Aryans are Assholes: An interview with Alivia Zivich and Nate Young
Having hit the 33rd release point of the label’s existence, it seems like a good point to find out what ticks behind the doors of Michigan’s Aryan Asshole Records. Ran by AV artist Alivia Zivich and Wolf Eyes member Nate Young, the duo specialize in hand-cut lathes, audio-visual oddities, homemade-art and cassettes. Over several emails, I got to grips with the science of how a lathe is made, the unsettling effect of Emmanuelle and testosterone in noise.
Scott McKeating: Let’s start at the beginning. How and when did AA start?
Nate Young: I guess AA started officially late 2005 when Alivia and I started living together. I have been cutting records since the late ’90s, I started on an old Dictaphone machine using plastic lids and CDs as my main materials; sometimes having to spin the disk by hand to get the damn things to cut. I have always had an urge to scratch sound into plastic. Ever since I realized I could do it at home I have had trouble sleeping. Keep an eye out for early, crude lathes like Gnuoy Etan’s "The Family Bear”, Trailer Talk, Isis and WereWolves and Mini-Systems.
SM: What was your first experience with a lathe? Where did you hear about it?
NY: I have always been interested in records and how they work. When I was a freshman in high school I remember taking old records and melting them on a fire pit in my back yard with Twig Harper [of Nautical Almanac]. We sealed them up in sleeves and took the melted records to Borders books and Music, they took them on consignment; we sold 10 of them. I also remember taking 78 rpm records and breaking them in half and gluing them back together, years later Borders would put both in their window display. Soon after that we found a record cutter in a thrift store.
SM: Can you give me an idea as to what's technically involved in lathe cutting? I know the basics, but don’t really get it.
NY: A lot of people are unclear on the technical side of cutting records. Basically you find a material that can be cut into…plastic lids, CDs, plastic plates, whatever. We use acrylic. The lathe amplifier sends your input audio signal (your song) and produces vibrations on the needle of the lathe. The needle vibrates as the record spins, you place the needle on the record while it is spinning and the cutting process starts. Chip, or thread, is the substance that comes off the record while being cut and you need to make sure the chip stays out of your way. There is a direct relationship between time and sound level on a lathe record. Since the cutting area of any one size lathe remains the same, the space between the grooves decreases as cutting time increases. Sound modulates and there is less room for modulation as program time increases on the lathe. The reducing of the cutting level is necessary as cutting time increases, there is a lot more detailed info involved with cutting, like needle depth, cutter head angle, sound input mastering, etc... There is a forum dedicated to it at lathetrolls.phpbbweb.com/lathetrolls-forum-1.html
SM: How many plays can you get from a good lathe?
NY: I don't know, depends if you're taking good care of it. Jackie from Smegma has been using a lathe I gave her in her performances for about 2 years now.
SM: Anyone out there you'd love to have on a lathe, but isn't that likely?
NY: There are endless people we'd like to collaborate with and we think most are likely. The only limitation could be if the person is dead! And that wouldn't really stop us; we might put out Jimi Hendrix's “Star Spangled Banner.” We'd love to do an Alice Cooper lathe but heard he died recently... (eds. note: Alice Cooper is not dead.)
SM: Can we ever expect to find the AA lathes up on iTunes?
NY: They aren't yet? We do have some downloads on our website, www.wolfeyes.net/aaindex.html.
SM: What does an artist have to do to be AA eligible?
NY: We allow any bands to send demos. Mostly we have targeted our releases to our personal lives, meaning friends and close relations got released first. Now that almost everyone we know in Michigan has done an AA lathe we are being broader in our choices. For instance the Christina Kubisch lathe. I met her at a festival in Sweden and was immediately blown away by her sound work. The electromagnetic induction headphones used in her work are a very limited edition release in a sense. They amplify any electrical device or transformer in range of the headphones making a unique personal composition for each person. This relates to our Lathe cutting process in the sense that every lathe cut is unique and every playing of the record will give you a new performance via the aging process of the record. I guess what makes a truly eligible AA band is the collaboration between the band and us by either being extensions of similar ideas or simply choosing appropriate artwork for the band.
SM: There always appears to be a highly personalized design aesthetic with each AA release. For example, the style of the two Demons tapes reminds me of old horror comic stuff. Is that a big influence on the AA artwork?
Alivia Zivich: Nate and I both read a lot of comic books growing up and still have an interest in checking out old ones. I like rediscovering stuff that was above my head as a kid, like the Alan Moore era Swamp Thing and erotic graphic novels by Crepax. I wouldn't say anything is the biggest influence, though. Art and being an artist in general is my biggest influence. I always look at how the image will fit into the overall body of work. We hope each release will be an object that someone will be happy to own, something they'll hold on to and feel a part of something by owning it. That is the nature of the collector and it's our interest as artists to maintain that relationship. However, we differ from a traditional artist/collector relationship because we're also illustrating sounds and attempting to satisfy the musicians with whom we're collaborating. We want the object to become a part of their body of work, too.
SM: Can you give an example on the thought process of how you’ve illustrated the sounds on a recent release?
AZ: Well, let's take the Prurient lathe. We had decided to make the lathe itself black by painting one side, because of that it needed to be put in a sleeve so as to not stick to the 7" bag. So I thought let's put it in brown paper, like the way a porn mag comes in the mail, y'know, haha, ‘prurient matter’. Then as I was assembling this I saw how reflective the surface of the lathe is and it reminded me of Gerhard Richter's mirror paintings which are just glass painted grey on the back, they're highly reflective. So it was obvious I could print text on the inside of the brown paper sleeve in reverse. As the lathe is being removed from the sleeve the reversed text appears legibly on the lathe, I felt this effect echoed the title of the track, "Memory Repeating", as it was somewhat phenomenological. I also put an image from Hans Bellmer in there (an undulating brick wall/blob) as a representation of ideas expressed in the track - memory as this wall of floating, malleable bricks that can come crashing down unexpectedly. I was also drawing an analogy between Bellmer's and Dominick Fernow's work.
SM: Can I ask what the hell that is on the Damion Romero lathe cover?
AZ: Ha-ha, it's a detail from a Jeff Koons painting. Hopefully we're too small and he's been in litigation too much to care.
SM: Have you read Alan Moore's Lost Girls yet and did you read his porn piece in the latest Arthur magazine? What's your take?
AZ: I haven't read either but will check them out, that porn piece sounds particularly intriguing. Arthur is hard to find in Detroit. I just won some of Milo Manara's early work off eBay, very excited to check it out. I also like Guido Crepax, his drawing is so odd it might be better than Manara's even style. Also, we're got a small collection of 70s-80s amateur bondage magazines. There are two types: those that maintain an illusion of unwillingness on the woman's part and those that celebrate the act of submission in love, by both men and women. I like them both, the hard and soft fantasies.
SM: Talking of men and women, the Noise scene (as it is) is often portrayed as a little testosterone fuelled and not especially good at accommodating ladies. Does this at all relate to your reality?
AZ: If by "testosterone fuelled" you mean driven by an energy identified as masculine, I don't see masculinity as something men have a sole claim on. There are aspects of the noise scene that are testosterone fuelled and women take part as well. Additionally, those aspects are only one facet of the genre. Most women that I meet in this community do not subscribe to stereotypical roles and neither do most men. There are some dudes at noise shows that could be labeled as feminine. Problems that do arise are based in ignorance, a common issue in a society barely one generation out of institutionalized discrimination. This is a scene where work about all types of thought is happening and it stems from post-modernism and post-structuralism, neither of which could exist without feminism.
And yet the noise scene is often portrayed as you said, and perhaps that focus is unjustified.
As for my reality, the whole world is a very sexist and unfair place and I'd rather point the finger towards Wal-Mart than this generally open-minded community. Modeling is the only job a woman can have in which she'll be paid more than her male counterpart. I believe only Sweden has more women than men in historically male roles and a system for maintaining this equality, but women everywhere will continue to take part in acts that concern an aggression perceived as masculine. I mean, there aren't many female suicide bombers, but there are some.
SM: What is that movie that is playing under both parts of your audio-visual experiments Video Madness DVD? I was really enjoying the visuals and felt a bit bummed out / yanked into reality by what looked like the precursor to sinister foreplay.
AZ: We used a compilation tape of Emmanuelle movies as stock footage for a while. In Video Madness you can catch distorted glimpses of that kind of movie and when you fill in the blanks yourself it can be many things, disturbing being one of those things; a bit of mind manipulation through visuals.
SM: Why Emmanuelle?
AZ: Why not? Like I said, you can catch glimpses of provocative material and your mind fills in the rest, to your personal taste. Have you seen Emmanuelle in America? That is a very fucked up film, it will fuck you up.
SM: So how did you create the rest of the Video Madness visuals?
AZ: Well, I definitely did it with Nate's help. I had these ideas of analogue video intervention after seeing the Visual Music exhibition in LA. I wanted to create visuals that were geometrically abstract, an abstract painting that you could watch for awhile, with hints of the figurative. I also saw how this related to the kind of music Nate was making, the process informing the end result. So based on our discussions Nate cranked out an analogue video intervention machine and I researched video feedback.
SM: What is an analog video intervention machine?
NY: A machine that makes random colors and shapes. I made it out of an old video game console.
AZ: We made a set-up based on these two things and I "played" it. The first Video Madness piece is unedited, a live 15 minute piece. Then for each subsequent video the process has evolved, we've never used the same set-up twice, never used the analogue video intervention machine again. This wasn't intentional except for that each time we set up we find a way to take an element and expand on it, just to keep it interesting for ourselves.
SM: In general, how do you compose visuals for improvised performances? Are there ideas stored in your head that you want to use or is it all off-the-head.
AZ: I don't think there is much composition to it. It's like any improvisation, reactionary to live conditions but also working from a set of pre-defined conditions or, as you put it, ideas stored in the head.
SM: Is it AA now or still Aryan Asshole? I saw on your DVD you'd had some unwanted 'racist interest'
NY: AA is always first or near the top. Aryan Asshole is definitely more entertaining and harder to forget. We are somewhere between the two names, i.e. Always near the top and definitely hard to forget. We do not respond to racist interest emails anymore. We got a lot of spam from the last time we did.
SM: Nate, can I touch on Wolf Eyes briefly, am i right in thinking you are the main lyric writer in Wolf Eyes? Where do the images/ideas come from?
NY: I do most of the writing with Wolf Eyes. The lyrics are intrinsic to the music. They have to be, they are usually loud, distorted and harsh. Like the music, the listener may have a hard time understanding them. The ideas for lyrics like Human Animal are exactly what you would think, animal. The lyrics change with the environment we perform in. They have a life of their own. Sometimes the lyrics are nothing, just me screaming and breathing heavily into the mic.
SM: How does music you’ve released as Hatred differ from work you've done as 'Nate Young'? Is there a set style or area of sound you have in mind for Hatred?
NY: The Hatred work is a lot more thought out than my other work. I spend hours mixing and editing the Hatred material. It has a more composed nature to it and it also gives me an outlet for ideas that will otherwise be lost. The word Hatred demands a sort of aggressive style. The name also helps present less aggressive music in a primarily dismal light. This is interesting to me.
SM: What records are you both enjoying at the moment?
AZ: Denis Tyfus's Hatred release we're really enjoying as just an overall great package, it's cool to be a part of this series of 6-panel fold out covers. The Wierd Records compilation boxset, Seeselberg, Virgin Insanity, Blind Willie McTell, Hairy Chapter, Laghoria, Getz and Gilberto, Gassman and Sala. Also new rap on the radio like “Walk It Out” by DJ Unk and the new Jay-Z.
SM: Will there be an AA compilation Volume 2?
NY: We have some ideas about this but nothing concrete, stay tuned.
SM: And a quick last question, I'd love to hear Demons doing a cover of the whole of
The Cure's Pornography LP. What are the chances?
NY: Not too good.
By Scott McKeating