|A Faulty Chromosome. Eric on the right, Mike second from left.|
Do we value originality in music or not?
I ask because I sense that A Faulty Chromosome never got the respect they really deserved, even though they were true originals.
Living here in Indiana, I'm not especially plugged into the psychology of the masses, so I'm basing my impression that A Faulty Chromosome didn't get its due on a single experience: I saw the band at NYC Popfest in 2009, and they got a pretty lukewarm reception.
They took too long to set up, with their hanging lights and all the blankets over their amps that made them look and sound like they were underwater. And they weren't twee, so it probably wasn't the best audience for them. The crowd grew impatient and then didn't get what it expected, which is not a recipe for success. The chick from Afternoon Naps even got onstage and played a song with them to try to energize the crowd. That was only moderately effective.
Nevertheless, A Faulty Chromosome was a super-interesting band. Their hallmarks were novel, lo-fi soundscapes with everything-including-the-kitchen-sink instrumentation, elaborate stream-of-consciousness lyrics, mutant dance grooves, and left-field pop hooks.
On their now-deleted Facebook page, their list of influences included Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Arthur Russell, Half Japanese, and Sun Ra. That kind of sums it up.
Music Weird talked to Eric and Mike from A Faulty Chromosome on June 17, 2014.
The band is defunct, I take it?
Eric: Well, the band is super dead. I murdered it myself. I bathed in its blood and hosed it off down the sewer.
But defunct? "No longer existing or functioning"? Can music ever be defunct, really? I mean, it keeps going so long as people care. Even if I wanted it to die—which I do, because I purposely murder it each day I wake up and say, "No, I will not sink more money into this doomhole"—other people—like you, for example, and sometimes-bandmember Mike, who keeps reminding me, "Hey, one more human said something good about the band on this website! See, you're not a total failure"—keep it existing and functioning to some degree.
Mike: But still, yes, even so, the band’s pretty much defunct. I mean, the band was Eric, and Eric was the band—inextricably linked! His head porridge, his heart salsa!—and Eric’s not defunct. But as a physical entity? The band’s dead. Persists only in web echoes and vinyl pressings. And this makes me sad. Because I miss standing five feet from Eric’s mouth sounds and finger thrum. The songs were just plain fun to play.
Eric: I tried to find a pinch of joy in a slopbucket of misery. I didn't kill myself, so I guess that was a miniature success.
But you met your Kickstarter goal for the last album. What happened?
Eric: Being in a band was a miserable experience for me. I tried my best to have fun, but there's so much business and planning and marketing and advertising and other things that I don't enjoy and am not good at. I mean, I'm horrible at it.
I lost a lot of money to try to get other people to listen to it, too, sending hundreds of albums out only to have them mostly thrown in the garbage by bloggers, record labels, booking agencies, college radio DJs, et cetera. I'm still paying off that debt and will be for another year. The Kickstarter only paid for the pressing of the albums. The nice guy who gave the most money just really liked our music and started a record label [Yelping Hill Records] to put it out, even though he didn't know anything about running a record label. So, together, we had a lot of heart but little know-how and zero connections. I should have asked for more to tour and promote it, I guess. But it costs approximately $1,000 a month to pay some kid to harass people via e-mail and telephone until they listen to or review your record. I'd rather just play, and if the music is good enough, word of mouth will keep it alive and passed around.
I mean, I never wanted to be arena-rock rich. I never wanted to be a Kurt Cobain "King of the Losers" messiah. I just wanted to support myself, but I couldn't, so I stopped. At the time— 2007-ish—"making it" was having your song on a compilation that's played in Urban Outfitters stores or featured on Pitchfork, then playing a hipster party at SXSW, then getting asked to open on a tour with whatever mentally unbalanced band was currently temporarily popular. It was like trying to fit in with a rich high-school clique that we didn't even want to fit in with. Our fans tend to be very nice, slightly nerdy, shy-at-first-but-dying-to-talk types. [Greg's note: This describes me.] It's too messy for normals to mindlessly dance to. But it's dance music! I wanted dancing. Like robots malfunctioning and collapsing on the floor! I still want this. I hope at least bedrooms and used cards are bouncing.
Mike: Eric was never much comfortable with the self-promotional side of things. Of the idea of “growing” the band, none of us were. Who wants to shill? It’s gross and low. But maybe, just maybe, we were dignity snobs? Were a little too—um—suspicious of inauthenticity, which I don’t even know what that means anymore. I mean, we were never going to have a street team—a real cute buncha kids, swoop-haired and tight-jeaned, all out there with the stickers and the stencils—but we maybe could have/should have done more? To push ourselves? Still—it’s not like Eric didn’t try. He rang up a lot of debt getting somebody—anybody—to listen. And looking back, the rest of us in the band weren’t really “pulling weight.”
What does the discography of A Faulty Chromosome look like?
Eric: Two proper albums, a few tour-only B-sides and demos mishmashes, and a bunch of covers, including the Magnetic Fields' House of Tomorrow EP in its entirety. I wish All Music Guide would let me edit my own band's page. I wish someone would just put it all on YouTube. I have it on a hard drive somewhere still, I think. Some hard copies are in an old lady's garage in New York. Some is in a suitcase doubling as a cat scratch post. I have no real interest in preserving such memories. If it makes others happy, that's nice. But I don't want the job of archiving. It's like saving love letters from exes you don't even like.
What were your experiences with touring and with NYC Popfest?
Eric: I've found that the Popfest crowd tends to be "collector" types. The people I know personally still have hundreds of 7-inches that they never listen to but like to brag about having to show that they heard it first. It rubs me the wrong way. I just didn't really feel like we fit in or were welcomed. Guuhhh. I was hoping Popfest would help me feel happy and hopeful and young and childlike, but it just made me more depressed because it failed so miserably. It's like wanting, really wanting, to have religion work, but then, before you even get inside the church, you just start laughing at the whole notion of the thing, and you walk back home empty.
Mike: Nice people everywhere. And head nods. We’d get head nods every once in awhile.
Eric: Yeah, head nods help. You and I, Greg, met at Popfest. I guess, as a musician, I always hope that people will be blown away by the sound, as though they had never heard anything so moving or different or expressive or sincere at the same time. Ideally, their heads would explode like Riki-Oh so I'd know for sure it got to them. Or buying the album helps too. I can never tell if people like us. They always looked confused.
I dunno…. I played music because it was the only thing I could do to convince myself to not to want to die. At the time, it wasn't fun. It was exorcising demons. I guess that's not necessarily what Popfests are for.
I hoped people heard it and sang back...or hugged me...or fixed me. I don't know? Like wild animals howling. Singing like a kid, in hopes that it would get me out of the hopelessness of being 20-something I was feeling. It helped a little, I think? Not twee, though.
How did you guys fit into the Austin scene? What kind of reception did you get in your hometown?
Eric: Austin smells like barbecue, beer, and cedar. It was great to come back to after being away. It was a lot of fun in that it was living "the Ultimate College Experience," like it was an amusement park ride. We were invited to "keggers," "potlucks."
You've got to understand, I'm not the partying type. Parties have always depressed me, because when I'd go, I'd wanna have deep conversations, but other people just wanted to escape and dance and fuck. So I tried that this time, but it didn't work. But it wasn't our hometown. I have no home, and have been in nomadic limbo since 2000. We moved to Austin because kids at the college radio station played it a lot, and living in L.A. is a horrible place to be in a band because no one will let you play at their club unless you're friends with their friends.
In Austin, I feel like we had maybe 7 or 8 fans. Or at least kids who genuinely liked it because it meant something to them, and not just "supporting your friends." I dunno. Austin was sooooo relaxing and comforting because everything moves much slower, and the people are just: "Y'all...."
Mike: Austin was a lovely experience. An exhalation after the five-year inhale of L.A.
Which, by the way, L.A. can be grand. But, ugh, what crummy, clueless club owners. "No, sir, we cannot guarantee a 30-ticket pre-sale, but perhaps if you promoted your shitty venal velvety little venue a bit better we wouldn’t have to." Squid pro quo!
But yes—and this inevitably makes me sound like a bitter A-hole—I’d have to agree with Eric about the multiplicity of “art” bands. Of “art” in general. Sometimes there’s such a thing as too much output, too much creativity for creativity’s sake. It can get oppressive. And enervating. Again, probably a personal issue. But c’mon, must every idea be not only executed but then shared with the wider world? Keep that collage in the ol’ skull—the calcium vault—and just sit in silence a spell beneath an old gum tree. It’ll do your interior world wonders. At least let’s have a moratorium on Tumblr sketchbook sharing for five years. Be an artist, fine—but the self-marketing is icky. Oh God, shut up, Mike.
What were the best experiences of A Faulty Chromosome?
Mike: Best experience: dancing to Eric’s songs. Equally best experience: singing along, in real time, to Eric’s songs.
Eric: Ummm.... Uhhh.... Best was having kids high on mushrooms and MDMA tell me that they lay on the floor and cry when they listen to my music. I also really enjoyed the kindness of strangers, and exploring cities, and sleeping in haunted mansions and crack houses, and seeing all the different conditions in which humans apparently live in. I'm quite surprised we survived. Honestly. It got pretty dark sometimes. A lot of blood stains and wads of hair and new odors. I am very surprised we survived.
Your lyrics always impressed me because of their stream-of-consciousness quality and their sheer quantity! How much work was it to write all of those lyrics? Did they flow out of you or did you agonize over them?
Mike: Aren’t they sooooo good? The way they do what they do over the sounds they do it to? And he did. He did agonize. I seen it!
Eric: Guhhhh... Yeah, and yeah. They flowed out for sure, but often in no apparent order. I agonized over everything.
I usually start to write by singing gibberish so that the melodies would appear, then I'd turn the mumbles into semi-coherent lyrics. That was all easy. But I just like language a lot. I like reading the dictionary and tracing the etymology of a word, and I like the feel of sounds smashed together, and sounds that used to be in dead languages that disappeared that our mouths can make. I love a good hip-hop MC flow, but didn't want to fake like I was from the ghetto. It's hard to sing without affecting something artificial. But I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until it felt like it fit together.
I just tried to find a flow that made sense to me. I couldn't just sing a song about being confused and frustrated and then sing like monotone Jesus and Mary Chain with tons of reverb on the vocals. I wanted it to sound as frantic as the voices in my brain sound. I wanted to scream, but wouldn't let myself because it was a greater challenge to articulate the feelings. And I tried my best not to leave open-ended questions or generic platitudes, as those drive me nuts in songs. Each song started with a question or a problem with my life, and I genuinely tried to write a song that gave me some kind of resolution to it.
At the time of being in the band, I was dating a girl who hated to analyze human emotions, and opted for the traditional Chinese way of ignoring them until you die, for the greater good! Hence, a lot of songs with a lot of words. But now, I have a partner to talk to, so no real need for music. Funny how that works.
Are you doing anything musically now?
Eric: I'm working on a short animation right now and doing all the scores, music, and sound effects for that. I also have this mess of a mixtape I add to whenever I have a few minutes to spare that's kind of a weird mess of vocal harmonies, old doo-wop loops, and hitting things to make beats. But I will always make noises. I wish one day I could get paid to do it enough so I wouldn't have to drive forklifts overnight in a furniture warehouse. Actually, it's a ton of fun, and sexual harassment is alive and well!
I'm in L.A. now, so playing a show is pretty much not an option, as they all want 50 people minimum. I miss making songs, though; I do. I'm just not in the mood yet.
Mike: Make more songs, Eric.
DiscographyAs an Ex-Anorexic's Six Sick Ex It (No label, 2007)
- Them Pleasures of the Flesh / Anomie's the Enemy / What? / Jackie O / A Frozen Lake / Bad Thing / This Is Far from a Belle Epoque / Eyes, Foreign Eyes / The loneliness of the Short-Distance Walker / I'll Stop Swimming When I Drown
- Tippy-Toes / Bad Thing / Either You Don't Love Me, Or... / Anomie's the Enemy / Our Poor, Boorish Head / Love Goes Home to Paris / Pleasures of the Flesh / Short-Distance Walkers
Craving to Be Coddled so We Feel Fake-Safe (Yelping Hill, 2010)
- Growing Children Need Food / Scoffers vs. Beasts / Dancing on the Ceiling (Flailing on the Floor) / Tippy-Toes / U Stoopid / Our Poor Boorish Head / Little Miracles / Picayune / Warmish Piles / Incubate'r / Exorcise! / Groaning Like a Grown-Up / What We're Made Of