There is a new band in our midst: Tantrum. It is comprised of local musicians, Zac Thomas and Ryan Collins. They’ve just released their new album, “Assisted Suicide is the New Black” on World War Records, and I figured now would be a good time to talk to them. The new album is a blend of dark Electronica textures and conventional Pop structures for a unique commentary on the social condition. The boys had a lot to say about it, so I’m gonna let them do the talking.
CM: How did you guys get started, and was there a clear vision from the start?
ZAC: We’d been close friends for a really long time, but never made music together. We got our feet wet one afternoon at my house recording a cover of Cosmic Dancer by T-Rex. It felt good to work together.
RYAN: Although, that could’ve had something to do with being six beers in at 1pm…
ZAC: And neither of us can read music or have the ability to talk about it in technical terms, so we were a lot like two blind guys trying to describe a Van Gogh painting to one another. But we spoke the same language and it made sense to us.
RYAN: I don’t really believe in “clear vision” anyways. My glass isn’t half-full or half-empty; it’s just a little cloudy. It’s always been about process. These songs evolved organically and our job is to be good stewards for our mutual muses and allow the songs to grow and just try not to kill them.
ZAC: We both maintain that this band doesn’t exist in the way that most bands do. When you think of a band, you think of a group of people who write music together in a dirty practice space, record in a studio where they pay by the hour, book gigs at the local watering hole until they strike it big and get a record deal and a tour. All of that is a lot more social and communal than the way Tantrum works. We kick ideas for songs back and forth via email and hard drive swapping. Most songs start as just a 30 second loop or a guitar hook laid over a beat. If one of us has a piece that we don’t know what to do with, we’ll let the other look at it and poke around under the hood. Most of the work happens after two in the morning and is done by either Ryan or me alone in our houses. For a band comprised of two friends, the “band” doesn’t get together that much. Most of the time we spend together is not Tantrum-related.
RYAN: Yeah, in that regard, neither of us are “in the band”. We’re not really even convinced that Tantrum exists sometimes. If Zac and I didn’t have music to talk about, that would just leave sex, drugs… and also death.
ZAC: Cornerstones of any fulfilling conversation.
CM: It seems that your influences are all over the map. What were the key influences for “Assisted Suicide is the New Black?”
ZAC: The weird thing is that it’s hard for me to listen to Assisted Suicide and hear any definite influences. I can only speak for myself, but if I’m honest about my contributions to the EP, I guess there’s some Bowie in there.
RYAN: Jeff Buckley, maybe.
ZAC: Some “Birthday Party”-era Nick Cave.
RYAN: Frank Sinatra fronting Led Zeppelin?
ZAC: Maybe a little Elvis from time to time.
RYAN: From time to time, yeah. I like to imagine that, if a stranger heard a playlist of music made from a random sample of our mutual record collections, they’d be delighted, disturbed, and concerned all at once. We listen to just about everything and it changes every week. We’re in love with sound and it takes us to some strange places sometimes.
ZAC: At its core, Assisted Suicide is just a dance record. All of the songs are just pop songs played like they’re on fire in a meat grinder. It’s pop music with a horrifying urgency to it. It’s closer to Lady Gaga than may be obvious upon a casual listen.
RYAN: I think that the real influences for Assisted Suicide were being a human being in 2011 (in all its implications) and being in love with sound. I remember sitting with Zac and listening to the masters for the first time. Afterward, were both a little perplexed about “who” we were supposed to sound like, but figured that no answer is a good answer. We sound like Tantrum
and that’s what we both wanted. We influence each other and then we let the songs influence themselves. In that way, the songs are doing all the hard work and we’re just shepherding them.
CM: It seems like you guys are kinda poking fun at the idea of death/dying. Can you explain the reasoning for this?
ZAC: Oh, you mean the title? That was less of taking a stance as it was inadvertently opening the biggest can of worms we could. As a song title, it has a nice ring. As an album title, it acts as some sort of statement. The former was intended. The later was not. I don’t think we’re poking fun at death or dying. We’re just bringing up a subject that people aren’t comfortable talking about and using it as a gateway to discuss things they’re even less comfortable with.
RYAN: I think mortality’s an issue to everything with a pulse. We all live in the presence of death and we resent people who try to turn it into an endless series of saccharine Hallmark moments.
ZAC: Nobody likes to talk about a terminally ill person’s right to die. Nobody likes to talk about how we, as a society, are amusing ourselves to death like the Romans.
RYAN: Everybody’s tripping over themselves to prove Aldous Huxley right…
ZAC: Nobody likes to talk about that gnawing feeling that everybody gets in their stomach sometimes when they’re overcome with crushing boredom. I’ve always been bad at small talk. I guess that translates to the way I write music too. I think we’re just using danceable rhythms and modulated synthesizers to make the opposite of small talk pop music. I don’t think our being young makes us feel any less connected to the impermanence of life. If anything, this music reflects a time when I was terribly aware of the fact that I could die at any second. We all can. I don’t think we’re poking fun at death as much as we’re openly mocking people who think that death is trivial. In reality, it’s one of the few things that every being on Earth has in common.
RYAN: Exactly. Death is kind of a companion for human beings in that it’s built into the narrative of our lives from the very beginning. Poking fun at death is a pretty traditional role for a musician, but we wanted to do it without wearing black and putting a picture of a graveyard on the album cover.
CM: I noticed you guys are involved with a label based in NY. How did that come about?
ZAC: World War Records is cool. They’re the little label that could. They’re trying to upset the apple cart for the big boys. We like that. Right now, they’re the only label that realizes that the digital music frontier is something to be embraced head on, not clumsily fumbled with. The people at World War Records don’t want the power to release and control music to go to the guys with the most money and the biggest bank accounts. The whole business exists to give people who want to control their sound and their image a place to hang their hats and call home.
RYAN: And they contacted us which, of course, we really like. Apparently, some bootlegs were made of a demo tape that we put out awhile back and they circulated around New York City. They made their way to the right people and here we are releasing a new record.
ZAC: I used to live in New York and I know these guys. I think they’re going to make some waves in the next few years. If you’re a musician and you’re interested in really getting yourself and your music out there, look up World War Records.
CM: Ryan, I know that you work in a kitchen that pushes the culinary limits on a daily basis. Do you feel that cooking relates to making music?
RYAN: Well, all the arts are alike in some way. There are a lot of terrible, loveless cooks and a lot of terrible, soulless musicians, but music and food are both labors of love that give me a great deal of personal satisfaction… and virtually no income. I have to be careful about how I say this, but cooking is more of a craft than an art in that you can’t really make somebody emotionally uncomfortable with food and expect them to be thankful, let alone pay for it in a restaurant. The word “disturbing,” seems to have a negative connotation, but all I ever really want to do is disturb people through what I love: music and food. To disturb means to help someone unseat their complacent heart and mind and transport them to a new vista. But ultimately, cooking and music are public services in that they seek to nourish the soul and elevate the human condition, and I’m in debt to the ancestral masters of both for enriching my life.
CM: What are your plans for the future? Where can we go to find out more about Tantrum?
RYAN: Our plan is to keep recording.
ZAC: Yeah, we were allowed a full five minutes of patting ourselves on the back after we released Assisted Suicide before we had to start work on something new.
RYAN: We’re both restless people, creatively and personally, which I think people have figured out by now listening to our records. Immediately, though, are a fistful of projects we have lined up: there’ll be remixes of the Assisted Suicide material curated by some of our favorite electronic artists. There’s also this super cool limited-edition 7” coming out called “Water Damage” that we aren’t allowed to talk about yet.
ZAC: We’re putting something together for Christmas now. It’ll be another free download, like the Poison Control single was, probably via our Soundcloud account — just a gift to everybody who’s been listening. Something a little lighter and sillier than the EP.
RYAN: World War Records is also going to re-issue our first album, ɪksplódəәd dájəәgræ̀mz (Pronounced “Exploded Diagrams”) sometime next year.
ZAC: We’d like to hunker down and finish recording our full-length album. There’s already some material in the can for that.
RYAN: And people can find out more about us by following us on Facebook and Twitter until the World War Records site’s done with their overhaul.
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