Zia – Shem – Interview


Shem (Young American)
An interview with Elaine Walker
by Scott Hefflon

Any band member changes between last album and this one?
The last album was actually just me and Rob, the same with the new one. We do have band member changes, but the recording of the album was just Rob and me.

What about different live performers?
When we released the last tape, Raziel Panick from You Shriek was still in the band, and then Scott Miller, and then Erin…

Any major changes recently?
The most major change was when Rob joined the band about a year and a half ago. Up until that point we were using a backing tape and had someone on electronic drums playing along. We decided to get a live drummer and play everything live. That was quite a feat, but Rob helped me out a lot, figuring out how to actually play the parts. I thought it was impossible. I think that’s when Tim Osbourne from Big Catholic Guilt joined for a little while. From there it gets really confusing – there were a lot of band member changes. When people join, it’s usually only temporary.

How are the the songs on Shem different from those on Zia Version 1.5?
The official name was Zia Version 1. Then we did 1.1, then 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 – it keeps changing. I guess the title was Zia version something. I had the ideas that it was like software – until we could release a CD, we could just keep adding songs, re-mastering them, and improving that tape. It went from five songs to nine, and they’ve all been re-recorded and re-mastered. We’re not going to do that anymore. With the other ones, you could send your tape in and I would send you a new version. For free.

Did you ever get up to 2.0?
We had plans on doing that awhile back. We were on the verge of signing with Neuro-Disc Records in Florida. They were going to give us money to fly to Chicago to be produced by Jim Marcus of Die Warsaw. We were going to re-do those songs. I had most of the vocals already done, were just going to go there and mix it. But our contract didn’t work out at the last minute. At that point, I was sick of the old songs, so I just wrote new songs. We didn’t have enough money to actually distribute it, so we called up Young American Records. They signed us in about two weeks because we bugged them so much.

You took care of all the recording and production yourself?
Yeah, I paid for all the recording and all the mastering and re-mastering. And re-mastering, and remastering.

Do you have studio time at Berklee?
Yeah, but the mastering part, we had to go to a special studio. All this fancy CD-ROM burning stuff we don’t have at school. We did it all at Think Tree’s house. I could have done it all at Berklee, but I think it worked out better having outside producers.

Do they have an official studio?
Yeah, they do.

What is it called?
Uh, “the guy from Think Tree’s house.”

Did they help recorded it too?
We came in with a bunch of sequences and I sang live and Rob played the drums live. Then we did all kinds of tricks with wah-wah and distortion and effects and screwed it up.

Still no darn electric guitars, right?
No. Actually I took a vote at our last show, whether people wanted us to add guitars or not. I was considering adding a 19-tone guitar, if I could find one. I took a vote and it seemed like half and half, so that didn’t help.

We’re so brainwashed in expecting guitars, you should stick to not having them.
There’s a couple of reasons why we don’t use guitars. One reason is that the music is microtonal and guitars simply don’t fit. The frets would need to be closer together or further apart. The other reason we don’t use guitars is I wanted to have a band without typical instruments, except drums.

Why did you go with live drums?
I wasn’t looking for an acoustic drummer, I was looking for an electronic drummer, but I couldn’t find anybody. Rob came along and seemed perfect for the band. We were going to put triggers all over his drums, and we might in the future, but we haven’t yet. And I actually like the raw sound it adds. It gives people something to grasp onto. If I had guitars, people would grasp onto it even more; but a lot of people would probably be mad at me. Our new tape builds up on that grungy sort of sound. The distortion covers more of the frequency spectrum, filling it out more. Before it was a more clean, diverse-sounding sound, but we’re getting more funky and more grungy. And more pop too.

What? Pop?
Yeah, cyber-industrial technopop with a funky edge. I was in a different frame of mind when I wrote all this music.

Like Chili Peppers funky?
Not funk. Funky as in groovy. It’s more melodic too. I’m really not screaming very much at all. It’s mostly singing. There’s four new songs on the CD, and “Disevolve.” It’s an old song, and I’m screaming a little on that. I probably will scream again in the future, it’s just a phase. Every album will be different.

Is the new CD out yet?
It was supposed to be out in September. There was a problem with the CD-ROM format. It will probably will be available in a few weeks. The five-song CD is available, audio-only, by mail order through Young American (PO Box 728 Boston MA 02123) for $7.

What’s the CD-ROM part like?
It’s a 20 meg encyclopedia of space travel history. It talks about our solar system, and when you quit the program, it asks you to sign up for a space society. I’m really into the space program and do what I can to promote it.

Is there any video?
There are photographs, and a bit of animation. It’s a fun thing to look at. It’s a little on the cheesy side.

You look different in your live show these days. You have hair now.
Yeah, I have hair. My tattoo is covered.

That’s a bummer.
I’ll shave it someday.

And no more duct tape?
Basically, I was really poor and wanted clothes that were silver and metallic. I thought duct tape would be perfect. I could make a different dress every time. It kind of gave me a rash. It’s not hard to get off; I’m lucky if it stays on. As soon as I had some money, I bought silver clothes. I’m getting sick of silver anyway. I’m moving on to different outfits.