Twisted Helices have threatened to release a full length recording for sometime. Now that it is out, it was worth the wait. WIth this release the Helices have moved one step closer to the recognition it deserves. This music is born of punk, techno, world, and experimental music influences. The blend of music styles is cosmic and enchanting, a perfect soundtrack for any contemporary setting. Read on, then go buy the CD.
DCMW: Do you use a guitar synthesizer on your Twisted Helices "Transversing a Twisted Path" CD?
TWISTED: Nope. The sounds you hear, where it sounds like a guitar controller would've been used, are direct processing of the guitar sound itself.
DCMW: I hear really bizarre instrumental arrangements. For example, I think I am hearing backwards tape motion?
TWISTED: Yes, Tick in My Head 1 is essentially the guitar part of Tick in My Head 23 played backwards, with different processing. I recorded the guitar part for that clean (without any processing) and then added processing during mixdown. I did the backward motion digitally, with a sound file editor, and not with my 4-track. There's quite a bit of tape manipulation in the album though, with regards to speeding up, slowing down, and distorting of the tape.
DCMW: Your CD cover is the most original shape and design I have ever seen. This alone would attract me to buying your CD in a store. Looks like something Timothy Leary would come up with! Have you seen his Web site?
TWISTED: You mean the official one? I've seen a bunch of sites dedicated to him, particularly after I read a rumour that he was planning on "committing suicide on the Internet." (Whatever that means.) I agree with some of his views, but I am against some of it also. I think he's a pretty cool guy who did his own thing, and that's always good!
The current cover design came about after I scrapped the original design which was much more fancy and elaborate, but less practical (it was circular, not octagonal). The current design is tailored to make packaging easy (you just plop the disc in the middle and fold the sides---there's no gluing or inserting involved), environmentally friendly (paper is better than plastic), and still look cool. Also, you can have more elaborate/creative artwork than in the current jewel case linernotes book (one of the small problems I've had between vinyl and CD is that the vinyl artwork looked a lot better).
The art on the cover, even though the molecule on front looks like a psychoactive substance, actually spells "TWISTED HELICES" when you read out amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) on the molecule with their one-letter code. My graduate research involves the study of the three-dimensional structure of proteins, and that's where most of it came from.
DCMW: I keep playing your CD over and over again, since the music has quite some depth. It sounds influenced by Zappa, residents, Cows, Pink Floyd, even a taste of Thomas Dolby, tons of industrial grunge thrown in, though your music is so melodic and has a cool beat. Kind of spacey and flowing. Really unique sound. You obviously have been influenced by many, many people, since you even sing like a Munchkin sometimes! Who do you feel you are influenced by?
TWISTED: Thanks for the kind words. You're right---even though many people, including myself, have a tendency to want to pin it down to one or two influences, I think the music in Traversing has been influenced by many, many people. I grew up to Western and Eastern classical music, even though I refused to take lessons in both, and there's probably a bit of that in there. My favourite groups are Primus, Pink Floyd, and Deep Purple, and there's probably a bit of those groups there as well (with the Purple influence being the least obvious). I'd like to think it was Ween and The Residents who provoked me to dabble in "twisted" music and Ween in particular encouraged me to do with a 4-track. Other influences probably include Black Sabbath, John Cage, Kraftwerk, Einstuerzende Neubaten, Megadeth, Frank Zappa, and even bands like ABBA, Pet Shop Boys, etc. Basically a LOT of bands.
DCMW: I am in the process of reviewing a number of bands and a few of them, including your CD have simply no commerical potential, which I personally admire. It seems too flipped out for the bland, inane junk played around the Washington D.C. stations, except for WMUC, of course. Are you trying to hit lots of college stations? Do you plan any tours around the U.S. or at least locally?
TWISTED: I am not into playing the radio game. It's certainly the case in this area (perhaps as you say with the exception of WMUC) that even college radio stations act very "commercial", complete with a program director and all. I think it's a shame that DJs don't get to play the music they like. I have sent my CD out to a few radio stations, and I have gotten some airplay, but usually it's based on request and I don't honour all of them. If I had a lot of capital, I'd probably send out more, but as it stands, I can only give away so many free CDs. Besides, unless there's a radical shift in public perception, I don't think my music will benefit a lot from radio airplay.
I do plan to start playing locally as soon as this semester ends.
With regards to commercial potential, it's all a matter of conditioning and what you grew up to. Zappa, Zorn, The Residents, Ween, etc. have all enjoyed commercial success, but yet their music is not what you'd normally hear on the radio, and it's pretty inaccessible. I think my music is an acquired taste also and people who like it are generally open-minded (read: twisted) and are willing to give it a couple of listens. I don't think it's something that's immediately accessible though, and that's my intention.
DCMW: I know you are a "one-man-band", basically, but maybe you could pull a "Steely Dan" and play all these instruments at the same time, somehow. For example, use tapes, your feet, your nose etc... :-) Seriously, how would one perform music such as this, live? Have you ever heard Rupert Chappelle perform? He is the master of performing one-man synthesizer music. I think you and him should jam some time! In fact, I would love to jam with you some time. Of course you play a mean guitar, bass, and synthesizer and can sing, to boot! That is quite an accomplishment.
TWISTED: Thanks again. I've not heard Rupert Chapelle perform, but I've heard descriptions of it and what I'd do would be slightly different. What I plan to do (for now) is to play back the rhythm sequences (the drums, bass, and keyboards) on a tape (casette or DAT) while I play along with my guitar and sing to it. I also plan to have some pieces where I just do guitar and vocals. I've started rehearsing for that and I think it's going to sound cool, even though "live" the stuff sounds a lot different than what's on the CD. The focus will be more on traditional noise. I think there's a problem with putting on a one-man show in terms of holding audience attention, and I hope to integrate multimedia into the show if things work out.
With regards to jamming: name the time and place and I'll be there, but don't expect me to play conventionally!
DCMW: What kind of echo/reverb unit are you using? Could you go a little more in depth about the equipment and instruments you use to get these sounds, like guitars, amps, synthesizers etc...?
TWISTED: I don't use an amp at all. I go direct from my Digitech RP-10, which serves as a pre-amp also, to the mixing board. The RP-10 is the heart of my guitar and vocal (and sometimes keyboard) processing. It's almost like an analog synthesiser at times, except that it processes the signal you put through it. I've had a lot of fun playing with it and I usually pipe my vocals and guitars through it. The RP-10 also has decent "normal" effects like reverb and compression. The other place where I get all my sounds is in my patches. I use a Gravis Ultrasound MAX soundcard along with a bunch of software (like Cakewalk Pro) for the synthesiser part, and my set of patches include samples from the Kurzweil to the Oberheim Matrix to a Mellotron to a Moog Bass Synth to just random noise that I've heard I've sampled. There'll be a lot more emphasis on "natural sounds" in my next CD since my collection is building up. I use an Epiphone Explorer as a rhythm guitar and a Steinberger Spirit for the lead. The Explorer, even though it is a cheaper guitar, has a lot of crunch, and it's great where chords are involved. The Spirit is great for soloing. I use my Tascam 464 4-track literally as an "instrument" also, to modify the taste of my recordings. There're other effects I add digitally, with a bunch of freeware software I've acquired for manipulating soundfiles.
DCMW: What record/CD stores are you selling this CD in? Are you selling any CDs overseas or in other parts of the U.S.?
TWISTED: At the present moment, the CD is being sold only through the Internet/mailorder. It's not in any stores. I have been working on trying to get a distribution deal, and if it all works out, you should see the CD in stores like Tower records and Border's. I'm a bit wary about doing this because currently I'm selling my CD for $5, and a store would really jack it up, and I'm not sure if it's a good idea.
DCMW: How many CDs have you released before this? Is this your first? When can we expect some more material from you?
TWISTED: This is my first CD, though I have a bunch of demo tapes, some containing different versions of some of the tunes on the CD, floating around. There're also a few covers, but they're not widely available for obvious reasons. The only non-related TWISTED HELICES stuff I've done is with a friend of mine who goes by the name Smash Product (this is Brian, who also plays the guitar on Morals are Arbitrary) and we called ourselves Twisted Product. We cover Deep Purple's Stormbringer for a 'net tribute compilation I put together. Details can be gotten at http://www.ram.org/music/purple_tribute/iss.html.
I have already started writing stuff for my next CD, but it won't be out for another couple of years, until after I finish graduate school. The next CD will be more twisted and warped, but better technically and production-wise.
DCMW: What possessed you to write this stuff?
TWISTED: I got tired of hearing the same old stuff being rehashed over and over and I decided it was time to do something about it. Sorta like cooking your own food when you've gotten tired of eating out---you know exactly what you want to eat (hear in this case). I think it is a serious problem facing music and other art forms today. It has become really commercialised. This in and of itself isn't bad, but the result has been that people are afraid to take risks and try new things. I think this is how progress is made, and if you want to progress, I think you should experiment. While there will always be people who'll do that, I'd like to see more of it.
DCMW: I particularly like "Let us Blame God", "Tick in my Head", "The Lie", "Lynno and Reeno" (pitch shifting on voice?), "I saw Kobain in a 7 11" (great lyrics!), Fur Elise (this is FANTASTIC!!!!! The CD's greatest song, in my opinion. Jack and I were laughing when we heard this. Sounds extremely warped! Super guitar playing. I think the song, "Noises (v2)" sounds quite "Residents-like".
TWISTED: Thanks. Lynno and Reeno has no pitch shifting I think (it's been a while)---that's me screaming. Tick in My Head 23 has a LOT of pitch shifting. I'm glad you like F"ur Elise. Some people really like it, but I think it could've been better. Since I operated on the first take principle (almost every song there is a first take), I went with it since I didn't feel like throwing it away.
I agree that Noises, and in general a couple of the other songs you mentioned, sound a bit like the Duck Stab-era Residents.
DCMW: "Don't you believe in me" has a reggae beat and flavor. Was that your intent?
TWISTED: Not really. My intent was to have a generic song that I could run through a blender of processing and see how my processors/technique worked (it is the first song I've ever recorded on a 4-track, BTW). The beat is a bit reggae-influenced, now that you mention it, but that wasn't what I had in mind when I went about it.
DCMW: How did you get attracted to the Internet and WWW?
TWISTED: I have been on the Internet in one form or another since 1990, and I got on it as a result of my undergraduate school having access to it. The www started becoming popular in 1993, and I was one of the first people to set up a server on the web. In fact, when I set my server up in mid-1993 (which was when I moved to MD), there were less than 1000 www sites worldwide, Netscape, Yahoo, etc. didn't exist, and almost all content was academic in nature. At about that time I put up a couple of soundclips of my tunes up (just guitar and vocals) and I could probably lay claim to being the first musician to promote their own music on the www. The Internet is great for distributing music---I get about 30-40 downloads of my songs from my www page (http://www.twisted-helices.com/th/) a day and a few of them actually order my album! I think it is good for distribution of styles that'd normally not be seen in your local record store.
DCMW: What do you think of the D.C. area? Are you from here?
TWISTED: I think the area is great, and has a great (but underappreciated) music scene. In fact, it was immediately after I moved here that started pursuing the musical dream I had in high school with vigour. Bands like Fugazi have not only influenced my music to a degree, but also have shaped the ethics under which I create my art: Primarily I believe money should not tbe /primary/ motivation for creating music. I also don't believe in intellectual property and I think all music should be freely distributed---more details can be gotten at http://www.ram.org/ramblings/philosophy/fmp.html.