"My Brutal Force Is 10": An Interview With Nate Young

Nate Young is a craftsmen. He's a carpenter by vocation, but he's also an artist, and according to him that makes him like a criminal. He's the founder and leader of Wolf Eyes, arguably the most successful noise band there ever has been-- but don't get him wrong, there's no money in that game. Young is a lyricist who will compare his use of language to Metallica's. He'll agree that he's a rocker, which supports a friend of mine's assertion that Wolf Eyes is really just a fuck-up rock band. Many have noted how simple the new Wolf Eyes record is, just like Young's solo work as Regression. His newest record under the moniker, Blinding Confusion, is out in July on NNA Tapes. Young believes in rehearsal and refinement, and laments owning too many cassettes while proudly producing musical art object after musical art object. Nate Young is a nice guy and he does not want to stab you in the face.

Ad Hoc: So you have the first ever black album cover on NNA Tapes.

Nate Young: Yeah the artwork I designed for this one, I just felt like it would get lost on the white LP-- you know, the normal [NNA Tapes] format. And I requested they do a black one, and it looks great. I just got them in the mail. Actually, it’s amazing: if you put the first Regression volume on NNA, Stay Asleep, next to this one, Blinding Confusion, they have almost the same layout. The drawing-- there’s like something reclining, and the colors are all in the same place. It’s just kinda like inverse, a skeletal image of the first one. I didn’t really intend to do that. It struck me when I put them next to each other today, like, oh weird, it’s almost the same but kind of an x-ray of the first one or something.

Ad Hoc: What's your process for making the art?

NY: It’s a process very much like composing the music. Certain images go well with certain music and whatnot. That’s kind of how it works with the Regression series in general. With etching, you’re scratching an image into plastic. It’s very similar to cutting a record, where you’re pretty much just scratching sound into the record. That was the first kind of parallel that intrigued me, to see if I could actually inspire certain compositions from certain volumes and vice versa. There were similarities between the making of the music and the making of the art and then also the making of the finished product, the lathe cuts. That was always interesting to me: scratching into the plastic. Whether it be for sound or image, similar results.

AH: Could you talk about your lathe cuts a bit?

NY: Ever since I was a kid... My buddy Twig [Harper], he found a record cutter and it didn’t really work. But just the whole idea. I was like, “No way! So we can actually cut our own records”-- cut sounds into pieces of plastic or whatever, plastic lids and different things like that. I was into that. So ever since then I was like, "That’s so cool. What a great way to combine sound and image." You make a lathe cut and then you can make your artwork for it and whatnot. That was when I first got into music and art, because the idea of putting out a record was just impossible. The only compromise is to be able to cut your own record and draw your own photo and have your own miniature work of art. And I’ve been doing that since, I’d say like 1996, maybe '95 even.

Ad Hoc: There was this really interesting quote from Aaron Dilloway in Marc Masters' Wolf Eyes profile in The Wire, where he was like, “Yeah, I’m older now. I wouldn’t call a song something like 'Stabbed in the Face' anymore,” which is hilarious. But it does make me wonder what the concept was behind these cartoonishly dark titles you guys always used.

NY: Well, I think it's difficult for us Michiganders to prevent ourselves from having a world view. There are those explorations into the darker spaces, and they're triggered by really simple horror movie type stuff. There is some dark imagery that has been explored, like “Stabbed In the Face,” but even that is a bit comical. None of us want to actually stab anyone in the face. Michigan’s one of the poorest states-- it’s not doing so well, Detroit and whatnot. So there’s a little bit of reflection of the poor environment, but at the same time, it has a lot to do with the stuff that thrilled us when we were kids. Horror movie shock-- we still love that stuff. I guess when Dilloway said that he could never name a song like that, well, I can only imagine people who might actually take a forty year old seriously when he says, “I wanna stab you in the face.” We never meant to say we were going stab anyone. There is that D&D kind of aspect-- brutal as a card, like my brutal force is 10. Fun stuff.

Ad Hoc: Totally. So much metal deals with Lord of the Rings, trolls, fantasy novel material.

NY: Halloween stuff, you know what I mean? There are lines that need to be drawn just so people can see them, but unfortunately that ruins the mystique of art. No one is really willing to go there. We’re not evil, we’re not violent; we’re just excited and whatever. Everyone’s pissed off and that’s why we’re still able to make music and people are still interested in what we’re making. It’s because everyone is still pissed. I don’t think they mind hearing people yell at them as much or at least being angry or portraying an anger.

You look at the lyric content, and it's never really that severe. If anything, it’s just a little bit of wordplay. With Wolf Eyes, the lyrics are about confusion over brutality. I think that’s like Metallica. Most of their lyrics are about being insane or in an insane asylum. The thing is we wear our hearts on our sleeves. We’re just stupid Michiganders, whatever.

The place that we all come from is just rock & roll. All the early shows that we played, we were opening for rock & roll bands. It wasn’t until like the mid-2000s when things started to really segregate. Garage rock took off and there was definitely no room in that market for anything weird anymore, whereas before it was back and forth. A lot of early Wolf Eyes had a rock & roll beat because we were seeing it every day and we were into it.

AH: Do you think it's a problem that noise is divorced from that greater context these days?

NY: I do see some kind of cycle coming around. Well, noise has kind of quieted down. In the mid-2000s, noise was seen in a lot of magazines. No Fun was doing a lot for American noise culture. [No Fun] Festivals were killer. What we have now is like the days before No Fun Fest, before Wolf Eyes was on Sub Pop. Where harsh noise had become something that everyone was doing, now it’s become something that we the weirdos do. That’s kind of the cycle of people making aggressive, gnarly music, but it never really stopped. Starting to be an old man, it’s very interesting to me, you know? Now those characters are the real nerds. Who's the harsh noise wild guy who wears a plastic bag on his head?

Ad Hoc: Vomir.

NY: Oh, Vomir, yeah. I find that incredibly interesting-- like uncomfortable, depressing, bizarre. That excites me the same way as when I first started making noise. It’s interesting, it’s weird. Dilloway actually told me about it-- he saw Vomir play at that festival in New York. 

AH: Ende Tymes, you mean.

NY: Yeah, [Dilloway] played Ende Tymes, and I asked him, “What was some of the weirdest stuff you saw?” He said that was one of the weirdest ones. For a while, it would frustrate me, all this splintering of noise and people just kind of taking sides and not liking other stuff. When I started, it was all just rock & roll. It did not matter. But I actually like how things are now, like this whole kind of splintering. I feel like people are starting to do interesting things beyond taking stances and it does seem to come from somewhat of a... I don’t want to say “study,” but it comes from some sort of experience, and I like that. I think everyone should be a bit more experienced before they go out and start playing shows, but that’s just me.

Ad Hoc: There does seem to be less of the tendency, for instance, for guys to just release every single thing they record.

NY: Sure. The tape is kind of a tradition; it’s a good way for people to trade ideas and whatever. There’s a big part of the underground: tapes trades, tape culture, etc. But more people that just do it for a year and then might just drop off-- there was a lot of that. Shit man, I have boxes and boxes of noise tapes. I guarantee that maybe 30% of those people are still active. There was a huge boom. Every time i played a show, I would leave the place with like 4 or 5 tapes from people who either traded or who just really wanted to give me their tapes. And that got overbearing, that got ridiculous.

Ad Hoc: To shift directions-- you were tied up in scrapping for a bit, right?

NY: Well, I do very, very little of it. I actually was just trying to get into it, because Crazy Jim, the Wolf Eyes guitar player, he was doing architectural salvage for quite a while. It’s a touchy subject, scrapping in general. Once I knew a guy who had a house and went away for a couple of days, came back and all the fucking copper pipes, anything worth any value, was taken out of the house. That’s a really big problem in Detroit. There are these huge abandoned buildings and schools and whatnot, and there’s perfectly good wood and trim and windows-- all sorts of salvageable things, but you’re really not allowed to [scrap them]. The wood flooring is really just such a waste. Is such a shame to see a building get demolished and all this perfectly good wood...

But that’s part of trying to make some money around here. Sometimes jobs are really hard to come by and you gotta hustle, do whatever you can. Weird music does not pay the bills. I made a career out of making the worst possible sounds I could imagine, so I was pretty lucky to be able to do that, and that people actually wanted to hear them. My poor mom, she really doesn’t understand. Like, “Wow really? You wanna listen to this, huh?”

Ad Hoc: Can you talk more about the kind of balances you try to strike between making music and the rest of life?

NY: Well, I’ve always tried to balance out the art for one thing, like I spoke before about the lathe cut and music as an art object. That’s always been a big help-- trying to balance between rock & roll shows and art shows and whatnot. I like the mixture of the two because it puts the music in the right light. Beyond that, beyond music and art, I do construction work as well. I’ve always been lucky to have a family business. Peter Young, my father, builds barns. He builds barns right out of Brighton, Michigan. We’ve been doing that almost 20 years now. So I’ve got that going on. I don’t like working during the summer, man. I think it was fun in the winter for some reason. The summers get kind of gross. I think it’s because you get soaking wet. I do like working outside better than I like scrapping. Other than that that’s all I do-- try to make music and whatnot.

Ad Hoc: It’s interesting to see that whole picture painted of a person. It's more interesting than the mystification of musicians as people who make music and then sleep for the rest of the day.

NY: I don’t know anyone who’s really that fortunate-- maybe in Europe or something, but making music and noise is kind of a dire situation and I’ve always loved that about American noise. It has very little support. When you go on tour, it’s raw. And the thing is, that's better. Touring in America, living the raw lifestyle is better than, say, building a barn in the middle of the summer in a lot of ways. Well, let me put it this way: a lot of these kids, the only thing they have going for them is playing this one show at the end of the week and the rest of the time they’re just working their shitty job and saving all their money so they can buy records and go see or go play gigs. It’s great-- I love that about America. There’s no support for us. Artists are treated like crooks, like criminals.

Tagged: Features, Nate Young
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