New York City-based experimental/noise metal outfit Gnaw are experts in unsettling music that follows few conventions or patterns. Led by the distinctive, tortured vocals of Alan Dubin (ex-Khanate, ex-OLD), Gnaw have completed Cutting Pieces, their new Translation Loss-bound LP. Decibel interrogated Dubin about using non-traditional instruments, developing their sound and making “the perfect Gnaw album.”
Your new album is called Cutting Pieces. Does that title have significance to it?
There’s not really a very interesting story regarding the actual title. When we were trying to think of a good title for the album, nothing was really hitting us over the head where we all agreed, we were fighting a lot about it, so that’s when we decided to dip into the lyrics. The chorus in one of the songs, in “Septic,” we just figured that’s a nice, strong title.
No real story behind the actual album. I can make up something though. [laughs]
This album is the first one that features Dana [Schechter] from Insect Ark.
Jun Mizumachi, he’s the sound designer in Gnaw, he’s from Japan. He actually moved back to Japan so, for our live shows, he was like our noise guy, per say. We all play samples and hit stuff, but he does a lot of the really intricate noise when we play. He moved back to Japan maybe a year ago and we were trying to figure out what we can do to either fill their shoes or change the live sound a bit.
Dana’s one of my best friends, so we briefly discussed it, the band members, and Dana was suggested and I just asked her if she wanted to fill in and maybe do something in Gnaw and she was totally into it. By that point, the album was already pretty much finished as far as putting the songs together but there was still room for more noise and sound so we sent Dana all the songs and she just went crazy on it and recorded her lap steel and noises and sounds for the album, and now she’s a full member. We’re starting to write new stuff and she’s gonna be in it from the beginning as far as writing stuff. The next album, our newer stuff we’re doing now, will be us writing with her involved.
The stuff that she does on the recordings and live with us, it’s amazing.
You used a pretty wide variety of instruments that fall outside of traditional metal. How do you decide where you’re going to use those instruments that are not traditional but bring the sound in a different direction?
I think that happens when the songs are being created by whoever is doing the skeletal track. There’s different songs when different musicians made the skeletal tracks. For instance, Carter [Thornton] did “Septic.” He also did “Prowled Mary.” That was one of his that he recorded from scratch as far as the skeletal track; that one’s really interesting because he recorded a cello, actually recorded a little percussion using a chain link fence…
I think we just all like to experiment and start adding different elements. Whatever we have in our house. It’s fun.
You started Gnaw at the dissolution of Khanate, right?
Not exactly. Khanate was still going, it was probably six months before Khanate broke up, but I’ve been friends with most of these people for a long time and Carter was always asking me to collaborate with him and I just decided to start another project. This is when Khanate was going. Khanate wasn’t doing much, so I was getting a little bored, so I started Gnaw with Carter Thornton. I met him because I’m a video editor and he was a producer at an advertising agency.
Eventually asked him and my friend Jamie, who was the original drummer from Burning Witch and also Jun Mizumachi, who was a sound designer where I used to work. We were the core; that was the first version of Gnaw, so it was me, Jamie, Jun and Carter. We started making some songs, they were basically sound files we sent back and forth over the internet, we would just simply mix them ourselves.
Khanate kinda sorta folded as that was still happening, so when that ended I was not as fucked up as I could’ve been if I didn’t have Gnaw going… That’s when that started.
On the Gnaw albums, I noticed that while there might be empty space, a lot of it seems like it’s filled in with noise and sound textures. A lot of Khanate music, it seemed like there was some space there while with Gnaw it seems like there’s not a lot of space there. Is that a conscious thing?
It’s not and it hasn’t been a conscious thing to leave a lot of those quiet moments. I do know what you mean and it is a little more filled in. The one thing that’s in the back of my mind- I don’t necessarily completely try to do this- I wanted Gnaw to be different than anything else that I’d done before. I didn’t want it to be compared to previous projects like, for instance, Khanate. I wanted to do something more industrial, even though I hate that word, but something with more metal-bashing and noise than slow doom, but Gnaw just developed into “do whatever the Hell we want without adhering to any genres.”
I think that having the quiet pieces up until now has just been natural. It’s not anything that we’re thinking about, although live we tend to tell each other in between songs “No silence! Make sure there’s some type of fucking noise going on!”
Your vocals are very recognizable. They’ve very depraved and fucked up. How did you develop that?
For this question, we have to go back to the beginnings of when I started to do vocals years ago. When I was a teenager, I was totally into hardcore and thrash metal and really dark, fast stuff. Cryptic Slaughter and Septic Death and early Dark Angel and early Kreator and Bathory. I was into the vocal shredding, the high-end screeching vocals. Me and my friends, we decided to form a band. Being little kids, we wanted to be the fastest, most aggressive, snotty band in the world and I started off playing guitar. It was a band called Vile Stench, and after playing for a few months I realized “I can’t play guitar. I suck.” So I just took it upon myself to switch to vocals and it worked out really well.
I did the high-pitched shrieking vocals, super-fast grindcore, thrashy stuff. This was in the 80’s. Vile Stench ended up not recording, it was going really slow. I was friends with James Plotkin who was doing Regurgitation at the time and he was getting sick of Regurgitation and we formed Old Lady Drivers and I think that’s where my vocals start to progress to weird stuff and experimenting and just going crazy without regards to my vocal chord health.
This is your third album. I’m sure things have changed to some extent since starting Gnaw but how close is this album to the vision you had for the sound for Gnaw?
I think this album completely nails it. To me, there’s no dud moments and it has all the noise and the scariness and the actual musical performance that I did originally envision. When we first started, it was a lot of experimentation. We kinda didn’t know where we were going with it… The first album had some moments that were maybe a little lo-fi for me and looking back on it I would change a couple of songs around. Second album I thought was amazing, it’s a really dark album, I’m proud of it, but this one, to me, is the perfect Gnaw album.
When you make your perfect Gnaw album… where do you go from here? How do you expand, since you said you’re working on new stuff?
I have some ideas in mind, but it’s just gonna happen naturally. Since all five, actually there’s 6 of us now. Jun, he went to Japan but he’s still going to be part of the recording process and making elements. I think since we all have such different background and we all like to experiment differently, I think it’s going to automatically not sound like anything else that we’ve done or too much like anybody else has ever done and I’m hoping that the next Gnaw album will be a perfect one for us. We have some stuff going and it doesn’t sound really like anything we’ve done before.
Cutting Pieces will see release on October 27 through Translation Loss.
The post Making the Perfect Gnaw Album: An Interview with Alan Dubin appeared first on Decibel Magazine.