DJ? Acucrack

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Between his work with groundbreaking industrial act Acumen Nation, releasing a new album from his DJ? Acucrack project and heading up the Cracknation label, Jason Novak's got his hands full these days. Of course, none of this excuses the fact that he was late in calling the ladies of Rock Star Journalism for our interview. What does excuse it, though, is that he was busy with his most time consuming project of all -- his kids. Yes, Novak had to fulfill the incredibly rock star duty of going to his daughter's school orientation. Turns out even industrial musicians have to meet the kids' teachers.

Novak's about to get even busier, however, as he is about to hit the road this October as DJ? Acucrack will be filling the opening slot on KMFDM's upcoming tour. As he prepares to head out for the band's first significant tour in nearly five years, Novak discusses his plans for the live show, the new album, and the current state of affairs in the musical community.

Rock Star Journalism: How did you get hooked up with KMFDM for the upcoming tour?

Jason Novak: We've known Sascha for years. In fact, he gave us our first break in the business about ten years ago. Another band of ours -- Acumen Nation -- he had us open a couple shows for him in Chicago. Right after those shows we got signed to our first deal, and everything evolved from there. This tour came about when someone that we're starting to work with as a manager just put in the e-mail to him, and he said, "yeah, that sounds great."

RSJ: How has your live show evolved since the last tour with Curve?

JN: It's gotten a lot faster and a lot harder. We were just starting to get into drum 'n bass around that time; it hadn't evolved to what it is now. I think at that time we were doing a lot of techno and breakbeat. Now, the set is pretty much full-on jungle from start to finish with just a little breakbeat thrown in the middle of it. It's a lot more ferocious; there's a lot more vocals and definitely a little more turntable tricks. As opposed to before -- it was a lot more sampler and synth driven.

RSJ: What type of setup are you taking out?

JN: For the first time, I'm gonna be using a FinalScratch setup, which is where you still use traditional turntables, but you can use these time coded records to play audio files off a computer. Then, outside of that, I'll bring a couple samplers and a couple keyboards with filters and effects. We're also gonna have a full template video projection screen, and we've got a company in Chicago that's building a whole video presentation for the show.

RSJ: You've stressed in the past that your show is different from most DJ shows. What sets your performances apart?

JN: I think, first of all, we interact with the crowd. Cause that's the whole point to me of live performance is crowd interaction. And DJs sit behind their decks, and they really just wall themselves off from that whole part of the live experience. So what we do is try and set up really close to the front of the stage, and while we're spinning or pressing buttons we vocalize and do MC duty ourselves. I think it just brings people a little bit closer.

RSJ: Since you haven't toured in five years, what do you think will be the hardest thing about going back on the road?

JN: Definitely leaving my kids. I've never gone out on a proper tour while I have kids at home, and I definitely play Mr. Mom so it's gonna be a little bit harder. But other than that, I think it's gonna be no problem because we play out all the time; we just do one-off dates here and there.

RSJ: You have a new album, Mako vs. Geist, set for release September 14 -- how would you say this album is an evolution from The Dope King?

JN: Over the past few years I've gotten really into drum 'n bass. I feel it's the first kind of music that's really what I've been waiting to hear since the late '80s/early '90s when I first heard industrial dance music. But it's a very technical form of music, and I've spent the past few years just learning how to produce it better, how to make better tracks. Half The Dope King was jungle, but we still had a lot of techno and breakbeat elements. This album is specifically tailored to be a whole drum 'n bass album with a couple of down tempo numbers. It's also the first album that's entirely mixed from beginning to end. Not necessarily beat mixed, but there's just always some sort of sound going on.


RSJ: You've mentioned in the past having the desire to get your work out to more people. Are you planning a heavier promotional campaign for the new album?

JN: We hired a press person to work the album as well as the tour. We're doing a dvd that's coming out at the end of October, and there's gonna be a lot of promotion for that. And now we've got this tour, and hopefully that coupled with the press will make a bigger splash. Though I think it's harder and harder these days to make any kind of splash unless you've got a quarter of a million dollars to promote it.

RSJ: Yeah. We interview mostly underground, out of the mainstream type bands, and I think we've heard about that difficulty from nearly everyone we've spoken to.

JN: A lot of people have been asking us, myself included, if maybe we should change. We've been around for a few years; maybe we should just try something else. But I wouldn't try to start over now for anything. To be a brand new band right now, I just think is a scary thought. Even ten years ago, when we started, there just weren't half the labels or bands, and we used to do interviews all the time. We were selling 4,000 copies of an album, and we would pull into cities and open up the music section of the weekly and there was a little picture. It wasn't that hard to get noticed or get a little attention. And now, I mean, it's so bloated.

RSJ: It's even a bigger business now than it used to be.

JN: Yeah and we keep waiting -- the underground music scene just keeps waiting for the majors to become so bloated with their own weight that they just crush themselves. They're losing all this money, they can't put out a decent product, they don't build artists to stay -- eventually people are going to wake up and the most common music fan is going to go, "even I can see through this bullshit." And hopefully that will start causing people to find the underground bands and labels, I hope.

RSJ: My other job being in a record store, I see what your average person buys. It's not pretty.

JN: Everybody, I think, the older you get you always look back and go, "well, when I was younger, it was a little better." But this can't be a case of that. There is very little good music. The labels are lost on how to create fans that truly will love a band because they get to grow with a band. If you go see any band that's hot right now you hear the ten songs off their album and that's it, cause they don't have anything else.

RSJ: It seems kids don't have the same devotion to bands that they did even five years ago when I was in high school.

JN: I agree; it's just fast, quick, get 'em out of here. Bands like, just to name a few, Papa Roach and Alien Ant Farm, they were huge, they were all over everything, but then a year later their second albums came out, and nobody cared cause those kids weren't real fans. They were just caught up in hype. It's a shame, and it makes me scared and in a way glad. We keep it small, but I'd be scared to death to be noticed by somebody now, even though you spend your whole life like, god, I hope somebody finds us. Now, I think it might be the kiss of death.

RSJ: That's one thing about being in the underground scene. At least those that do find you had to search you out and tend to become more devoted fans.

JN: Yeah, I definitely feel that way. And you know what another bonus is? We've managed so far to never have an album leak online before it comes out. I've seen even recently with Skinny Puppy and The Prodigy, people have these albums months before they come out. Cause you do a press mailing three months ahead, one of them's gonna throw the album to an intern and the intern's gonna burn it. I feel lucky that as a little independent band we can keep it a secret until it comes out. That's not a real great perk, but I'll take it (laughs).

RSJ: After being so associated with the industrial community with Acumen Nation, how receptive was the electronica crowd when you first put DJ? Acucrack out there?

JN: At the time it went really well. DJ culture had just kind of started. In fact, that's what our little question mark and having DJ in the name at all was just sort of to poke fun at. But at the time I felt really accepted by it, and then later when we wanted to get off of a live stage and get into a DJ booth I realized that I couldn't get anybody to pay attention to us. And I still feel it now. One of the reasons we're doing this KMFDM tour is so we can hopefully book after show DJ sessions so we can make sure to hit the drum 'n bass crowd. And I can't get anybody to pay attention -- I don't know what it is, if it's that old industrial thing or just the whole snobbery of electronic music in general. There's a whole untapped community of electronica fans that I feel like would love our music if they would just give us a chance.

RSJ: How did you originally get into creating your own electronic tracks, as opposed to just spinning?

JN: I'd never been a DJ, and I never really appreciated DJ talent or culture in general. With our other bands we had always mixed sampling and sequencers with our rock'n'roll. And people always wanted to hear what these tracks would sound like before we put guitars and vocals to them. We actually realized that we had a bunch of leftovers that we hadn't written songs around, and people on the internet were wanting to hear it, so we put together a compilation of backing tracks and it just evolved. And then we started to write songs that were specifically just electronic. Even at the time I felt this tremendous pressure, like I guess I have to learn how to DJ cause that's the only way that the music's gonna come across. And then noticing people like Meat Beat Manifesto and Moby, they were successfully performing this electronic music without having to just sit and spin it. That just seemed more our style, to do it in a more live environment.

RSJ: As someone whose work is played in both industrial and techno settings, do you have any thoughts on why the communities do not seem to mesh well?

JN: I think it's like that with a lot of genres. The average music fan feels an allegiance to the style of music that they like, whether it's punk, hardcore, metal, techno. People want to feel part of something, and I think that elevates to another level where they're not open to another field. It's like, people with their pacifiers and glow sticks versus combat boots and piercings. Once you've made a certain genre of music your style, I think you start to define yourself personally with that, and you see anything else as just not your style. I think it's unfortunate. Plus, dance music has a snobbery and an elitism to it that you just can't deny. You go to see these DJs play, and you have to pay just as much as any touring ticket where they're paying busloads of people to bring you your entertainment. I'd love to go watch DJs if it only cost five bucks, but, no, it's $30 to see Paul Oakenfold play techno music for 5,000 people. That guy must be loaded. And then a live band comes in the next night, has the same amount of people and gets the same amount of money, but they've gotta pay ten people. It's just insane.


RSJ: You did a remix album for Pigface (Crackhead) -- how did you approach that project?

JN: Actually, I was reluctant to do it cause I thought the original album was just okay. Martin [Atkins] at Invisible thought it would be cool if we took this on, and then I decided to do it because I thought there were some cool elements in these tunes, even if I didn't like the whole tune in general. I said, I'm gonna make these songs the way I would, and then I just had a blast. I think I had more fun working on that record than any other outside project.

RSJ: You worked with Jared Louche on the Oxidizer album; do you think you'll be working on the next Chemlab album?

JN: No. I have to say that a lot of the credit wasn't given properly for the amount of work that my partner Jamie [Duffy] and I put into that album. I mean, we technically wrote the whole album musically and produced it. We originally signed on just to produce it, and Jared was supposed to have other people helping him write it, but no one was coming through with songs. So, one day, we just said fuck it, if you want us to, we'll start writing the album. So we started writing music and putting tracks together and then sent the songs to Jared. He obviously worked with us on what he wanted done with them, and he wrote the vocals and came up with a lot of cool ideas, but I think we were just too close to it. So towards the end they decided to push the release date back and give the multitracks to someone else to kind of remix them in a way. So, it left kind of a bad taste in my mouth because ever since then I've just read about all these people that produced this album and wrote this album. And Jamie and I have just always felt that's not really how it went.

RSJ: You've done a lot of production and remix work; what's been the most interesting project for you personally?

JN: I've been doing a lot of work with a company called Position Music in LA -- they're kind of a music publishing company. I've created a couple of original volumes of music that they shop around to various film and tv producers. I've had a lot of fun doing that because I think I've always confined myself to wanting to stay underground. And then to be approached to produce these tracks that have to be way above ground -- they're gonna be used in television shows and movie previews, and they've gotta have a great hook. So, I think that's been kind of fun because a lot of times I'll write something that I think is really cute and catchy, and then I realize, god, I'm not gonna use this -- it's really cute and catchy!

RSJ: Another of your side projects, Fawn, has only been featured on compilations thus far. Do you know when we'll see a full-length release?

JN: That album is essentially done, and some of the songs have been finished for a couple years now. I think I've just been afraid to put it out and not be able to tour for it or support it properly, as well as to have it come out on our label, Cracknation, which is known for really aggressive music. The Fawn stuff is just gorgeous; it's very close to my heart and I think I've been waiting for an opportunity to maybe license it to another label. But sooner or later I'm just gonna have to put it out because a lot of people have been asking for it. I think we'll have it out probably by early next year and hopefully it'll get enough word of mouth. It's the one project that I've ever done that overwhelmingly everybody that's heard has said, "wow, everybody will be able to get off on this" cause it's got a very beautiful common thread throughout it.

RSJ: Are there still plans to release a cd of Acumen Nation's early work?

JN: Yep, that'll come out just in time for the tour in early October. First, we're gonna do a limited run of it and just have it for sale online. Compared to what Acumen sounds like now, it sounds ten years old; there's very little guitars, the vocals are super-distorted. It would work in any goth club across the country. The more we get into metal and hardcore, the more people are like, "man I really miss the sound of your first record," so now I think we're just doing this as a gift to the people that have stuck with us for so long.

RSJ: Basic Recordings in the UK was slated to release Acucrack vinyl. Is that still in the works?

JN: Yeah, they've picked up tracks for release later in the winter either late this year or early next year. This'll be really exciting for us; I've been waiting for this for awhile. We would have done it ourselves, but I think we would have run into that same problem where we're just not connected to the club scene or the DJ scene.

RSJ: You've had your share of problems with labels. Tell me about developing Cracknation.

JN: That came about a few years ago when we were pushing Acumen and we were pushing Acucrack. Martin Atkins from Invisible said, "you've got these different bands and you're always gonna run into conflicts." And there definitely was when we put out this album, More Human Heart with Acumen in '97 and then a few months later the first Acucrack record came out. Between the labels and which were we gonna put attention to, we found ourselves telling one that oh, no, this our priority. And then we'd go tell the other, no, no, this is our priority. And then it managed to work itself out, but still we had to turn down certain opportunities for one or the other. And when we were looking for someone to release the new Acumen record that we were working on in 1999 Martin said, "well, I think you should just create your own imprint, and that way you won't ever run into these conflicts." And I realized I had already done so much in that realm; I had watched so many labels make so many mistakes. And I said, okay, maybe we should give it a shot. And it's been fun. I mean, we haven't had much of a budget, but to get the rest of our projects out and not have to shop around for a deal constantly has been wonderful.

RSJ: What's your ultimate goal for Cracknation and your music in general?

JN: I'd like to see it function as a multimedia company. One month we're producing an album for somebody else, another month we're writing a bunch a songs for a video game and then the next month a new album from one of our bands comes out and then we tour for a few months. I just love this multimedia idea of being able to spread our wings. I'd like it to be moderately successful on all of these levels. What I wouldn't want to see happen is just one part of it take off so that we'd have to ignore the other parts of it. I'd like the ability to keep this umbrella idea of many different projects and styles coming out of our space. And I guess, ultimately, I'd like to score a film. And I'm sure I'm the first person to say that (laughs).