Members: Max Clark (vocals, samples); Scott Crocker (guitar, drum-machine, electronics, bass, vocals)
New Hampshire, USA band Barren Waste first came to my attention when they sent me their debut release for review: Divine Intervention is an EP of six very short tunes in a predominantly grindcore vein, but with a very distinctive and creative approach to texture and dissonance, which immediately struck me as an interesting and committed artistic statement. The band has since released more material in a similar style (broadly comparable to some recordings by Hack Circle, for example), of which the excellent Dreaming In Aeons is a prime example, but alongside this work they have maintained a prolific schedule of experimental electronic releases. The combination of these diverse practices under a single authorial identity is an unusual strategy, and suggests an ambitious creative agenda; that they are able to operate in both theatres with a comparable degree of quality and creative rigour suggests that Barren Waste are well placed to pursue it.
Max Clark and Scott Crocker began their musical association in their high school days, sharing, according to Scott, ‘a bizarre compulsion to expose ourselves to every form of music under the sun’. However, college obstructed any full blown collaboration until some years further down the line; I asked Scott to outline their subsequent creative history.
Post-college we hooked up with Rich Libby and formed Boson with me on guitar, Max on vocals and Rich on drums. We excelled at not selling tickets and frightening audiences. After eight months or so we hit a creative wall and added Alex Silverman on guitar, while I switched to bass. We formed Barren Waste and put Boson on hold. Divine Intervention followed shortly after. It’s a solid set of tunes, but is very obviously the soundtrack to us trying to figure ourselves out.
After Divine Intervention we hammered and honed the songs that would become Dreaming in Aeons with a renewed sense of purpose. I started releasing electronic albums under the Barren Waste moniker around this time. The recording session for Dreaming in Aeons was pure magic. Other than a lacklustre first take of ‘Egress’, we killed each track on the first try. Rich left the band shortly after recording Dreaming in Aeons and has since fallen out of contact with us.
With Rich gone and Alex starting college, Barren Waste started morphing. Max and I shelled out hundreds of dollars for music software and began programming away. A unified idea [A unified idea split into meaningless pieces, 2012, reviewed here] came out of several one evening sessions with Alex during his breaks from school. While happy with his guitar work on A unified idea, Alex is a metalhead at heart and chose to leave Barren Waste shortly before the release of A unified idea. He has gone on to join Forest of Remorse and will be part of a new project called Tomb Legion which will feature me on baritone guitar, Alex on seven-string guitar, Max on vocals and Forest of Remorse mastermind Tyler Blake on drums.
At the moment, the release of Voices Lost in The Dead Air, our first Barren Waste album as a duo, is imminent and we have been slowly constructing a record label dubbed Fat Negative Creep Records.
Barren Waste seems to embrace two quite distinct musical practices, one loud and guitar based, and the other electronic with ambient tendencies: could you explore the relationship between these two approaches?
Scott: We like to look at all forms of music as different elements that we can utilize. Ideally, we want to draw together the world of sound and filter it through our aesthetics to create something amazing.
Max: it just seems natural. I want direct, aggressive, primal elements to the music and that’s what the full band releases tend to be. Scott is more inclined to explore a sound and see where it takes him, thus the amount of drone and ambient releases.
Your guitarist Alex Silverman recently left the band: will this lead to a reduced emphasis on the rock elements?
Scott: Speaking generally, Alex tended to hone the noodley progressive bits, while I was more of a riff writer. These roles occasionally shifted, but Alex’s favorite guitarist is Chuck Schuldiner and he tended to focus on musicians like Paul Gilbert and other shredder types, whereas I was trying to smash Mötörhead, The Jesus Lizard and Fugazi into every tune. Alex has since tightened up his rhythm playing and joined the cult of Django Reinhardt, making him even more beastly of a guitarist. Post-Alex we will still be able to rock just as hard, but we will diverge from rocking a bit more often. Our new album Voices Lost in The Dead Air is psychedelic and spacey, but we plan on bringing more of a rock edge to our next album.
Max: No, in our hearts we will always want to rock. We tend to fluctuate our writings between arty as all hell and rocking as all hell.
Many musicians would be tempted to release these under separate project names: the fact that you don’t suggests to me that you want us to understand them as aspects of the same creative process. Am I on the right track there?
Scott: You are on the right track, however I initially started releasing electronic albums by remixing Barren Waste recordings. This eventually led to me adding more original compositions. The transition was slow enough that there was no clear cut off point. Also, I was simply too lazy to make another Bandcamp page, make another Facebook page, promote a new project etc… At this point I have made enough electronic albums, that they do have a particular sound that makes them Barren Waste albums. I have begun working on a solo album that will feature vastly different music than the electronic music I have released under the Barren Waste moniker.
Max: I never put a lot of thought into why it happened. It just seemed like a good idea when Scott first brought up the idea. Why not have a wide and diverse catalogue of music?
It does seem as though that your releases adopt either one approach or the other; do you intend to integrate the rock and electronic sounds more completely in future releases?
Scott/Max: Yes! Voices Lost in The Dead Air and future full band EPs will be a joining of the two ideas.
Could you outline your composing process for us? Do the two of you work together at the same time, or do you pass work back and forth?
Scott: For proper, ‘full band’, releases Max writes the lyrics and gives me a general outline, then I write the music. Arguing commences. We change the tunes accordingly prior to recording vocals. Once the vocals have been recorded we sit down together and add them in. Then we walk away for a week or two and listen to the music independently. Eventually we get together and finalize everything. For my electronic releases I lock myself in my bedroom and pump them out. It typically takes one or two sessions to complete a full release.
Max: We do a combination of both on a full band release. We tend to talk beforehand about what kind of sound we both want from a release, then I’ll write the lyrics and send them to Scott. He then writes the music. We’ll listen to the instrumental tracks and make edits. I’ll record the vocals, and Scott mixes them in. We’ll listen to the “rough” mixes apart and then get together to make the final edit.
How does your division of labour work?
Scott: Max is the big idea guy. He is great at creating a concept and laying out how he wants it conveyed. Max doesn’t play any instruments, so it’s up to me to execute the concept. We don’t step on each other’s toes. I get to do what I want on my electronic albums and Max more or less has final say on our full band albums.
Max: I like handling the abstract things like lyrics, concepts and leaving all the concrete work like writing the music to Scott. I envision what kind of monster we should make, Scott makes the monster real.
Do ideas have a long gestation between initial concept and finished recording?
Scott: It varies greatly. Some songs need a long time to ferment, while others just leap out of us. We would probably release more full band stuff if not for the time restraint of having to book studio time to record vocals.
Max: Not really. I never bring half-finished ideas to Scott, so since we start with a complete idea we can hammer them out quickly.
In both sides of your practice (rock and electronic) you adopt a distinctly experimental approach, with often high levels of dissonance and other unconventional elements. What are you thoughts on musical aesthetics, and the relationship between the music’s meaning and its accessibility or otherwise?
Scott: The audience for various forms of music changes so much it’s difficult for me to tie an album’s level of experimental material or the significance of its content to its accessibility. I don’t find the concept and output of our band to be that experimental. Max’s lyrics supply a concept. My sounds and Max’s voice convey the concept. Then again, I approach writing for Barren Waste less like I am writing for a band, and more like I am writing orchestral music.
Max: I can only speak about this band. Aesthetically, we just want to make something original. Because we are constantly trying to push ourselves in our expression, which often makes the music more challenging since there’s no point of reference for it.
You are unusually prolific: is the high rate at which you release music the consequence of a backlog of ideas, or is that the rate at which you create?
Scott: I can turn my creativity on like a switch. I can sit down at my computer and write a new album in two to four hours. Unlike a lot of creative people, I don’t have any kind of regime or rituals surrounding my writing, it just comes out.
Max: Rate at which we create.
Do you perform live? If so, how does your live work relate to your recorded work?
Scott: We play shows when we can. There aren’t many venues near us and other than people in bands we tend to confuse/frighten/annoy most concertgoers. For live shows, we build a backing track of our recorded material mashed together with samples and other debris. I hang out on stage and dance the guitar pedal dance, while Max gets in the audience and wreaks havoc. We have a pretty unique presence and I would love to bring that to an audience outside of New Hampshire.
Max: We play when we can get bookings, which is rare. We don’t have a local fanbase thus are useless to promoters. Our live shows tend to be our full albums magnified and sped up. We play for ten minutes with Scott making his guitar belch noise and me doing my best Iggy Pop meets Reverend Jim Jones impersonation.
What does the future hold for Barren Waste? Do you anticipate continuing to release (on average) over a dozen recordings a month, as you have this year?
Scott: It’s hard to predict, but my guess would be three or four full band releases a year with varying levels of electronic releases and other projects. I go through phases where I am very adamant about recording and releasing my own material, then I will get sick of it for a few months. A large variable is my job. I use a lot of my creativity at work, and I am often too tired and cranky to motivate myself later in the day. Max is also my best friend, so we often end up hanging out instead of working on new material. Plus, whenever I start to go too deep into music-land my girlfriend feels the need to remind me she exists and enjoys attention.
Max: Hard to say. We tend to go ‘I’m burnt out.’ Then a week later we’ll have 5 new songs ready to be worked on. We’ll probably slow down a bit, but expect plenty from us.