Besides running Broken Press in Fremont, Andrew Crawshaw is the powerhouse drummer for the excellent underground Seattle rock band Terminal Fuzz Terror and ex-sticksman for doom-drone unit A Story of Rats. The former group has a new album titled Vol. 0: In the Shadow of the Mountain that was recorded with Tad Doyle at Witch Ape Studio and mastered by James Plotkin (Robotic Empire Records released it March 3). It’s an explosive, pedal-to-the-metal species of psychedelic rock that soars and flares out of the Hawkwind academy of space travel and maneuvers with breathtaking dynamics of Deep Purple ca. In Rock or the glowering malevolence of Monster Magnet ca. Spine of God. Interestingly, Crawshaw has almost simultaneously issued a vastly different solo EP under the name Meridian Arc, Phase (I-V). Over its 21 minutes, Crawshaw generates ominous synth splutters and distorted gurgles, buttressed by methodical drumbeats and climactic cymbal splashes. One wishes that Andrei Tarkovsky would rise from the dead and make a film to accompany this music. After the jump, Crawshaw fields some questions about his two distinctive musical projects—while in transit to Madrid, Spain. What a trooper.
What made you want to be in Terminal Fuzz Terror?
Crawshaw: Almost four years ago, I had just left a psych-rock band I was playing with and joined A Story of Rats, and I was looking to balance my creative efforts with something different in approach and sound to that project. Darwin's former band Ayahuasca Travelers had also dissolved around the same time. We both were looking to continue working in a similar sonic realm to our former bands but with a little more focus and audible reckoning, in volume and intensity. This past summer David moved over to second guitar and we added Justin Thomas Kleine on bass before recording our new record, which has shaken things up in a good way for us and really pulled things together.
One of the main things about Terminal Fuzz Terror is the relentlessness and intensity of the songs. The band’s name is essentially a descriptor of the music. What is TFT’s aim with its music—to induce a kind of transcendence/catharsis through overwhelming volume and power? Or something else?
Ha, yeah, the name of the band has definitely served as an easy and accurate descriptor for the music created. I'd say transcendence/catharsis through volume and power would be a fairly succinct way of putting it. As a band we've never set out with any sort of intention or overarching idea. We all come from fairly diverse musical backgrounds so I think that has played a big part in the development of the sound. Darwin's guitar playing takes a lot of cues from ’60s/’70s Japanese and European psych-rock bands. I've always had an affinity for early-’90s noise rock (like Craw, Jesus Lizard, Dazzling Killmen and the whole sound that developed around those bands). That particular songwriting style and aesthetic has had a big influence on my playing. A lot of the TFT sound has just been us haphazardly whittling away at full blown chaos and noise until we can focus the sound into something that seems to make sense (at least to us) and we find enjoyable to play.
From a drumming standpoint, is TFT the most demanding group you've played in? Do you need to do anything special mentally or physically to get ready for a show or a studio recording?
It's a bit of a toss up between TFT and A Story of Rats. A Story of Rats was always a very intense and taxing band to perform and write with due to the nature of the music and the length of each composition. That always took a lot out of me emotionally and physically. TFT has been demanding in the capacity that when we started playing together I was maybe a competent drummer at best. Since the beginning I've continuously pushed myself to play harder/louder, push my boundaries and evolve the complexity of my parts as much as possible. Which I think has been the case for all four of us. It's a bit of an ongoing joke between us about pushing each other way past our personal skill level or comfort zone when writing new material. I think it's helped the band as a whole to become much more realized and finally tune our sound. It keeps it fun and interesting for everyone involved too.
Rock music is over 60 years old. What do you see as its role in 2015? What more can be done in the medium?
I've heard the complaint more than once that contemporary music is stagnant or unoriginal now. Which may have some level of truth to it, but I think that's entirely on the listener. I'm a rabid consumer of vinyl and music in general, because I constantly find new records that interest me. Some were released 40+ years ago, some last week. I think technology has blown the doors wide open in the past 10 or so years. A lot of music used to exist in varying geographic bubbles of isolation; now you can find out about a band from Iceland as easily as one from the next street over. I think that has had a fairly large impact on the flow of information and ideas. Instead of regional aesthetics and sounds that percolate over the years, you have bands clearly taking cues or influence from music that would have been considered obscure in years past. There's obviously a fair amount of negative aspects associated with the ease of technology and the music industry as a whole, but I think perseverance and dedication to your craft has never had a better chance of paying off than right now (at least as far as listenership). The landscape of the music industry and the exorbitant costs of recording and manufacturing music rendered so many great records of the '60s/'70s nothing more than obscure tombs only known to those with the utmost knowledge of music. Now with places like Bandcamp and the ever-growing amount of reissue-centric record labels, the kid making bedroom recordings on Garageband has as much a chance of being heard as '70s Turkish guitar gods. I find that to be inspiring and refreshing. I guess that's a long-winded way of saying, I think rock music is as viable as it's ever been. Just look at the tremendous upswing in the manufacturing of vinyl. One pressing plant recently announced they couldn't take on any new clients until they built an additional plant just so they could keep up with their current orders. That says a lot to me.
The Meridian Arc tape offers a drastically different sound from that of TFT (I admit—like your solo project better). Have you been making this sort of music for a while, or is it a recent development? What was the inspiration to make this music? Are Meridian Arc pieces soundtracks looking for images? Did the film Phase IV influence the Phase(I -V) EP?
Meridian Arc has been a fairly recent development. Truthfully, I had barely ever touched a synth or any electronic instrument prior to last fall. After A Story of Rats went on hiatus in the spring, I got the itch to start digging deeper creatively, beyond just playing drums. For everything I get out of TFT, it's a completely different creative standpoint to be behind a drum set than standing in front of a stack of synthesizers. You can open a world of sound ready to be sonically sculpted into anything you want. It's also a new and challenging experience to be working in a realm that I've only ever been peripherally involved with prior to this. Seattle has such diverse wealth amazing artists, it's endlessly inspiring and a little intimidating.
The Phase (I-V) EP was my first real attempt at conceiving and documenting a musical idea entirely on my own. I basically went into it having decided that, it's going to be whatever it's going to be and if it's not the best thing in the world, I'll at least have made it over the hurdle of completing my first piece. Hopefully, I could move on and make something better and more realized in the future. I knew if I got too hung up or stuck on making the perfect record (to me at least), I ran the risk of not finishing it and never moving forward. Since that EP, I've actually just finished a full-length record this week that I'm going to start looking for a label for. I'm happy with the Phase (I-V) EP, but I think the full length is a much stronger and well-defined idea.
Until you mentioned the correlation to the Phase IV film, it never dawned on me, though I do love the movie (and its soundtrack). I grew up on copious amounts of sci-fi and horror movies, and the scores to those films have certainly stuck with me. The idea of creating music that can guide the listener through an array of emotions and generate visuals in your head really intrigues me. I think it's a fascinating puzzle to try and make something that can require your complete focus and attention on the one hand, or be playing in the background almost unnoticed. So many great soundtracks work both as a complement to the film they score and as stand-alone compositions. It wouldn't be off base to say that the Meridian Arc pieces are soundtracks looking for images. I at least hope to write compositions that project a distinct feeling and sound. A lot of electronic artists I continuously go back to over the years often seem to work with a similar approach. Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Steve Moore, AE Paterra, Umberto, Cluster, and John Carpenter have all been hugely influential.
Are you a dystopian type of guy? Because this stuff is DARK, in the best way possible; it reminds me of Bernard Szajner's Visions of Dune, Gil Mellé's Andromeda Strain soundtrack, late-'70s Heldon, etc.
If you had asked me that question several years ago I probably would have said yes. I think I used to have a fair amount of anger and disdain for the world and people in general. I'd like to chalk it up to youthful folly but who knows. I used to put far too much importance on the wrong things. In the last few years I've shed most (if not all) of those feelings. I've re-focused my time and energy to areas of my life that often fell to the wayside for far too long. Though it is a fairly recent development, Meridian Arc has been very personally gratifying. To some degree it serves as a filter for some of those feelings and misplaced energy. It's also allowed me to explore a part of my creative psyche I didn't really know I had.
Will you be playing out as Meridian Arc?
I would love to play out as Meridian Arc sooner than later. TFT has been focused on the new record that just came out last week as well as our release show at Chop Suey on March 28. Hopefully, I'll start booking some Meridian Arc shows after that.