There is something inherently contradictory about new Slumberland band The Procedure Club that I find particularly intriguing.
On the one hand, the band’s penchant for searing guitar noise and soft-as-snow female cooing recalls obvious Slumberland signposts Black Tambourine and Henry’s Dress. Whether or not the C86-obsessed, indie guitar fans will devour the delicious rumble of scuzzy fuzz the duo of Adam Malec and Andrea Belair come up with is a no-brainer.
Less certain is how they’ll react to the band’s serious left-curve: the icy cold jab and parry of a primitive drum machine straight out of a classic Suicide album, complete with some added synth burbles that seep out of the stew like bubbles out of a cauldron. These are hardly the sort of sounds one would expect to see on a record with the Slumberland imprimatur. It’s almost as if The Procedure Club was borne out of a conceptual “what if?” scenario that re-imagined Black Tambourine’s famed “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” single as produced by Martin Rev.
The end result, as heard on the band’s freshly-minted debut album, “Doomed Forever,” makes for arguably the loudest, edgiest, most tension-filled full-length release on the Slumberland label since the original Black Tambourine recordings.
Fortunately, DC music fans have a special opportunity to experience the band’s sonic devastation in a live setting. Tonight, The Procedure Club will play the Velvet Lounge, along with local bands Ravenous and Troll Tax, (and a nice bonus: Kid Congo Powers will be djing as well). In light of the occasion, BYT spoke with the duo to find out more…
BYT: Some obvious background stuff first: How did you and Adam meet up and come to make music together? I wouldn’t think you would bump into too many shoegaze/C86 fans in New Haven, Connecticut…
Andrea: I was living in Vermont when I met Adam through friends. We noticed we had similar tastes in music. We started talking about Television Personalities and The Bartlebees—not many people we knew were familiar with them. He was living in New Haven, having moved there from Poland. I moved down to New Haven since it seemed to have more going on than Vermont did…Adam was always making music, or what is by degrees music, and eventually he started recording me. I was reluctant for quite a while but went along with it. Adam is really invested in making music, in spite of many factors that would make many people give it up.
BYT: Was the idea for The Procedure Club from the very beginning to go at it with just two members? Did you ever have any reservations about using a drum machine?
Andrea: Yes, it was just two members from the beginning. We definitely never had any intention of having an audience–at least, I would have bailed right away if we did; we never meant to have a “band.” When we play live, we have at least three people, but it’s really Adam and me. I never had any reservations about using synth drums—we never had the luxury of massive recording devices and a drum kit. Plus lots of my favorite musicians use synth drums, like John Maus.
Adam: The drum machine on the vast majority of the songs is tapped with fingers. I find it to be a very organic way to record, given all the mistakes that I make while recording. Also I really like the muted, low-midrangey, soft kind of snare sound you get from the old, cheap drum machines. We never even thought to introduce live drums into our music—we’re afraid that it might screw up the sound.
BYT: Your drum machine sound is one of the things that I find most interesting about the band. It adds a certain almost industrial-style coldness that you usually don’t find in bands that reference the fuzzy C86-shambolic guitar thing. Are you and Adam fans of much electronic music or minimal synth post-punk? I could totally see just as many fans of Suicide into your music as I could fans of Black Tambourine and The Aislers Set…
Adam: Before Procedure Club I was experimenting on the one-man project that I called Human Pontiac. I used synthesizers, guitars and primitive drum machines that I would put through 5 second loops and layer on top of each other endlessly. It was all improvised real time during every show. I guess the sound had an element of 80’s cold wave, plus some hard to compare and identify kind of droney soundscapes. All that was a result of a phase in my music appreciation that dated back to the mid-90s where I was really sick of guitar music. I considered most guitar-based indie bands back than redundant and boring and thought that minimal noise and electronic music were much more interesting.
I loved stuff like Tony Conrad, Nobukazu Takemura, very early recordings of Laibach, Boyd Rice’s NON, Death in June, The Residents, Suicide, even contemporary classical like Witold Lutoslawski, Alfred Schnidtke, and Krzysztof Penderecki. I was a little asshole snob back then. But even during those dark times I still relished the sweet lovable pop of Heavenly, The Bartlebees, The Pastels, as well as baroque music that I have always loved and never stopped listening to. I can even sing some pieces from Henry Purcell’s operas like “Indian Queen” and “Fairy Queen” with my horrible, forced castrato-like voice. I guess all that may have rubbed off when it came time to writing and recording Procedure Club’s music.
Andrea: I’m totally a fan of minimal synth post-punk and the like. Suicide for example–so perfect, to die for. His Name is Alive—beautiful stuff. And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of distortion; if music is totally seamless I tend to like it less.
BYT: When it comes to the subject of noisy guitar pop, a lot of indie fans cite the late 80s and early 90s as being a golden period. Not only did it represent the heyday of legendary bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Pale Saints and Slowdive, but you had scores of lesser-known, similarly-minded acts combining noise with pop song smarts. With so many contemporary indie bands cropping up with similar fuzz-friendly reference points (Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls, Best Coast, Frankie Rose & the Outs, etc.), do you think we’re experiencing a new golden period for this kind of music?
Adam: I can only speak for myself—I don’t know what prompted Crystal Stilts or Dum Dum Girls to sound the way they do, but in my case, I may have been idealizing and honestly liking the way all those bands sounded. I am also a very old man so I actually lived through the whole thing and must admit that the British early 90s and late 80s underground “alternative” music, as it was called back then, was kind of forgotten in the late 90s and the first half of 2000s, so the recent times may have been the perfect moment to bring it back and bring it back new and improved. More noisy, more lo-fi…
BYT: Let’s talk about your songwriting. What I appreciate most about your music is that, as much as you embrace noise and layers of fuzz, The Procedure Club anchors much of its sound around beguiling pop melodies. What is the songwriting process like for you? Is there a certain method to the proverbial madness?
Adam: It’s usually at moments where I feel energized and euphoric when I’ll get in front of my recording gear. I just grab the guitar, hook up some effects, and start playing random stuff that usually has some skeleton of a song. Then I record it without really memorizing it and try to decipher where the changes are so I can lay some bass tracks over it and then, most times but not always, I tap the drum track with my fingers.
Andrea: I add vocals and a melody.
BYT: Most pop music is very direct and obvious, and requires little active engagement on the part of the listener. One of the things I find so appealing about your music, which is really the same reason I’m drawn to Black Tambourine, is that it’s pop music where the fuzz is front and center but the melodies seem just out of reach…like someone calling your name from a foggy distance. It’s interesting, because I find myself drawn in closer, honing in on certain sounds for that very reason. From your perspective, what is it about sheets of noise, fuzz and the concept of distance that you find so appealing?
Andrea: I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s intentional. However, I really have a thing for vagueness and abstraction anyway. Generally in other things, I suppose elusiveness creates mystery, but I do relate to the transitory nature of everything and I suppose I’ll go ahead and say it’s intentional. We have some clear and direct songs, but we tried to make this album have something like a theme and it wouldn’t work to have those on it.
BYT: The band’s debut album is out on the legendary Slumberland Records label. Very few independent labels can match the quality and consistency of that label’s output. How did you guys come to the attention of Mike Schulman? What was your reaction when he wanted to put out your album?
Andrea: Mike Schulman of Slumberland first started talking with me a bit when someone from another label heard our recordings, thought we’d go well with Slumberland, and sent us in his direction. He was always very nice, and I never thought that Slumberland would be interested in putting out our album, but I was very happy to find that he was so nice. I was shocked when Slumberland offered to release it. At first I was elated, but was hesitant to believe it, and I kept thinking that there was some misunderstanding. I was reluctant to really admit any happiness because I didn’t want to be disappointed. Of course, Adam was so happy, it’s a dream realized for him. We are very grateful to Mike.
BYT: Now that the album is out, how do you feel about it? Excited? Nervous?
Andrea: Both excited and nervous. It’s nice to see it finally just happen, but of course having it on Slumberland is really amazing.
BYT: From a recording standpoint, what’s next on the band’s agenda? An EP? Another album?
Andrea: Hmm… I don’t know. We have enough material but we certainly have no concrete plans. We’ll have to see what happens, I guess. We still record though, just to try things out.
BYT: The Procedure Club is playing The Velvet Lounge in DC on Friday. How do you feel about playing live and being on the road? Have you done many shows? Any memorable ones thus far?
Andrea: Well Adam plays live a lot and always has. He loves it. I am not really that type of person. I get tired, I have insomnia, and being “on the road” will not be easy. Adam is some sort of weird character who has lots of energy. We’ve done a bunch of shows but not really outside of New York or New Haven. Favorite shows were in Northampton, Mass. with Gary War, Sore Eros and Rabbit Rabbit. Or the Cake Shop with Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, Sore Eros, and Big Troubles. Justin Frye, the sound guy there, was awesome and very attentive to the sound, and that really makes it memorable. Then there’s the people you play with, all over, that make the show memorable. The showcase we played at South by Southwest in Austin was totally awesome and we met the best humanity has to offer.
BYT: OK, final question and a serious one at that: Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Psychocandy” vs. Black Tambourine’s Complete Recordings. And the winner is…
Andrea: I’d say Black Tambourine. I’ve definitely listened to that more. I actually like the darker shadows in that music. I think Adam would say Psychocandy, since he grew up idolizing everything about that album and everything JMC ever were as people–I guess maybe their marketing reached Poland better than Black Tambourine, so their influence on his life is more apparent. I know he loves Black Tambourine, but he fed off JMC.
BYT: Thanks very much for the interview! Looking forward to your show!