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Creation is Crucifixion: From DIY Hardcore Vocals to Tech Company CEO

An interview with Creation is Crucifixion, who are getting the band back together.

All photos by Shani Banerjee

In their seven years as a functioning band, Creation is Crucifixion brought a prophetic message regarding technology that we are only now realizing a decade later.

Coming from an era where hardcore bands were just beginning to look beyond the rudimentary physical and social outlet of the music and head towards careerism, Creation is Crucifixion pulled in the opposite direction, and became more art group than band. Each release challenged the audience to think and react to the technological climate that faced them, blurring the lines between listener and active participant. CIC stopped performing and releasing music some time around 2003.

Luckily for fans of the band new and old, CIC will reunite this summer for a rare performance at the King of the Monsters 20th anniversary festival in Mesa, AZ. To mark the occasion, Robotic Empire will be releasing two records for the band: a live 12” from a performance in Geneva in 2000 and a separate 12” pairing the band’s Antennae Builder tracks with the material from the Rerecorded Splits collection released in 2000 (being remastered by James Plotkin of Kanate).

During a tour of the incredible facilities of vocalist Nathan Martin’s tech company Deeplocal, we discussed the history of the band, his transition from punk band to tech company CEO, and future plans for CIC.

Noisey: So, Creation is Crucifixion never officially ended. Was that on purpose?

Nathan Martin: I think it never ended because to me that band was all that I did at the time. I think for a lot of people near that age, that’s your life. I never wanted the band to end. When I went to grad school it got harder and harder for us to do shows. Even when we moved back to Pittsburgh [from San Francisco], the idea was to really focus on the band, but we just didn’t.

Everyone was sick of each other for a while. When I went to grad school, that was like the nail in the coffin. We played a couple festivals during that time. I don’t know if it was that everyone was burnt out on it or that everyone was just growing up, but they went into different directions. Honestly, it is hard to keep a band going because you have to have one or two people who drive it. Paul and I drove the band for a while. We had other interests and it just died a slow death. We’ve tried to get together and finally got to play together two years ago. It’s so much fun. I don’t think I can do my role as well anymore, like screaming and being interesting on stage, but I love seeing those guys play. Mike Laughlin, when I get to see him play drums, is just amazing to watch.

That’s interesting you bring up the reunion. I don’t understand why you didn’t tell anyone about it in advance. A year and a half later, people find out about missing the Creation is Crucifixion reunion and freak. Of all the things you could have done, that was it?

Yeah, especially that show, right? Doesn’t it feel perfect though for the band considering how bad our recordings were though? [laughs] We always played and performed more for ourselves than our fans. It's pretty selfish but that reunion show was for us more than anyone else.

That’s actually another question I had.

Why were our recordings so horrible?

Kinda

I think we were a much better live band than we were recorded. I think, over time, having bad recordings was also just a part of the band's attitude. We had a more punk than metal attitude from my perspective. If those recordings were clean, maybe the band wouldn't have been so interesting. Our real fans appreciated us through our live shows.

Back then being a live band mattered, but back to the question. Do you have any hindsight perspective as to why the LP’s sounded like shit but the 7”s sounded so good?

I think that we probably tried too much on the LPs. I remember we recorded the first one In Silico at Audiomation. It was expensive for us so we went in when Andy Anti-Flag was in there and used the late night hours to record because he would charge less. None of us knew how to mix shit. Some of us thought we did [laughs]. We probably should have just let someone else do it. When it came to making records, we didn’t have any good way to do it. We would pull a mix down from the soundboard, put it to a tape and then go listen to it in Paul’s car. “Sounds good, done.” Or we’d spend too long to figure it out, and I’d want the vocals turned down a lot. You know, it just became really hard to get the mix right. I always found it was hard to be as into it in a recording studio as we were live. I just think we sucked at it and we didn’t have anyone telling us how to make it better. We just kinda went with it. Good enough was okay. We just wanted to have records out. I don’t know why the seven inches sounded better. Sometimes we got lucky.

I always thought that 3” cd was the best representation of the band.

Those were recorded with Andy at Plus Minus. We just got the original analog reels from that session. Adam MacGregor (guitarist) found them. So that’s what we’re talking about putting out as a release. One would be Antenna Builder plus those three songs on the other side. The other would be a live show from Geneva, Switzerland that has me ranting and being an idiot. It’s all about the context. That stuff was just about capturing a moment in time. It was a great scene of people with so much cool stuff going on. I just want to document it because it’s important to us as members. I think anyone that has ever made art or music has that period when they felt they were doing great work. For me, that was with CIC. Very few people care now, but that was never the point. You care, which is nice [laughs].

How do you feel about CIC’s influence? It almost seems like you guys were the black sheep of the bands that pioneered the tech metal/hardcore genre. Do you think that the barrier to entry was a little too high for most hardcore kids to really understand the full scope of the band?

Yea, I think that I’m probably to blame. Those guys were so talented and they were doing really interesting stuff. I was a kid, I was twenty-something. I was young, and it is so different to look back at how young you were and how you believed everything you did was so right, and matter of fact. I was in art school, I was learning all this shit that I thought was the definitive answer to everything and I just needed to talk about it. I think a lot of those bands politically were like that at the time. I still respect that a lot. I wish I had that level of passion for stuff now. I think I was really off-putting because I remember that if people didn’t want to listen to me talk somehow they weren’t allowed to listen to the music. That’s a shitty attitude to have and I think that attitude was there and came off that we were a snobby hardcore band, if you can have such a thing. What I do like is that the shit we were talking about, all the technology stuff, was ahead of its time, just like I think the music was ahead of its time. The way we were talking about technology appropriation and subversion, I’m glad that we did it. I remember when we first started talking about technology as a band, it was a time when kids refused to use email because punks were so anti-technology. There was really a time when being a Luddite was common.

Yea, there was some valor attached to it.

I liked hypocrisy. I still embrace change. I always liked the idea that you could say one thing and do another. It’s okay to have debate about something that you don’t know if you’re right or wrong. When I was talking to band mates about putting out these old recordings, debating should we or shouldn’t we, everyone has their differing opinion. I said “let’s put this whole conversation in the liner notes,” because that’s a great example of what Creation is Crucifixion was, whether it was when Paul would start playing a riff and cut me off while I was talking or I’d throw the mic down and walk away, we had that internal conflict all the time.

It makes sense why kids picked up on the Creation is Crucifixion sound, but did you ever sit back and wonder why no one picked up the ball with the politics of it?

Some tried to but I think it’s hard. When I look at what I was learning and the professors I was learning from at school, we had the only robotics arts professor in the world at that time. So it was really unique in the art world, reading these books from Autonomedia that’d have a pressing of 500 copies, and selling Flesh Machine books on tour. I loved that because it was really special. It was art and critical theory in a really weird context where you’d never expect to see it. I loved that.

Creation is Crucifixion set a new standard in hardcore for design and artwork with each release. Was the desire to push the boundaries of design and presentation for a hardcore band where the idea of Deeplocal began to germinate?

I always liked that stuff. I got into the noise scene following people like Eric Wood [of Bastard Noise] and he’s into noise for a very valid reason, he cares about sound. I care too but I was probably more about the packaging. I remember seeing this record at Amoeba in San Francisco where the record itself was just this piece of cardboard with a printing of a record that said “to play this record will destroy your needle.” It’s idiotic, but how awesome is a band that can just put out a piece of cardboard. I thought that was genius. One thing I do take away from Eric Wood, I remember him always pushing to be more prolific. Man is the Bastard and Bastard Noise clearly do this, they are prolific. Keep doing it. That’s almost a kind of work ethic thing that I even try to do here at Deeplocal, the company I built. Just do it, get it out there, push it and do as much stuff as you can. I mean, we put out releases where there were spelling mistakes on the fucking artwork. It was always about speed. Faster, more.

How did Deeplocal come about?

It was accidental. I was in grad school for Fine Art and I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, but ended up getting the gig to come back to Pittsburgh and work at Carnegie Mellon University as a researcher. I was an artist in residence at CMU in this place called The Studio of Creative Inquiry where I had worked years earlier as an undergrad. We’d built some mapping software that I had originally tried to build as an activist tool kit. At the university where I was working, you had to publish all your research and basically companies would pay attention to what research was going on there. They saw the mapping project and I took calls from Nokia, Motorola and a few others. I was doing artwork but it was considered research. They were excited by online mapping so I was pushed by the university to start a company. I started a company with two co-founders who both had other lives going on. Eventually those guys left and I had to figure out what I wanted to do with the company. We started from a single contract to do some design work. I went back to what I loved doing, which is a little bit of physical engineering, a little bit of software, a little bit of design. I figured I’m just going to use this to do whatever I want to do and we slowly built the company from two people, to five, then eight and now to 25. It was slow, and we’re going on nine years now doing that.

What we did really well was always seize opportunities. When it seemed like there was an opportunity, we did it. I treated the company like a band. Everything that I learned from that band and branding it, which I think we did a really good job of, I did with this company. We built a brand that’s more or less based on trying to be a metal band as a fucking company. Everything’s black, everything is very to the point. We take a similar tone that the band took: questioning, really honest, authentic, willing to be wrong and also complicated. We’re not a very clean cut company. I even took Pittsburgh into the brand. When we started the company, clients only wanted to hire a company in LA, SF or NY. So, I began building Pittsburgh into our brand, saying “Fuck yea, we’re from Pittsburgh. It’s about blue collar, it’s about getting shit done, and we make stuff.” So in the images we shared there were dirty hands making shit and not dapper hipsters. We’re not that, we’re this other thing. So that was how we built the brand. One of the interesting things was the Nike Chalkbot was our first big advertising project which was a machine that printed tweets on the ground. That project came to us through a guy named Adam Heathcott who I met touring years ago. I probably hadn’t spoken to him in ten years, but I still had cassettes from a label he ran called Home Tapes. He worked at Wieden+Kennedy, a big ad agency, and I got this phone call out of the blue from him. We built a project called the Nike Chalkbot that was a street-printing robot for Wieden+Kennedy and Nike and that launched us into the world of marketing. That work took us into a world I knew nothing about. Suddenly we were winning advertising awards. People spend years trying to win these things, and we were winning as a five person company from Pittsburgh.

We realized there was an opportunity to make cool shit in this whole new world. Around that time, Jetblue had an all you can jet pass for 500 dollars. Our marketing director Heather, who is now my wife, and I booked this all you can fly pass for a month. We went for 28 days and we made 4 or 5 presentations every day in front of ad agencies and clients around the country. Every day I was presenting, telling what we did, telling our story and my story. My personal story still depends on my past, on CIC, on the Carbon Defense League, and on that whole background because that’s how I learned to do what I do. So our story became “Hey look, we’re not an ad agency, we’re the kids that like to make cool shit because it’s fun and we want to see things in the real world.” That was a really authentic story that no one else has in advertising because not a lot of people in advertising are that authentic. I’d like to think we still are, because most of these people(motions to the staff across the room) are makers, designers and engineers. They’re not coming from advertising. It gave us a really unique approach and it came at a really good time. The Chalkbot started to define a whole new genre of advertising of interactive physical world stuff. Now there are awards for it, now there’s tons of other companies that look like they’re Deeplocal, but we’re the oldest. So it’s almost like we’re living the same life that Creation Is Crucifixion did, but I need to keep this going. People's livelihoods depend on the success of Deeplocal now.

First guy through the wall always gets the bloodiest.

Yeah, you know, sometimes you don’t want to be the first [laughs], so now we’re trying to hang on and grow. What we’ve done really well, we ended up taking advantage of an opportunity. We can either sit back and say “yeah we did a good job” or we can be very proactive and go tell people about what we do, and don’t take for granted that people know who the fuck we are, and be prolific with it. When we went on the presentation tour, we even made a poster like it was a band and called it the Guttertech tour. We had this little poster with all of our tour dates. That was my trip for 30 days so I treated it like a tour. I treat everything like that and that’s really the culture of the company. It is very similar to the culture of being in a band more than a business. It still comes through in the stuff we are able to do now. I think like, even though your question was “If I ever saw this happening 10 years from then” and I never did at all, but in retrospect it seems kind of obvious because I think I always wanted to lead a team of people. As you get older, you learn what you’re good at and what you’re bad at. I knew I wanted to make stuff and when I look at Carbon Defense League and Creation is Crucifixion, both of those groups were about surrounding myself with people that were better than me and motivating them to do exceptional work. That’s what have to do here to run a company, surround myself with people that are more talented than me and motivate them to do the best work they can. It’s really very similar to the band, other than the fact that we get paid for it now. I reflect back a lot on the time spent in bands in that scene. I loved it, and I think if I didn’t do that shit this wouldn’t have happened.

It’s kind of transparent how you’ve taken the DIY hardcore mentality of “do everything with less than everyone else” to this next level. Have you been able to carry over any other core ideals from hardcore into the business world?

I think the “get shit done” attitude. There are people that do not work well in this culture. I take for granted that not everyone thinks like you and I, where everyone just gets shit done and you do what needs to be done, wherever and whenever. I think we definitely have the approach of just make it, try it, quit talking about it. “Show it to me, prove it” is kind of confrontational and that’s very much punk and hardcore values. Quit talking about it and do it. That’s what touring and stuff is all about, vans breaking down, all the shit you deal with, the show where you get paid five bucks, and if you get 50 bucks that’s a huge night. When I tell stories here about some of the band days, like the dirty mattresses we’d sleep on in Europe and how we would get excited because we thought there was a chance Henry Rollins slept on it, they don’t believe me. That is pretty funny and I carry that with me. I think the bad stuff that I carry with me is speaking my mind all the time. The kind of workplace stuff you’re supposed to care about, the HR world, I’m not very good at that. I also think growing up with punk, hardcore, art and skateboarding, you’re used to criticism. You put yourself out there, someone’s going to complain about it.

You become immune to it or you have to quit.

Exactly. I think that’s something you have to learn because of what we do at Deeplocal, we pitch ideas all the time and sometimes they get rejected. If you don’t like this idea, I don’t give a shit. I have other ideas. Also, not being afraid is something I tell everyone here. We work with big clients like Google right? When I started doing this job I thought “Oh Google, they’re a big company. That big company would never work with me.” You need to realize that every single company is just people, and there’s some person there that probably isn’t much different than you or I, that means I can talk to that person as a human and not just as a representative of a company. When we talk to clients, they are just people. I talk to startups and small companies all the time who are amazed at our client list because we have a lot of really big clients. They’re all just people. It’s simple but kind of hard to grasp. Maybe some of that comes from the scene too. There’s some person there that we talk to and hires us, and yea, we have to do awesome stuff, we also have to let them know we exist. That’s very much like the attitude you have when you’re booking shows and putting out records. You can’t expect people to think you’re awesome unless you tell them to consider you. Sometimes it’s about deciding what you want to say and then making sure people are able to hear it. If that’s punk, then even my company is at least a little bit punk rock.

Ben Smartnick is on the internet.