United in States of Narcolepsy (Conscience)
An interview with vocalist/programmer Krishna
by Scott Hefflon
What does “El Dopa” mean?
It’s a drug psychiatrists were prescribing during the ’70s to wake people out of catatonic states. They used it to treat patients with Parkinson’s Disease and severe paranoid schizophrenics, so it seemed like a fitting name for what I wanted to do lyrically with the band.
That also includes the rejection of incoming stimuli, ignoring what you don’t want to know, don’t want to see, and further distancing yourself from “reality” through voluntary selective perception.
Right. It’s a wake the masses from a catatonic state of mind sorta thing. Not only in the extreme sense, people withdraw, or crawl into their own space, secluded in their own minds. L-dopa adjusts the natural level of dopamine, the neurotransmitting chemical of the body.
While talking titles, United in States of Narcolepsy, as opposed to United States…
Yeah, a lot of people think it’s United States… We chose the title to reflect the viewpoint we have that America is dead, that people are dead in the way they allow themselves to be dictated to by media. Rikki Lake, Details – what’s cool and what’s hip, what’s hot – it’s all become about buzz words. Life is a buzz word, and people try to totally wire into that. It’s even affected the “alternative” scene, even though that word doesn’t mean anything to a free thinker. It’s a marketing tool. Even the people who are “alternative” are accepting being preached to, being told what to think is alternative.
“Alternative” is supposed to be either against all rules, or a combination of following some rules and breaking others, but not a specific set of rules in itself. It’s become a system itself, instead of an alternative to the system.
Exactly. Anyone who thinks they’re “hip” because they’re doing all the “alternative” things, they’re just following the new dogma set by some rich “hip” person with airtime on the radio and TV. Narcolepsy is the inability to stay awake. People with narcolepsy doze off in conversations, fall asleep in mid-sentence or mid-task. For example, however you feel about him/them, Marilyn Manson was forced by their label to leave the last song off their record. It was supposed to be this loop, repeating over and over again, where Marilyn was saying, “Go ahead, do it. You’re dead already, so you might as well do it.” He was referring to suicide, of course. I can totally relate to that statement, that sentiment. What I can’t relate to is that the label censored his freedom of speech. They signed a band they knew was confrontational, or controversial at least, one that deals out some seriously sardonically funny shit, yet they leave on other, more subtle, issues. The rest of the record is deep-seated, subtle, then they pull out an idea that’s in-your-face, that one sentence.
You don’t openly condone or encourage suicide.
But I’ve always disagreed with the idea that suicide is a cop out. I think it’s a brave move. If you’re convinced you want to do it, and you have the courage and drive to terminate your own life, that’s a big decision. And it’s yours to make. The Christians and the politicians get all over that idea, telling you how you should feel about it. But in the end, it’s your choice. The ludicrous thing is that it’s illegal to terminate your own life. I mean, we don’t have a message that, “Yeah, things are all fucked up, it’s hopeless. Go kill yourself.” But by the same token, I couldn’t dissuade someone from doing it. I’m definitely not waving the “Life is great!” flag. The whole artist-responsibility shit is just stupid. I mean, is it Judas Priest’s fault that that kid stuck a rifle in his mouth? Or is it his parent’s negligence? Obviously he did feel he couldn’t talk to them, which is really sad. When you have a fundamentalist upbringing where there are specific rules for right and wrong behavioral programming, is it really the music’s fault when an individual has opinions that differ? Is it the music’s fault it offers something no one else does?
I like the way your lyrics offer a blend of humor and cynicism. But it’s not telling anyone to do anything, because that would be offering another dogma. Your lyrics are merely statements on how you feel.
Perhaps it’s just paranoia, but I get the sense that’s what’s partly responsible for the problems we’ve had in Boston. We’re a very uncool band. We don’t have “homies” that we hang out with “in the scene.” We don’t have anyone we can really relate to. We’ve don’t really have, well, I’ll say I don’t really have a protocol for how I interact with people. I interact the way I interact. Over the years, I’ve seen and met so many people that tie into this local-shmocal way of operating, and it just makes me sick. I’m just trying to do my thing, and whether my thing corresponds with… I have a reputation for making scenes and pissing people off, and I kinda like that. It’s like being a little kid. I’m an imp.
I thought the phrase was “drunk and cantankerous.”
Sure. I like pushing peoples’ buttons. I enjoy it almost in a sexual way. I view the scene as this nice, orderly organization, then I come in and cut a fart. Some people say, “Well, people fart,” while others say, “Ohhh, you just don’t do that here.”
And other people say, “Boy, I wish I’d said that.”
Right. And our focus has always been to expand this thing in a national way, and not just bow to local politics.
That self-neuterization. Toeing the line by local standards, you end up weakening yourself on the whole. You’re tied in with one frame of reference, but you’re incompatible with any other city. You’re unadaptable.
When you’re willing to risk everyone hating you, that’s it. There’s always going to be a set of people that hates you. We’ve always taken that shit with a grain of salt. Hey, at least we got a reaction out of them. When you go see a lot of bands, it’s very easy to just get drunk and treat the band like they’re wallpaper. With this band, whether you like us or hate us, at least you’ll remember us.
You keep saying us. How much of El Dopa is “us” and how much is you?
Well, it’s mostly me. It’s an understanding we have within the band. Which leads to the topic of the departure of Alex (Smoller, bassist). He couldn’t deal with it anymore. The good thing is we now have a bassist who just wants to play bass. That’s what’s important in this band, and Alex just couldn’t do it anymore.
Without insulting your band members, how do you say you respect their opinions and ideas, but it’s your band?
It’s implied. It’s a collaborative situation where every member contributes their personality to the whole of the band, but it’s never been misrepresented that I’m the driver of this bus. Alex just couldn’t deal with that anymore. He’s a control freak. I say that openly, because he’d be the first to admit it.
Was it that he had trouble with the direction you were taking the band?
It was more personal than that. He had problems with me, and I had problems with him. It’s all on a personal level, never on a musical level.
He sounds great on the record…
Exactly. It was a problem of keeping the personal separate from the professional. That’s what being a professional is all about. If I have a fight with my girlfriend, I leave it outside the rehearsal space door. If my brother (Arun Venkatesh, guitarist) gets fired from his job, he leaves it outside the door.
Music is a creative, passionate line of work. Isn’t it understandable that the same forces that drive one to create would sometimes get in the way of creativity?
They can overlap, but it’s not impossible to keep them separated. That’s what so many bands on the local level get trapped in; they allow crap to infiltrate what they do on a professional level. I laid down the law very early in this band that that was not allowed to happen. We’ve all been through major growing pains over the last few years, but that is not allowed to come into the recording studio, the live show, or the rehearsal space.
Even with all your, shall we say, personal indulgences, you’ve never crossed the line? What about some tirade from the stage…
Oh yeah, but that’s different. I’ve never been late in delivering a master, I’ve never missed a recording session, I’ve never shown up at a sound check plastered… I make sure I can deliver the goods. Even when I push the envelope, I stop just before any irreparable damage is done. Alex got very caught up in how we affected people on the scene, but when you get down to it, Denver, Colorado doesn’t know diddley squat about all that. Neither does New York, neither does Austin, Texas. And more importantly, they don’t give a fuck. And I don’t give a fuck. Music comes first and foremost. I can’t possibly imagine how anyone could come to one of our live shows and walk away saying, “Wow, those guys were really loose, they sucked.” Al Jorgenson is a blatant asshole, but if you listen to his albums and see him live, it’s all there. Whenever you look at a band driven by a single personality, there’s always a tightrope being walked. When it comes down to it, people care if the record is good, and if the live show good. Everything else is superficial bullshit.