Assemblage 23 Interview
By Michael O. Powell
Assemblage 23 is the industrial/EBM (electronic body music) project of musician Tom Shear, who is currently based in Seattle, Washington. I was able to get a hold of part of his busy schedule of drinking beers with fans and sarcastically teasing other industrial musicians in order to interview him for Mstation.org.
Industrial is an aggressive, rythmic musical genre that arrose from experimental bands like Einsturzende Neubauten and Cabaret Voltaire and has evolved with the outbreak of electronic music. EBM means "electro body music" and is associated with bands like VNV Nation, Project Pitchfork and mind.in.a.box that turn trance and rave music on its head and create fast paced electronic music that is emotionally intense.
How does Seattle influence your music? I don't know that it has had much of a direct impact, but I am much happier and less stressed living here than I was in Philly, so I supposed it may have had a subliminal effect.
Who influenced you? I think the first time I noticed synthesizers in music was when Gary Numan's "Cars" came out. Even though I was very young at the time, there was something about those unearthly strings that connected with me. Beyond that, I think the stuff that had the biggest influence on my was a lot of the early 80's synth bands like Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget, and the Human League.
How did you develop the name "Assemblage 23?"
I should probably make up some interesting story about losing a bar fight in the Himalayas or something, but honestly, I just wanted something with letters and numbers as part of the name, as I thought this would lend itself well to logo designs. Assemblage 23 just had a good ring to it.
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How were you involved with Noxious Emotion and the Musicwerks record store in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle?
I wasn't aside from the fact that they were all friends of mine and we did a small west coast tour together once.
How does your live performance differing from your studio sound?
I bring a live drummer and keyboard player along and instead of having them replace parts that are on the record, they play over what's already there which leads to more complex, thicker arrangements. We also have a couple of songs we do special 'live only' mixes of now.
How did you get connected with Metropolis Records?
I was originally signed to a Canadian label called Gashed Records. Things started going south with that label, and I expressed my dissatisfaction which lead to a whole lot of legal foot stomping and general ugliness. At the end of the day, Gashed realized I wasn't going to play their game, and they sold my contract to Metropolis. Fortunately, things have been great since I've joined up with them.
Who inspired you to write the song "Sorry?"
I think there is a strange part of the industrial/ebm culture that is reactionary against anything positive. A lot of people take themselves way too seriously and everything has to be serious, serious, serious all the time. There is almost this celebration of depression and negativity. So, 'Sorry' is sort of a sarcastic reaction to that.
How would you describe your sound?
I really try not to. I think my job is just to make the music, and all the categorization stuff is really in the listener's hands. Or...ears.
What led you towards industrial/synthpop?
I'm not sure. I mean, what leads us to like any kind of music? I think a lot of it is just a gut reaction. We like what we like.
How would you define this genre?
Again, I'm not terribly concerned with this aspect of it, as I think it is more for the listener to draw the boundaries of what makes a genre to them. The whole categorization thing is kind of boring to me, although I certainly understand why it is necessary.
What methods have you used to promote your music?
There's no doubt that touring is probably the most effective way we've used. But I also try to be accessible to fans as far as answering emails and participating in our online forum. We have a presence on MySpace as well, but to be honest, I think that site is WAY overrated as far as promotional value goes. We also sometimes do some sort of non-traditional things. We used to do a thing here in Seattle called 'Have a Beer With Shear' where we would meet with fans at a local bar and just hang out.
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