to video the whole thing and post live versions on the web site. Touring? Hmmmmmmm. Only if we get signed to a label would that be possible. At least we have a distributor now.
Flush-What's next for Anti-M, as a whole and for the individual members? When can we expect to see DAMAGE and some of the other projects that you've been working on?
Ruston: Hopefully Damage will be out in the fall of 2006. (boy was that wrong)
Wedge-Rustons solo project was released last fall and we are now working mainly on getting DAMAGE finished. We hope for a 2006 release but this album is good and we don’t want to rush it. We all have full time jobs and I am working on a short animated film featuring the voices of Jonathan Harris (tv’s Dr. Smith from Lost in Space) that will be released this year so it’s all about time.