This interview between myself (moron) and Thomas Garrison of Control, Misanthrope Studios and Exsanguinate took place via email during the summer of 2005. Big ups to Thomas for putting up with the grilling. Image credit goes to the illustrious David Lim.
and now the questions. . .
Your website is a little slight on details about the origin of Control and on a general level Thomas Garrison. So to start off, where did you grow up? What was the first CD that you bought (and do you still have it)? When did you leave home? What was the first live gig you went to?
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. Left home at age 10. I was sent to a psycho hospital for a little while and then once I left there I got emancipated from my parents. I don't recall what my first CD was but my first concert was The Cult in 1985.
From pictures online you look to be heavily tattooed and pierced, when did that process start and why? Does that side of your personal life relate to why Control exists as a project? I ask just because I've come across discussion before relating to body modification as a route to self-actualization and was curious if for you there was any relationship between the two.
I work in the body modification industry and have so for almost 17 years. Control doesn't exist because I am pierced and tattooed. That is just a part of me of who I am.
"Algolagnia" was my first full dose of your material and has definitely become a favourite out of my collection. Despite a harsh, scathing delivery there is a subtlety to it which hooks in pretty deep I find, layers still left to peel away even after multiple spins. How did you approach creating this release - was it a unified plan where you had an overall outline and then filled it in or is it more of a case where bits and pieces just spilled out of you and once you had enough you pushed them together as a release?
I had a specific idea when I started recording material for this release. I always create many sounds first and then slowly put them together to create a track. I usually work with some sort of out line for the tracks and then continue to build the layers from there.
With Control I hear a lot of layering in the music, ebb and flow and a lot of focus spent on the frequency layout so that different elements can move in and out of the foreground smoothly. How do you actually go about the creation process - are you PC based mainly? How long does the average track take to create? Do you have an actual jam space or is this all done within a bedroom studio type situation trying not to piss off the neighbours? Do you have set lyrics or are they improvised on the spot? How much of a role does sampling play in what you do?
I only use my PC for recording and some mastering.
I don't have an average on how long it takes me to create a track. Like I said earlier, I create all of the sounds first and then put it all together. A track could take a few days to a few months to complete.
My studio is one of the rooms in my house.
I usually have set lyrics. There have been some earlier recordings where I had an idea and just went with it but I don't tend to that path often.
I use a sampler to loop sounds but I don't really sample movies if that's what you're referring to.
I definitely hear a specific Control "sound" in the releases I own - in fact I often use it as a reference point. Is this something that you strive for (i.e., would you reject material if it doesn't sound Control enough) or is it just fallout from the fact it is the same guy behind the controls?
I just do what sounds good to me. I guess that would be this "Control" sound. If a track isn't coming together like I want, I will trash it.
Sonically, how important a role does the mastering process play for you? The right plugin chain (say some EQ, modelled tube compression plus a very tight Yamaha style "white room" reverb) can definitely take a track that's small and anaemic and turn it into an erection inducing bass heavy gut punch and I definitely hear a lot of serious post production going in contemporary power electronics and death industrial (no doubt partially due to your own commercial mastering activities from the client list on your website). With your own material is the mastering stage where a lot what defines the Control sound instantiates itself or is most of the "dark art" happening long before your stuff sees a WAV editor? Do you see the mastering stage as being part and parcel of the creative process or just a minor technical issue necessary for the medium?
When I master my material I only use tools to make the sound louder. Nothing else. All the sounds are created using my gear. The wav editor is used just for maximizing the volume. Don't get me wrong mastering is an important part but I don't rely on it to help make my music come to life
Some material I have been sent really shines once it's mastered.. I feel most releases should atleast be looked at through a spectrum analyzer to see what can be done to the overall sound.
Out of your own releases do you have a favourite? Anything that you wish you had a chance to do over? Do you feel that you have met your own goals so far or are there any notches you are still trying to get onto your belt either recording or performance wise? Any plans on branching into video?
I would think every release means something to me. My favorites are "The Means To An End" and "Natural Selection".
I wouldn't choose to do anything over. I would keep each release exactly as they are. Sure I wish the first CD would have been better but I think if you have each CD you can see the maturity and progression of each release.
There's always room for improvement. I have some ideas for future releases and different ideas to use when creating sounds / recording. We'll see how they pan out.
As far as video goes I have always wanted to do some video again when I perform. I still have to find what I feel would be fitting to complement a Control performance.
With respect to the industrial / PE scene do you consider yourself a fan as well as a participant and if so, which comes first for you? What got you into PE electronics initially - was it as slow slide downwards or was it a brickwall head on in your case?
I'm definitely a fan as well as a participant . I'm always working on material so being a participant comes first. I'm always interested in hearing new / established projects new material. I purchase so many noise release. It is the main type of music I listen to.
I had listened to noise for many years before I started Control. Many projects from the late 70's to the 80's. Early noise / experimental. I was always searching more and more for extreme music. The harsher the better. So I would say it was a long progression from early noise / experimental to full blown harsh noise.
At the time "Algolagnia" was initially released Freak Animal seems to have been even further underground than they are even at this point in time (money order / cash only for mail order for example). How did you end up hooking up with the label for this release - did you find them or did they find you?
I contacted Mikko (Freak Animal) to see if he would be interested in releasing something by me. He said he would like to hear my material so when I had something ready I sent it to him. He agreed to release it as a CD pressed at 500 copies. A first for this label. I was very pleased to hear this and I'm very proud of that release.
You recently had some new material released by Eibon in Italy (good on 'em for that) which brings the release count up to 7 full lengths if I am counting properly. Did Eibon approach you? What differentiates this release from the others before it? Is it harder to create new material now or is a bit like riding the proverbial bike, where you can just plug in and out caustic sound flows?
Mauro head of Eibon Records contacted me to release something on his label. That release was Natural Selection. Sometime passed and when I had most of "The Means" release ready I asked Mauro if he wanted it and he agreed. There are only six Control CDs.
I hope with this release you can hear some new elements in the music. I don't find it easy or hard to create new material. I find it more of a challenge to create new Control material added with something you may not always have expected. Control songs with a little something extra.
One related issue that comes to mind with most power electronics is the relationship between the subject matter, the audience and the person behind the mic. Like other acts in the scene Control spends a lot of time bruising its knuckles on themes of misogeny, murder, hate, etc. and to the casual observer it is very likely not at all obvious what the intent is. For example, with "Algolagnia" the argument could be made that you are offering a blueprint for personal behaviour anywhere along the line from spousal abuse to rape, torture and murder. On the other extreme there is the sentiment that this is all just another form of entertainment and since we are adults (most of us anyway), anything goes and fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. Humans love their spectacles and all that. Despite dealing with similar topics, personally I find PE is a far less "cartoony" than say death metal and so the line between fantasy and unsavoury news headlines is not always so clearly defined.
So first of all, do you feel any responsibility at all for how others interperate your own material?
I don't know about being responsible for others interpretation but I deal with certain issues / themes for a reason. People can interpret my music any way they want. I would hope they get what I'm trying to say.
Do you feel that art in general has any obligations to anyone outside the person creating it?
I think the art used should be used as another medium to help with the goals and issues the music is referring to. To help push the release in the right direction.
Do you find that Control (and power electronics in general) is an emergency valve of sorts, has no effect or does it just further reinforce misanthropic tendencies - a reflection as opposed to a vehicle for movement?
For me it's a release. I need to do this. It helps me maintain. Almost keeps me balanced and somewhat stable. I need the release. A place to spew my hate. If not I would probably snap.
Is it possible for art, especially more violent forms to be apolitical? Do you consider Control to be at all political?
I'm sure you can create art that's violent as well as political. Control hasn't done anything political yet but there's something in the works. Just wait.
Personally I find Control a less clearcut that say something like Slogun or Deathpile, not ambiguous exactly just a tad more internalized. The fact that the vocals work often as texture and that there is less obvious ranting going on switches the focus from the actual oration to the listener's attempt to discern it (for me anyway). Is it intentional on your part to move some of the focus to the listener, placing them in the center instead of yourself or is that just my own offbase interpretation of what is going on?
It's intentional. My vocal style changes from time to time but mainly it's more of a texture. I like to mix it up. The vocals are very important to me. That's why on the "Means" release some selected lyrics were printed.
Has "Control" had an effect on your own behaviour and outlook at all - i.e. has delving into the mythos as needed be able to create started to influence your own outlook or are you able to keep that totally separate from Thomas Garrison the individual?
Control and Thomas Garrison are one in the same.
Is there a line that you would consider as going to far with respect to subject matter? Have you ever been offended or angered by a release or is it anything goes for you?I think all subject matter is open to dissect and explore. Personally I don't mess with kid / KP themes but I don't get offended when they're explored. Pretty much anything goes.
The PE scene seems to mirror in a lot of ways the extreme metal scene with many of its fans focussing very intently on it and it alone to the exclusion of everything else. Is your own music collection nothing but Grunt and Con-Dom releases or do your tastes range widely? If so, what are some unexpected (perhaps guilty) pleasures that one might come across in Thomas' CD collection? What outside influences (if any) do you try to pull back into your own musical activities?
Looking at my record collection is mainly all noise. Different styles of noise but noise nun the less. I also have some black and doom metal in my collection.
When you are working on new material, do you have a specific theme or plot in mind or is that something that gets assigned to it afterwards?
Before I start a new recording I tend to come up with some sort of theme for it. Not always but usually. I feel that way I can start to think about vocals during these recording sessions. Atleast having some ideas for each track. So once the music is complete I have lyrics or atleast an outline of what that track is about.
Do you see any humour in your work (black or otherwise) or is that something that doesn't ever enter the picture?
Back in October of 2004 together with Slogun, Sickness and SKM-ETR you headed over to Europe for a short run across the continent flying under the "Break Your Face" banner. How did that tour come about exactly? How did you find the audiences over there compared to the US ones you are used to (turnouts, reactions, merch sales, etc.)? Had you been to Europe before? From the events you took part in did you feel there were any notable differences between the scenes or were things pretty much the same as home, just with different accents (and better beer, heh)? Did you folks get along while on the road or were their any fisticuffs along the way?
I have done a few tours with Slogun and Sickness before this one. Actually all three projects are close friends of mine. We decided to perform in certain countries depending on what promoters were interested and where they wanted us to play. From there we plan what places we want to do when. We have some interests in performing in different countries but we can't tour all of the time. We have jobs to go back to. We try to set up tours as often as we can.
Each audience was different. All were appreciated but the reactions were different. Some were mellow and reserved while others were enthusiastic and energetic. I believe the smallest turn out was in the 40s. Merch sales were OK. Nothing crazy. Selling a few releases at each show.
I feel the scenes there are different then here. A lot of people were really into the shows. Like I said some were reserved but atleast people came up and said what they thought of the performance. Not that Americans don't but I felt like people were there to see what we were doing and totally into it.
Sorry but there weren't any fights within the groups. We got along the whole time. The only fight was in Latvia and that was with locals a few days before the show.
This wasn't my first show in Europe. I played Amsterdam with Painslut and Sektion B the July before then. That was great time as well.
When you see pictures of PE only events (the L. White Consumer Electronics gigs in Germany for example) it is almost inevitably a sea of bald skinny white guys wearing black. Does the apparent lack of gender and cultural diversity (at live events at least) bother you at all or is that an irrelevant non-issue in your opinion? Do you feel that this scene is overly insular or is it just a case of a certain mindset being attracted to this sort of art?
This isn't an issue with me. I honestly don't care what type of person / gender shows up, as long as they aren't there to just be seen. There were many females at the show in Latvia. You would have been surprised.
How important is live performance to you? Is the typical Control live set based around your recorded output or do you custom create sets for a given event? How much of it is improvisation versus set structure?
Live performance is very important to me. I like to perform actual tracks if that's what your asking. I like to have some plan of attack before a performance. Sound wise, there is both structure and improved things going at the same time with vocals.
What in your opinion defines "performance"? How do you feel about aggression and danger in performance - for example, if you were at a Rosemary Malign and the Eugenics Council gig and got hit by a shard of flying metal would you consider that fair game or is that out of line in your opinion?
A performance to me is any sort of live show. I understand that some projects can't pull off a performance without backing tracks and I'm OK with that. It's not like you can bring your whole studio with you.
I'm fine with aggression / danger in a performance. I don't go out of my way to start a fight at a show but aggression is definitely present. If someone gets hit or hurt at a noise show it's fair game. You should know what you're getting yourself into.
Musically you have at least a couple of things going, Control of course but then you also have Exsanguinate. How do you choose what gets slotted where? Control has the larger discography at this point so does that reflect your interest level between the two projects?
Control is my main interest. I work on exsanguinate material only once my Control recording obligations are met.
Exsanguinate for one doesn't have vocals and is less extreme sounding. Sometime there are more dark and melodic sounds going on to create the soundscape. Exsanguinate themes are mainly dealing with torture throughout the ages.
There are obviously a number of Control fans out there (besides myself of course) otherwise its doubtful that your discography would have climbed up to where it's at currently. Do you get much feedback from those into your music and have you been surprised at all by their reactions? Do you have a picture of your average fan and if so, can describe it?
I get some feedback about my music. I like to hear what people think. Some people tell me how blown away they are about a release or a sound and it means a lot to me. It's good to know people appreciate my music.
Sorry to say but I don't have a picture of my average fan.
Anything else you would like to add, pimp, demand, complain about?
First off I would like to thank you for taking the interest in me and my music. I appreciate it.
For more information about my projects and my label Misanthrope Studio please look up http://www.crionicmind.org/misanthrope/ There are plans for some new release and new T-shirts soon. Instead of just having a release coming out from time to time I have decided to push the label harder and have releases on more of a schedule. This also includes have more real CD releases as well. If any one is interested in having a release on Misanthrope Studio please contact me.
I would like to add if any promoter is interested in setting up a Control, Slogun, Sickness and Skm-etr performance please contact me at email@example.com