Wednesday, December 25, 2013

INTEGRITY - Closure Interview

I've been browsing through some old hard drives and came across some old interviews I thought were worth saving at one point or another. Most interviews held within hardcore past tend to be quite mundane so I made a point to save the handful that I felt were worth the time spent reading. The following interview was done shortly after the release of the Closure album by Integrity. If you actually take the time to read the following interview, you might find a hidden Christmas present.

Integrity Interview with Dwid By Nathan T. Birk

Integrity have always been a tough one to pin down. Too hardcore for the casual metal listener, too metal for the casual hardcore one, just plain odd for those who are actually paying attention, Integrity have increasingly attracted the steadfast “individual” – in its purest sense, a person who appreciates taboo -transgressing and boundary-breaking, with an attuned ear for aesthetics – during the course of their 14-year career. Roughly, their shift away from hardcore toward more metallic territory – and, more specifically, from more traditionally hardcore themes toward ones that know no bounds in their plentiful dementia – started with the band’s Victory debut, 1995’s Systems Overload, and its more fever-heated follow-up, Humanity is the Devil, a year later. However, Integrity truly and traumatically cemented the “Integrity style” musically, lyrically, and visually with the none-more-harrowing Seasons in the Size of Days (1997), a poisonous, pummeling plaster-smash that mainlined a Slayer-sized system (overload) into the heaviest of hardcores, a dark and apocalyptic abyss that many a hardcore band have futilely attempted – that is, Slayer trying their hand at the punk-derived genre – but none have bested, let alone remotely equaled. Two years later came Integrity 2000, an album that, confusingly, remonikered the band the same as the record’s namesake and, perhaps consequently, left many disappointed due to its largely misunderstood repetition-oriented minimalism: overall, their most overtly “metal” album, but one that takes every last ounce of patience for its caustic fibers to sink in (possibly, for the better). Idiosyncratic, sure, but Integrity have always been privy to challenge the adventure-craving listener, a point not lost on neither the proceeding Project: Regenesis MCD (where, among similarly-styled new cuts, the band takes blackly humorous stabs at Donna Summer and Billy Idol songs alike) nor the ambient/experimental album-closers to Seasons in the Size of Days (the organic mantra of “Burning Flesh Children to Mist,” with a recording of Reverend Jim Jones’ final 15 minutes of spoken “fame” before mass-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana overlaid atop tribal drums and drones) and Integrity 2000 (the cold, harsh skitter-digitalism of “Nord Wars” and “Nord Wars 2”, both of which would make Alec Empire and Richard James crap their pants in fear). Individualism personified. But the one individual who’s been there through it all, weathering the storm and leading his troops down the path of enlightenment, is the ever-enigmatic Dwid. Integrity’s frontman from the very beginning (the Off the Bat demo from ’87), Dwid has helped shaped nearly every aspect of the band’s sound and vision amidst revolving-door lineup changes that have come to characterize Integrity. From his searing, sometimes-monochromatic grate to his unusually poetic lyrics that’d make an millennial-mad preacher blush with envy to even his industrial-tinged Psywarfare side-project and collaborations with power-electronics duo Lockweld – both of whom have trickled into the man’s ever-broadening scope – Dwid, for all intensive purposes, is Integrity much like Dave Mustaine is Megadeth and Robert Smith was the Cure. A man of a singular vision and frightening focus, and one of the founders of the Holy Terror Church of Final Judgment, Dwid is one of the most fascinating characters the world of extreme music has ever known, the coagulating lifeblood that spills onto its borders and singes them beyond recognition. And intimidating, he is, to say the very least.On the decade-long anniversary since they released their Those Who Fear Tomorrow debut album, Integrity (sans “2000”) prepare to unleash Closure, unarguably their bleakest and most troubling work since Seasons in the Size of Days – in some respects, even more so, in fact. Laced with subtle details and various barely-audible production nuances painted in the darkest black, Closure is the sound of a new Integrity, one that splits the difference between the gloom-punk/metal of Samhain and the proto-industrial trance of early Killing Joke. It rocks, it’s heavy as fuck, and it’s still Integrity: a triumph in every sense of the word, and well worth the two-year wait. Alas, for those expecting the band to break up as hinted by the album’s ominous title, well…yes, and no. “Integrity,” as we’ve known them by name, will be no longer – in their stead, Angela Delamorte (named after one of Closure’s many highlights) will continue plying this dark trade. Why? Take a stroll through Dwid’s world and find out…


First off, what’s your lineup right now?
The lineup is myself on vocals, Zunkley on samples, and then Brian, he plays guitar, Brandon plays drums, and Adam plays bass.

Where and with whom did you record the new album?
Actually, the drums were recorded at my house, and the rest of the stuff we recorded at Brandon’s house, with the exception of the quiet songs – we recorded those at Zunkley’s house. We’ve had two years [between albums], so we’ve been doing a lot of home recording.

With Closure, there’s a certain Samhain-meets-Killing Joke vibe going on. Was this deliberate? If not, what was your approach when writing the album?
We’re definitely all big fans of Samhain. Pretty much, with most records, it comes down to what kind of music we’re listening to at the time, and everyone in the band is big fans of most of the bands that work. So, anything that you’re really into will show up in some way, shape, or form. Rather than Killing Joke, I’d think more Joy Division.

Yeah, I can see that analogy, as far as how dense and dark the aura is. Altogether, what’s your satisfaction level with this new album?
Well, this is the record I’ve tried to make since I started recording, basically. I’m really happy with the way it turned out – I’m kinda surprised at how good it sounds. I try to write the records for myself, y’know?

Yeah, and it shows. Another two-year wait went by before a new Integrity album came out. Not that that’s necessarily a long time, but it seemed like Closure kept being pushed back a month or two at a time. So, were you more diligent this time preparing the new album?
Yeah, definitely. We spent over a year writing and recording the album. Since we had home studios to use, we were able to take our time, we were able to do everything the way we really wanted it to be. Plus, we did a lot of experimentation as far as the recording is concerned, but because of that, it probably took us a little more time. We knew, for example, what type of drum sounds we were looking for, but it wasn’t so easy to achieve. Even if we went to some big-name studio, it would’ve been difficult to do, so we had to do some tricks in order to make it sound the way we wanted it, as well as some of the other (production aspects).

There’s definitely more detail and nuance this time around, especially, as you said, the drums and even the way the album begins – those odd pulses in “Trial of Adonis,” which are especially cool. Lyrically, what were your inspirations for Closure?
Well, lyrically, as far as the root of everything [goes], the heart of it all was [that] I just got out of a long-term relationship with this girl, so I got to draw from a lot of that [laughs]. It’s official [laughs], so that had a lot to do with it. And then, thematically, we have the song “Angela Delamorte” – that’s kinda the theme to the whole album, this demon who comes to earth to destroy all the sinners. Actually, this is our last record, and after this record, we’re gonna call ourselves Angela Delamorte.


Damn, that’s pretty fucking cool. So, are you guys gonna…well, I don’t want to say repeat, because in most respects I’d hope you wouldn’t, but are gonna elaborate on the direction you took with Closure, then?
Yeah, I think the formula we came up with the current record is really great, and we have some new ideas as far as where we’re gonna take it from there. And, pretty much, it’s gonna be something similar, but not obviously the same. We always try to make the (newest record) sound different than the ones before. We actually have a couple songs written – we’re doing an EP right now as Angela Delamorte. Actually, those songs start off acoustically and progress into something heavier. On the [new] album, we have the acoustic songs on their own and then the heavier songs on their own – we’ll try to integrate the two a little bit more, so it has a better feel. Basically, these are the things we’re gonna try to do [with Angela Delamorte].

So, when does Angela Delamorte become official?
I guess it pretty much already has. We’re gonna do one final Integrity show this summer, and then that’s it – there will be no more Integrity. We’re doing an EP for a local [Cleveland, Ohio] label called SMDC Records, which is Jayson [Popson] – he was in a band called In Cold Blood.

And he did vocals on the last album.
Yeah, he did. He also has a band called Mushroomhead.

Oh, yeah. Actually, I have a promo of their new album coming in the mail.
Do you? Actually, that’s him and the drummer [Skinny] from the [Integrity] 2000 record, he’s in it, too.

Excellent – I’m looking forward to hearing it. I read in an interview some years back, probably around the time of Systems Overload, that you said your lyrics were more horror-based than anything else. Where in modern society do you find horror, and how does that filter into your lyric writing?
Well, I think that true horror can be found anywhere. There’s a lot of different aspects to it, especially when it comes to my perception of it. But…the breakup and everything that I just went through had a lot of horror elements to it, as well as a lot of other particulars about my mind – the way that it works, sometimes it can be overwhelming. It’s really awful, actually [laughs]. Aside from that aesthetically, I’m interested in things that are darker, a bit more scratched-up, and almost, in a sense, like the old horror films, the “classics” – Nosferatu, Dracula, things like that, and that’s pretty much imagery-wise. That’s how we treated the packaging [of Closure], how it came across, which is a parody.

A parody?
Yeah, of the first Danzig album.

Ah, I see. I was wondering why the cover and insert art was so minimal. I think his artwork is phenomenal, but why didn’t you use Stephen Kasner [artist – did covers for both preceding albums] this time around?
The reason for that was that Steve just got married, so he’s really busy with all that, and [I] didn’t really have the time to hang out with him. He’s just getting his life together, so that was pretty much the reason for that. Besides, sometimes I think that if you keep using the same art or the same formula with a record, then it becomes a little more drab, although Steve always comes up with something brilliant.

So, with that in mind, sound-wise, what’s your satisfaction level with the new album compared to all the others?
Well, with each record, I think they took on their own personality as it starts to evolve. And with that still, aside from the way the guitars were written or the drums or even the vocals, the production [on Closure] plays a major part in the recording process, in which, production-wise, we spent a lot more time making sure that everything was there, especially things that are there that you can’t necessarily hear that were extremely important to where we want them to belong. We spent hours and hours in the execution of it, making sure that all those elements were there. Then, we had a [female] friend of Brian’s do an Italian opera, which was very cool. So, we wrote this Italian opera piece for her, and she sang it and I did some kind of Latin thing over the top of it, which kinda comes in and out of the picture – a lot of filling, I guess that’s you want to call it.

Yeah, after the first few listens to the new album, I listened to it on headphones, and that’s when it really struck me how densely layered it is, almost in a post-apocalyptic manner.
We really tried desperately to make it that way, and the drums were the thing that we did the most intentionally – a lot of the weird sounds that were hidden in there relative to everything else. It turned out really well.

Yeah, I agree. Would you say these more experimental production techniques carried over from your work with Psywarfare and Lockweld?
Oh, definitely! That’s where I started out with that, and that was kinda the goal as far as doing that band [Psywarfare]. Psywarfare, for me, it kinda started out with just using effects and feedback and different sounds that I recorded with 30, 40 dollars worth of equipment. I really learned a lot from the start to (Closure) in creating sounds I wasn’t used to hearing, and because I learned all that, then I was able to bring that knowledge to the new record. All the time, when I was doing Psywarfare, it was like giving us a task I wasn’t up to the level I’m at now. I think it just came across [as] forced and obvious, whereas now, you can hear things very well – it’s more noticeable. It’s not so electronic, it’s not so, y’know, another band trying to do electronic music [laughs].

So, these projects were more or less a playground for you to try out new ideas, then.
Yeah, definitely.

Basically, what I’m trying to say, I know you pretty much run Integrity, but is there any sort of diplomacy as far as, “I’m trying out this stuff in Psywarfare and Lockweld, why don’t we try it out in Integrity”?
Well, that’s pretty much what we did with (Closure). I always looked at my work with Psywarfare as being sorta like training, to get to this level. I do still like a lot of the songs that I made – I kinda think a lot of them aren’t just doodles or sketches or anything. But, in a way, they kind of are, in a way that I’m using instruments that are not normal, things that aren’t even instruments – like, being able to bring to that to, for a lack of a better word, a “rock” formula.

Following up on Psywarfare and Lockweld, how did you get interested in, loosely, the power-electronics scene? Did you get your hands on some equipment and decide to fuck around, or were there some certain bands you heard and thought, “Damn, I want to do that”?
A little bit of both. Ultimately, when I was a kid, electronic music used to be called industrial, and I always thought of that as very similar to punk rock and hardcore and metal music – I felt very akin to it. I tried to pursue that, like I said before, as a sort of training…I always try to make records I can’t get – if I can’t get a record I want, I’ll just make it myself! That was pretty much the approach musically [with Psywarfare]. With Lockweld, I was mainly just a producer for that. I had a home studio, and Steve [Makita] and [wife] Karen would come over and I’d record them and they’d be like, “What do you think this needs? What do you think of this? Would you mind doing this?” and I ended up doing a couple records with them and just didn’t have the time to do it anymore. Now, I don’t do Psywarfare, either. There’s no real need for the outlet anymore – I can do everything I want to do in one, and be able to focus all my attention on one record instead of having all my time and energy spread across many.

On your earliest demo, Integrity were a very Negative Approach-styled hardcore band, and now with Closure, you’ve evolved into a very dark, sinister punk-metal one. From your standpoint, how would you characterize Integrity’s evolution?
Pretty much, it’s weird to say, but to think we started this 13 years ago, I always wanted to try to make a record like what we just made. It’s really hard to get everything right, to be able to put the music in my head onto a little CD. Luckily, with time and perseverance, I was able to get closer – I still haven’t really found it exactly, but I’m getting closer. Hopefully, by the album next year [laughs] – I’m looking at many factors. At the time, when we started out, we didn’t really know how to play our instruments or anything – the whole thing’s always been quite a blessing that we were able to record from, pretty much, the beginning. We appreciate doing a little bit of touring, [but] we’re predominantly a studio band, without having to do all the leg work, travelling all the time, and all that.

Also, over the years, Integrity’s always had a huge crossover appeal to both metal and hardcore fans. What do you think it is about your band that draws two relatively disparate groups together?
I’m not sure. I’ve thought about it before, and the only thing I can ever come up with was the fact that we try to do something that’s extreme. I think that’s the underlying element that makes both genres interesting to the listener, that there’s something extreme there. Our influences are so, so varied – we like a lot of metal bands, we like a lot of hardcore bands, we like a lot of industrial bands – we like everything, even down to country. Sometimes it shows up [laughs]. I don’t know…I’m really grateful that people from different genres of music appreciate what we do, which is wonderful, but I don’t know why [laughs].

So, loosely, being associated with Victory and coming from a hardcore background, what are your thoughts on the modern hardcore scene? I mean, do you even feel a part of it anymore?
Honestly, I don’t. I don’t really listen to any new hardcore at all, and I’m probably the worst person to ask a question about any knowledge of it. I mean, but because we’re on Victory, we’re considered to be sometimes hardcore, sometimes metal, sometimes both, sometimes who-knows-what [laughs], so I don’t know.

Hey, as long as you’re good, y’know? [laughs]
Yeah, we try to make the records the way we want to hear them – luckily, people tend to enjoy them.

How old are you now?

Being the age you are now, would you say you’ve moved away from hardcore’s youthful idealism, to a point that’s maybe furthest away from that?
Well, I think that the reason I was interested in hardcore in the beginning was because I was angry, and as I grew up, I realized that there were other means to express myself, to exorcise the demons inside me, without being so pissed off. Although, it’s still kinda pissed, y’know?

It kinda necessitates it, in a way.
I think it’s maybe not as belligerent, if that makes any sense.

Yeah, maybe a bit more cerebral.
That’s definitely true, and I think that’s maybe a more menacing approach.

Over the years, then, has Integrity shifted from being a musical tool for you to being a philosophical one?
I think it has elements of both. I think that, obviously, if the music isn’t good, you’re not gonna be able to put a philosophy behind it – it’s like trying to polish shit. For me, although I do have some sort of part in the writing of the music, putting my philosophies into songs – that’s pretty much the core of where I’m coming from, it’s a very important part. But, for me, that’s probably one of the most important things in writing [lyrics], that that’s my little grandstand [laughs].

Philosophies notwithstanding, but Integrity’s been subjected to countless outrageous rumors during the better half of the ‘90s. I’m not even gonna bring any of them up, but why are people so privy to talk shit about you guys?
The only thing I’ve ever been able to come up with for that is, we always try to do something a little different than what’s coming out. Sometimes people see something a little different and have to change it, y’know, so that is that. But that’s the only thing I can ever come up with. In a way, it’s kinda fun, y’know, and in a way, the people who work for Victory Records, it does their job for them [laughs]. You don’t have to buy an ad in a magazine, because everybody’s talking about something outlandish – nine times out of 10, not true, and the one time out of time, scarcely true. But, y’know, it’s funny, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Perhaps you could do or something – I’m sure the message board would be brimming! Speaking of which, I’m almost certain Closure is going to alienate most people familiar with Integrity even more than your preceding records, which is probably a good thing. Not to sound elitist, but if the average listener can’t handle a record as aesthetically pleasing as your new one is, well…maybe they shouldn’t be listening in the first place.
Well, thank you. We’ve always tried to target our music towards individuals instead of towards any type of genre.

Not “groups.”
Yeah, maybe that also ties in with your question about metal over hardcore. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve never really included lyrics in the packaging, aside from the fact that it destroys the imagery. The other side, there’s been a lot of times when we’ve played shows and people will come up to you afterwards and analyze what you wrote, and it’s totally not it at all [laughs]. It sounds pretty interesting anyway, but then this person applies it to their life and uses their imagination, and that’s great – that’s the best.

That’s probably one of the things you’re striving for as an artist.

After so many lineup changes over the years, how have you remained so focused?
Y’know, I’ve just been lucky, I guess. A lot of the people we work with, they’re a lot younger and they grew up listening to our band, so they have their interpretations of what the band means to them. We have people who started out as, for a lack of a better word, “fans” of the band, and then they joined the band and were able to bring their own individual vision of the band with them – to make this great collage.

So, a collage then: What a dark one it’s been so far, and with the onset of Angela Delamorte, what an even darker one it’s about to become. In parting, Dwid promised that the band’s new website will see his collective (truly, a none-more-appropriate term at this point) moving into more multimedia forms of expression, with expanded art, writing, lyrics, even short films and exclusive tracks making their mark this new palate of theirs. A daunting task for a lesser band, but to paraphrase the title of Integrity 2000’s finest moment, such is the burden of purity.

1 comment:

ImpendingDoomTheory said...

F Yeah!! it's been a little while but this is the kind of writing and reason i keep coming back to your blog! Thanks aj, very good questions and awesome information given by dwid, very informative. i always appreciate a glimpse into dwids head when i can get the chance.