Crypts and Their Custom CR-8000
I was sitting in a chair earlier, reading a book on how to make turbines, and there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, a customized Roland CR-8000 drum machine lurched up, held me at knifepoint, and made me drive it to the Drift On Inn Casino on Aurora Avenue. I wasn't wearing shoes. It slapped me and said, "My name is Roland Bolan. I need to play Pai Gow, right now. Don't even think about talking." So I drove it to the casino, where it lost and drank. Then we got back in the car, where it rolled a blunt and made me drive to Pony. It said, "I have to meet some friends. Shut the fuck up, or I swear to God, I will stab you."
When we got to Pony, Steve Snere, formerly of These Arms Are Snakes, was sitting around the fire pit with Bryce Brown (Chk Minus) and visual-artist-turned-musician, Nick Bartoletti. They've put together a synth-based, audiovisual, industrial noise band called Crypts. The CR-8000, which they built and customized themselves, has a mean streak and is the centerpiece of their dark and heavy sound. Influences range from Ink & Dagger, Kano, Immortal, and Unwound to the Jesus Lizard, Blockhead, Joy Division, Three 6 Mafia, Marilyn Manson, and the Nirvana B-sides. They are in the process of writing songs and putting together an album. Live shows will begin sometime in February or March.
How do you describe the sound? Besides gangster sex.
Bryce Brown: Dirty. Spooky jazz. Rape gaze.
Nick Bartoletti: Tombstone step.
Steve Snere: Electronic evilness. We're really into low end. And heaviness.
BB: It's dark music. I'm influenced drum-wise by a lot of grime and Southern hiphop, and dirty, industrial sounds.
You guys were working on this before Steve got involved. How did it begin? Besides all the sex.
BB: The sex was really good. It wasn't awkward. All kinds of sex.
NB: We had to get the sex out of the way. So it wouldn't be an issue later on. I knew Bryce was working on beats and music, and I really liked what I was hearing, so I asked him to show me how he was doing it and said, "I gotta get in on this."
BB: There's the visual aspect, too. I'd been doing this hiphop thing, making hiphop beats, and I wanted live visuals to be part of it, crazy projections. I met Nick, who does all this visual art, and he was looking to do music, so we were kind of the perfect crisscross.
Then your drum machine happened.
BB: Yes it did. It was an essential thing in creating what we do. I really like '80s analog drum sounds, especially the Roland CR series, the 78, or the 5000. But that shit's really expensive. I was able to find a cheaper one in Idaho on Craigslist. So I drove all the way to pick it up, and when I got there, the thing didn't work. The guy had told me it worked, but it didn't. But I'd driven all that way, so I picked it up anyway, thinking I would fix it. When we got back, we did a lot of research and found that we could add stuff to it, and fix it, and rig it with some modern equipment. And slowly it became this custom, unique beast of a drum machine that we could do modern programming with while retaining the '80s analog quality we love. As we began to build it, we discovered that it had a bit of a temper/drug problem.
[At this point, the drum machine jumps up, grabs my hair, holds me down over the fire with the knife at my throat, and says, "I do not have a motherfucking drug problem. I do it recreationally. I will slit your ass." Then it let me go and went in the bar for Tanqueray.]
BB: This is the type of thing we deal with on a regular basis. But Roland's sounds are so good that it's worth it. It's a CR-8000 from 1980 or '81, same as Steve and I! This is the machine they used for the bar scene in Blade Runner. Pretty filthy. It didn't have MIDI before, as it was pre-MIDI. It originally had a DIN sync connection, which we pulled out and replaced with MIDI. The boards are MIDI to Trigger interfaces, and it has no onboard sequencer anymore. It's played via an Akai XR20, though anything with MIDI will trigger it. We pretty much gutted the dude, and built and installed the circuit boards and LEDs. We drilled out the back and installed six outputs, so that each voice has its own output for mixing and EQ, etc. It's also velocity sensitive, which makes it pretty versatile, as far as dynamics go.
NB: Putting it together was a big project. I was studying electronics and circuit bending. It was a bitch, but we took it slow. And it works now.
And then enter "The Dragon," Steve Snere. How did Steve come to join?
SS: I always liked Bryce's old band Chk Minus. We'd always been cool with each other. One night at a bar, he came up and told me I had to see this drum machine he'd made. I'm into drum machines and had tried circuit bending myself but never had succeeded in actually making my own, so I had to check it out. Then we talked about me doing some vocals. They wanted something sort of rock-based, but not rock exactly. Anyway, I was hip to what they were doing and liked what I heard. With this drum machine, we can push things and do crazy shit. I really like that aspect. I wanted to do something totally different than I had done, and this was perfect. These guys are super dedicated and super creative, and artistic, and take it seriously. I'm stoked.
And the sex is great.
SS: Really good.
How much of a shift from These Arms Are Snakes is this?
SS: It's fuckin' awesome to not have any guitars. Or drums. This is a totally different way to look at music for me. There's no tuning guitars, or drums. It gets right after it. It's the same, but not. It's definitely taken me a minute to get used to, but I love it. I can't wait to tour. We're gonna be able to throw our shit in a backpack and go. And that's really appealing to me. To not have to have a giant van and a trailer, and loading into a club isn't like an attack on the lower lumbar regions of your back, carrying stuff up stairs and whatnot.
And lyrically, how is your writing different? How are you feeding off them and the music?
SS: It's pretty open. Nothing's set in stone yet. We're new. One of the songs we're giving you is called "Completely Fucked." It's about being fucked-up.
So you're into Sylvia Plath. Maybe some Salman Rushdie? James Clavell? Raven quothing some nevermore with that shit.
SS: I'm playing an organ, too. The vocal effects are way more prevalent, too. I'm way more part of the group here, as far as making the music. I'm not sitting around waiting for the parts; I'm helping create them. I think it's important to push myself into new places, and with this, I'm doing that and am totally happy. With this kind of music, possibilities seem pretty endless.
How do y'all record?
BB: It's all basically live. We work with a lot of MIDI and beat clocking—we can keep building on a track. We all have parts.
How did the music change once Steve was involved? Did the sex change?
BB: The sex is better now. And the music changed immensely. When we started, it was more on the hiphop tip. Now it's getting toward this industrial noise thing. Before, it was just Nick and I having sex; now Steve is here.
And he's got great hands. Soft skin.
NB: Sometimes there's some jealousy here and there.
SS: In some ways, I think they started over with the music when I came in. It was hiphoppy, Witch House–ish, and that element is still there, it's just different.
BB: I played live in the past with Grayskul and am really into dark hiphop. With this stuff, I think most MCs would be like, "What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?" Steve answers that question in a great way. I'm drawn to Salem and darker electronic stuff. Steve suits this so well. Plus, he's a great kisser.
"Completely Fucked" seems heavy as well. What's the difference between darkness and heaviness?
BB: Darkness is a melancholy vibe. Heaviness is that driving aspect. Steve screams, but there are parts where he's singing beautifully, too. We listen to a lot of black metal. Unwound was dark and heavy.
NB: With darkness, maybe there's more of a sense of fear. Heaviness is more conscious. With us, there are loud, abrasive noises with melodies weaving in and out.
SS: I don't know. I don't think you need to be heavy to be dark. So many metal bands think they're evil, but they're not. Evil is more a state of mind. David Lynch is evil to me.
Has Roland Bolan the drum machine always been so mean and violent?
SS: First time I met the drum machine, it had a bottle of Alizé and a blunt. It had the knife, and it made me get fucked-up. It held me down and played its evil sounds for me, then it rewired my circuit board.
At any point when it's having an outburst, do you ever think, "This is a drum machine—this can't be happening to me." I mean, you'll go home with a black eye and not want to talk about it.
BB: I was scared at first, but I kind of liked it. It makes me submit; I can't help it. It's like the hostage situation, where you start to like your captor. Stockholm syndrome. I'm always touching it. Harder and harder—it knows when I touch it harder. That's the velocity-sensitive angle. It responds to touch.
SS: The kick drum is like its nipples.
BB: The clap is, well, we can't talk about the clap. It's the clap.
SS: I want to be dominated.