One of the things with noise music is, about every five years a new wave of bands comes along pretending they invented the wall of shrieking feedback. For all the Merzbow disciples and power violence soundalikes, however, every so often you get a band like Mouthus who take the trappings of their peers (long arrays of pedals and weird dials) and use them to produce sounds that are interesting and varied, often carry a rhythm, and actually make enjoyable listening.
One of the other things with noise music is that it's always a crapshoot asking the bands for an interview. If they're not telling you to fuck off because your magazine's lame, it's that you called them part of the noise scene, or that you didn't call them part of the noise scene, or you didn't capitalize NOISE (what is it, an acronym now?). Everybody's so caught up in their own cred they can't even deal with email. That's what makes it extra-double-super-special that when we talked to Brian Sullivan, the non-drumming half of Mouthus, he was not just cordial but a bona fide charmer. This being a guy who's unleashed a torrent of CD-Rs, tapes, and proper albums over the past six years as well as collaborated with heavyweights like Double Leopards and Cousins of Reggae, we half expected his responses to be the sound of him rubbing the phone receiver against his crotch.
Vice: Considering the amount of stuff you put out, how do you decide what goes on a proper album and what you release on CD-R?
Brian Sullivan: We record all the time, so we have tons of stuff and, you know, the majority of it is not going to see the light of day. Not all of it's good. The only reason we did a Mouthus CD-R recently was because we wanted to have a new release just for the tour. We're doing a couple of small presses coming up. And I think we're going to record new stuff just because we're changing our sound around and just kind of getting into that. Right now we're doing more electronics, like electronic percussion and keyboards.
Do people still bitch that incorporating electronics into noise is a faux pas, or is that whole debate finally over?
I don't care what other people have to say about that. It's my music. A lot of using different things is to keep Nate and I excited about what we're doing. Maybe fuckin' ten years down the line I'll be into playing some stuff that we did like five years ago, and there'll be enough distance where it will make it kind of refreshing. We were doing a lot of treated acoustic stuff for a bit, but the sounds can get limited and it's just a matter of logistics since there's only two of us. We can only get so many sounds at once, and only certain types of sounds using certain types of equipment.
Delicate question: Do you actually write lyrics or are you just grumbling gibberish into the microphone?
Some of it is lyrics, but a lot of it is stuff built around vocal melodies. Usually most of the shit that is on our albums is a first or second take, so a lot of it is me just figuring out what kind of vocal will wrap itself around in the song. Lyrics usually develop after that and fit into it somehow, mostly just so that I can remember my vocal cues—you can't really hear them anyway. With my solo stuff [Eskimo King] I take a lot of time with the lyrics because I think they're hard to write and I think most people write really crappy lyrics. I'd rather not be in that category. That's also why there are not a lot of Mouthus lyrics, because with the amount of shit that we put out, there would probably be some real clunkers if we tried to put words to everything.
Who all are you listening to these days?
There seems to be a lot of younger kids up and coming, which I'm psyched about cause they're bringing new energy. Hopefully they'll start bringing new or different ideas to the scene. Emeralds is good—I guess they're new. Skaters I don't consider new, but I like them a lot. Dominik from Prurient—I'm always into what he does. There's this new band Bulbs from San Francisco that we're probably doing a split with. One other band that I think people should check out is Wold. They're a black metal band from Saskatchewan.
But, you know, sometimes after five weeks on the road you just want to chill out and put on some Fleetwood Mac. I'm a Stevie Nicks-era fan.
That stuff is golden. How about the Bee Gees?
Hell, I love the Bee Gees. I like early disco. I'm also a big Beach Boys fan. This might take people aback, but I think a lot of these albums inform my decision-making with my own music. I know the pop sensibility in our albums is kind of maybe nonexistent, but for me it's there. I just think of it in terms of cyclical memories and stuff like that. I think something gets lost in translation but that's all right as long as people dig it.
Playingwise, what do you think of New York versus other cities?
This is my theory: I think that because it's getting so fucking expensive to live in New York, it's losing its energy and edge so people are going to other cities. We played Cincinnati and it was a great show—totally fucking took me by surprise. I mean Allentown is always a good show, probably because the people are really bummed out that they're living in Allentown. They're really excited and very earnest and honest about how they feel about the music. It's not the "Am I being seen at this show?" kind of business.
Right, but how would you feel if I rolled into one of your shows all smiley and dancing a jig and cackling at the end of every song?
That's happened before. People have smiled and danced at some of our shows. Fuck it dude, I'm psyched. I've been to shows where it's been all out fucking war too. That's fine too as long as I can keep on playing and they don't fucking rip all my equipment apart.
There are some things that we can't pull off live that we do in the studio for various reasons, so we try to make up for that or try to translate it differently into a certain amount of energy. Especially when you're doing some basement show where you're not going to have great sound. So if you're going into a situation being like, "This is going to sound like a fucking pile of shit," you might as well make the best of it and really amp it up and get everyone involved.
What's the best involvement you've had so far?
Some chick started masturbating at my feet. I tried to help her complete it later but that didn't really work out.
What's the most offensive noise band name you've heard recently? Mine's Syphilis Sauna. Can you beat it?
Syphilis Sauna, that's raising the bar a little. I've always really liked Face Down in Shit but they're not really noise. Septic Death and Anal Cunt are both old favorites.
Where'd you guys get your name?
I misheard something that Nate said. He was talking about economics and he said something about the Thomas Malthus. I thought he said "Mouthus." We needed a name and I was like, "Well I kinda like Mouthus," and so did he. I can't remember the exact reason economics came up. Maybe it's because we're both broke.
INTERVIEW BY GILA TESTIS