Guest writer Evan South recently was able to speak with Nero Bellum of Psyclon Nine. While P9's last release was out in November 2013, Bellum has been hard at work creating his latest work due out sometime this year. Read on to discover everything Evan discussed with Bellum. There's a lot to read, so sit tight, blast some Psyclon Nine, and discover what Bellum has been up to:
What is it like when you do a power mini-tour like this versus a full blown 30 date tour in 30 something days?
Nero: The fact of the matter is, you approach it in the same manner. At the end of the day you’re preparing to play shows. You have rehearsals; you’re flying band members in from out of state. For a theatrical band like us you get costuming ready, coordinate everything. Actually, it’s easier with more shows because of the amount of prep. It adds to the overhead of everything. It’s why you don’t see us doing one-off shows. “Hey, we’re just going to play this weekend.” We have to fly everybody out and coordinate all this shit. Unless it’s a big festival. I prefer to stay out for sixty days. I want to hit every little and big city, I enjoy it. Something like this (tour) is cool. Because Metropolis was going to reissue Divine Infekt this month we decided it would be a good time to do a retrospective like we’re doing tonight. And we’re going to do it in May as well on the East coast, haven’t announced it yet, just finalizing things. But it’s going to be short and sweet. A week here, a week there. The reason we’re not doing more is because of the upcoming new album. We’ll be dropping the new album this summer, and that’s when the real tours are going to start. And that’s where you’ll see the current incarnation of the band. You’ll see the guitars again. Love them or hate them.
Psyclon Nine came into a time when Napster had already hit and the music industry was in a black hole. Tell me about being a lot more DIY.
Nero: I wasn’t raised in a generation in which I was thinking about Napster when starting a band. Napster was something that came up after I was already doing music. I didn’t think I was going to sign with some major label and making millions of dollars. That was never in my sight. Sure, if someone wanted to drop a million dollars on me I’d be really happy, but that’s neither here nor there. That did change things. You have to be a lot more creative. We were just on the precipice of that. I think we were one of those bands that had to figure it out as we stumbled along. Now you can just jump on YouTube and there’s fucking tons of personalities telling you how to do it. “Oh, you’re thinking of starting a band, don’t even go to a label, use DistroKid. It’s ten bucks a year, and you get to keep all your royalties. They’ll handle any covers, licensing fees, blah blah blah, this and that." You can get your own publishing. Pick and choose this person or that person to handle different elements of the machine, to handle your brand. And you can do it yourself. It’s never been easier. Like Metallica, they’re not on a label anymore. They put out a record on their own label. NIN did that too. And they have success stories. But here’s the thing. They had labels for many years pushing them. And they still have that momentum. How far are you going to get if you don’t really know what you’re doing and you’re just jumping into this whole DIY structure? The thing is, the only way you’re going to make money is not on CD sales, it’s going to be on face to face, you know, t shirts, autographed albums and the shows. You just have to be a little more creative.
Do you see yourself getting to that point where you will not have that middleman of a label?
Nero: Could we do it without a label? Sure. At the same time, if you’re fortunate enough to have a label that allows you complete and utter artistic freedom, and who will actually front money for producing an expensive album and help you get on tours then it can be worth it. A lot of people don’t understand how much money it takes to produce an album. Yeah, you can produce at home, but if you want something that sounds like a real album, especially if you’re just staring out, I’m not, but you want to find outside producers, go to a studio, get some time in, sometimes that can take five months. We’ve had twenty-thousand dollar studio sessions, and not everyone has that just laying around that they can front and then recoup later on CD sales. They’re not running ten-thousand copies of an album knowing that they’re going to recoup later, and having someone that can bankroll that. That’s really the labels job now. It’s basically a bank. “Ok we know your band, we work with you, this is how many records you sell, so we know that you’re good for it, so here’s all this money, we’re going to put out your CD, and we’ll split the profits on that." Sure the label gets a lot more on CD sales, but again, I’m not thinking that I’m going to buy my house on CD sales from Psyclon Nine.
Tell me about your relationship with Gary Zon of Dismantled over the years.
Nero: It’s funny, if you were here (on the tour) last night he actually drove out from LA to see us in Vegas and we hung out a little bit. Gary and I met I want to say in 2003? Maybe late 2002. The first Psyclon Nine tour was also the first Dismantled tour. Through Metropolis records, even though I wasn’t on Metropolis records, my producer of Divine Infekt at the time worked very closely with Metropolis records. Our first albums were coming out around the same time. Someone spoke to someone and made a suggestion and we ended up on a short West coast tour together. I guess we became close. We were the same age, putting out albums pretty much neck to neck for a long time. There was always a Dismantled coming out around the same time as Psyclon Nine. Around the time he was doing Standard Issue and I was doing Crwn They Frnicatr he actually came and stayed with me at my house for a few weeks and we worked on each other’s projects a little bit. I suppose we just have a deep respect for each other and our projects. There are certain things I like about Gary Zon’s music that I envy. He’s an amazing songwriter. I love his lyrics, he has an alien perspective. He can look at something like a tragic news story and just turns around and he’ll tell me about something you can read in the news and when he talks about it, it just blows your mind, it’s crazy. Gary and I are just good friends. We live like two blocks from each other in downtown LA and we see each other all the time. He’s just one of my close friends. I don’t get to play guitar, or keyboards or bass in Psyclon Nine. I enjoy playing instruments. He asked if I’d like to come out on the Chaos tour. It was a little weird but I really wanted to. It’s fun. It’s fun not having to be the leader. Just get in the van and worry about playing the songs. It’s more of a respite for me more than anything else; it’s a bit of a vacation. I wouldn’t say I’m in that band; I toured with him during a time when it made sense for us. And we may work on some stuff together in the future. There’s some stuff we’ve done that you haven’t heard yet that will probably come out eventually.
It was funny, on his (Dismantled) Bandcamp he has a demo of Insecthead and the notes state it was found in his car by Nero Bellum.
Nero: He has a messy fuckin’ car! If there’s any big difference between him and I, I am meticulous, like if you come into my studio everything is placed in a certain way. I have different soft bristle paint brushes to dust off each of my synths. They have their own paint brush. I am neurotic. He on the other hand, he’s like, “I’ll pick you up.” Get ready to step on a bunch of McDonalds French fries and wrappers. But, he’s the total package. It’s funny, you can look at him and his mind, and you can look at him and his car, and be like, yep, that’s all him. And yeah, he has a ton of CDs under his fuckin’ seat. Like cracked copies of Psyclon Nine albums, just broken on the floor from stepping on them.
On a more serious note, when we were inside earlier you talked about being sober, but because of past behavior or incidents, how has it been with doors being shut on you and trying to rebuild a reputation?
Nero: I don’t feel like any doors have been shut. If there have been, I feel like they would have been shut regardless. I think a lot of people think I had a certain type of behavior and blamed it on the fact that maybe I was taking a bunch of painkillers. “Oh, he acted like an asshole.” Maybe I’m just kind of an asshole sometimes. When I was younger and hitting the road for my first time, you’re starting to get a sense of yourself and maybe that can get a little over the top. It takes a while to realize that these people that you’re working with are the people that you’re going to work with the next year and the year after and the year after. You need to develop relationships with them, and if you walk in acting like a rock star, a lot of these people don’t like that. If anything I feel like a lot of what people blame on me like being some sort of addict is more of me being a fuckin’ kid that’s excited to be on the fuckin’ road with a band. How many people get to do that? I’m just a fan growing up in a town, a little fuckin’ hick town, listening to thrash metal and industrial and I got to do something that not a lot of people get to do. Getting on the road, at first it’s really fun, and then it also gets redundant at the same time. I spoke to this earlier; there are a lot of physical repercussions of touring. You’re sleeping sometimes ten or twenty minutes a night. It’s like, OK we have to get to this hotel, we’re going to get there after the show at four in the morning, and we have to leave at seven to get to the next state. By the time you settle down and close your eyes, it’s like, “Fuck, I’m going to have to wake up in an hour.” So you can’t fall asleep because you know you’re going to have to wake up. The night before, maybe you bruised a rib on stage, in a violent stage show. You’re head banging all night. It takes an enormous physical toll. In order to combat some of the redundancy and some of the physical ailments people get up to no good. That’s another thing about being in a band. People tend to give you leeway. I don’t want to say I’m not a normal person because I am. But people see people in bands as different. And they let you get away with shit. It’s a cliché for bands to see what they can get away with. It’s something that I feel occurs naturally. I’ve seen it with everyone. Anyone that starts getting popular starts doing some fucked up shit. And I think it’s just due to the redundancy. People think that we have these luxurious lives, but you know what we see ninety percent of the time on tour are fuckin’ crops. Because we’re on butthole middle of nowhere highways driving through cornfields and that’s all we see, ever! We get to a venue; we hurry up and sound check, and then go sit in a little fuckin’ hot room somewhere for hours while we get ready. We get on a stage for an hour, we go back up to rest and change, and by the time we’re done no one’s even here anymore. Time to get to the hotel. So when we have those moments to interact with people there’s a push-pull with the audience in which you start to get up to no good and you leave a reputation around. I always said the rock and roll band is the modern day pirate. You have your ship and your crew and you land at a port and you raise all hell and as soon as your name is X’ed out of every location you fuckin’ hit the next port. I’m fine with being notorious. I’ve always felt like if I can’t get people to love me maybe I can get them to hate me. I think that’s just part of the part I play. You build a character and you are that character.
What are your thoughts on revisiting old material?
Nero: Some of the songs are fun. I think my thoughts on the first album are pretty well documented. I actually said some pretty nasty stuff about my first couple albums. I will say I look at Divine Infekt and INRI as my demos; they’re a collection of the first songs I ever wrote. I was a teenager when I started wiring Divine Infekt. I had no idea what I was doing. The lyrics were pretty much nonsense. I was telling the story last night about the song Divine Infekt. I wanted to learn to write lyrics so I took a blank piece of paper and started writing down words that sounded menacing that I would later use in sentences and I ended up just reading them right off the paper and that became the lyrics. I felt like I wrote a few good songs on each of those records but I feel like we became Psyclon Nine with Crwn Thy Frnicatr. Even if a lot of that is just all electro and maybe some of its even dancy I still feel it fits into the modern incarnation of what we are. That said, I still like playing a couple songs from Divine Infekt. We busted out 'As You Sleep' a few times over the last year or so and people have been loving hearing that live, and it brings back some memories so it’s fun.
You play and experiment with these modular synths. How did you get into them and are you looking to integrate them into Psyclon Nine?
Nero: Absolutely. Psyclon Nine was the reason I got into it all. When I started Psyclon Nine I didn’t even know you could use a computer to write music. The first two Psyclon Nine albums are done on all hardware configurations. Separate drum machines and synths all midi’ed up. I had to hit play on three different things at the same time and sequencers. When I did Divine Infekt and I was about to do the next record INRI I found that a lot of the more interesting things that I developed came about when I was learning to use a new instrument. That’s when I would come up with what I call “happy accidents”, it’s just these discoveries. When you get used to a certain instrument you know the sounds that it makes that you like and you start to lean on them. And it starts to become a thing. It starts to get repetitive. There’s also another thing about everyone likes everyone’s first album. Every bands first album had something unique to add to the zeitgeist. And I always thought that had to do with people learning their instruments. That’s where they’re experimental. Maybe they don’t know exactly what they’re doing; maybe that’s what’s exciting about it. Over the years, every time I’d do an album, I’d sell all my gear and start completely fresh with all new equipment I didn’t know how to use. Maybe getting into We The Fallen or Order of the Shadow: Act I I didn’t do that so much. I harvested all the samples I needed to use in my Kontakt, which is a software sampler. I use all my own sounds. I kind of got into a groove with that. When I decided to work on another P9 album, the one that will be coming out this summer, I decided I didn’t want to use a computer at all. I wanted to lean back on synths, I wanted to try and do something that was heavier than even the guitar stuff we’ve been doing but with synths. It’s almost like what I would have done ten years ago if I actually knew what I was doing and had a budget. I want to re-approach industrial, the experimental nature of it, the unnerving sound design and everything. A few years ago that led me down the path to find modular synths. It’s utterly customizable. The easiest way to describe a modular synthesizer is it’s the opposite of a fixed format synthesizer. You get basic oscillators, filters, envelopes, and if you have a keyboard and you’re looking at it they’re all plugged in all the time and that’s what they do. In a modular system you can plug control outputs into audio inputs, you can plug things in wrong, or just use an envelope to make sounds rather than to control something about a sound. It’s just being able to pair up multiple oscillators that no one’s ever done before. Having a customized instrument that nobody in the fuckin’ world has you’re going to get your own sound. And while I post a lot on my Instagram that’s more like a cabinet of curiosities than anything else. It’s fun for me. It’s something I do just in my spare time and maybe I’m working on Psyclon stuff, maybe I’m not, but it’s just a release for me. I wouldn’t say that the stuff I post is even necessarily that interesting it’s just fun for me. And worth recording one minute of. And maybe I didn’t record it to my DAW. At this point in time I’m just using a DAW as a tape machine. Everything on this album is hand played. Every synth. Everything. Every note. Everything’s on a fuckin’ grid these days. Everyone can open Ableton and put a four on the floor and add some bass notes and an arpeggiator. Even the arpeggiators on this album I fuckin’ play it through the whole song by hand. And that’s why it’s taken three fuckin’ years to make. I’ve written four to five hundred songs, somewhere in there. I’ve got twelve that are definitely on the record. I still want to get one more. I feel like there’s going to be one more at the end that’s missing right now, that’s why I’m dragging things out. Actually, the deadline was this month, but I’m going to come home from this tour and just fuckin’ smash it out. So it can come out this summer and we can go on tour again. But yeah, modular is definitely a huge factor in this new Psyclon Nine album. I think people associate modular with bubble noises, bleep, bloop. Don’t look at my Instagram and think that’s what the new Psyclon Nine album is. It’s fuckin’ heavy. Its fuckin’ dark, it’s really unnerving. I’m not sharing the good stuff. You’ll get that all at once. It’s going to be on the album you buy. That stuff is just for free, it’s just for fun. Maybe don’t expect modular synths on stage for the new Psyclon Nine, because they tend to be rather expensive and water, booze, and corn starch getting in everything. It’s definitely an integral part of the creation process for sure.
On your Bandcamp you have these Sample Packs. Do you get a lot of interest in these sounds?
Nero: I’ve got some clients, I’m not sure I can even share their names right now. They’re people from big bands, fuckin’ huge bands! I made a lot of connections through that, which was ridiculous! I got a lot of people asking me “Hey man, I love your kick drums, I love your snares, I love this or that, and if you ever sold a sample pack…” Why not? When I’m working on a new album, I spend days on end, I call it a sample party. When I go into the album writing process I use a lot of samplers and I don’t use other people’s samples. I feel like that’s cheating, for me personally. Not for you, maybe. And that’s fine. Where are you going to get sounds? Maybe you don’t have access to something to record your own drums; maybe you don’t have access to vintage machines. I get it, so no judgement. For me, I feel like the sound design of Psyclon Nine is what sets it apart from other bands. That’s where the interest it. Maybe it’s not the riff, maybe it’s just like “This sounds fucked, this sounds creepy and unnerving,” so I’m always pushing for that. I will spend days and days just making sounds, and cutting them up and placing them in a folder. I have something like seventeen-thousand sounds that I made for this album alone on my hard drive. And I’m not going to use them all. So I’ve been slowly building up these massive sample libraries and offering them to people and people are loving them. So it’s working. And going back to DIY and going back to CDs not really selling, that’s all across the board for everyone, and we all have to be creative. You have to have your fingers in as many pies as possible if you want to be a full time musician. Especially living in Los Angeles where you would fuckin’ flip out if I told you how much my small apartment is, its fuckin ridiculous. So be creative kids!
Another thing that sets Psyclon Nine apart is the live performance. Music is one thing, live performance is another.
Nero: Why play unless it’s a fuckin performance! You can go back years and years as maybe why I started moving away from the more traditional, not like we had a totally traditional sound, but I moved even further away from it. I was touring with a lot of my colleagues in the early Noitekk days, for example, and I kept noticing a pattern of there’s a laptop, there’s a guy, and there’s a keyboard that’s not plugged in. It was insulting. I find it insulting. How much are they paying to get into a show? Even if its 10 bucks. Dress for the occasion. A live show should be a visual representation of the sound! Your sound. What does that look like? You need to bring that when you’re on stage to the best of your ability. I understand not everyone needs to move around like a fuckin snake like Axel Rose, but you’ve got to bring energy. You have to bring your look, whatever that may be. I like Hatebreed live, and those guys are wearing t-shirts and shorts. But if you listen to their music and their message it makes sense. That’s what they are. You get into bands in our genre that have a sound that’s inhuman, well don’t be a fuckin’ human on stage, be something else.
What’s the trigger, how do you flip the switch from Marshall to Nero on the stage?
Nero: There are two sides for sure. At home I am extremely reserved. I think I’m just saving it up. I don’t go out, I’m not out clubbing and drinking, I’m just working on music. I know that I’m going to have to just destroy myself in a few months when I get on stage every night. I guess I tap into what I was thinking when I wrote some of these songs. All my songs come from a place of meaning. I take so long on lyrics. Even if some of it is like extremely metaphoric, every single line does mean something to me, something deep. I feel like as an artist, with any sort of following, you have a responsibility to be an outlet for people who maybe don’t have their own creative outlet. In a world where everyone has a fuckin’ soapbox now, and what do they use it for, to show pictures of their food? This is a pain experience, say something fuckin’ meaningful. So I get to tap into what I felt is meaningful and maybe that makes me feel aggressive. Maybe past things that upset me. My early stuff I was fuckin’ pissed, I was really pissed off. INRI for example, I was a fuckin super anti-Christian, I wouldn’t talk to you if you were Christian, I was militant. It all comes rushing back I suppose. I’m a fan, too! You’re not going to be a musician and not a fan first. You picked up your guitar because you saw Jimmy Page playing on stage and it changed your life. I happened to come up during a time when things were very theatrical. You had people like fuckin Ogre, Robin Finck, Twiggy and Manson, these larger than life characters, from all sorts of different walks of life and bands, and they brought it. And it’s your responsibility now, now you’re on stage!
Mar 24 2017
...on tour you live excessively, faster than real life, you suck it all in and ride the bomb, so to speak, and after the touring is done, you spit it all back out in the studio, however, it has undergone a process of digestion in the meantime, and that is the motivational momentum for me.
KMFDM, Apr 25 2011
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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