Interview by Lou Sterrett
Oberlin, Ohio, October 5th 2008
When I first heard Wolf Eyes a few years ago, I couldn't understand the appeal. But the more time I spent with the music, the more my interest grew, and after seeing former Wolf Eyes mainman Aaron Dilloway perform at The Embassy, a loft owned by Cleveland-based noise duo Tusco Terror, I had to know more. Over this past summer, I went to visit his shop in Oberlin, Ohio (go to http://www.hansonrecords.net for more details) and during a vegetarian barbeque at his house, Dilloway, not the blood-stained beast I'd imagined him to be, happily agreed to be interviewed on his beginnings, influences, and motives as a musician, manipulating synths, tapeloops, and more in a search towards intensity uniquely his own. Best known perhaps for his work with Wolf Eyes, he's also the owner of the Hanson label, a prolific solo artist and collaborator with musicians such as Kevin Drumm, C. Spencer Yeh, Grey Holger, Tovah Olson, Steve Kenney, Lasse Marhaug, James Twig Harper, Angie Tarantism, Jackie Stewart, Joseph Hammer, Ju Suk Reet Meate, Michael Lastra, Mike Kearns, Lisa Colwell, Andrew W.K., Chad Organ, Don Allen, Jeff Warmouth, Magas, Matt Krizowsky, Nándor Névai, Weasel Walter, Michael Travis, Ram Maharjan, Michael Troutman and Chris Pottinger.-LS
In Alan Licht's article on Wolf Eyes in The Wire [#249, November 2004], I recall you said that as a child you used to cut out and make covers for bands that didn't exist. Which albums were important for you as a source of inspiration back then?
Kiss and Ozzy Osbourne I think, when I was seven or eight, when I first got a guitar or drum set. I inherited a lot of my older brother's records and our neighbor's records when they got thrown out. I had this babysitter named Brian Schmidt (who's a really great artist – I've actually got back in contact with him over the past couple years) who used to bring over Kiss records. We'd listen to them and I'd draw the covers while we listened. He played bass too, sometimes he'd bring that over and teach me how to play like Krokus basslines and stuff. I think the first records I remember were Kiss Destroyer and the Gary Numan Cars single, which my cousin gave me. I also bought the Frank Zappa Valley Girl 7". That and Chipmunk Punk! (laughs)
I see in your shop that you have books on Yoko Ono and Marcel Duchamp. Are they important to you?
I haven't really studied Duchamp a whole lot, but Yoko has always kind of fascinated me. I mean, growing up I always knew who she was, but it wasn't until I was in high school that I really heard her stuff and it totally freaked me out. Just the fact that here she was with this guy John Lennon who was in the biggest band of all time, making these totally warped noise records. Who knows how many copies Two Virgins sold, but like "normal" people bought that record! It sounds as warped as an old Prick Decay tape! (laughs) I always think of Prick Decay whenever I listen to that record. I have that kind of same fascination with the Sex Pistols, doing such bizarre stuff on such a widely public level.
Are there any primarily visual artists that have inspired you?
The Viennese Actionists, definitely. Just seeing photos of the stuff they did really... uh, I don't know what the word would be! (laughs) I'd say as far as visual things go it's mostly films; films are more influential to me than painters or anything. The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre [Tobe Hooper, 1975], Combat Shock [Buddy Giovinazzo, 1986], Deadbeat at Dawn [Jim van Bebber, 1988]. Just everything about those movies: the sound, the film, the story. All three of them are really dismal and disgusting, not necessarily in a gore way, just.. I guess I found them inspiring in some way (laughs).
Do you always create your artwork for the solo releases?
Mostly I do
it all myself. Except for a tape I did on Monorail Trespassing that Jon
Borges did the artwork for, and there are some American Tapes releases
that John Olson did the art for, of course.
What inspires your choices for the artwork for your solo and side-project releases?
You know I'm not even sure. Dominick Fernow from Prurient was talking to me about that, and mentioned things I'd never really thought about. I think it's about making something that, when you're, you know, flipping through the record bins or the tape bins will make you look twice, and be curious about. I like using intense images, horror movie-esque, creepy. All across the board intense, from intensely stupid to intensely scary. I like things to really stick out and grab your attention. A lot of us grew up watching horror movies and being really into horror movies and exploitation films, and the way they would advertise stuff with the most over the top taglines and posters and commercial trailers has influenced me a lot in my use of images and titles.
Outsiders to the noise scene might think that it's all about confrontation.
People who don't look deep enough into it might think that, but it's just a part of it, a little subgenre of people who are really in it to be offensive or confrontational.
I remember a few people stating on the ChondriticSound forum that noise should only be garbage spewed out prolifically by the artist (Dilloway laughs) and no one should try to create a masterpiece. What do you think about that?
Well that probably works for some people, but noise means a lot of different things to different people. When I think of noise I think of someone like the Haters or The New Blockaders—something that's just straight noise. There's no musical element to it. I guess some of the New Blockaders stuff has some composition to it, but The Haters, I mean that's just pure noise. By that definition, I wouldn't consider myself a noise artist.
Can you recommend any masterpieces of noise as a genre?
I'd say Henning Christiansen's Symphony Natura [Slowscan], The Haters' In the Shade of Fire [Silent], which actually I'm going to be putting out on CD soon, and the first New Blockaders album. Those three seem pretty important to me.
Let me quote William Bennett , from David Keenan's Wire article on Whitehouse [#282, August 2007]: "Now you've got a state where noise is no longer a description of the music. It's a generic term and noise now means a bunch of guys creating lots of distortion with racks of effects pedals, loops, microphones and analogue equipment. And anything outside of that realm they don't like. To my mind that equals utter conservatism." Do you think that noise musicians have somewhat closed their minds to different sonic approaches to the same concept?
Definitely. Just the fact that a lot of them these days seem to categorize themselves as either Power Electronics or Harsh Noise and use those names as a kind of slogan. That's nothing I would ever do. I can see why people would try to work within a certain set of rules and see how creative they can be within those boundaries, but it's not really anything I'm interested in.
How much do you weigh your audience's expectations before or during a performance? How much does their presence influence your playing?
I think it affects me quite a bit. It's something I've had trouble working with. None of my studio recordings are really much like my live shows, which seem harsher and definitely more physical. I guess I come from more of a rock'n'roll background, so I have that kind of "feeding off of the audience's energy" sort of thing. I'm aware there's something going on around me, but then again, most of the time I have my eyes closed while I'm playing, or I'm just staring at my mixer.
I don't want to divide artistic creation into such a concrete binary as improvisation/composition, so let me try to word this properly: how much do you consider the structure of a performance beforehand, either in concert or in the studio?
I always have an idea of what I'm going to try to do before a show or a recording session. I have a set of sounds I'm going to be working with and I usually know which ones I want to start with and end with. And then I just kind of take it from the beginning and see where it gets me, before trying to make it back to the point where I want to end it. I think I do that both in the studio and live.
What about your thoughts on collaborative improvisation?
It depends. I'm not a big fan of playing with other people in an improvised setting. I guess that's because with my stuff I can get really physical and I feel like I can't do that as much with others. I'll play any time with John [Olson] or Nate [Young], people I really like playing with, but I don't really like one-off collaborations.
But one of your two sets at Erstquake 3 in September 2006 was a first-time encounter, with Lasse Marhaug. What are your thoughts on that?
Erstquake was cool. It was definitely a different sort of atmosphere for me to play in. I'm used to playing either in a rock club or a basement, so it was cool to be able to sit down, at least for my solo set. I approached it more like a recording session, where I sit down and really listen and see where things go. The set with Lasse was pretty much straight noise from beginning to end. I was kind of surprised that so many people liked it.
Would you want to release either one of those Erstquake sets?
At one point I was planning to edit down the collaboration with Lasse. It definitely would need to be edited. Like you say, it was the first time we'd ever played together, so there are some weak points. But there are some really good parts too. Yeah I think that would make a good release.
On the ChondriticSound bulletin board people describe EAI as "academic" and "artsy", in a negative way. Why do you think that is?
I don't know, I really don't. Because there's stuff like The Rita where Sam [McKinlay] has basically created a new genre term of harsh noise, called Walls. He'll write pages and pages on harsh noise walls, and his ideas about it are, I think, very academic too.
Do you play differently for people who are already familiar with your work, as opposed to people who aren't?
If you're playing to the same people – like in Michigan, it was always our group of friends, the same ten to fifteen people – you don't want to play the same thing every time. At those shows I try out different things, and then at a bigger show take elements of all those little gigs and try to put together all the stuff I've been working on. Erstquake wasn't really that different from a lot of my shows. It just happened to be one where I wasn't jumping around and going crazy (laughs).
Do you record yourself every time you play?
Most of the time. I'm always trying different things so I'll usually screw around for a half hour / an hour trying to figure out what it is I want to do and then just start recording and see what happens.
How much post-production work occurs before an album is released?
Most of my recordings are live. Not live in front of people, but meaning no overdubs. I'll go through things and sometimes take out a few seconds that bother me here and there, and basically just edit the beginning and the end. The exception is the Beggar Master CD, which is all very layered and composed.
Do you use the computer, as an instrument rather than a recording device?
No. I mean, I've used some really basic effects, maybe a little Garageband, maybe adding a little bit of reverb.. but never as a source. As a live instrument it's pretty boring. Usually if someone's using a computer, it's more a sound experience anyway. I've seen them – or heard them used well. It depends on who's using them really. I saw John Wiese play the other week and it was incredible – I didn't really know what he was doing at all (laughs).
What were you doing before you joined John Olson and Nate Young? They were in Universal Indians before you joined them, right?
Yeah, there was John [Olson] and Gretchen Gonzales, with Bryan Ramirez. That was back in 94-95. At the time I was in a band called Galen, a kind of Beefheart / No Wave-y band. We used to play shows together. The guitarist in my band left, and I ran into John and Gretchen – I guess Bryan had just left them – and I ended up playing in Universal Indians. Nate [Young] had moved back to Chicago for a year and he and I started playing together as Wolf Eyes. So for a while I was playing in Universal Indians and Wolf Eyes. Then John and Gretchen got a divorce, and John started sitting in on Wolf Eyes shows. Nate had already sat in on Universal Indians shows at times, so it was natural when they broke up that John should start playing with us.
You mentioned Beefheart and No Wave, but were you influenced by the American Hardcore scene? I see something similar in the camaraderie and do-it-yourself attitude in the noise scene now.
It's funny, because I was into bands that had broken up ten years earlier, like Misfits and Negative Approach and The Sex Pistols. I never got into contemporary hardcore, except maybe for Drop Dead.
In his Wire article, Licht mentions that Caroliner Rainbow's first album was life changing for you, John Olson and Nate Young. How so?
I don't know if it was life changing for John, but Nate and I were definitely big Caroliner fans. That was some of the first really weird music I heard. Before that I'd heard Butthole Surfers and maybe Soul Discharge by The Boredoms. Nate and I used to see this band called Couch in Ann Arbor, who I actually ended up joining a couple years later. They put out a 7" and I bought that. Then I went back to the shop and asked the guy working there – who happened to be Geoff Walker from the band Gravitar – and he was like, oh you gotta get this, and he handed me the first Caroliner record. It was in a box with a moldy magazine that happened to be ripped to a page for horse-dewormer.. every thing about it was just so bizarre and gross. That record's incredible. It really turned me on to a lot of different things.
What did Andrew W.K. bring to the table when he played with Wolf Eyes and your project Isis & Werewolves?
Andrew W.K. had moved to New York at the time, and we would talk on the phone constantly about Wolf Eyes stuff. He actually made tapes under the name Wolf Eyes and send them to me. I have a whole collection of them. A lot of it's like John Carpenter-style synthpop but kind of dark: Goblin soundtrack sort of stuff. We only played a couple of shows with the three of us, and he already had his thing started. It was before he had any records out, but he already had his idea of what Andrew W.K. was, and we had our idea of what Wolf Eyes was. So it was more like a sitting-in kind of thing. Nate and I had the idea that he would be in Wolf Eyes, and we would be in his backing band. We went out to New York, but only stayed a couple months. We were both moving in such different directions that it just didn't work out. Andrew is his own dude. He had his own thing, and we didn't really want to be a backup band. We had our own idea of what we wanted to do. So we came back, and it was right after that that we started playing with John.
What drew you to using analogue tape loops?
It was my friend Steve Kenney, who plays in Demons. We were living together with Nate Young in Ann Arbor Michigan, back in 96, and he gave me a 8-track player. I'd never seen one with a record function before. I remember we were watching Invocation of My Demon Brother, that Kenneth Anger film with a soundtrack by Mick Jagger playing an old modular Moog synth. And he had this patch going with these weird loops. I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever heard. I had a Moog Rogue, but I couldn't get those loop sounds out of it, so I decided to break open the 8-track and make a little, short tape-loop on it and record the sounds of my synth to make that sort of sound. I really got to love working with it, the way the tapes degrade from playing the same thing over again. They'd stretch and warble and just get crummier and crummier the more you used it. It was always changing. Sometimes they'd break and I'd tape them back together and they'd be at a slightly different spot so the loop would sound a little different. I really got into that. Then I just started adding more and more, using all 8 tracks.
Nate Young mentioned a circuit-bent keyboard that he had and how he'd catalogued all its possible sounds. He said something like it was "skeleton of all [Wolf Eyes'] stuff."
At one point it was. He completely took it apart and basically made it into a patch-synthesizer, and we'd go through and listen to all these different sounds, catalogue the ones that sounded good and forget about the ones we didn't like. Then we'd MIDI that up to these drum machines, which also were circuit bent. The sounds from that keyboard were what we were playing off of, mostly for the Dread era. Burned Mind is more sampler based. We took raw sounds from our own instruments and there wasn't really any circuit bending stuff.
Do you think the members of Wolf Eyes thought (or still think) some of their releases were more important than others? I was thinking of Nate Young's remark on Burned Mind when he said "the only thing that bothers me about being on a label like Sub Pop is that people are only seeing that one thing, not really getting the full picture of what's going on."
There's a lot of Wolf Eyes to get, so I don't know if you could even get the full picture with one release (laughs). A lot of the tapes and the CDR releases were kind of ideas that we were working on, and the bigger records, the ones that had more copies pressed were a combination of ideas that we'd been working on for the past year. We tried to put in as much of what we'd been working on as we could into those.
I know you didn't play in the Wolf Eyes / Anthony Braxton performance at Victoriaville in 2005, but what did you think of it? Have you heard the album?
I listened to it once – it was cool. I was kind of jealous! When Braxton first saw us when we played in Sweden, I was walking back to grab some beers and saw him with his hands full of every single release we that we had for sale. And I overheard him talking to somebody, saying, who are these guys? That was incredible! I went back to the other guys, like, dudes, Anthony Braxton's freaking out! He wants to come back and meet us! Yeah, it's something I wish I could have been there for. It's so cool that he related to it. Yeah, I wish I could have been there.
Why did you leave Wolf Eyes?
I was getting really sick of touring. There was a point where we weren't at home for more than a couple weeks at a time, where as soon as we got in the groove of being at home, we'd up and go again. I was getting sick of that. The other guys wanted to keep doing it, but my wife Erika had to go to Nepal to do her fieldwork, and the band knew I was going to go do that for a while. We just didn't know when it was going to happen, but it happened around that point where we were just touring like crazy. So I went off to Nepal for six months, and at that point my place in the band was still kind of up in the air. I said, if you guys get the chance to go over to Europe and play some gigs, by all means do it, I don't want to hold you back. And so they tried out a couple of our friends to take my place, temporarily. They did one show with Mike Kearns, which I guess didn't really work out, so they started playing some gigs with Connelly, and that seemed to go really well. When I came back, the last thing I wanted to do was go on tour. And since it was working out with Mike, we mutually agreed that I'd leave. We tried to have it so I could still help out with some things – I did a little bit on the Human Animal [Sub Pop] record, mainly on the title track, where I played some guitar and did some programming on it with the sampler – but by then I'd got into my own thing, and they were getting more into their groove with Mike [Connelly]. So, it was cool.
Since you moved away from the Wolf Eyes crew, has your creative process changed?
I think it's always changing, but not too much. I'm around a few different people that I'm bouncing ideas off of. But I'm still only a couple hours away, and I still see those guys quite often and we're always talking about music stuff.
Why do you use contact microphones in your mouth?
Originally I started using them to get those kind of grunt sounds – I had this band called the Beast People, which was all vocal stuff, just grunts and groans – but later I started using them to control feedback and clicks. When I started playing in Wolf Eyes, I wanted to get those same kind of sounds but I was also playing guitar too so the easiest way to do it was to shove the mic in my mouth and hold it in place (laughs).
How did your collaborations with Kevin Drumm (I Drink Your Skin, American Tapes, Hanson) and C. Spencer Yeh (The Squid, Hanson) come about?
Spencer came out to Ann Arbor for a day, and I made a bunch of tape loops: then we improvised together and I manipulated loops of his sounds while he played along. We did like a 5 or 6-hour session, went through, mixed it – but it was all recorded live. With Kevin we basically just traded each other's material and each composed our sides using each other's sound sources. He sent me a couple of minidiscs and I gave him a cassette of some stuff I'd been working on. He used my sounds to make his side – I'm not sure exactly what he did to them – and I used his minidiscs to make mine. I had to clean them because they had coffee spilled all over them and stuff, and some of them barely even played, but I managed to get a couple seconds to make a loop out of them (laughs). I really like that tape. That's one I've been thinking getting a CD made of.
Why do you – and other noise musicians – still release cassettes?
I've been thinking about that a lot. I was talking to [John] Wiese about it. I guess because I have a hard time putting CDs together, and he has like 100 of them out. For some reason my brain is just stuck in C30/LP mode. I'm always thinking in terms of 15-minute sides. I can't afford to do LPs of everything, and that's a big reason why I do cassettes. CDs, to me, are really disposable – there are definitely good things about them, like being able to hear things as clear as possible, which is great – but I just.. I don't know. I grew up buying records and tapes. That might have something to do with it. Cassettes are what I'm working on at the moment and what I'm most excited about. Releasing them is more immediate – I can record something and have it out next week, and that's exactly where my head is at, that's what I want to be doing. I try to put them out as an LP eventually, but it always takes so long and costs so much. Right now I'm putting together a couple of CDs, and I want to get them together in an aesthetically pleasing sort of way. I don't want to make another 30-minute CD, or another thrown-together collection, like the Boggs Vol. 2 collection.
You mentioned that when you started playing you wanted to make "music people would have fun to." Is that still the case?
At this point I kind of feel there's a place for everything. Shows were pretty boring when we first started – at least the ones we went to (laughs). Now there are certain shows where I get more out of sitting there in silence and not moving at all. And there are others where I feel like going crazy, jumping around.
What do you think of the Northeast Ohio scene?
There's a lot of cool shit. It was exciting to move here. It's a really diverse scene, with Emeralds on one side and Tusco Terror the total opposite on the other. Skin Graft is somebody that's really been freaking me out lately. I think his stuff is really great.
As a label manager do you ever feel like you have to push some musicians to achieve something you think they're capable of?
No, I don't really ask people to do things unless I feel confident that they're going to give me something good.
Do you have a specific goal for Hanson Records?
I don't think there's a goal or anything. So long as I can keep releasing stuff.. I guess the main goal is just keep getting stuff out that I like.