Tuesday, November 25, 2008
MENTAL STAGNATION INTERVIEW
I first met Mental Stagnation last August, when my band, Terror Bird played a show with them at a pizza parlour in Sacramento, California. DJ Rick, a well-loved DJ for California radio station KDVS, had set up the show for us. The pizza venue wasn't exactly overflowing with people, but we all got to eat free pizza and more importantly, meet the folk from Mental Stagnation- bassist Jon, keyboardist Nahum, drummer Jason, and singer Marilyn.
We were fortunate enough to be invited back to Marilyn's home for a party with the rest of band and DJ Rick. Marilyn made deliciously sweet cocktails and told us not to let her wild kitten, Bishop out of the bathroom.
Mental Stagnation is made up of four intelligent, glamourous people in their early twenties. They have more substance (and style) right now than most people build up during their entire lives. Their music is dark, synth-heavy and danceable. They bring Fuzzbox to mind with their off-kilter, wavery vocals, but the comparison ends there.
They have a self-titled cassette out with song titles such as "The Cats in the Walls" and "The Road to Hell".Singer, Marilyn Ayres looks like Cindi Lauper if Jackson Pollock designed her outfits, except waaaay better. She acts like she's your best friend and you've known her your whole life. In our interview, she explains why David Bowie could never be a bad kisser, the dullness of Marilyn Monroe, and why it's the popular choice to act stupid.
NN: I love the name Mental Stagnation. Who thought of your band name and what does it mean to you?
MA: "Mental Stagnation" sorta encapsulates our frustration with the pervasiveness of intellectually suffocating American sub (and mainstream) cultures. There's this whole conspiracy of silence and climate of fear around thinking and expressing thought outside of the academy.
The slippery slope of (non) thinking is really palpable; it's unsafe to voice opinions becuase they could potentially rub someone the wrong way, and potentially burn your bridge with that person in the future, so better to just stay quiet and not even potentially ruffle anyone's feathers, and/or just repeat what everyone else is saying.
Some of the music that is out there that calls itself 'free-thinking' and 'subversive' adheres to the same values in rendering only the most 'safe' opinions -you know, war is bad, drinking is good, racism is bad, rich people are bad, organized religion is bad, etc. The music is less that of articulate radicals than of frat bros., and we've never thought of drunk chauvinists as being subversive in definition.
Anti-war slogans are printed on clothing and bags and sold at corporate stores; so why is music that capitalizes on empty 'progressive' sentiments still regarded as subversive? Also, we're really seeing a huge flood of cultural artifacts from every subculture and every decade made digestable (updated) for mass American consumption which really underscores how we feel that we live in an anti-intellectual culture that has just been completely mined and stripped of meaning by advertising/marketing/capitalism.
Nikki Never: What are some of your favorite bands?
Marilyn Ayres: Subtonix, Gestalt, Madame, Clair Obscur, and Opera de Nuit, obscure and mainstream dark synth-wavey stuff. But Jon (bass) loves thrash metal and grind, and Nahum's (keyboards) favorite stuff is screamo and early jazz, like the French Django Reinhart dude. We all like Danny Elfman.
NN: Do think your favorite bands influence the sound of your band?
MA: Definitely, but when I listen to our stuff, it doesn't immediately sound like anything else I've heard, which makes us really happy because there [are] a million bands out there endlessly re-inventing the wheel and capitulating to formulaic conventions.
I think the bands that influence our sound help make it complicated in being textured and layered so there isn't the instant gratification you get in assuming there is a definitive style. Not that our music is 'new' for novelty's sake, but that the impetus is more to create music that isn't being played, the non-familiar in the difficulty alone of bridging diverse influences of thrash-metal-punk-jazz-new wave-goth into something that also speaks to our individual aesthetics.
NN: We here in Vancouver love and respect DJ Rick (a DJ at KDVS Radio, based in Davis, California). How did you meet him?
MA: We love DJ Rick! He is largely responsible for de-suckifying the town of Davis...Rick has put so much work into promoting/creating alternative punk and experimental sounds and community spaces that I kinda like (parts) of Davis. Which is scary.
We met him at one of the many shows he/KDVS put on and he actually set up our first show back in April with ex-Subtonix band, Magick Daggers, which was in Davis, and was (non-ironically) awesome. He brings all the tasty musical treats to Davis, which would probably die of musical starvation without him. He and KDVS [are] just such [great resources] for being exposed to...obscure or underground music that would be unheard without. Without him, we would never have heard Terror Bird and Nu Sensae and that li'l part in my heart that your music affirms would have gone unaffirmed and we would most likely never met or played together.
NN: You sing in the band, but do you play any instruments on the side?
MA: I was never taught or had any training, but am learning (with Jason's tutelage) how to play the synth-guitar
NN: What are your lyrics about?
MA: Feminist cultural and literature analysis. Term paper topics, essentially, that we're like, "hey I haven't heard many people talk about this in their music before". Oh yea, and cats.
NN:How is your cat, Bishop doing? Any cat news?
MA: Bishop is now gigantic and wants to attack and eat my hair!?
NN: You and your twin sister have a few similaries (besides being the same age) You're both very friendly and fun, color your hair wild colors, and have exciting fashion sense. What are you parents like?
MA: Our parents were hippies, so we're lucky to have grown up in a fairly liberal house, but most Northern Californians are, aren't they? Our mom has always been especially influential to us, she got her doctorate while raising us and has always been a feminist and scientist. They're both really supportive of our ambitions; putting us through school and even co-signing a lease for our soon-to-be store together!
There's no way we could do the things we do today without their support. All of us in the band actually have had supportive, affirming parents, which inspires a common thread of gratitude and humility I think.
NN: The way your band looks has a glitter rock/1980's appeal. How do people in Sacramento react to you?
MA: Considering that our project's mainstream and [made up of] obscure literary/film/music cultures and references, few and far between seem to 'get it.' Which is good because we don't want to do music that is fluff pop or devoid of personal meaning, but it does mean we play rarely... It's really exciting when people do 'get it' or what we're doing does speak to them because 'it' is so involved with inaccessible obscure sounds and ideas that we're mostly only sure that we 'get it'.
NN: Have you been to college/university? What classes are you taking?
MA:I am about to graduate UCD in, surprise- Women/Gender Studies. Nahum (keyboards) is majoring in music comp. nerdery and Engaged Lameness, Jason (drums) is an English major, and Jon (bass) is working full-time right now.
NN: What do you think about Marilyn Manson?
MA: I think he's very articulate and intriguing. His "Food Pyramid" guest appearance/song on Clone High is awesome.
NN: What about Marilyn Monroe?
MA: Iconicly boring.
NN: Who writes the songs in Mental Stagnation? How do you go about writing them?
MA: The boys write the music, since they all have had formal training and years of experience. Jon writes amazing riffs/keyboard segweys into the prehistoric land of the True Rockasaurus. We all listen and talk about the progressions, improve or tinker on them together, and discuss the subject of lyrics. It's egalitarian and co-operative.
NN: Have you ever had a mental disorder?
MA: No, not yet, keeping my fingers crossed for a post-adolescent onset of schizo, but my brother and other family and friends have had various issues.
NN: When I toured the states, I heard a lot of people complaining (rightly so) about the expense of health care. How has that affected you?
MA: We have to get health coverage through our schools or have none at all. I lose my coverage when I graduate, Jon has none at all, which is scary, but there's nothing to be done about it. We think it's totally fucked, with what, over 37 million poor and even more without health insurance. It's a giant scheme that we as individuals can't do much about; just hope we won't need to go to the hospital. We've all seen Michael Moore's "Sicko" and have thought about moving to Canada, American health systems are pre-dominantly Catholic; they aren't super happy and great, even less so in comparison with other nations' socialized systems.
NN: What is your favorite scent?
MA: Fabric softener? Old books?
NN: Would you rather dine with David Bowie or Peter Murphy? What kind of food would you eat?
MA: Bowie. I don't know what we'd have; hopefully something as glamourous and mystical as his hair.
NN: What if during the dinner, whoever you chose got really drunk and tried to kiss you but was the worst kisser EVER?
MA: That would be antithetical to Bowie's existence and thus could not possibly happen. Some might consider it blasphemous to speculate. He oozes sex, his EYEBROWS have more sensuality than Nahum's entire lifetime of bi-curious affairs.