With a hand in the industrial scene since the early 1990s, Out Out may be a band that more people need to discover. The project led by solo producer Mark Alen Miller was signed to industrial/hip-hop group Tackhead's record label Axis, had a tour on Metropolis Records, and put out releases on his very own record label Radio Valkyrie Records. Now signed to Artoffact Records for his latest record Swan/Dive?, we chatted with Mark about the new record, the local scene in the Massachusetts area, and much more! Be sure to stream the new album as you read through this enlightening piece.
So, you have been on a couple of record labels throughout the years, and most recently you have signed to Artoffact Records. However, you do have your own record label as well, Radio Valkyrie Records. Why did you decide to team up with Artoffact to release Swan/Dive? Instead of just sticking to your own label?
Mark: I was going to self-release Swan/Dive? on Radio Valkyrie, and was looking into raising the funds to press it on vinyl. It's been since 1992 since I've had any of my work on vinyl, and I love the format. The physicality, the size of the art, and the sound (imperfect yet inviting, when mastered and cut properly) is hard to beat. That it encourages more active listening, and listening in suquence. A properly mastered CD is, of course, a mirror of the artist's intentions, but vinyl has its charm. With the growth of interest in vinyl releases over the recent years, it seemed like a good time to try and embrace the format again.
I reached out to Storming The Base to see if, in the case of doing a crowdfunding campaign for Radio Valkyrie to put it out, they would be willing to distribute the release. Longish story short, they thought it a good idea to release it on their own label. I cannot properly express how happy I am to be working with them. They're completely on top of their game, and know how to really run a label of their size and focus.
You are based in Western Massachusetts. While I've never been out there myself, I always like knowing about the scene in the area. How is the goth/industrial scene in that part of the USA? Are there any bands in the area we should keep an eye out for?
Mark: Western MA is a fantastic music area. Tons of guitar/indie rock, singer-songwriters, noise bands, some hip hop, soul and funk. Metal and hard rock. Jazz. Afrobeat and reggae. All over the map. There hasn't been much in the way of electronic/goth/industrial, however, in this part of the state. Out in Eastern MA, there is quite a scene, as well as in Providence, Baltimore, Albany... Strictly locally speaking, the gentleman who is playing synths and bass in the new live incarnation of Out Out, Adam Michael Kozak, has his excellent project Tundra Toddler. (I should also mention that the other players in the live band now are all accomplished musicians from the area - J.J. O'Connell on drums, who has played with countless bands on hundreds of albums, Anand Nayak who is not only a very busy guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, is also an accomplished producer and recording engineer, and Mark Schwaber, also on guitar, has recorded many albums himself and been in many bands including the Lloyd Cole Small Ensemble. All three of these folks also played some stuff on Swan/Dive?.)
Around here is also Home Body, a danceable female-fronted electronic duo. The area used to be host to the now sadly defunct Collapse Into Reason. Recently, I was honored to master the new Jeff and Jane Hudson album The Middle, and they've been based in Williamstown for quite some time. I've also had the pleasure to do a lot of work with Circus of Dead Squirrels and Doomsday Virus, who are Connecticut and Albany, NY based, respectively. My partner in the studio Justin Pizzoferrato has been doing some really interesting electronic-based work with Violet Clark (married to Frank Black of Pixies) recently... Inevitably, I'm sadly leaving people out, I'm sure.
You have kept Out Out going since the early 1990s. With so much music released and so much put out over the years, what keeps you making music? Has there ever been a time in your career where you didn't have the desire the keep going and wanted to quit?
Mark: Making music has been pretty much the focus of my entire adult life. More hours by far than not, have been as a recording engineer/producer/mastering engineer, in my old studio Slaughterhouse, and in the current studio I run with Justin here in Easthampton called Sonelab. Every artist, pretty much, regardless of style, that I work with is inspiration, as I get to share in their passion for their work. I did take a bit of a break from 1998-2003 from Out Out, but started a lot of work with Collapse Into Reason and Circus of Dead Squirrels at that time, and felt like a 4th/5th/6th/3rd member of those bands in doing so. And I did many remixes for bands over the majority of the 2000s. That satisfied quite a creative niche. After releasing the 2004 compilation Hasten the Burning... I decided perhaps I should finish up and release a couple of experimental records that I had been pecking away at for years (Virtual Sound Images and Assumed Outrivaling.) The Breathing Again EP came out of that period as well.
I started writing material that somewhat was the starting point for Swan/Dive? in 2008 or 2009, but progress was slow due to life changes and the need to look for a new space to build a new studio, and the resulting time it took constructing it and getting it off the ground. A couple years back I really started settling into writing again. Working on the Asteroid 99 soundtrack in 2015 - going again out of the usual Out Out "sound" - also opened up doors and re-focused my writing and programming chops. I completed Swan/Dive? shortly thereafter, and have three experimental albums also completed since. As far as wanting to actually quit? No. But sometimes other aspects of life have taken priority in one way or another.
Throughout all the material that you have ever released, do you have a favorite song be it for its emotional attachment or musical perfection? Or even a favorite record you've made?
Mark: Let's pick a favorite child! Ha-ha. Sure, actually. I remember being really satisfied with the song 'The Attic', as it's one of the few times where all the sounds in my head seemed to make it to tape. I think 'Finched' holds up as a kind-of "concept record". Voiceprint, while probably the most stylistically diverse record, still feels like there's not an ounce of fat on it. Given enough time, I think I'll understand Swan/Dive? better, but I'm possibly too close to comment on it much. I feel 'Like William Tell' is terrifically satisfying, as the seeds of the lyrics were rattling around in my head since around 2001. 'S.Y.O.' for it's dynamics. ...and 'Everyone Wants to Be With You' for the complete left turn in to a melodic and "pretty" song. I'm happy with every track, so that's as far as I'm going to get with that, for now.
Swan/Dive? Is your comeback album since 2008's Assumed Outrivaling was released. What took you so long to put out a new album? Were you dormant for any period of time between 2008 and now? Or did life get in the way?
Mark: As I mentioned, there were some life changes during this period. It wasn't complete dormancy, but definitely a time of focus on other things. The desire to create never fully went away, but it had to be tempered for a while.
And now that you're back with Swan/Dive?, where do you rank the album among your discography? Do you think it's the most mature piece of music you've ever put out? Do you think it's the piece de resistance of your discography?
Mark: I don't think that's for me to decide. I'm very happy with it, very satisfied to see it out there in the world. I think it does represent some of the best of my ability for the time period in which it was created, but I'm too close to it, or any of my works, really, to truly be the judge of that. I certainly hope people receive it well, and wouldn't feel like my other works were snubbed in any way if they thought it was the best I've done so far. But if they don't, that's OK too.
How has Out Out's sound matured from the beginning of the project's life to now? Did Out Out have phases of inspiration that came and went where one genre dominated more than the other? And how has all your previous experience shaped Swan/Dive?
Mark: I think it absolutely matured due to everything around me, every step of the way. When I was recording and writing 'Pepperbox Muzzle', I had very little experience working with other bands in the studio as an engineer. By the time I was working on 'Finched', I was working part time or more in a couple of studios in my area. By the time the next two records were done, recording bands full-time was my living. Each step of the way, the artists I was working with, regardless of genre, and the records I was listening to must have been an influence. Some of the 2000s-era records were borne out of feeling like I may have tapped the lyrical well a little dry for the time being, and were likely influenced by working on a video game (sadly, never released) soundtrack and from some of the very interesting electronica that was coming out of the late 90s and early 2000s that weren't in the "industrial" camp at all, but shared some of the harder sounds my ear is often drawn to. Swan/Dive?, a somewhat conscious decision to go back to the more "rock" format of the 90s Out Out styles, is an unabashed personal celebration of the kinds of songs and sounds that got me into doing Out Out in the first place.
What was the inspiration behind Swan/Dive? I read that it is politically/socially charged, but what are you attempting to challenge with Swan/Dive?
Mark: There is no governing theme to the record. I wrote songs and recorded them until I felt I had a cohesive album in front of me. That means, some tracks didn't make the cut and likely were also never completed. I played around with song order and the number of tracks as well all through the process - driving around with CDs of unfinished songs up against finished ones in various orders and combinations. Eventually, it fell together where I had the "aha!" moment - that it felt not just like a collection of songs, but listened to as an album, had a flow. A start, a middle, and end. More specifically, as I was thinking of the LP format all along, it has a Side I and Side II start, middle and end. Lyrically, each song says what it says. Some are pretty obvious in their intent, others not so much - even to the point where one or two I couldn't actually tell you what they're specifically about. And frankly, I don't think I want to - I like that things can be open to interpretation. I love that, to this day, I don't know what Admire the Question is actually about, but that so many people have told me what it means to them, and that's a thrill. What it means to them is far more important than anything I could have come up with anyway.
And what's next for Out Out? Do you think you'll be in the studio cooking up another album or are you going to take another break with the project?
Mark: Well, there are the three afore-mentioned experimental albums. One is a long-form drone piece in five movements (mixed in stereo and 5.1 surround, if I can find a decent way to issue it in surround) and another is a glitchy kind of thing. The third is actually more-or-less a danceable record - with vocals - that was made out of the glitchy record and stands as a completely separate album. Or maybe they should be a double album. I'm not sure. I've also been toying with recording favorite songs from the 80s - go easy on me here - for a potential covers record. We'll see. No promises. And we hope to do an occasional live show now and then. Probably mostly in the northeast, as travel and lodging and all that goes with "going on the road" is quite costly.
Lastly, I wish you the best of luck with Swan/Dive? And I look forward to listening to it myself. The space belows is yours to say any final words! Cheers!
Mark: Thank you so much for having me. I hope that you and everyone who hears it gets something good out of it. If even one person digs it, it's already gravy. Thanks again!
Out Out's Swan/Dive? is available for purchase HERE in CD and vinyl editions!
Members of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and Blue Eyed Christ Form to Make Trash Deity;
I've been writing for Brutal Resonance since November of 2012 and now serve as the editor-in-chief. I love the dark electronic underground and usually have too much to listen to at once but I love it. I am also an editor at Aggressive Deprivation, a digital/physical magazine since March of 2016. I support the scene as much as I can from my humble laptop.
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