Friday, February 15, 2008

Interview: Scott Carney of Wax Fang

Thanks in large part to their imaginative, pulsating new album, La La Land, Wax Fang is destined to garner even more acclaim as people get to see Scott Carney (theremin, guitar, vocals) Kevin Ratterman (drums), and Jacob Heustis (bass) conjure up their inner beasts to create a tremendous musical experience. Unfortunately, the band was forced to cancel upcoming shows in Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Milwaukee due to a freak accident involving Kevin. Don’t fret, their shows will continue with a concert at Headliners on February 22 and will include subsequent dates in Washington, D.C. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Lexington (just to name a few) before they head on down to the blue dot in the red state and make some real noise. Luckily, Scott Carney was able to take his watchful eye off Kevin and answer some questions via email about Waterworld, his 1995 Walkman, and that creepy child on the cover of La La Land.

nql: I heard that you majored in filmmaking in college and you frequently utilize 16mm in your shows. How do you think these visuals enhance either your performance or the audience’s experience?

Scott Carney: I’d like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to our friend, Ryan Daly--the man behind all of our projections. Cheers, mate!

I haven’t felt that my own performances were enhanced by the use of projection since before I had the band and, even then, I felt that way only because having them there gave the audience something else to look at, which took some of the focus off of me and, consequently, relieved some of the pressure of performing. I hardly ever see what’s going on back there in the first place, so I rarely feel directly affected by it. Yet, there are those moments, few and far between, when I do look behind me and catch a glimpse of a child being born or a volcano shooting lava high into the air or a car smashing into another car in super slow motion and, I must say, it’s quite a thrill!

From an audience standpoint, I feel that projections enhance a performance tremendously. Projections can make a band with absolutely no stage presence tolerable to watch (and this may be because you’re not actually watching them) and can make a band who is entirely enjoyable to watch on their own seem like they’re on another planet.

: What are the differences in making a movie versus recording an album?

SC: Well, that depends on what type of film or album you’re making. In general, I would say that making a film is more challenging than making an album, because you have to appeal to the eyes as well as the ears. However, some film compositions are more like musical scores than films and vice versa. Take the animated works of Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren or the cinematic scope of the music of Pink Floyd, for example. You may find, then, that film and music are not so different after all.

nql: What is your favorite movie that nobody has seen?

SC: I am generally too indecisive to play favorites, so here are a couple of films off the top of my head: A really great film few have seen is called David Holtzman’s Diary by Jim McBride. Equally great and unseen is The Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov.

nql: Hey, you know movies, let’s discuss. Waterworld was a critical and commercial failure--one of the worst of all time. However, with age and further consideration, the film presents a particularly cogent view of our possibly dystopic near-future. If you had to, could you grow gills? That first liquid breath would be tough, but after that I bet it would be gravy.*

SC: When I think of liquid breath, I’m reminded of that scene in The Abyss where Ed Harris’s diving helmet is flooded with breathing fluid to keep it from imploding under the intense water pressure of the deep. To answer your question, considering the rate of development in the field of stem cell research, I would venture to say that, before too long, growing gills may even be a thing of the past.

nql: How has the music scene in Louisville changed since you returned home after college?

SC: When I first moved home, there was a collective of bands and musicians that operated under the name Debauchery Records. It was with some of these bands that I got my first shows when I was starting out. There seemed to be a lot of promise with a few of these groups in particular, but then the whole thing sort of fell apart. That is the last I’ve seen of a true musical community existing here, though, I don’t get out much nowadays, so I’m a bit at a loss. What I can say is that Louisville has had a great, eclectic music scene for some time now, from the beautiful guitar layering of the Photographic to the Caribbean funk punk of the Lucky Pineapple to the thrash psychadelia of the Slow Break to the mellow jams of the Fervor, to name a few.

nql: Everyone likes to refer to the glory days of the Louisville music scene as the “post-rock” days of the late 1980s with bands like Slint, etc. Chicago and Louisville seemed to share a big connection with this movement back then. Outside of Louisville, how do people now define/classify the Louisville music scene?

SC: It’s hard to say. Some folks are still fixated with bands like Slint and Rodan and for a good reason--they made exceptional music. Others recognize My Morning Jacket as ‘the’ Louisville band. More often than not, when I tell people that we’re from Louisville, Kentucky, they are more inclined to see if I’m wearing shoes than to mention any music that comes from here.

: Speaking of home, what do you look forward to the most when you return home?

SC: My lady friend and our cats, Boscovs and FDR. Other than that, privacy is always welcome.

nql: Many people often describe the indie scene in Indianapolis as one big musical orgy because many of the bands share, trade or split up band members. No one appreciates a good orgy more than us at NQL, but has it been difficult for the band’s relationship within the Louisville scene to have predators like Jacob, who came from Cabin?

SC: Having Jacob in the band has proven to be a challenge, but that has nothing to do with Cabin. Just kidding. You know, I wish I could say yes, because that would be more interesting than the truth. The truth is, it really hasn’t been that difficult at all.

: What did you learn by going on tour with My Morning Jacket in the fall of 2006?

SC: I learned that those guys are some of the nicest and most down to earth people I’ve ever met and are one of the, if not ‘the,’ best live bands out there today. Also, that driving from Austin to St. Louis in November totally sucks.

nql: I’ve read somewhere that Neutral Milk Hotel is one of your band’s influences. It has been almost exactly 10 years since In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was released. What do you remember about the first time you heard that album and describe the impact that album had on you?

SC: Like most of the music I come to adore, when I first heard In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, in the fall of 1999, I didn’t like it. I had actually seen Neutral Milk Hotel open for Superchunk at Sudsy Malone’s in Cincinnati the year before and didn’t like them then either (at the time, I was listening to a lot of Shellac and other, more aggressive music, and hadn’t yet embraced the sort of sloppy, out of tune-ness popularized by Pavement, if that gives you any indication). I was living in Pittsburgh when I first heard the record and was spending a lot of time alone, locked up in my bedroom, writing. My roommates would listen to that album over and over again and, before long, I grew to like a few songs and started to write with the door cracked and then, eventually, with it wide open. I remember the first time I ‘listened’ to that album quite clearly: It was the day before Halloween. I was driving with a friend on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was late afternoon. The sun shone gold upon the changing leaves as it faded into the horizon and we listened to the entire album from start to finish without saying so much as a word. It was truly a magical, one of a kind experience. It totally blew my mind. I have held it as one of my favorite albums ever since.

nql: How was recording with a full band in La La Land different from your solo effort in Black and Endless Night?

SC: Recording with a full band is much more rewarding on both a personal and artistic level than multi-tracking everything yourself. When you multi-track, you are essentially trying to sound like you’re not multi-tracking. In a sense, you are creating an illusion--the illusion of a group of performers playing together in real time--and that illusion can be very difficult to mask. Even when you do succeed in masking it, it’s still just a mask and not the real thing.

: Were you able to focus on anything (songwriting, guitar, etc.) because you had Kevin and Jacob for La La Land?

SC: Having Kevin and Jacob in this band is a luxury I’d not known to exist before playing with them and one for which I am extremely grateful. It’s everything you might imagine being in your own concept of a ‘dream band’ to be. That being said, having them around has certainly helped me maintain a level of objectivity in the process, to be able to stand back and look at the work from a distance and to concentrate on the writing, arranging and producing elements, as opposed to being overwhelmed by having to do every last little thing as was the case with Black & Endless Night.

nql: It seems like the new trend in indie music is for bands to self-release their albums. With the album now out, what, if anything, do you think was hindered by you having your hands in all parts of the process?

SC: I see the DIY approach as more self-empowering than hindering. It allows you total freedom and control over your work and that’s not a bad thing. Right now, there are simply more bands than there are labels to house them, so unless you’re comfortable waiting around while your record sits on a shelf, you’re almost left with no other choice than to release it yourself.

: Your recordings and/or shows are often known for your unusual use of certain instruments (theremin and kazoo in particular). Any different instruments you would like to use in the future?

SC: I’d really like to incorporate a cheerleading squad into a piece of music at some point.

nql: Many of the songs off of La La Land have been played in concerts, at least in Louisville, prior to the actual release. Have you noticed any difference in audience reaction with this last tour?

SC: Somewhat, though I still think most folks outside of Louisville are still becoming acquainted with the songs.

nql: What has been your favorite city that you’ve played?

SC: Louisville aside, Lexington (Kentucky) is always a consistently good time. Those kids know how to throw down. Faux real.

: What has been your favorite venue that you’ve played?

SC: The Tabernacle (Atlanta, GA). I liken our experience there to the film Beyond Thunderdome. “Two men enter! One man leave!”

: I have only seen you guys play in Louisville and Lexington. Assuming crowds are more receptive at these two places (although the latter is still Lexington), does that make it easier to put all your energy into a show?

SC: It absolutely does. You know, it takes two to tango--if the energy you put into a show is reciprocated by the audience, it makes for a much more rewarding show for everyone.

: Are you playing any new songs on this upcoming tour?

SC: You’ll just have to wait and see…

nql: You have a number of shows between now and March. What’s the band’s plan for the rest of 2008?

SC: Aside from playing shows and writing new material, our main plan is to fashion a trailer/mobile home out of a sailboat!!!

nql: Any chance of a Danny Glover Cover Band reunion before next New Year’s?

SC: There’s talk, but, then, talk is cheap. Danny Glover himself could probably give you a more accurate answer than I could.

nql: Do you know where that enchanting munchkin is now from that album cover? Also, please put to rest this nasty rumor. Is that really a childhood picture of Brett Butler, the comedian, not the former Los Angeles Dodger?

SC: I wish I knew. That photo was found at a thrift store by our friend, Thea Lura, who modified it into what it is now. Consequently, I cannot dispel any rumors about the child growing up to be a comedian or a Dodger.

nql: It’s 1995, what was playing in your Discman?

SC: Don’t you mean Walkman? At least, that’s what I had then. Inside of it, you would probably find Nirvana In Utero.

nql: It’s 3:30 in the a.m. and you are alone in your house. You set the mood and you pick the album. What would I hear? (Remember you are alone in your house. I can only hear it from a nearby bush.)

SC: If I’m awake at that hour, which I rarely am anymore, I would likely be trying to fall asleep, in which case, I might listen to The Sinking of the Titanic by Gavin Bryars.

nql: What was the best concert you saw in 2007?

SC: Umbrella Tree at the Exit/ In, Nashville (Tennessee). I had never even heard of them before and they came out and knocked my socks off. Really, I had no socks after they played.

nql: You are going to die in five hours. What are you going to listen to before your heart stops beating?

SC: I would listen to the sound of my inner dialogue freaking the fuck out!

: Best thing you had stolen from you this year?

SC: My innocence.

: Kimmy Gibler or D.J. Tanner? (Please justify your response.)#

SC: D.J. Tanner. I always found Kimmy to be a bit annoying and, well, not as attractive as D.J.

: Although I saw the movie, I didn’t learn until after the fact that one your concert posters made it on the wall at the party scene in Cloverfield. How close are you and J.J. Abrams?

SC: So close, yet so far away.

--Matt Farra

*This won't be the last time we ask this question.
#We looked up Kimmy Gibler a few weeks ago, she's wicked short. Let's just say Scott made the right call. Plus, Candace Cameron is looking pretty good these days which shouldn't go unnoticed.

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