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Clang Quartet Interview July 2002

Clang Quartet is Scotty Irving.  Scotty Irving is a world class drummer that gets written up in Modern Drummer magazine.  He's also probably the only performance artist I know who is serious instead of witty.  Anyway, Clang Quartet is about sound collage, white noise, percussion, & Jesus Christ.

QRD – What projects do you currently have besides Clang Quartet & how many projects would you like to have?

Scotty – I’ll answer the second part first.  I don’t have a number in mine as far as how many I’ll take on, but at the moment I am comfortable.  I’m in a band called Benj-O-Matic, Bunker, I occasionally do shows with Anne Gomez & Dave Cantwell, & I occasionally do some freelance work as well.

QRD – Are you more comfortable behind a drum kit or doing Clang Quartet?

Scotty – At this point I can say I feel pretty much the same.  I’ve been behind the kit for so many years now that for the most part that feels like coming home even if I am playing something that sounds a bit unorthodox.  But the Clang Quartet show now I’ve got an idea of what I’m doing & even when I flip things around I still feel at home, which is not bad since it’s been five years since I started it.

QRD – Do you consider yourself a drummer or a percussionist?

Scotty – Drummer first & percussionist second because drums is where it all started for me, but I definitely have the percussion thing going.

QRD – What do you think is the difference between the two?

Scotty – For me I think part of the definition of drummer involves what you are actually playing of course.  Percussion can involve anything from some of the found object stuff that I’m known for but also some more traditional things like jimbaes & bongos & things like that which may technically be drums but aren’t thought of as a drum by the rock or even jazz oriented audience.  Then you’ve got other things like vibra-slaps, jawbones, etcetera.  Different things that people use as sound accessories that still are percussion.  & though I like the found object stuff, it always comes back around to the drums somehow.

QRD – Clang Quartet has started recording a number of cover songs.  Do you think Clang Quartet will start to do more song-oriented work & less piece oriented work?

Scotty – No & I’ll tell you why.  The covers have come along because people have been kind enough to invite me to participate in some tribute albums kind of things.  I enjoy doing that, but I never want to feel like Clang Quartet has to be a song oriented kind of thing.  As far as what I’m doing on the CDs I could feasibly go that way & there will be more song-oriented things on the new discs that will be easier to duplicate live as well.  On the other hand there’s no way I can duplicate a full song live anyway, not with the setup I’m using now.  I kind of like the more chance element That’s stayed with it & that every show is going to be very different, where if you’re playing the same songs every night it is a little bit different.  But never say never.

QRD – Why did you start building your own instruments?

Scotty – I couldn’t find some of the sounds I wanted in conventional instruments & even if I could I would probably have to do significant damage to those instruments to get those sounds.  It’s just easier to have something homemade.

QRD – Would you ever make one for someone else?

Scotty – Quite possibly.  I actually have a few people who’ve shown interest in me doing that for them.  I’ve been encouraging them to find their own sound sources & bring those to me so I can help put them together for them.  But I still want them to have a portion of their own stamp on them.

QRD – What’s your favorite effect unit?

Scotty – I gotta say at the moment my favorite is the Alesis Air FX.  A crazy little machine that for some reason was marketed towards disc jockeys.  I’m not sure why a disc jockey would want to fool with this thing because it is kinda difficult to control, but for what I’m doing man that thing is awesome.

QRD – What musicians have been most influential to your music?

Scotty – You don’t have enough room for the whole answer to this.  In the beginning, as far as music is concerned, AC/DC was the first band that really kicked me into high gear.  I can safely say that as far as being a musician, if there were no AC/DC there would be no Scotty Irving.  Motorhead runs a very very close second.  I also listened to a lot of other metal bands & progressive bands at that time like Led Zeppelin I would consider an influence, especially Jon Bonham.  Keith Moon, the late drummer of the Who.  As far as the more performance art stuff there’s Einsturzende Neubauten probably had as big of effect as AC/DC.  Merzbow comes to mind as far as sounds & of course Throbbing Gristle.  On the other hand I have a southern rock background, a lot of elements creep in; but some creep in more.  I have a varied background that somehow forms the mesh of Clang Quartet & Scotty Irving.

QRD – What led to the Armor of God documentary & do you think it gives an accurate portrayal of Clang Quartet?

Scotty – The whole thing started with me doing a one off show with Dave Yorkback, known lovingly to most of us as The Torch Marauder, & Dave Cantwell.  We did an improvisational piece together as just Dave, Scott, & Dave.  A gentleman there named Bret Ingraham who I knew from my Geezer Lake days had done a film called “Spent” & used a Geezer Lake song called “Spent” for the soundtrack of it.  I got re-acquainted with him that evening & he taped our show & liked some of the homemade instruments I was using & expressed an interest in how I came up with them & I mentioned the Clang Quartet piece & he expressed an interest in seeing that & low & behold he & his good friend Jim Havercamp got interested in doing a documentary.  The finished product is as good as anything could be, especially considering the length of time they managed to make it.  Thirteen minutes doesn’t seem that long, but somehow they managed to make me more coherent than when I play a whole show.  If you can get through that sample of what Clang Quartet’s about, you can probably get through the entire show.

QRD – What’s your favorite Swans’ song?

Scotty – I have to pick two.  On is called “Blind” & is actually a Michael Gira song & I think it’s one of their most beautiful songs.  I love “Beautiful Child” off of Children of God & as far as the brutal aspect of the Swans I think that pretty much shows what they could dish out.  Michael Gira’s voice cracking on the one line “This is my sacrifice” always gives me the chills.

QRD – What live performance have you been most happy with & why?

Scotty – I have several that come to mind.  One was at the Cat’s Cradle with Foetus.  The elements just seemed to be working well with me, I don’t know if it was a blessing from god or how it happened.  Things just worked well that evening.  Things I had tried before in different settings that seemed to work okay worked so much better, possibly because I was in a bigger room with a bigger crowd that actually appreciated it.  That’s the chief show I can think of, but there was the show in Wilmington in front of stage set being built for Jesus Christ Superstar.  I was able to use stage set & that was pretty nice.

QRD – Why did you choose to go to school for graphic art instead of music?

Scotty – I didn’t think that what I wanted to pursue in music was something that an academic way of life would lead me towards.  I wound up getting more usage out of the musical portion of my life than the fine arts part.  The fine arts, quite frankly, after a while I wasn’t really enjoying myself & I realized I didn’t want a career in it.  The funny thing is that did influence some later stuff as far as music goes.  Some of the sound collages that I make are based on the principle of combining things that don’t necessarily belong & that’s partially because of a junk sculpture class which has also influenced some of the instruments & props.

QRD – You started to do some Clang Quartet material in a “real” studio instead of on a 4track at home, how has this effected your sound?

Scotty – It’s brought out elements that I didn’t realize were there.  The funny thing is I think it may have effected how I will record multi-track stuff later on.  I should explain that I put the first cd together pretty much by myself.  One of the guys that I play with in Benj-O-Matic, Benji Johnson, runs a studio.  A previous band of mine, Elvis X, recorded a cd there & Benji was interested in the Clang Quartet stuff & I gave him a cd & he said he’d love to do something with me at sometime.  He ended up re-mixing some Alice Cooper songs I did for a tribute comp & he said, “next time you’re doing something like this, see if you can come in & actually record with me.”  The opportunity came to do that & I came in pretty much the same way, but Benji does have a better ear than I do as far as EQ-ing & stuff like that, but he does appreciates where I’m coming from.  It’s been different in many ways because I have someone working with me, but it’s very similar because Benji allows me a lot of freedom & doesn’t dictate.  He’s actually made some suggestions that are more Clang Quartet oriented than what I was originally planning & that’s kind of funny.

QRD – Would you ever like Clang Quartet to tour extensively?

Scotty – Possibly.  It would have to be done in a way where it was worth my trouble & the trouble of the people who actually had me on the tour.  Then I’d definitely do it, no doubt about it.

QRD – Do you find it more slanderous for Clang Quartet to be called noise or christian music?

Scotty – I guess that depends on which side of the fence you’re standing on.  As I said in Armor of God, I don’t have a problem with noise or being called noise.  Some people use that as a friendly description & some people use it as a negative description.  For me it means unstructured sound, but for some people it means unpleasant sound.  It depends where you’re coming from.  As far as christian music, I don’t think of what I’m doing as a musical piece.  I doubt people would confuse me with Stryper or Amy Grant, but we’re on the same tree though a different branch.

QRD – Every few months you rework the Clang Quartet show, what do you think is the biggest change you have made to it?

Scotty – Portability.  The very first Clang Quartet show I had my car so full I could’ve slammed on the breaks & had anything I wanted land in my lap along with everything else.  I think the first couple of times I performed the show I was convinced I had to have all these different things; otherwise people wouldn’t be interested.  I didn’t allow each individual instrument or non-instrument to breathe, so to speak, or give as much time & effort to each of them as I possibly could & now I think I’m doing that.  I’m doing more with fewer instruments.  I think what I’m doing now is more memorable.  I don’t think I need to bring a drum set into Clang Quartet on a regular basis.  I did use it for the recent show in Wilmington on the stage of a Jesus Christ Superstar set; but I don’t feel like I need to do that because I feel like people’s attention is now focussed on the show, each individual element that makes up the show.  I think they’re focussing on the entire package & not just one single thing.  & the show is much easier to carry around.

QRD – Which is worse, band break-ups or girlfriend-boyfriend break-ups?

Scotty – For me it’s always been girlfriend-boyfriend break-ups.  I’ve been through some band break-ups that weren’t pleasant, but I always bounced right back.  I was already in a couple other situations when Elvis X bit the dust & was already playing in other settings & that helped me bounce back a lot quicker.  Before Geezer Lake broke up I’d started Clang Quartet & that made things easier for a transition then.  It seems as far as the boyfriend-girlfriend situation, you can’t very feasibly have another project going on or it already breaks up the relationship you’re talking about.  I’ve been cheated on a couple of times & I can honestly say that any guy that cheats on a woman, I don’t understand where they’re coming from.  Having been a guy that has had a girl cheat on him before… let’s just say I know what it feels like & I can’t imagine ever stooping that low.  I’m not saying I’m immune to it – I’m just saying I abhor it.

QRD – If a band has good drumming, can you ignore the rest of the music?

Scotty – Maybe.  It really depends.  There’s a philosophy that a band director once shared with me.  He said the band cannot have a good night if the drummer’s not having a good night. If the drummer is having a good night then the band is going to have at least an okay night.  But if the band’s having a good night & the drummer’s having a bad night, the band’s not having a good night.  To a certain extent that’s why I try to make sure that all my resources are working like they’re supposed to.  I try to make sure I’m paying attention to what I’m doing enough that I don’t weigh someone down from performing their best.  In the Clang Quartet show it’s easy because I’m alone.  But the idea behind it when I’m playing with a band or whatever, at least in the situations I’m in, is to always make sure that I’m playing my best.  Of course by process of elimination I’ve had some nights that were simply disastrous.  But being that drums are my main instrument, that’s something I take very seriously.  Maybe drummers aren’t supposed to carry all the weight on their shoulders, but we carry enough that we have to watch what we’re doing.

QRD – What decade do you think made the best music?

Scotty – The 1970’s were heavily influential to me & a lot of my favorite acts are from that time period or blossomed during that time period.  I mentioned southern rock, I mentioned AC/DC, I mentioned Motorhead, & even some of the industrial music that I like.  The members of Einsturzende Neubauten formed together in the 1970’s though their first show was in 1980, & they were doing things that were attracting each other’s attention in the 1970’s.  The first Throbbing Gristle album came out in the 1970’s.  A lot of guitar effects & things like that were effected by some of the sounds that people were making in the 1970’s.  I’m not saying the 1960’s didn’t produce some of that because they obviously did, but they’re were a lot of things in 1970’s that didn’t get Billboard top 40 recognition that were very very formidable things & the education that they provided continues today.

QRD – What’s the first song you ever wrote?

Scotty – I’m not sure you could actually call it a song & it’s probably one of the most dreadful things I’ve ever played.  I have an uncle who is largely responsible for getting me into music; oddly enough he stopped playing three years after I got serious about it.  Anyway, he was a guitar player & I was a drummer & we wrote a song together called “Gonna Get Her,” an attempt at making a little love song.  I say love song, but it’s more of a lust song quite frankly to tell the truth.  I was a typical hormone-exploding teenager & basically that’s what the song entails.  The lyrical content makes some hair metal bands look intellectual.  It is completely dreadful, but then again I was fourteen or fifteen at the time.  No child prodigy here.

QRD – What’s your favorite studio trick?

Scotty – Making the drums sound bigger even though I use a small kit.  Or making the drums sound like I’m in a different room than I’m actually in.  The fact that you can add reverb, echo, etc.  I like that.  You can of course apply that to other instruments as well.  I’ll give you an example.  “When the Levy Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page mic’ed Jon Bonham in a hallway & he got a drum sound that makes Bonham sound the size of the Hindenburg, before the explosion of course.

QRD – What’s the story with The Separation of Church & Hate originally being finished two years ago?

Scotty – Man-o-man.  I’ll see if I can give you the short version.  I recorded four songs for an EP for a record label associated with a radio station that never happened.  They ended up keeping the original tapes for a considerable amount of time & I finally decided that they weren’t going to give them back to me.  I say original tapes, they were the original finished recordings of the disc; but I have the original 4-track tapes.  But during that time I began wondering if they were going to show up with them & I wound up releasing a full-length album with Silber.  So I wasn’t really worried about the fact that it wasn’t coming out.  I didn’t really pursue it very heavily because I had the full length out.  But during the time they were holding on to it I began working on some different projects & I was going to combine the two of them.  Low & behold I get the tape back & I decide I don’t like the finished project after all & I decide to rework a few things.  Then I decided I wanted to put Armor of God on it as an enhanced CD & I was told that because of the length it wouldn’t work out looking very good.  So I decided to put it out as a full length with a few more songs to it.  It still won’t be a 73 minutes, but I want to make it more than what it was when I originally finished it.

QRD – How much of your music is written or planned before you start recording?

Scotty – It varies.  On Separation of Church & Hate there are a couple of things that were in fact written as songs for projects that I never actually wound up doing.  Some of this took place on Jihad as well.  Some of the music tracks buried beneath the noise were actually written for a project I never did anything with.  So I decided to use some of those tracks.  What I do is combine something that’s improvised with something that’s already recorded so there’s still a certain amount of freedom.

QRD – At times your music is very introspective & personal, do you think all good music needs to be?

Scotty – I’ve heard people say that they hate self-expression in music, John Cage reportedly said that & the lead singer from Pere Ubu reportedly said that.  But for me I can’t imagine doing anything like music or performance art that doesn’t have something in it that’s personal.  I just find what I do to be more convincing when I allow a portion of me to be shown to the world.  Music is self-expression quite frankly.

QRD – Why did Geezer Lake break-up originally & why was there the reunion tour?

Scotty – The original break-up we had kind of worn out our welcome & pushed things as far as we could at that point.  I think we all had to get away from each other before we killed each other.  Please put “Scotty laughed,” after that.  We all had different interests at that point & some of us wanted to move to different places.  Two of us settled down & got married.  The reunion a few years later comes back to The Separation of Church & Hate.  The same radio station was going to put the disc out & as a way of announcing who Scotty Irving or Clang Quartet was were going to do a Geezer Lake special giving people an idea of what my previous band was like since Geezer lake did fairly well.  They decided to do that as a launching pad & the idea was to get the rest of the band involved & we decided to put some shows together.  Well, we did the tour & that ended up taking so much time that we never did the radio show, but the disc never came out on the radio station’s label anyway.

QRD – I know you were a big heavy metal fan in the 80’s & 70’s, what do you think of heavy metal today?

Scotty – There are certain bands I’ll always hold on to, but it’s pretty much the older style.  Any form of music that has some originality to it, even if it’s the same band doing their same album over & over again, if it’s their own style I really don’t have a problem with that.  I wouldn’t want to be in a band like that, but I don’t mind bands that have a distinctive sound that they beat people over the head with year after year.  I wouldn’t call AC/DC a heavy metal band; they’re more like an old friend & I still buy everything that they put out.  As far as the newer metal bands are concerned, I’d like to hear something that at least a little different from things I’ve already heard.  I keep hear things recycled.  I know that’s a sign of me getting older, but I know there have to be a couple of metal bands out there that are showing more innovation than the american public wants & that they’re hidden in the shadows.  The big bands aren’t showing us anything we haven’t already seen.

QRD – Do you think it’s more important for someone to experience Clang Quartet through the CDs, the live show, or Armor of God?

Scotty – I think the live show is the best thing to see because that’s what started the whole thing.  In the beginning there was just the live show.  The CD will give you a different idea of the show & it will show you what I’m like in the studio left to my own resources.  Armor of God is a good way of seeing the live show if you’re a little bit leery or if you want a teaser before you go in.

QRD – Anything else?

Scotty – Thank you to anyone who’s been interested in what I do.  Even if it’s a remote interest it is still appreciated & God bless.

Other QRD interviews with Scotty Irving:
Interview with Scotty Irving of Clang Quartet (September 2013)
Christian Musician interview  with Scotty Irving of Clang Quartet (March 2011)