interview by Damage
You probably wouldn't be reading this interview now if it weren't for a few unnamed but forever remembered mates in the Hungarian cyberpunk scene. Their teaser of yet unknown bands on a ragged BASF tape featured Front Line Assembly, Leaether Strip and, thank god, Mentallo and the Fixer. Their album Revelations 23 left a mark on me, the kind of mark you want to leave, the one that makes you remember, whenever you'd touch the scars. every time, the memories are good. Gary Dassing, mastermind behind industrial legend Mentallo and The Fixer was kind enough to share his own memories with us. Please enjoy.
THE DOSE: Hullo there, Gary and first all of let me thank you for the possibility to have Mentallo & The Fixer with us on the bench of truth! Let's start with your affiliation with Marvel heroes Mentallo and his buddy, the Fixer. How did you come across these characters and why did you take their names as pseudonyms?
GARY: Well, it was a friend who brought it to my attention when I was about 13, I'm guessing, and I really liked it because it sounded unique but Dwayne and I had already settled on Benestrophe as a name at the time. This was before our vocalist Richard Mendez was in the band but we were working with a few others at that time and Benestrophe sounded more "in the time period of the 80's".
THE DOSE: Was your music ever inspired by comics?
GARY: No, not other than escaping reality and daydreaming. When I was younger than eleven, I used to simply collect comics but then I became an equipment addict, so I passed off one addiction for another.
THE DOSE: Your first LP, No Rest for the Wicked was released on Simbiose (in Portugal) and that was your ticket in to Zoth Ommog. What was the industrial scene like in those years, around ‘91-'93? Was that the only possibility for the release of your debut?
GARY: Chase at Re-constriction Records really wanted to sign me in all honesty, but he was working on making a more guitar-based industrial label. But yeah, things were different in the early 90's, first off technology back then seemed much much more archaic, you really had to apply yourself much more and processing speed was painfully slow. Yeah, things were different back then in that there were not many musicians of this nature in the scene, first off equipment was expensive back then and it only did a small fraction of what equipment does today. Hell, most equipment or software nowadays kills any creativity there is, it makes people lazy, most of it is what I consider auto pilot synthesis, meaning "look ma NO HANDS!" You don't even have to have musical insight these days to put together an electronic song, it all pretty much takes care of itself. Even with synthesizers, I can not tell you how much damage has been done to the scene, it's like everything is pretty much taken care of for you with little to no effort. I think the best thing for a real artist to do once they get a new piece of gear is to just wipe the memory and preset patches clean, no matter how cool they sound, because everyone else is using those same presets. Like the Nordlead, a great synth, but I can not tell you how many times I've heard those presets on so many songs used by numerous bands, same with the Access Virus - I have heard those presets over and over and once they are used so much, you can not distinguish one band from the next. Back in the 80's, you really had to learn synthesis or have someone teach you and you had to learn to be a sound programmer- I don't understand all this, because programming sounds is half of the fun of creating a song.
THE DOSE: How come you got to chose Simbiose at all? As much as I know, they didn't release that many stuff, and of that few projects (Neural Network, Cello, Pigsix 4, Type Non, etc.) there are only two bands that actually had a future - and that's Mentallo and Ataraxia from Italy..
GARY: They actually wrote to me at the time and wanted to release my material and I was 18 at the time and getting your foot in the door back then was quite difficult, I'm guessing. In all honesty, I wasn't trying to get signed, it sorta just happened. And me being 18, I was like, well yeah, this sounds great, no one knows who I am anyways, so it was a great outlet for making a small mark in the scene. Then a few months after that I had a friend come over and I played him some of the material off of Revelations 23 before I was signed to Zoth and I asked him "Do you think I would have a chance at getting signed to Zoth? I asked him because he was a big fan of the acts on their at the time, and I will never forget his response, he told me I did not have a chance in hell. That really ticked me off because he was being crass about it, that same night I made a tape to send off to Zoth.
Two weeks later I got a contract from Talla 2XLC in the mail. Heh heh.
THE DOSE: By 1993 you had the classical Revelations 23 out. Can you tell us how that album was produced, what concepts did you have behind it and what work process did you use? At many places it sounds like a much-refined version of No Rest..
GARY: Yeah, some of the songs off of No Rest for the Wicked were re-worked or re-programmed. There was more equipment for Revelations 23 and I spent more time on production and mixing but not a whole lot. I had more time on my hands. I used to work quite quickly just so I could capture the feeling before it left me or better yet, capture the moment. As for the concepts, hmmm. back then I really wasn't thinking about downright concepts, I was just using it as an outlet for my frustrations with myself and the world, little did I know life would get much harder the older I got.
THE DOSE: I got to know Mentallo at the time of Revelations 23 so I'm pretty much intrigued by that era.. What were your major and minor inspirations around that time artistically and musically?
GARY: I would say half of the material was written for my sister, she was the prime inspiration behind Revelations 23 and Where Angels Fear To Tread. And what was left was either inspired by watching the nightly news, watching the world go to hell in a handbag. I used to also live vicariously through friends who for lack of better terms lived on the wrong side of the tracks in all aspects of their lives from prostitution to violence and broken or dysfunctional families. Being homesick and away from my friends was an inspiration and thinking of specific places where I would go far out in the countryside to relax and meditate or just breathe in nature and take in the scenery. Actually, Texas is full of that, so it's rather easy to escape to the countryside miles away from civilization.
THE DOSE: What was it like at that time - as an American band - to work with a European label like Zoth Ommog?
GARY: It was a learning experience. It also was a very good thing for us as well, because at that time there weren't many labels supporting electronic music in the USA and the ones that were around were mainly going for that rock element and that's just not who we were as Mentallo. There was Wax Trax, but they were already on the downslide because the label manager was no longer alive. Working with Zoth at that time was a good thing because they were open to our ideas musically, because we were not always following the pack of other EBM artists at that time. I believe it was that Europe as a whole was just more open to this.
THE DOSE: Please tell me about the original version of "Legion of Lepers". That was the first track I've heard by you and by my standards it still stands out as one of your most powerful song to date. So, what is the track about, how come it's 9 minutes long and what's the main idea behind it?
GARY: Back in those days I rarely used to structure or map out my songs and sequencing. Software was very archaic back then, we were running an IBM 286, so we are talking old school technology - where it would take many minutes to load a basic program off of an old floppy disk.
So to the story of the making of Legion of Lepers which I still remember quite clearly even today. The song was programmed in a day, and I was just feeling that spark, I was quite isolated at the time concerning my living conditions. Dwayne and I had just moved to a new city, I knew absolutely no one there, so just stayed at home all the time working on music - I wrote Legion of Lepers again for my sister, that song is the embodiment of her in her years of hmmm real insanity or losing it. The song in essence is not about the lyrics, because in reality I was just improvising words, hell, I was making up my own vocabulary, I had nothing written down lyrically, I just took the microphone, played all the string parts live, then would grab the microphone and start garbling again complete gibberish, I tried figuring out some of what I was saying but it's useless, it's more about a feeling of urgency, like being a caged animal or something backed up into a corner, fighting back. But the reality of the song or inspiration behind it is this... as painful as it is, and I don't want to rob anyone from their memories of what the song holds to them - by the real inspiration is the last time my sister was institutionalized, in the true sense, when the ambulance came to take her away, it was me she reached out to screaming "Don't let them take me, Gary"… so even to this day it's really painful to think about, even doing some of those old songs live.
I really have to disconnect myself from the memories and almost become a performer and just forget about it. My only regrets, it's writing about something so personal and painful for myself and putting it to a dancebeat, but I do believe people do get something out of this song, they hear the reality behind it and apply it to their lives. I just want them to know there is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how bleak things seem.
THE DOSE: If Revelations 23 was the angry teenager, Where Angels Fear to Tread is more of the mature man. Lots of reviews push that album towards a more Gothic sound and feel.. what do you say to all that?
GARY: Revelations 23 and Angels were somewhat recorded at the same time, in all honesty, aside from a few tracks - in fact the first song I programmed once I moved to Austin was Battered States of Euphoria. That could have easily made it on Rev23, but we chose tracks accordingly for each release. I mean back in those days, you just didn't hear Electro groups doing things of that nature. I still remember when we sent the master tapes for Revelations 23 to Zoth Ommog and Talla calls me up and says "Gary, we have a problem!" and I'm like "What?" He says: "There is a POP song at the end of the master tape.!" and I'm like "POP SONG? How in the hell could other music have possibly gotten on the master tape?" then I'm thinking of the track listing and I asked Talla, "Is it a piano piece?" and he says "YES!" So I told him that's suppose to go on there, it's supposed to symbolize the calm after the storm. and he's like "Ohh!! OK, now I understand!" and what was really cool was the fans liked it! So Dwayne and I always wanted elements like this in our music, I did not want to corner ourselves with just one style. This is why we used so many types of sounds from electronic to acoustical, we would mix the two. I'm not sure if Where Angels Fear to Tread is what I would call mature, I think with that release we definitely made our mark in the scene.
THE DOSE: This was the time when your side-project Mainesthai emerged. Not too much is known, though - you, Dwayne and Michael Greene worked on two albums altogether. Was Mainesthai a separate band on its own or just an outlet for stray ideas that you fed back to the main body with the ..Meets Mainesthai LP?
GARY: Well, I just wanted to work with other people, it was never my intention to be a vocalist in the first place. I sorta got thrown into the position after our first band Benestrophe parted ways and I didn't want to waste time finding a vocalist, because back then in Texas that would have sorta been a difficult thing to find is an industrial vocalist. plus I was simply emotionally drained and could no longer continue at those moments.
So I happened to run across an advertisement in a musical Texas magazine and it shocked me so I gave Mike a call, we went and met him and we really liked Mike because he did not look like a person in the scene, in fact he sorta looked GQ or like a runway model for a men's fashion show.. *laughs* Then we did our first song which was Join the Club and I was sold on Mike. The whole thing is I like to break stereotypes in the scene of industrial music - I'm not there to follow to every detail what my forefathers in the scene have done. True, everything I heard was somewhat of an inspiration but so was a lot of early new wave and even early progressive rock from the 70's, simply because prog rock was doing something different than just normal metal. In prog rock they used a lot of synthesizers and that really helped me to push the envelope, not to just get heavier but to branch out and try risky things, even if the fans don't like it. So when it came to music from my perspective, since I'm not doing conventional songs or pop music, it was to take risks. I was not doing anything crazy just for the sake of it - if I was then, I probably would not be on a label at all.
THE DOSE: What's the driving force and story behind the 1995 album Continuum? For me it's a huge, raw spike stuck between WAFTT and Burnt Beyond Recognition - they are similar in song quality and structures, yet Continuum sounds more raw and unfinished at places.
GARY: Continuum was just various tapes of music we had in the vaults as it's stated in the liner notes of the CD. When we first got signed to Metropolis, they asked us if we had anything
ready to put out and was new and we said "no we do not but we do have old material", and they said "well, let's release some old material, then!" and that's how that came about - and
can tell you the song Natalia is not about a girl, it's the name of a small town outside of San Antonio, Texas, where I once lived.
THE DOSE: Then came 1999 and you parted ways with Dwayne. What was he in Mentallo and apart from the definite change in sound and style, what else changed with his loss?
GARY: People are under the presumption that the change in sound was due to Dwayne's departure. Well, a little of it was, but it was more or less due to not having my studio hooked up and having no computer sequencer. I make no apologies, trust me when I tell you this, when I received a backlash from fans during those days, I was not crying in the corner. I personally didn't care what they thought.
THE DOSE: Did it ever occur to you at that time that you'd change the name (hinting at the contribution of two persons) to something completely different?
GARY: NO, because I started Mentallo, and the first release No Rest for the Wicked was solely done on my own. Either you grow with an artist through thick or thin or you do not - I see it as almost like a friendship. Even though your friends do shifty things from time to time, you end up forgiving them and sticking it out, because your friendship is more important.
THE DOSE: Dwayne has some projects now like Reign of Roses and Squarewave – what can we know about those and do you happen to contribute to any of these?
GARY: For Reign of Roses, which you can find at mentallo.net or myspace.com/reignofroses, I did some drum programming on a couple of the tracks, one of which was "In Bourbon and in Blood". I will be joining on all the new material they work on, mainly as a drum programmer and a remixer. Basically, Reign of Roses is Dwayne's main focus with singer/lyricist Scott Berens. It is all electronic, but it is not industrial, at least not for the first batch of songs. They are currently unsigned, but went on tour with Mentallo as the opening act on the Critical Mass of Enlightenment Southwest tour of the United States. It definitely has classical and gothic overtones, they are highly structured songs, not like mine, and are very well produced. Scott is a great vocalist and has a natural knack for singing. He has a great range and tone to his voice and has a great low register, it is not forced or pretentious.
THE DOSE: What was it and what is it like to work with a sibling - what positive and negative sides does it have?
GARY: Negative being brothers bickering over something like music. Dwayne and I were too serious sometimes and it seemed more like a business arrangement than two brothers, which is not a good thing. I think us, well, not think , I know the separation brought us much closer as brothers, and I really think that is fantastic.
THE DOSE: In of your previous interviews you said that using sampled material is a sort of a ‘been there, done that' kind of philosophy. Did your opinion change about this issue?
GARY: I approach sampling now in a completely different way nowadays, in that I no longer sample dialogue out of movies or things of that nature, I come up with my own. It came to the point in the scene where you would hear several bands using the same sample material and although some of it sounds good, most of it is either downright cheesy or just atypical. In the past on our old material the sample would have to be linked either lyrically with the song or have some sort of affiliation with the piece of music to express of convey a specific message. For all the new material, I'm doing my own personal sampling, whether it be sampling the wife, friends, sounds outside, myself, using old voice speech applications and toys.
THE DOSE: Whereas Algorhythum is a more laid-back, space-age/coldwar kind of laidback and moody album, Love is the Law feels much more rushed and feels like a cliffhanger.. were Metropolis deadlines the reason for this?
GARY: There were a number of reasons, deadlines were one of them. Lack of funds, having the company tell me the check was in the mail and still waiting 6 months down the line for the advance… it definitely does put a damper on things, being pushed by the wayside. I mean I thank all my previous labels as well, but it is business and too much business can take the whole element of being an artist out of the equation. Having been told "we need a club hit"? Sheesh, I wonder if bands like Coil ever experienced that? *laughs*
THE DOSE: After your album Vengeance is Mine in 2001 you disappeared off the musical scene for a few years - what happened to you during that period?
GARY: I was simply taking a break away and working on music at my own leisure without any distractions of the business or anything of that nature. I was primarily being a househusband, a gardener, volunteer work for wildlife rescue, things like that.
THE DOSE: It's now 2006 and you're back on the international scene with a new EP "Commandments for the Molecular Age" and an LP "Enlightenment through a Chemical Catalyst", both of these out on Alfa Matrix. How did you got in touch with the label?
GARY: It was Seba I was in contact with, my stateside label Static Sky Records was calling it quits due to other job opportunities and they put me in the hands of Alfa Matrix, which was a great thing.
THE DOSE: How are things now labelwise, how does your cooperation work out with them?
GARY: Everything has been great with Alfa Matrix, they are open to all my crazy ideas, which is good, because they are backing me 100 percent. That is a risk in a sense, because Mentallo does not necessarily follow the trends or what is the IN thing at the moment. So I really applaude them, because I believe they are about the oldschool and the true sense of the underground and keeping it alive.
THE DOSE: This appears to be a time of great comebacks - you have Claus Larsen as your labelmate and a while ago Ric Laciak of Ras DVA made the two Benestrophe albums freely downloadable off the label website. What did you think of the Benestrophe re-emergence - did it serve as an extra piece of promotion to Mentallo?
GARY: Yes, I believe it did. In fact, I told Ric Laciak of Ras Dva to put it all up for free download with the artwork in their entirety. But yes, they have been out of print for a long time and I figured there are so many fans that did not get the chance to either hear it or purchase it and since it is very old material, I decided to just give it away.
THE DOSE: CFTMA sounds like a mixture of your older, tense materials and Algorhythum/Love is the Law splatters - what equipment/sampling sources did you use time?
GARY: Well, I guess it was attempting to get the programmed and organic feel to gel together. That is my attempt to meld the two, it always has been, but I approach things differently with each release, because it keeps things fresh for me. If I was doing the same old thing over and over, I would have stopped trying to create long ago and got bored with it much like a kid with a toy. I always make it a point to intentionally NOT PLAY IT SAFE - otherwise I would be doing pop music or something commercial or disposable, a flavor of the week thing.
THE DOSE: What's the molecular age you refer to - why not talking about a digital/informational age? How are chemicals more prevailing/important than today's information rush?
GARY: I definitely do not condone the use of chemicals, people do stupid things when sober… I no longer do things of that nature, for recreational use that is. I've never heard of anyone having a full-blown religious experience in the classical sense from being on the World Wide Web or because they have a faster processor. In all honesty, I see myself becoming a Luddite more and more, the older I get.
THE DOSE: As it is known, Enlightenment through a Chemical Catalyst is an opening of a conceptual trilogy. Could you please elaborate on this new concept?
GARY: Enlightenment through a Chemical Catalyst is actually part 2 in the series, part 1 which will be titled Short-Cut to Self Harm and it will come after part 2 is released, like a prequel.
But the title pretty much sums up the mindset behind the album. In brief, its about the Plus 4 state on the Shulgin rating scale of psychedelic and psychoactive chemicals, natural and synthetic.It is a rare occurrence. Basically it's somewhat autobiographical and then also it's about a friend from long ago, who became a Luddite in the classical sense, in that he moved down to the rainforest to live with a tribe which accepted him fully, they had no electricity, no technology, no plumbing, lived in huts and even ground their corn by stone, we are talking truly primitive. This was not a hippie commune, this is a real south American tribe.
But for me it's about reaching that plus 4 state by mere chance accident, when I was just out to have a fun time and I ended up getting a big wake up call which changed my life. This is not like a kid taking ecstasy at a club for the first time, it doesn't even compare. This rare state is obviously why my friend changed his life so rapidly many many years back - he hit plus 4 on a level I can not imagine, but I've been there myself and I guess you could say for lack of better terms, that's why I became religious. the memory has never left me.
THE DOSE: What can Mentallo fans expect from the new LP?
GARY: A hard listen, which I don't expect people to digest on the first listen either. I guess it's something to be savored, a lot of it is dense in that it's somewhat on overload. It's hard for me to be subjective about my own creations, everyone will get something different out of it and you definitely will not hear everything for the first time, there is so much in the mix and well, it's crazy to a degree.
THE DOSE: What feedbacks did you receive from old-time and new fans concerning the EP and the LP?
GARY: I believe most of the feedback is positive, but I'm not here to stroke my ego or think I'm some industrial rockstar wannabe. I'm so far removed from that whole ideology. I simply do music and soundscapes. Some people will like it and some people will not, I'm not going to bend over backwards to please people because I come first. Being a true artist is not about making money or being the center of attention, ever heard the phrase "starving artist"? I do it because it's a passion, nothing else. I can honestly say if I was not signed to a label I would keep making music just for expression and then again I would also do it for laughs and enlightenment.
I try to not take myself to seriously 100 percent of the time, it's about maintaining a balance in my life- I'm not out there for popularity, I made my mark in the scene a long time ago and how many people can say that?
THE DOSE: How would you best define the genre you work in now?
GARY: Believe it or not, here in the United States it varies from city to city because things are so spread out here in the States. A question like this is somewhat difficult to answer for a number of reasons from my view point in that I do not live in the scene and have not for many many years, even when we recorded Revelations 23 and Where Angels Fear to Tread, I was not really going out to clubs at all. In fact, I was quite reclusive and lived in my own little world working on music and then my day job at the time. I had burnt out on clubs because I was getting into adult underground bars since I was 14 when I was first exposed.
My brother would get me in because he was of age at the time and I was only able to get in once they stopped serving alcohol after 2 in the morning! Heh heh.
THE DOSE: How do you see the American/European scene now? What are you on the lookout for, what trends do you see, is it better or is it worse than the circumstances at around ‘93-'94?
GARY: Well, the American and European scenes are totally different from each other. What trends do I see? At the time I can only speak from the USA - but you mentioned the word "trends" and that sums it up, it is no longer about the music and if it is, it's about that dancefloor hit, you know the song I'm talking about don't you? It's the one all the DJ's play and it's a constant 4/4 stomp at 140 bpm's... and it lasts all night. It's the song that uses the Access Virus presents and from my point of view that is not industrial, that is just trendy club music and it's really no different than technorave from years past but with a new package and dark vocals.
Also some friends of mine aptly put it in that these days "there is a band for every fan or vice versa" meaning everyone now has an electronic band these days. So it's really hard to weed out what is good and what is not simply because there are so many. MySpace even proves that, I mean I can't blame anyone for wanting to be an artist and be creative if that's what they are truly doing. But some people will post just about anything, and then half of what I hear is such a close clone or reproduction to something else, that is not being creative or artistic, that is just following a trend. To me that's not the ethos of what industrial music started out to be, and then the other problem is half of the acts, and I don't mean to slag anyone because I was a new waver in my youth, but it's more defined by an image. The music is not even secondary, it's almost like a Hellraiser fashion show, and it's all defined by that one element, and to me that is not unique, that is trying to look different just for the sake of it. I do not need that type of attention to get my music noticed, I never did.
Hell, look at my picture inside the CONTINUUM release, I'm just a country boy, but I never pulled to wool over anyone's eyes.
Ever hear that song "Video Killed the Radio Star"? Do you know what that song is about? It's about image taking precedent over the music to get noticed, can I say the word poseur? I recall once at a show, and it is a typical thing for me to do, is just go up onstage in a pair or shorts or sweatpants joggers wear, and I had these multi colored shorts on and this fangirl comes up to me and points out my shorts and she is all decked out and she says "What is this? pointing at my shorts and I simply replied "My clothes. Were you expecting KISS?"
At least they can play their instruments.
THE DOSE: What are you reading, watching, listening to nowadays?
GARY: The last thing I read was The Lost Books of Eden, which are the apocryphal books of Enoch - I read the new and old testament and Alexander Shulgin's Pikal and Tikal books on psychedelic research and chemistry.
I listen to a lot of talk radio, like Coast to Coast am/the Art Bell show.. one reason why I like to listen to radio is because I can listen and do a number of other things around the home, heh heh. I'm listening to talk radio as I work on this interview, how about that! I try not to watch too much TV, I do watch things like educational programming at times but my mind needs to be worked in other ways. I think that's why I get such a kick from hanging out or talking with elderly people, hearing about their youths before the time of television and radio.
THE DOSE: Apart from all the CDs you released, can we expect a DVD with live footage, photos, backstage materials and also, lyrics?
GARY: Yeah, actually I'm attempting to track down anyone who filmed or took photos before, after or during the Critical Mass of Enlightenment tour shows. I have a lot of material already, both artistically and visually. but I really would like to track down any footage, be it photos or film from past tours. I do have a lot of material though not just art, film and pictures from the past but rare music, interviews, sounds and things of that nature. I just have to get it all in one place and then work down from there organizing it all.
THE DOSE: When is your site mentallo.net finished and how much exclusive or previously unavailable material do you plan to release there?
GARY: Well, I would like to release all the early material that only close friends have heard. So I figure, it's probably time to start getting it out there very soon. There is material from our primal beginnings back in the 80's up until now, but I figured I would initially release it in limited quantities. Mainly for the die-hard fans or the rare collectors. I'm sure I have enough for maybe 3 or 4 full-length releases.
THE DOSE: Thank you so much for this interview - is there anything more you'd like to share with the readers of THE DOSE?
GARY: Go check out our website located at mentallo.net - limited edition merchandise and giveaway will be available! and feel free to drop me a line anytime! THANK YOU!