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Boy Harsher: Making A "Moving Choker-Collar Muscle Mash" One Room at a Time

A southern couples moves north and makes infectiously dance-y industrial jams.
May 26, 2015, 8:27pm

Boy Harsher, from Western Massachusetts by way of Georgia, recently played a nondescript hip bar in Brooklyn. The sort of place you could walk into on any night of the week, and it will never be truly raging, and the DJ at the bar will never be truly listenable, and the bearded bros sipping pints of Bud will never be truly worth talking to.

But in the back room, away from the chatter of the front bar, a truly bizarre noise show was going down. And as Boy Harsher took the tiny stage as closing time was creeping close, a rhythmic blend of industrial and synthpop/synthpunk, complete with an impassioned vocal performance, pierced through the fog and lights of the tiny room. The set transformed the intimate crowd, from the head nodding that accompanied the harsher sets earlier in the night, to a living blob of swaying hips, shoulders and limbs.

Boy Harsher is Jae Matthews and Gus Muller, who met through the project (first embodied as performed prose with a live score), and are now a couple. Night-People is re-releasing their debut cassette (initially released by the band), which you can hear a track from here. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, we discuss the evolution of Boy Harsher, strong female vocalists, and playing great shows.

Noisey: Tell me about Boy Harsher. How do you know each other, how and when did BH start, what has changed about the group since then?

Gus: We both went to film school in Savannah together. I actually met Jae because I worked on her thesis film. I was between apartments and Jae let me live in her attic for a while. We had a project before Boy Harsher called Teen Dreamz. Jae would read her short stories and I would live score to it.

Jae: No, I saw Gus before we worked on that film together. We were familiar faces for a while and then I saw him dancing to Bizarre Love Triangle in this church/warehouse hybrid space. It was such a moment for me. I started sending him some of my prose, kinda as a courting tactic, and he asked if I would be willing to perform it live while he played behind it. So we started with this amalgamation between a sort of literary reading vibe and live electronic score, called Teen Dreamz. Eventually it evolved into a more complex (pop?) sound, with less emphasis on the verbage. We also starting seeing one another, and most of our songs are about this. The pain and lust of fucking around.

How do you define your genre and is that important to you?

Gus: Genre isn’t important to us. It’s a huge compliment when people refer to us EBM or Industrial because we really respect a lot of that stuff, but it doesn’t define us. We’re still figuring out who we are and not trying to adhere to anything specific.

Jae: It’s also great to not be pigeon-holed into a genre. We’ve played some amazing punk shows, and harsh noise, and goth pop. It’s exciting and challenging. But, that said, I don’t really enjoy, or think it works, being on “indie” bills. But I think Gus would disagree. He gets mad at me when I make “indie boy band” jokes.

Who are you biggest musical influences? And your biggest lyrical/ thematic influences?

Jae: I am totally frightened by performing, so I like to channel something else. I have this persona that’s not afraid of sweating and crying and panting in front of strangers, but it’s not me really, because truthfully I can be small and scared. Joan Jonas and even Vito Acconci have always been electrifying for me. These performance artists tap into these beasts that can readily confront the people, and I like that. It makes me strong. And there’s so many of these female voices that drive me nuts, they keep me up at night! I dream of having this girthy voice ala Nico (Desertshore) or Haley Fohr (Circuit des Yeux). Fohr’s vocal work is just astounding. Alison Lewis of Linea Aspera, Chelsea Wolfe and Nika Roza Danilova of Zola Jesus have this vocal strength that’s perfectly nuanced and dark. Also I think everyone probably wants to be Cosey Fanni Tutti. It’s not just me.

Gus: We were referencing Sleep Chamber a lot when we were first starting. Also Suicide, DAF, and Yello while we were recording our first EP. I’m drawn to hypnotic percussion based songwriting.

What kind of gear are you playing on? Tell us about your rain stick.

Gus: The studio set up is whatever gear I can get my hands on. I own a handful of cheap synthesizers and samplers, but try and borrow as much as I can for recording. A lot of synths in “Lesser Man” were recorded with a half functioning Juno 106 on loan. The live set is a mix between backing tracks and a lot of those synths sampled onto my MPC. Then there’s weird shit like the rain stick. There’s a contact mic on it and some processing. I don’t really know what I’m doing. I can’t play all the parts live so for me it’s about finding what parts are the most satisfying to play.

What does playing a great show feel like to you?

Gus: Dark, fog, big sound system, and people moving. Visceral response.

Jae: Yeah! It’s so nice to feel surrounded. By the sound, music, fog, whatever! As enveloped as possible by the vibe. A cliché, for sure, but when I am distracted and can actually see the space, the talking crowd, the spilling beers, the daylight - it’s not going to be a great show. But when it’s dark and sweaty and the crowd is this indeterminate moving choker-collar muscle mash and I’m just losing it, yeah that’s great.

Why the move from Georgia to Massachusetts, and what's that been like?

Gus: Savannah is great. But we wanted to travel more and the move up to Mass made that a lot easier. Also I have family up here and a new baby brother Gabriel I wanted to hang with. It’s cool being close to NYC and to be able to explore that more.

Jae: It’s been hard! We moved in the middle of winter. We hadn’t dealt with snow in like five years. It was a mistake. I am happy we are in the North again, but shit, I miss the South. I’m actually working a job right now in Savannah so I am here and Gus is home in Northampton. It is bittersweet to be back. It’s the kinda rainy, moody season and it’s so nostalgic and eerie. There’s really not a lot of places that evoke this mystery. But we had to get outta there. Savannah can trap you in. It’s muggy, booze-infused nights. I didn’t feel like I was actually living, and it was getting tired. I had no job, no responsibilities. But I’ll always return I’m sure.

What's coming up?

Gus: We’re going on a short tour with Profligate this summer and we’re super excited about that. He’s a heavy hitter. Also very stoked to finish mixing and recording some songs with our friend Peter Mavrogeorgis at his studio this summer. Also I think we might be putting out something experimental work on VHS.

What are the frustrating aspects of Boy Harsher?

Jae: Not getting into it enough.

Gus: Playing through a bad PA.

Reed Dunlea: Boy Harsher or Team Dreamz?