The first show I saw at this year's SXSW was also one of the best. It was early Wednesday night, and electronic thrashers Extreme Animals were rocking a small crowd in the back room at Emo's. David Wightman and Jacob Ciocci played a short set of giddy MIDI synth lines, garbled vocal feedback, monster drumming, and goofy onstage/onfloor antics. It was a monumental blast, and it bested a lot of the bands on that long, overloaded weekend. In advance of the band's (first?) Seattle show, this Sunday at 2020 Cycle, I corresponded with Wightman via e-mail.
When did you guys meet and start making music together?
We met in high school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We sang in the men's a capella group, called "Accafellas." We had heard "experimental music" and "free jazz" on the radio. At the time (the mid-'90s), Chapel Hill had a really well-known indie music scene, but we were not a part of that scene, so we would play in parking lots or outside of clubs to no one. We were also making art together at Kinko's—drawings, zines, etc. Fast-forward six years, and Jacob and I meet up again and decide to record some music and go on a little tour in the summer before we went to graduate school.
What's your connection to Paper Rad?
Jacob is one of the three members of Paper Rad. Ben Jones and Jessica Ciocci from PR have drawn some art for albums and videos. But Extreme Animals is a totally different beast. We want to make it clear so people don't come to an Extreme Animals show thinking they are going to see Paper Rad videos. We're just two dudes doing our thang.
Now that Paper Rad's aesthetic and sound have become more mainstream (here I'm thinking about Dan Deacon or the MIA album cover), where does that leave Extreme Animals?
Music and art are not a competition. There is infinite creative room for everybody. If there is not room for you, you make room. Context is only a piece of the puzzle. It is so easy to find out what other people are up to through the internet that copying one another isn't such a big deal. It has always been happening; it's just faster now. The stuff that stands out now is the stuff that is original in every way, not just stylistically, because style is so easy to steal and re-create.
Do you have any new material coming out? What's your approach to releasing recordings?
We just finished a CD called Let the Music Take You There, which should be with us by the time we reach Seattle. It is our first CD that we did not personally burn, Xerox, and distribute. Vicious Pop from Milwaukee put it out. We were going to call it I Can't Believe It's Not a CD-R, but whatev. Making an album/CD-R is satisfying, because you can hold it in your hands and know it is good. Releasing MP3s, you have no control over the context of the musical experience. Someone can really change the music by writing some weird description below it on their blog. But making anything and putting it out publicly is all about this process of seeing your ideas distort and mutate and transform out of your control. You have to embrace that and try to make something that can survive in such a fluid, changing context.
What is your live setup?
A laptop sends MIDI patterns to Jacob's (cheap) drum machine and keyboard. The drum machine and Jacob's vocals are fed through a mixer with a feedback loop. The basic concept of the band is live drums, live electronics, with a preprogrammed MIDI "score" leading the way. This approach has served us well because it facilitates an even collaboration over long distances (I live in San Diego and Jacob lives in Pittsburgh). That is the basic setup, but we are always trying new little things.
What makes an Extreme Animals show satisfying for you?
Every show is different. At times, [we try to be] threatening or at least annoying, at other times intentionally awkward, at times uplifting or inspirational; [It's all] labored-over compositions fed through the chaos of human imperfection. Jacob gets a bang-over after we play most times. Both of us are trying to figure out a way to play this youth music at the age of 30, teaching at universities. Life is a magical joke and so is music, so let's do this!
Extreme Animals play Sun July 6, 2020 Cycle, 7 pm, $5, all ages. With Sweet Potatoes, Fortress of Amplitude, Paintings for Animals.