I came across Taiwan Housing Project's "Veblen Death Mask" when the avant punk supergroup performed the song as part of a session on Philadelphia radio station WKDU.
Featuring the rapturous guitar of Mark Feehan and desperate vocals of Kilynn Lunsford, the song, which is also the name of their upcoming debut album on Kill Rock Stars, references Thorstein Veblen, the Norwegian-American economist and socialist who came up with the idea of conspicuous consumption. But Lunsford explains via email, that it's not meant to be a priggish indictment. "I am just as guilty as anyone," she says.
Lunsford, previously of Portland, by way of Michigan, batterers Little Claw, met Feehan, of Miami free punk obliterators Harry Pussy, in Philadelphia and the two have since built a formidable lineup that includes Pat Ganley, Adam Cooper, Kevin Nickles, and Kevin Boyer of groups such as Tyvek, the Writhing Squares, and Dan Melchior.
The band have built a reputation for a ferocious live show with Ian Svenonius of Chain and the Gang and the Make UP describing their performance like a reborn Little Richard, "All fur clad, axe wielding, slashing, tearing, "flame on."
Stream the album below and read an interview with Kilynn.
Noisey: What is it like playing with Mark Feehan?
Kilynn Lunsford: Well, much like Heath from Little Claw, Marky is one of my musical alter-egos. I had no intention to stay in Philly very long; however, we were effortlessly inventive from the first night. I knew it was preternatural and I couldn't take it for granted. I felt liberated to try any idea I had, and by posting songs to the internet directly after recording them, it was all so immediate, which encouraged that as well. We didn't anticipate anyone taking notice in the toxic abyss that is internet life. We were flummoxed yet excited when they started writing about our Soundcloud.
Many of you are from other places besides Philly. Why Philadelphia?
For me it was a pragmatic choice, Philly was convenient. When I finished a 9-month jaunt in Thailand, I needed a place to recuperate and screw my head back together. I had no money, no job, and all my stuff was in storage in Oregon. I also had a Little Claw album to finish in Detroit. It was a miserable bus ride, but doable. I thought I'd stay with mom in Delaware while I got my shit together, but this lasted maybe a week. I hadn't lived with my mom since I graduated from high school and she already had other family members living with her (when everyone goes down and out, they all go to live with my mom). So, luckily Tom Lax [Siltbreeze records] let me stay with him for a bit and I got a job the same week with his help. My plan was to stay briefly, save some money and head to the west coast again.
My solo project, Luxury Prevention played a show with Mark Feehan on the bill. It was the first time Marky and I met, and it was love at first sight (haha). He was wearing a bone hued linen suit, straw fedora and antique horn-rimmed glasses. After a night of bonding over vulgar Catullus poems and raunchy guitar squall, we quickly made a date to play together, and here I am four years later.
"Veblen Death Mask" is one of the older songs on the album. Why the decision to name the album after this?
VDM as an idea exists at the nexus of consumerism, performance and the fear of death. We seem to possess a drive to stock-pile, as a totem to our identity, objects, keepsakes, mementos, and now information that will outlast our physical existence. I believe this emanates from a fear of death. It's a recurring theme in my work. William James theorized about how our objects become external extensions of the self. We imbue them with our thoughts, memories and desires like talismans. We may even feel more of our identity dwells within the object than within our own being. There is another element as well, though: when we buy objects, we are also buying Time, the Time to create these anticipated experiences and memories in the future, the time to wear the dress, to watch the film, to use the perfume, etc. Although time could be thought of in the material sense of engagement in a concrete, durational, social activity involving said objects.
It's a critique of excess consumption, but I don't pretend I reside outside of it.
One of my favourite tracks is "Multidimensional Spectrum".
Thank you. I wrote that song in roughly five-minutes. The riff and melody have stayed the same; I might've tinkered with the lyrics a little bit along the way. It was actually the easiest song to record on the album, there were very few overdubs. Gwen, who plays the tea kettle horn with us now, sings backups on the track. It could possibly be viewed as a testament to keeping things simple.
You seem to be a band that some don't get. In describing your sound Svenious says, "Sometimes you gotta burn the village to save it". Do you think people see the 'noise band' descriptor and tense up?
From the beginning, it seemed people misinterpreted my work. My first review pejoratively compared a Little Claw record to Heavens to Betsy, among other things, which was not a realm we were coming from even remotely. You'd think it was obvious...our LP featured a detuned, squawking saxophone and a cartoon voiced interlude about mutant creatures! I don't know if some of these people listen to the records they review, and beyond that, if they are even capable of complex thought. But what can I do? I can't reply. A review isn't a dialogue; it's dictatorial in that way. I suppose it can be if you have a visible platform to respond to them, but that isn't the case for me and my peers. That's reserved for people like (insert any celebrity). I used to be bitter and frustrated by how people perceived my work, but I've let it go mostly. I try to have a pretty blasé attitude about it now. It keeps me slightly saner. If folks get it, that's great! If they don't, I'm not interested in them anyway. It's a helpful sifting mechanism as well: only the worthwhile stick around.
Ultimately, my intention isn't to ease people into this. I want to assault them. I want to rob them of levity. It may not seem that way all of the time, because my songs are varied in mood. However, what sonics don't achieve, confusion will. People often feel affronted and besieged by what they don't understand, and that's where I want my creations to exist.
Image: Dan Cohoon
Image: Dan Cohoon