Friday, August 3, 2012

Compiling Autumn Part 1: Continuity

This is my memory
A lonely series
Repeats without even a pause
Floating weightless
Uninterrupted until I exhale
Ghosts have no shadows
They must conspire for even one
“Angel Present”

Hydra Head Records’ reissue of Discordance Axis’ second album, Jouhou closes with 15 minutes of the sound of workers quietly cleaning up a Japanese loft after a 1997 show with noise band Melt-Banana. It was an artifact of the DAT machine that recorded the show left running accidentally, but at the time Discordance Axis thought it might be their epitaph.
Despite the success of the Japanese tour, a combination of a hellacious recording session for Jouhou, health concerns and typical intra-band squabbling sidelined Discordance Axis for two years, threatening to cut short the career of one of grindcore’s most innovative artists. When they ultimately reunited to record their third and final album, Discordance Axis would annihilate 15 years of stale grindcore conventions in a single 23 minute statement of artistic purity. The result, 2000's The Inalienable Dreamless, was a landmark album, the first truly 21st Century grindcore record.
Where their peers were content to recycle the same musical and lyrical affectations handed down from Napalm Death and Repulsion, The Inalienable Dreamless saw Discordance Axis further refine the themes that had defined their career to unleash something that was wholly unique and personally meaningful. The Inalienable Dreamless would be an album that would fundamentally alter the trajectory of grindcore for a decade to come. It was a record whose influence was not immediately recognized but whose reach would grow pervasive.
With The Inalienable Dreamless, Discordance Axis established a musical legacy that will live forever but, given the album’s devoted fanbase, definitely not alone.


Pirouetting like a fan dancer
Choreographed into the desire for rebirth
Or just a wish for death
“The Inalienable Dreamless”

Ruin Trajectory

During its life, Discordance Axis’ sleek, forward-thinking assault on grindcore convention always found its greatest success in Japan. The trio - vocalist Jon Chang, guitarist Rob Marton and drummer Dave Witte - played to packed houses overseas where rare domestic performances only mustered crowds of 20 or 30. The support they received in Japan sustained the band throughout their career.
“That tour was pretty cool,” Chang said of the Jouhou tour. “We didn’t get into any arguments. Nobody broke down. Nobody went insane. When the last show came, we put everything into it. Dave was smoking ass that night, I wish I had video of it. It was the most violent show we ever played.”
But before the tour got underway the cracks were already showing. Regular guitarist Marton had left the band, leaving Witte and Chang to enlist Human Remains guitarist Stephen Procopio as a last minute stand in.
The 1997 tour was organized by HG Fact and Devour Records, which had supported many of Discordance Axis’ albums to that point. However, it had been repeatedly postponed to avoid competition from other, more notable metal bands who were also touring Japan at the time. The delays drove a frustrated Marton out of the band, starting a two year schism that crippled Discordance Axis.
“There was a big falling out with Rob and myself over the repeated tour delays. I was the driving force trying to lock those shows down, but with so many other bigger acts touring, the shows kept getting pushed back because the promoters wanted to make sure the tour was as successful as possible. I think Rob got sick of it because he kept having to go to his job and request the time off. His boss would arrange for coverage and then the dates would shift again, monkey wrenching the whole process. Between that and all the other shit in his life, he finally just quit the band. Suffice to say, like our many other break ups, it was not cordial,” Chang said. “That was basically World War Six starting right there. I literally didn’t talk to Rob for two or three years at that point.”
For much of Discordance Axis' existence, conflict was the norm, Marton said.
“I don’t think anything was ever that smooth. We were never ‘Aw great, let’s get together guys, gee whiz.’ It was like a job. We all wanted to do it. We would get excited about it,” Marton said. “Being in a band is kind of like having two girlfriends, sort of. You’re in a relationship with them. You get under each other’s skin. You start to anticipate each other’s moves at some point. You get close to people. You get close to people you’re in a band with. You can imagine where it’s great. Sometimes it’s not.”
Marton's departure was the culmination of intra-band friction that had been roiling since Discordance Axis’ agonizing recording session for Jouhou with producer Bill T. Miller. Recording in a studio in Boston with no air conditioning, far from home and practically subsisting on a diet of Mountain Dew and Jolt cola, the trio were at each other’s throats incessantly. It wasn’t uncommon for one of the members to suddenly walk out of the studio in a rage, leaving the remainder to wonder if he would ever come back.
“It was really bad, how close we were to literally murdering each other,” Chang said. “We just never recovered from that. We were insane from that point forward. At one point they asked me to go out and get soda and I said, ‘Fuck you! Go get your own soda.’ ”
The stress was compounded by Chang’s notorious perfectionism. As a photography student in college, one professor, in particular, had pushed him relentlessly. Her demand for perfection would not only tax his photography skills, but it also opened Chang’s eyes to just how far he could go with his talents – whatever the medium – provided he was willing to pay the price to achieve it.
“She made me go through the darkroom on this [photograph] for two fucking days. It was a nightmare to get it there, but when I got it and she said I got it, and I knew I’d gotten it before I showed it to her, I was more happy with that picture, which was nothing special, than anything I’d done up until that point. I was still a freshman in college and while people had pushed me to do better on things before, they were not on any kind of things I cared about,” Chang said. “When it came time to do a band, I approached it from that direction. This is an opportunity to do something great. It is not sitting around and having fun and jerking off. That’s been a problem for me in my life: taking projects and turning them into art projects. I really want it to be at a certain place. I wanted to eclipse what Napalm Death had done for me at that point. Not to make From Enslavement to Obliteration, but to make the record they would have made after. That was Ulterior for me.”
Though Chang’s bandmates could appreciate his drive and the results, the intensity inevitably led to conflicts between the members. While that friction could drive Discordance Axis’ songs, it also took an emotional toll on Witte, Chang and Marton and breakups and hiatuses were a regular occurrence for the band throughout its existence.
“The band had a really strange way,” Witte said. “It was like being completely excited and being completely over it. They went hand in hand.”

Flow My Tears, the Guitarist Said

When Marton quit the band after recording Jouhou and before the band’s scheduled Japanese tour, they soldiered on without him, Procopio in tow. However, the band said Marton’s absence strained things even further. Afterward, Discordance Axis ground to a complete halt for two years.
“I got really burnt out on DA,” Chang said. “Rob had been a friend of mine since before the band. I hated to lose him as a friend. I didn’t like playing the songs anymore. It didn’t make me feel good. It wasn’t like a cathartic experience at all. It was like reopening old wounds.”
Though Witte and Chang had been eager to tour in support of Jouhou, playing live had never been Marton’s passion.
“The end of Jouhou we were still a band that played very infrequently,” Witte said. “Rob was totally not into playing shows. That’s how it was most of the time, anyway. We all had very different schedules. When we were recording with Bill in Boston, Rob was still on his overnight shift."
Marton’s health was also a factor in his decision to quit. Though stories have persisted that he was plagued by irreparable nerve damage that caused seizures when he was exposed to loud noises, the truth is Marton has had tinnitus his entire life and feared playing in Discordance Axis could permanently damage his hearing.
“I’ve had tinnitus since I was a kid. It had just gotten to the point I thought it was too much,” he said. “I thought I was really doing damage to my hearing. At that point I went to a couple different doctors, and I was pretty much, ‘Doc, it hurts when I do this,’ and he said, ‘Don’t do it anymore.’ ”
While he never had seizures, Marton said the ringing in his ears would cause the sounds to break up when he was playing, interfering with his performance.
“I had symptoms like, 'Hey, you’re losing your hearing,' ” he said. “I had headaches and stuff and that was related to other things. I got into a car accident and I had whiplash and I had headaches.”

Reincarnation

Witte, who has always kept himself busy with multiple bands at once, turned his musical attentions to Black Army Jacket during Discordance Axis' two year break. However, after tempers had a chance to cool, Witte found himself itching to grind again and began corralling his wayward bandmates.
“Dave was the one who actually got us back together,” Chang said. “Dave had somehow gotten in touch with the Hydra Head guys and he contacted me and he said, ‘Hey, do you want to do another record?’ I said I didn’t want to do it without Rob. I’m not sure if he had gotten Rob on board at that point. I had half of The Inalienable Dreamless written before we knew it was going to be a record.”
Marton and Chang, now with two years’ perspective and maturity behind them, were able to reconcile during a trip to Cape Cod. Between time on the beach and intense Quake sessions, the two reconnected and found the drive to reform Discordance Axis.
“I ended up hanging out with Rob alone for a day,” Chang said. “We went up there cold and we didn’t book a room. When we got to Cape Cod we found a hotel immediately and it was reasonably priced. I had a long talk with Rob. We said sorry and tried to patch things up between us. A lot had changed between us at that time. I don’t think he was with the girl he was with at the time we did Jouhou. He was no longer working graveyard shifts. We were all older. We all had jobs at that point and our offices used to play Quake against each other at night. We were really good at that game.”
Marton had been busy writing music during the two year hiatus, but he said his new material was very different from what he had done with Discordance Axis. However, after reconciling with Chang and writing with Witte, the grind began flowing again.
“Everybody had it in them,” Marton said. “I just started writing songs again. They were Discordance Axis songs, and I had a whole bunch of them. The momentum built behind it and we started talking. Things just happened from there.”
As the band reformed, Witte introduced them to Hydra Head Records, which would issue The Inalienable Dreamless and subsequently put the bulk of the band’s catalog into wider distribution.
“I’d been familiar with some of the other things he had done,” Hydra Head co-owner Aaron Turner said of Witte. “I’d seen Black Army Jacket a few times. Dave’s the kind of guy that if you’re in the metal underground, you’re bound to run into him.”
Though Hydra Head has never been known as a grindcore label, Turner said the forward thinking spirit of Discordance Axis blended well with the label’s preference for bands that skewed outside listener expectations. It didn’t hurt that despite his preference for slower, more atmospheric music, Turner was a Discordance Axis fan, himself.
Jouhou had such a crazy effect on me. I got it on a whim. The cover got to me. It was very cryptic. Totally mesmerized by it,” Turner said. “At that time I hadn’t considered working with them, taking them on as a Hydra Head band. When the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance. They were a very unique band. Their music was heavy and metal-oriented. The only criteria we’ve had is we’ve tended to stick to things that were heavy or metal-oriented. We really like to work with artists that are the vanguard of their subgenre and have very clear artistic intent and have a very well developed visual aesthetic. Discordance Axis is the perfect Hydra Head band.”

4 comments:

VALIS said...

Well, now I feel like a jackass for waiting to buy it. Could there just be a location for donations set up?

Andrew Childers said...

i think jon said amazon still has a few copies but i guess that's it when they're gone. it was always my plan to do it this way anyway.

jeremy said...

pretty glad I was able to score a copy from amazon, this is a great read! glad you're posting it here, though...cheers Andrew.

andreizr said...

Thanks for posting the whole thing, I thought I wouldn't be able to find it. They should release an e-book version of this.