Stabbing Westward – Interview

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Stabbing Westward

Stabbing Westward were once the pioneers of an industrial revolution. After evaluating themselves and their music, Stabbing Westward found a new direction. Now they hope that this new incarnation will spark another revolution.

We get behind the computers, guitars, and image with drummer Andy Kubiszewski.

As a member of a band, what do you look forward to most? Making an album or hitting the road?

I think they are both separate mindsets. We were excited about the fourth record because of the upheaval with our record label and getting new management. It was a nice overall change in perspective. And because we were so excited about the record, we are excited once again to get back on the road. You get out here and start to play and you realize right away why you do this.

When you switch record labels, does it have an impact on the group?

Yeah. It disrupts your mental state when you are no longer signed to a label and you are heading in to do a record and everything gets pulled out from under you. It made us work harder and we told ourselves we are going to do it better. We were more motivated than ever to do the best record of our career.

As an outsider, it’s striking to think of the impact a label change can have. Is it because you spent your life trying to achieve this signing and then having it yanked away is the part that hurts most?

Absolutely. It depends on the band too. I mean, two days after we were dropped by Columbia the phone started ringing and we were courted by a handful of labels. I think for a band to get dropped and not be able to find a new deal would be, ‘What are we going to do now?’ I think the fact that we had interest from other labels was our indication that we were meant to continue to do this.

Did you sign with Koch because they would be more freewheeling and allow you more space?

Absolutely. They gave us complete freedom to do whatever we wanted, which is something major labels offer you, but what they are actually giving you is some leeway and if it doesn’t go the way they want then they start to tug on the strings. I think for some bands that may work really great, but we don’t like to have someone standing there looking over our shoulders the whole time.

It has to do with your voice. I don’t think anyone can tell you what that should or shouldn’t be.

Right. You have your own style and you can’t be forced by the record company to match your style to something like the boy band craze. I mean, how many major labels are looking at their bands thinking, ‘The Backstreet Boys thing is really big. Maybe you can incorporate that into your sound.’ And it’s like, ‘Fuck off.’

They aren’t forward thinking either because it’s fads. You live or die by them and you could kill an artist’s entire career by making them follow a craze.

Absolutely. You know, record label decisions are made by commerce, so in a way you can’t fault them for trying to sell more units. I think the cool thing with Koch is on the same page. They let us do the music and we let them do what they do best, sell us. We are jazzed about that.

Do you think that because it is a business now that the art has fallen to the wayside?

I think that the conglomeration of all the labels is the problem. Twenty years ago there were like forty labels or something like that, and today there are, what, four? So now I think it’s bad because if you were the top band at some label and they were absorbed, now you find yourself number fifty there. It’s been a tough readjustment.

Think about Sheryl Crow. I mean, on A&M she was number one, now at Universal she’s a blip on the screen.

Sure she sells a lot of records, but the people who nurtured her and brought her up are now gone. And now you have to reestablish a new relationship with people who might not have the same vision as those who you worked with before. It is frustrating, but it is business, so you do have to sit back and look at it that way. I think we were really lucky. I think the positive attitude from Koch spilled over onto the record. I think the album is much more positive and uplifting than anything we’ve ever done in the past. It’s a reflection of us sitting back and thinking we need to rethink this and Koch allowing us to do what we want to do.

Could all the freedom be a bad thing as well?

I think it depends on where you are in your career. I think because this is our fourth record and we’ve seen everything, we are mature enough to make the right decisions.

Because it could find you not finishing or going too far away from the matter at hand.

We’ve been through the experimentation phase and this record I think is a big experiment.

You can hear it.

In the past we’ve been this mechanized, computerized, industrialized rock entity. This time Ed Buller told us to just turn all that stuff off. No computers, no sequencers, he made us set up like a rock band and just told us to rock because he said he knew we could do it. And that was a big step for us because we’ve been so attached to machinery in the past. So the first few days we were all free falling because we weren’t sure that we should be doing this. Ed was right, and now we have a great record.

How did that effect you as a musician?

Well, now it effects me and the band in a big way because the songs morph and change on a nightly basis, which is something that never happened in the past. In the past we would try to recreate the album on a nightly basis, note for note. That is how anal we were. Now we’ve stripped all that away. It’s five musicians just playing. It’s the freedom we never took because we weren’t sure we could pull off.

Did you have the album done in your heads before you went into the studio?

We had forty songs before we went into the studio. We wrote for two years and we let Ed choose twelve songs for us to record, ten on the album and two as b-sides.

Was it easy to let him take those twelve?

It’s hard to let go. You’ve lived with those songs for two years and you are afraid to let go. Ed was really cool. He would walk in and go, ‘I’ve been listening to this demo and I don’t like the arrangement. Let’s start from scratch.’ We’d rebuild from the bottom up, but when you are in the studio doing that, you are afraid that you shouldn’t be doing that there. But Ed was completely correct on all his judgment calls. You could really see the creative process starting to grow while we were in the studio. So instead of rerecording demos in the studio, we created songs.

Do you think the art producers are being lost because bands want to do it all themselves for fear of losing their voice?

See, the funny thing is that we just did the opposite of that. Even though we’ve had people creative as producers in the past, the majority of the material, we were so anal, we’ve always been a band who wanted complete control. So we are bucking the system all over. Stylistically we were a hard industrial entity, and when we did this record we found that a lot of bands out there today were emulating what we were doing for years, and we could have really made something super heavy or choose the route no one was taking. I think we are so different from anything else out there today. I think it’s really great. I don’t think we’ll ever be compared to those bands ever again.

Music has changed so much since your first album and then it all came around to what you were doing. Did it make you crazy to think now you’ll just be lumped in?

To a certain degree. This record is a reflection of everybody in the band. I think past albums leaned to one member’s vibe and this record sounds like a reflection of everyone else’s personality.

Are people faithful to their vibes?

Well, I think when some of us get onstage, our personalities change. Our touring guitarist, Derrek Hawkins, who also plays on the record, never toured before, so this is a brand new experience for him. He is kind of a meek guy, but when he gets onstage he is a fireball. It’s amazing to see the transformation.

Speaking of touring; are you going to grind it out again for this album?

We’ll be out for as long as it takes. I estimate we’ll be out for between a year and two years. We are approaching this a lot differently. Because we are now a rock band and stripped away everything, we are traveling lighter. In the past we would tour with a semi full of gear and this outrageous light show and we’ve gotten rid of all of that. It’s audience and band. No bullshit.

Is the prospect of touring for two years something you are looking at as a little scary?

You know, it’s part of what we do. We all knew it was coming. You say goodbye to your house, your car, and just lock it all up. Because we all live in Los Angeles, whereas we all used to live in Chicago, we are now more in the center of everything and get home a bit more because everything we do we find ourselves back in LA to do stuff like press and photo shoots. If we didn’t like it, I don’t think we’d still be here. But I also don’t think everybody could deal with this because it is a pretty bizarre lifestyle.

It has to be a terror on your personal life.

It has taken away my personal life. I went on tour and then my girlfriend was gone. A lot of the band members are lucky because they were married before they joined. Walter, our keyboard player, has two children, and the rest have solid relationships. For someone like me who was single, it really throws a curve ball into it. It’s really unnatural to travel around the world in a bus with ten guys. It’s very bizarre, but we all know each other so well that it’s a really great vibe on the bus.

Is the glamour of it all overrated?

Yeah. People see it as glamorous, but if they saw our ten-hour days, they’d think twice about it. They see us in a limo, but they don’t see the amount of work that goes into making a band successful.

What is it like to get to tour with such great bands in the past?

Great. I mean, we’ve toured with a lot of our heroes. Especially Depeche Mode, we are all huge fans of Depeche Mode. Before I joined Stabbing Westward, I was in The The and we toured with Depeche Mode. I got to play in The The and I mean I listened to them while I was in college and then I’m in the band thinking, ‘Wow, this is great.’ We toured with Depeche Mode and New Order, bands I grew up idolizing. Then with Stabbing, we toured with Depeche and Kiss, The Sex Pistols, were going out with the Cult. It’s really cool to hang with these people because ninety-nine percent of these guys are really cool.

You’ve had some good luck.

A good amount of it is luck, but also we’ve paid our dues over and over and over again. I think karma is a boomerang and now it’s finally flying back to us. All the work we put into this is finally paying off. Some bands get the star treatment on the first album. We are one of those bands that had to work the whole way.

Does that make you more solid through and through?

Definitely. We didn’t go from the studio to the limelight. And there is a certain amount of, what is the word?

Expectations?

Yeah. I mean, what are you going to do the next time? If you are Alanis and your first album sells twenty million copies and the second only sells two million, is that a failure? Two million records is a lot of units. For us it’s a building experience. Each album has built off the one before. We have such a solid fan base that we will be fine for the rest of our career.

It is in effect almost like a football team. You attach yourself as a fan and no matter what happens you are still there for them.

Exactly. And you know, most fans are like that. There are some fans, and you know our new record is different, and some reviewers who didn’t like the fact that we’ve matured. There are some that are fans of a genre, not really a band.

In having such devoted fans, what does it feel like to have someone come and tell you your music has made a difference?

It’s really cool because when I was growing up and I’d be at a show or listening to an album I would think, ‘Man, I’d love to meet the guy who wrote this song and tell him it changed my life’. Music is that powerful and I think it is really great when they come up to us and tell us that. It’s very flattering.

We all know music has that power. We’ve experienced it ourselves.

Absolutely. It’s great that you can have a positive influence on somebody.

+ charlie craine

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