Alex Moskos is dedicated to the noble cause of complete sonic deconstruction, an unswerving force in Canadian experimental circles. You might know him from bands like Thames or Alterity Problem, but if you don’t know his brain-scrambling Beefheartian rock trio AIDS Wolf (now sadly defunct) you should probably Google it. Now that AIDS Wolf is no more, his longtime solo project Drainolith has been picking up steam.
Last year’s “You Paid For It” 7-inch on Psychic Handshake marked the first appearance of Drainolith’s current permutation: damaged (to put it lightly) guitar riffs, ping ponging e-drums, and low-pitched vocals lulling you into an alien comfort. His new LP Fighting! on Spectrum Spools fully synthesizes this vision, providing a physical realization of Moskos’s spasmodic imagination with all sounds created in real-time.
I recently sat down with Alex for some “light conversation” about his earliest experiments, metal, Noise Park, and the death knell of the avant-garde.
NOISEY: I always like to ask about origin stories. How did you first get into making music?
Alex Moskos: My dad is kind of a gadget fanatic, so we had lots of tape players and radios around the house when I was a kid. At some point in the late 80s when I was around 10 or 11, we got a consumer grade Yamaha keyboard with a little drum sequencer in it. I started making music on that, just by talking or singing over it into a cassette recorder with a little built-in mic. I also remember playing the piano and again not really singing but just kind of rambling on. You know the electronic chime sound that plays on a cassette to let you know the side is starting and finishing? I used to record that onto my own tapes to make them seem more real, I guess.
Did you integrate that sound into the music itself?
No, I wasn’t quite there yet. I still had to use an instrument, but pretty soon after that I got into rap music, even before rock. I started doing experiments with my mom’s records, trying to cut them up and make pause tapes. Like record a bit, pause it, record it again, and make a loop. Mostly just fucking around with tapes.
You’ve been talking a lot about metal lately, and wearing metal tees the last few times I’ve seen you.
I’m an absolute metal neophyte, man. I only discovered it on the last AIDS Wolf tour because Yannick brought a bunch of metal on his iPod and basically schooled me on it.
Did you play in metal bands growing up?
No. I’d always kind of feared it, because I knew it was this whole other world I didn’t want to get into, drawing the line at Slayer and Metallica. I had Kill ‘Em All and Reign In Blood and thought that was all the metal I would ever need. It was never around when I was a kid, and there weren’t any metalheads in my suburb. I don’t know what that was about. Everyone listened to rap, and that was extreme as it got. So I’m not going to fake the funk, but I’m just blown away by it. The technicality and pure abstraction of the music is crazy. The more abstract death metal stuff is just mind-blowing. I’m so obsessive and I love music so much that I have to make aesthetic decisions going along so I won’t go off on an excessive tangent. Unfortunately now I’m just going really deep into it.
How did you originally join AIDS Wolf?
Chloe and I grew up together as teenagers in eastern Ottawa, so I’ve known her since I was 15 and she was 16. When their guitarist Andre quit the band, I just happened to be at a gig and saw Yannick. I asked him how it was going, and he was like, “Fuck man, Andre just quit.” I always say he asked me if I wanted to try out, and he says I asked him if I could try out. It was kind of a perfect fit because I knew that kind of music super well, but the only problem was that my guitar chops were super out of shape at the time.
I’ve heard some stories about other people trying out for the band and having to watch a DVD of the guitarist’s hands to study them really intensely. Did you have to do that too?
Yup, absolutely. Andre quit right after they finished recording Cities of Glass, and there were two huge tours booked. I hadn’t played guitar for years, so it was a really hard and frustrating process. That music is not intuitive, and knowing how to play guitar or knowing music theory is not going to help you a single bit. It’s super retarded but also fairly complicated. There were some basic guitar things and also some basic music skill things. I had never really played in a band that was tight with counting or using bars, so it was pretty intensive to get the band up to the point where we could go on tour and record.
Here's the video for "You Paid For It":
At the same time as AIDS Wolf, you were keeping really busy with the Drainolith project. How many tours have you done now?
I’ve probably done around 10, although some of them were real tours and some were shorter 4-8 show trips. The project definitely came together through touring a lot, though. I really wanted it to be a live thing.
That’s heightened by the fact that you don’t use backing tracks, samples or any pre-recorded loops, and everything is triggered live. Is that a big thing for you?
Yeah. Nothing against all that stuff, but I’m really into the kind of playing where music is an extension of my body. It’s definitely difficult, especially when you’re on tour. You’re tired and you’ve had a couple of beers, and when you get up there your arms and feet aren’t quite responding like you want them to. On my last tour with Nate Young we were in a hotel room after the gig, and he asked me, “So can you really hold it down on those foot triggers? Can you play a solid 4/4 beat, play keyboard and sing at the same time?” The answer is yes, but it’s really hard.
You have to give it up for one-man bands.
Yeah, plus they have a high-hat on their head a lot of the time (laughs). It’s a real street corner style.
Now you have a three-piece band for the live show. What inspired you to bring Dom and Jessica into the mix?
Dom is highly trained, and Jessica isn’t, so they’re perfect for different reasons. I really appreciate the way Dom sings, and she has a really deep voice, which is fitting because I do too. It’s definitely a female voice as opposed to a male one, so that adds a totally different vibe to the lyrics, but it’s still a dulcet kind of tone. I appreciate the work she’s done in other projects too, especially Wasted Nymph. Jess’s experience playing drums came from any time she’d been hanging out somewhere with a drum kit and she’d had a few beers, she would get on and hammer it out. She has a primitive style that I really like. The music is focused on rhythm and percussive elements, but because I wrote it with just two feet and two drum sounds, I didn’t want someone with a built-up rhythmic style that’s more standard.
Are you going on tour with the band?
No, for the upcoming US tour I’m going to bring Nate Nelson, who plays drums for Mouthus and Lower Dens. I’m not sure if he’s trained or not, but his rhythmic sense is really advanced, and it’s just amazing how he plays. He’s always been a huge influence on how the drums sound on Drainolith. He’s also put out a couple of solo releases under the name Afternoon Penis, which are hugely influential.
And here's the video for "Lasalle Walks Out":
Another thing I’ve heard you talk about a lot is “the crew.” Who do you consider to be a part of that?
That’s a deep question (laughs). It’s my immediate social milieu, and whoever is around. I don’t really know how to answer that because I don’t want to be exclusive. Words like crew, posse, gang, all of that imply a circling the wagons, us vs. the world attitude, and I don’t wan it to mean that. I think anyone can be part of the crew if we’re just standing there hanging out. Anyone who comes and stands with us is immediately amalgamated into the crew. It’s just like-minded indivuduals, you know? I use the term pretty loosely.
How do you feel about Noise Park?
It’s awesome. So entertaining, and I love that nobody knows who’s behind it. I mean, I’m sure some people know who it is, but it’s cool that it’s completely anonymous. I wanna see the show. Pitch it to Nickelodeon! The reality TV version of the noise scene is something I’ve talked about with the crew. It’d be completely uninteresting and banale, but at the same time really entertneed everaining. There are so many characters who circulate in that milieu and interesting personalities. I think Noise Park really captures that.
I think Canada is kind of underrepresented, though.
People are a bit more reserved, which tampers down their personality. There are a couple of characters though, like Martin Sasseville. And Kevin Crump can pull a character.
Man Made Hill should get a character, too.
OK, one last question, but this is a big one. Another thing I’ve heard you say recently is that “the avant-garde is dead.” I know you were joking, but is there any truth to that?
Oh man… “The avant-garde” is a military term. It’s a French term that means the front guard; the guys you send in first. Being first implies being something new, and it’s depressing, but I think the concept of new ideas is kind of going out the window. This is a major topic, and we could go on all day. But at the same what’s absolutely shocking are things I’ve read in magazines in a couple of different instances. One of those was an interview with the woman who runs Not Not Fun in The Wire. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was something about how everyone has given up the idea of being original, and how that’s really passé. It’s really crazy to trace retro-trends, like that Simon Reynolds book Retromania, which talks about how the 80s revival went on longer than the actual 80s did. Then you start tracking 90s retro-trends, which are essentially rehashes of retro-trends from the 90s! It’s a hall of mirrors with an infinite network of references that become pure surface. Seeking out this core, fetishized meaning is a 20th century concept. It’s the break between modernism and post-modernism.
The avant-garde is truly a modern thing. It’s really from the last century. I was also in a waiting room reading a fashion magazine interviewing all of the big-name designers with a quote that said, “the avant-garde is dead.” Whenever you look at fashion on TV, the avant-garde is really present. The clothes they’re presenting are women wearing giant pieces of plastic. It’s not something you could actually wear.
So you’d like to see more music that you can’t actually listen to?
Exactly! That’s what avant-garde music is. If you look at Stockhausen or Pierre Boulez, it wouldn’t get played when it was written and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra isn’t playing it to this day. You can’t really go to a concert hall and hear that music being played live, because orchestras don’t want to do it. Obviously there are examples to the contrary, but for all intents and purposes it’s purely theoretical rather than practical.
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