InSoc Interview: '97 - San Francisco Chronicle.

Interviewer: What have you been doing since the last album came out?

Kurt: Pretty shortly after the last album came out, the other guy that I did the band with decided that he didn't want to do it anymore. So I purchased the rights to use the name from the other two guys and moved out here and started the really slow process of getting a new manager, a new label, and writing a whole new set of songs and doing a whole new album. The point I'm at now is that the album is coming out next month and I'm in the process of getting ready for doing a new show.

Interviewer: How did you come to be the only person left in the band?

Kurt: He didn't want to do it anymore. You have to interview him to get a detailed analysis of his motivations. We'd done three albums on Warner Bros/Tommy Boy and he had gotten married, and he had just found out that he was going to have a baby, and didn't think he wanted to do the music business at all, although he changed his mind later on. He started his own label called Hackatak and he's doing a band with another girl called Brother Sun, Sister Moon.

Interviewer: Why did you decide to move to San Francisco?

Kurt: 'Cause it's the best city in the country. And I know -- I've been to them all. It has perfect weather, it's an actual valid, authentic, old urban core city. There aren't very many of those. Los Angeles isn't even one of those. And it's beautiful and it smells good and um... I kind of wanted to live in a West Coast atmosphere for the first time. I grew up in the Midwest, and then I lived 5 years in Manhattan. So it was time to try the west coast.

Interviewer: Why did you pick Cleopatra Records?

Kurt: Well, somebody from their office contacted me. But it's not like I had a huge array of record companies desperately trying to sign my record. I didn't. I basically paid for it myself. 'Cause Cleopatra's generally not in the business of laying out huge advances so that bands can start from scratch and make a record. They like to deal with records that are done.
   There's a problem with how labels operate. They're companies selling stuff just like any other, and these people need to see very very short-term quick flashy resume-building profits. And you don't get that by quietly investing in the long-term career of an artist who's selling a hundred to two hundred thousand copies of an album. Even if in the long run that might be good for the company. What you get that from is managing to attach your name to this week's Top 40 shit. Now, we were very misled by that in 1988 when we were that week's Top 40 stuff, and it took us a long time to figure out that what the music business does is it picks up a band who manages by some total fluke to be really popular at that point in time, run them through every possible matrix cell of cross-marketing they can think of, and then quickly gives up to find something new for the next season. Because in the music business, they need to present completely new stuff every time around. The band that did really well in 1988 is there in 1991 thinking, 'ok, now it's time to do it again.' And the labels really want something different this time around.

Interviewer: How would you describe the new album?

Kurt: Well, for a really good description I'm going to write down the URL of the band's web site that I'm making. (writes down: As part of the answer you should publish that. The new album is, ah, much more goth/industrial than it is '80s synth-pop. And there's none of our old attempts to be funky or anything even approaching R&B.; That was always something that I wasn't able to supply -- that didn't come from me. Now I'm doing music that doesn't really have any of that to it. And it's a lot more out there. That's why there's so much less label interest now than there was with our earlier stuff. 'Cause the labels really can't find any understood marketing area that they could plug this into.
   I mean, it would be like if you went into a hardware distribution company and said, 'Look, I have this new screwdriver, and it's the best screwdriver anyone's ever made, but no one's ever seen anything like it before. No one's really going to know how to use it at first.' And the distribution company would not say, 'Oh, you're so great for being so innovative. Here's a million dollars.' The distribution company is going to say, 'Look, we don't give a fuck about screwdrivers really. All we want to do is make a little bit of profit in the next few months. And you can't give us something that people are going to look at in the hardware store and go, "I don't know what this is," because they won't buy it. So get out of my office and go away.'
   And really that's where I'm at. I'm hoping that after this album -- not only the kind of music I'm doing but the name of the band in a new context -- will be established enough that it won't be so difficult to get people to understand what I'm doing now. Next time around, the next album. Which is frustrating in itself, because I know that the people who are buying the records totally understand. My stuff is not as nearly out there as a lot of stuff that other people are buying more of than they probably buy mine. It's just that you can't get anyone who works at a record company to understand. Because, like it or not, most people at record companies are pretty mainstream in their understanding of music. The people who are into the more progressive or cutting-edge stuff usually aren't highly placed up in a record company somewhere. They're doing something else, probably something more interesting.

Interviewer: That's something I've been thinking about for a while now, watching bands go up quickly, then go down quickly.

Kurt: Yeah. Well, that's what the music industry likes to do. They like to sell a million albums of a band once. They don't like to sell two hundred thousand albums of a band five times. I mean, first there's the obvious fact that the profit margin is much slimmer that way. But beyond that, like I was saying earlier, they really feel they need to present completely new stuff with every season. And to some extent that might be true. Maybe it's true that the record- buying public is hungry for new faces every year even though the music doesn't change all that fast. I don't know.

Interviewer: It's just the same music, with different faces.

Kurt: Yeah. It's definitely true that the music doesn't change fundamentally as fast as the roster -- raster of artists changes. Roster. Raster is a computer graphics term.

Interviewer: Did you like making an album by yourself?

Kurt: Well, I didn't make it by myself. I made it with a producer, and that's very important. I mean, even when I was doing the band with Paul, or Paul and Jim, Paul would go into the studio with the producer by himself to do his songs, except for vocals, which I was doing, and I would go into the studio by myself with the producer to do mine. Now I'm doing the same thing except there's no argument about what kind of songs we should do. So the process is actually better and easier now. The business end of it is simpler, the top-level artistic decision-making is easier, because I'm the only one doing it, and the studio process is pretty much the same.

Interviewer: Would you ever work with other musicians in the band?

Kurt: Probably not this band. I'm really enjoying doing this by myself for a change because I did it with Paul for more than ten years. And the stresses of that for us were very clear in my mind when I started doing this alone and I'm still enjoying not having to deal with that.

Interviewer: What made you want to do a second, data, disc?

Kurt: I was going to just do a mixed-mode CD where you could put it either in the CD player or the computer but there were various complications. At the simplest level, when you do that, you get a CD in which track one is computer data.
   (Pause while Kurt speaks to his manager on the phone)
   That was my manager, who just got word back from the label we're looking at to pick up the record for South American territories, Brasil being very important. Who said basically everything's go and we're probably going to do it. They just need to meet my manager face to face at the Midam conference in Miami in about two weeks. Which is really important to everything I'm doing because, as you may or may not have heard, for some reason, whereas we were briefly Top 40 and for the most part a lower mid-level successful band here -- which is fine with me, I don't mind being a 'lower mid-level successful band.' It has its advantages -- in Brasil for some reason we were top-shelf media superstars. Why Brasil, you know? Why not somewhere closer to home? Why not in my backyard? But there you have it. There were times when we were playing 12,000-seat small stadium shows in Brasil and then, like, a week later we'd be back here playing clubs for 2,000 people, which was like the most we could get here. A wide discrepancy.
   So, there's a lot more money for me in Brasil than there is here, and at the moment money's really important to me because I'm building a new show. A completely new show. There's not going to be anything -- well, it is quite a bit like what we did before -- with some fundamental differences. New people, I have to train them in, new equipment. All live. No tape. Doing an all-electronic industrial dance band now without tape is kind of an innovation, but I need a lot of money to start that up. We're probably only going to be able to get it from our record company in Brasil. Interestingly, they're going to have me make a new album to go with this album that is easier to get into Brasilian radio, because apparently in Brasil now, you can barely sell records if they aren't big top-shelf Top 40 media smashes. And this record that I've made, they know they could not really get to that position in Brasil. It's just too weird. So we're going to do a double-CD set down there of the album I just made combined with something that I'm going to make that will probably sound more like old, original Information Society.
   To answer your earlier question, normally what happens when you do a mixed-mode CD, is that you get track one that's all data and it shows up in your CD player as nothing. Just a number, and you may get a time off it, but you get no audio data. Or if you're really unlucky, and you have a CD player that was one of the first ones ever made, it'll actually play the stuff as noise. Really, really loud noise. It's bad. Then the first song actually starts at track 2 and you go from there. Well, record companies are rightfully leery of selling such a product. Your average consumer is going to get frightened and irritated by that. Especially if they happen to have the CD player from 1985 that plays it as noise.
   So to solve that problem, you can do what's called a blue-book or orange-book CD. It's a mixed-mode CD where the data is not one of the audio tracks. The first audio track is number one, and you can't play the data no matter what you do. But there was some concern at Cleopatra with Cds like that that they had tried before. For some reason, they kept having technical or production failures. They'd get the CDs back and they wouldn't play properly in the CD players. They were very concerned about that. They didn't know if it was happening because of the mixed-mode format that it was in, or if it was happening just because it happened to be a bad session (section?). They didn't want to take a chance. They said, 'Look, for hardly any more money at all we can just do a double-CD set.' And I thought about it and that's actually much better for me. The actual physical discs do not cause a lot of money. What you're paying for the record is mostly the cost of developing the act and making the record and supporting the band and then, to a lesser extent, packaging. And then distribution and advertising. The physical CD itself is like a dollar twenty-nine or something. It's a lot less than vinyl.

Interviewer: What kind of stuff did you end up picking for the data disc?

Kurt: I was pretty liberal.
   (His cat, Mike, meows)
   Yeah, nobody cares. You're a cat.
   It's about half stuff that got sent in, and half stuff that I had. A lot of old pictures and files that are of interest only to people who've already been a fan for years. I put an avi clip of the entire "Peace & Love, Inc." video on the CD. And then from people I got -- I got a program from somebody that, if you have the right kind of Hewlett-Packard calculator, I think you have to enter it in by hand, but you can put the program, as he describes it, in the calculator and it'll draw InSoc logos. I got some pictures that are, like, from people who were illustrating the songs as they heard them on the audio clips from the web site. A Windows95 InSoc theme... It's been a long time since I actually looked at that CD. Stuff like that.

Interviewer: There's all this "techno" music which is very popular... I wondered what you make of that.

Kurt: This is, what, the fifth time I've seen electronic music suddenly gain the status of being "hot" and "popular" right now? I'll tell you what I think is doing to happen with the "electronica" genre. (clears throat). Whenever a genre actually reaches the point where the top-level music industry organizations can actually start to exploit it -- like, say, rap -- rap started as a very small movement, an out-there-to-the-left-field group of people doing the kind of music they wanted to do. And the record labels saw that there was potential, but it took a long time for it to filter up from the tiny independents to the big majors, who are now handling rap. And along the way, a lot of what had to be done is a sort of definition of the genre. Because as much as people don't like labels and pigeonholing, a big company cannot sell records if they can't define the genre to themselves, to their employees, and to their customers. You have to be able to say, 'this is what rap is, and this is what we're selling,' or there's no way they'll be able to sell it.
   So the same process is happening with electronica. People whose career it is to try and watch out for what's hip and new identified that there's this sort of European, mostly electronic, new kind of dance-floor music that could be very popular. That's what they thought. But now it's in the process of percolating up, and the genre's being defined. And whenever you do that, you have to strip off the details and go for a simple explanation. And I believe, very strongly, that by the time it hits the top-level people at the big companies who have to make decisions about these kinds of things, the definition will have been so misunderstood and boiled down and glossed over that the people are going to say, 'What are you talking about? This is just techno. We already did techo. Get out of my office.' I just don't think there's enough difference between 'electronica' and what was known as 'techno' for it to actually be exploited as a genre. And I think it's going to bounce back off the second-to-the-top tier of management at record companies with a memo saying, 'Fuck off, this is just techno,' and that'll be the end of it.

Interviewer: Do you think there's any room for you in all this?

Kurt: What I do is so far away from electronica that, even if what I said turned out to be not true, it's not like I can make use of it. So there you have it.