INTERVIEW: LOZENGE (2000)

Way back in the future year of 2000, I was lucky enough to do an e-mail interview of sorts with one of my all time favorite bands, LOZENGE! This was prior to Mishap and Undone being released, so it’s sort of neat to read the answers from that perspective. Anyhow, I found the interview on my PC and decided to share it here. This interview was pieced together from various email responses. I present everything here, as it was typed nineteen years ago, for added reading enjoyment.

Lozenge is:
Kyle Bruckmann–voice, electric oboe, accordion, minimoog
Kurt Johnson–electric bass
Philip Montoro–metal percussion
Mark Stevens–drums

Jason – Who’s in the band nowadays (are you still a quintet)?

Kyle- Our dear friend John Robbins is no longer in the band. He’s, um, dead. As such, we are most regrettably a quartet again.

J – Boring Day Jobs?

Kyle- kyle: classical freelancer and private oboe instructor to a horde of spoiled suburban youth; kurt: classical freelancer and temp slave (i.e., full-time web surfer) philip: short fiction genius and proofreader at the Chicago Reader; mark: freshly-downsized programmer dude.

Philip- Um, “genius” is awfully charitable. I write short stories at the rate of about one every two years. At the Chicago Reader, I’m technically an editorial assistant–translates as “piss boy”–and I edit music writing or proofread, depending on what day it is

Kurt- uh, actually i am an ‘everything’ freelancer- mainly, it’s classical music, but through the union i get other work, too, such as the Broadway stuff and the dance band stuff (dude, it really is disturbing to watch exorbitantly wealthy people in gowns and jewels rock out at a yacht club while you’re standing there in a tuxedo laying down ‘la vida loca.’ and i’m not a temp slave.

J – How did Lozenge come about?

Kyle- formed at Rice University in 1992 by college radio geeks and music school misfits. i used to play in a well-intentioned but deeply flawed band called _gutlogic_; when it imploded, i sought out co-conspirators for a spazz-core band that would take itself far less seriously. philip had long coveted the job of the aforementioned band’s metal basher; kurt had been playing in Tejano and Iron Maiden cover bands since the high school; mark was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Philip- Yeah, this is about right. It was September of my junior year, I recall. A side note: I’ve known Mark since I was in the tenth grade in Plano, Texas.

Kurt- kyle and i had talked on and off since we met in music school about doing something. philip and i knew each other because we lived for awhile in the same dormitory at rice. he was a couple of years younger, and truth be told, i really was not that, uh, how can i say this tactfully?, enamored with him. imagine my (insert reaction here) when i went to the first lozenge rehearsal and he was there. mark i had never met before. now we’re roommates.

J – Was ‘Plenum’ originally intended to be the last record as the liner notes hinted at?

Kyle- so we thought. in Spring of 94, we recorded it, graduated, toured, broke up, and released the album, in that order. brilliant, no? grad school and the “real world” beckoned; i went to Michigan, philip fled to Oregon, kurt to Baltimore, mark to Dallas. thought we’d gotten it out of our systems…(continued later)

Philip- The tour was about two weeks long, and took place in June ’94. The album came out in May ’95. It disappeared promptly into the memory hole. I’d gone to Oregon to pursue an MFA in creative writing. And for the record, I never once for a moment thought I’d gotten Lozenge out of my system–I actually got a commemorative Lozenge tattoo, during those years we all thought the band was over for good. It’s a small diamond–or “lozenge,” in the terminology of heraldry–at the base of my left thumb.

Kurt- i, too, would like to say that [we thought so], though i REALLY wanted to be back in lozenge.

J – What led the band to Chicago from Texas?

Kyle- …but grad school and the “real world” turned out to suck, relatively speaking. in ’96, we all realized we had no compelling grown-up plans, and started casting about for a place to re-form. chicago won: work potential, crazy and varied music scene, soul-crushing winters. we moved into the house Skin Graft Records had just vacated, which worked gloriously until we burned it down.

Philip- Personally, I really liked grad school. Those years were marred, of course, by the absence of my dear friends in Lozenge, but I loved teaching. And Eugene is very pretty if you can look past the hippies. I voted for Lozenge to re-form in Portland, by the way, which has far milder winters. And is far less gray and ugly and stinky.

Kurt- and, i was a little mentally ill during my time in baltimore, things didn’t really suck. i was doing a lot of playing and traveling…began a relationship with an orchestra that took me around the world a few times to places like Jordan and Siberia and Zimbabwe, got to know barb (who we met in richmond on our first tour- i ended up living with her down there after finishing in maryland, this in a huge ramshackle old house in a very poor but very beautiful neighborhood; we moved to chicago together…i guess you could say that she, and kyle’s wife eveline, are by now old members of the lozenge family, too, and the family keeps getting bigger…), spent a lot of time in new york and philly, a lot of time sitting up all night on my stoop in downtown baltimore with a 40 ouncer hanging out with whoever was passing by..i don’t know…it didn’t SUCK, really…

i also disagree with kyle’s use of “grown-up plans.” …just ’cause we’ve ended up doing things differently, and just ’cause a lot of what’s transpired in the past few years (speaking strictly for myself, of course) hasn’t inspired much confidence in the development of maturity, well, i guess i’m just trying to divorce the whole line of communication from the loaded, standardly-defined notions of “grown-up.”

J – Did the works of John Zorn or Ennio Morricone influence your compositions in any way? On a broader scale, who are the band’s influences in general?

Kyle- zorn, most definitely and directly in the early days. he formed the bridge for me, at least, from hardcore/noise/etc into the world of avant-jazz and free improv. as for other influences, it’s very hard to say; everyone should answer for himself. i’d really like to think that LOZENGE has evolved entirely its own sound and internal logic by now; but what filled MY ears during our formative years were the likes of Ruins, Boredoms, the Ex, Dog Faced Hermans, Zeni Geva, Foetus, Pussy Galore, Birthday Party, the whole Albini empire… these days, i’m much more likely to be listening to free improvisation, crackly elctroacoustic noise, Messaien… the only *newer* rock bands that turn me on lately are things like Melt Banana, U.S. Maple, our friends Cheer Accident , Herc, My Name is Rar-Rar, Palgue of Yeti…

Philip- As a proofreader, I must say: Melt-Banana, Cheer-Accident, Herc., My Name Is Rar-Rar, and Plague of Yeti. Yes yes. Morricone? No. Zorn? Yes again, though mostly Painkiller and the stuff Naked City played on “Torture Garden.”

Ruins yes, Boredoms yes. Though the Boredoms are a fucking pot-smoking ambient band now. Sigh. Back in ’92 I liked everything Kyle said, and also NoMeansNo, Barkmarket, Cop Shoot Cop, Jesus Lizard, Einsturzende Neubauten, Jon Spencer. Among others. These days–well, I’ll get to that.

As a drummer, I’d certainly LIKE to sound like Tatsuya Yoshida, or like one of those European free-jazz weirdos–say, Paul Lovens. But because I’m self-taught and semicompetent (and because my kit has so little overlap with a trap set, in layout or timbre), I don’t sound like much of anybody. I actually TRY not to come across as “industrial”. when I play nonmetrically, it’s a constant challenge to make all these clanks and ticks somehow breathe like an animal.

Kurt- uh, we could start getting really deep here, because it’s a given that we all listen to and think and feel music differently. a lot of the foreign music i listen to ends up somehow in what i play, for instance, but that might have to do with any number of things in addition to or instead of actual notes: phrasing, pacing, spirit, etc…that goes for everything really. i didn’t at all listen to the same things the other guys did (they introduced me to a lot of this music, but to tell the truth i wasn’t as impressed as they were), but somehow we ended up okay.

i grew up listening to motown, folk, and what are now referred to as oldies, dusties, and classic rock. spent growing up time in the andes (in colombia) and in the south texas border region, so started getting interested in ‘world music’ (but the real stuff). and always liked the metal, oh yeah. i play in various symphonies around town, and do other union work: dance bands, broadway musicals, etc., and i really love playing all that music, too. 20th century, uh, classical i guess–i have to mention messiaen, too, and ligeti, and varese, and xenakis, wow, the list goes on…life was changed for me in the earlier 90s by late coltrane, and then again in the mid 90s by keiji haino. oh, my god. lately, i’ve been really into those cheap cds you can get with animal sounds, bird sounds, nature sounds. i also, while working downtown, try to listen to what is going on under the surface noise. i think i’m starting to lose it, because more and more things that don’t really have anything to do with sound are ‘musically influencing’ me these days.

metal, i like gorguts, especially ‘obscura’.

i’ll shut up now, as it seems to me like i have a lot to say but none of it seems to be coming out.

J – You mentioned in past correspondence that ‘Doozy’ was “less metal” than ‘Plenum.’ Still, it is a very heavy record. Do you wish to distance the band from the metal-crowd, in favor of a more cerebral base?

Kyle- we’re not interested in distancing ANYONE who listens with open ears. i guess i was saying that i feel slightly sheepish about how brittle and ANGRY ‘Plenum’ sounds, but only because i’m now a lot less young than i was then. anybody who gets off to our music in any way is most welcome; we trust that thoughtful listeners will detect that nothing about it is violent for the sake of violence; it’s more about energy, really – maybe even joy

Philip- Very well said. Lozenge is violent, but not angry. Plenty of violent things can be beautiful and joyful–good rough sex, for instance. I’m always kind of flattered when a serious metalhead likes us, because metal is such a visceral music. It’s cool that people can hear that kind of elemental, um, “energy” in Lozenge–that it isn’t obscured by the weird noises and weirder metrical hairpins.

J – I found some information on the internet that mentioned that the members of the band also play in other groups/collectives in the Chicago area. Is that true, and if so, what other types of music is being made?

Kyle- kurt played in the most recent ex-lineup of the Flying Luttenbachers, one of Chicago’s most consistently astounding and uncomprising bands (check them out!). he and i are both also active in the “free improv” underground, playing in ad hoc groupings with all sorts of folks… i play fairly regularly with Gene Coleman’s Ensemble Noamnesia — pointy-headed New Music stuff. recently released a CD of solo oboe & English horn improvisations, and i’m searching for a label to put out a completed album of duos… and, of course, there’s all the aforementioned classical/orchestral/”legitimate” activities…

Philip- This has little to do with Lozenge, but I also play real drums in a down-and-dirty, whup-ass garage-punk band called the Afflictions. Got a guitar and a Rhodes piano so far, but no singer. And I sing in a second punk band, as yet unnamed. This is my pure brainless id release. Lozenge involves much more of me, emotionally and intellectually, but punk rock is a fucking BLAST.

J – The use of the accordion and the oboe in such aggressive music seems pretty rare, what course of events led you to such unusual instrumentation?

Kyle- in _gutlogic_, i played synths/sequencing etc, which i came to find quite distasteful for obvious reasons. i knew i wanted to jump around and do *something* with my hands in the next band, but had never played guitar and didn’t feel like learning… one of my best friends suggested an accordion, as a more portable keyboard. luckily, the suggestion turned out to be not only funny as shit, but actually pretty damn amazing sounding as well. and the oboe has been my constant companion since 4th grade — seemed only logical to try hotwiring it. We’ve always had an odd self-deprecating/self-destructive bent; i love the absurd incongruity of macho, cock-rock shenanigans with such wussy instruments — how heavy can we really be, in the end?

J – As a student in a college of pharmacy, I can’t help but notice the many references to physiology and pharmaceuticals in your lyrics. What kind of background education are you exploiting for Lozenge?

Kyle- in addition to the music stuff, mark and i were both psych majors; yes, you guessed it.

J – Also, I find your lyrics to be of the highest quality, with amazing word choice, meter, and subject matter. Do you see music as an important tool for social change (as in the anti-hate tirade of Feed), or just a diversion for the saddened masses?

Kyle- sigh. first of all, thanks, it feels really good to be read that carefully. i WISH music were an important tool for social change, and i hope the hell that it is. i hope to god we’re not simply producing empty _spectacle_, in the “bread and circuses” department, but i often wonder. yes, we are deeply sensitive boys, very outraged, incensed, jaded, pissed. it feels good to bitch and scream about things in the world i find dismaying, but i doubt these words make it into ears other than those of people prone to agreeing with the sentiments in the first place. i think this circularity and frustration is very much a part of all the songs as well.

beyond the lyrics, though, i do KNOW most certainly that the act of _playing_ music itself is life-affirming, transformative — an act of resistance. perhaps the most obvious aspect is that there’s something gloriously absurd about pouring such an immense amount of love and energy into something with NO COMMERCIAL VALUE WHATSOEVER — a living, breathing demonstration of the existence of life outside of the marketplace, freed from the consumer trance. and it seems to me that experimental forms and structures in any art require the stretching of thoughts, the opening of minds, the re-considering of perceived certitudes… i don’t doubt the value of any of this for _musicians_. Does it improve the lives of _listeners_? damn i hope so. But will it stop Bush from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife preserve, or send the ad industry running for the hills, or enable even ME to stop driving my car altogether? Ha. Ha, ha, ha.

Philip- Um, I am not all that sensitive, except in the “paranoid” sense. And I’m not jaded. But past that, yes, preach it, brother. Playing music is a small act of political and social resistance in America, in no small part because it isn’t obviously “productive” in the capitalist sense; its benefits are intangible. But for me it’s more important as a way of structuring my sense of self, emotionally and (gasp) spiritually. Playing music is an immersion experience, a way of participating in something bigger and more powerful than you are, something wonderful and creative that you’ll never understand or exhaust in a million years–in that way it’s almost religious.

J – In my review of ‘Plenum,’ I referred to the vocal style as being similar to David Yow with a hint of Mike Patton. On ‘Doozy,’ the style has been changed, with a trace of Jon Spencer (of JSBX)- when he’s being serious. Where any of these comparisons an insult to you?

Kyle- not at all. i MIGHT wish i was more subtle about ripping off my influences…

Philip- I’ve always heard Birthday Party-era Nick Cave in Kyle’s vocals.

J – What scene do you consider Lozenge part of? Is it heavy jazz, jazzy punk, a perversion of lounge music, or none of the above?

Kyle- i wish i knew. Seems that’s a critic’s job, figuring that out, but nobody seems to be falling over him/herself to coin a phrase as catchy and inane as “postrock,” for instance. We couldn’t even fucking agree among ourselves what categories to use on MP3.com. We ain’t NoWave, Prog, Punk, Jazzcore, Noise, etc etc, but we’re also a little bit all of the above.

Philip- The jury will disregard the term “postrock,” which is a Forbidden Word. Tsk tsk, Kyle. Personally I always liked “difficult listening music,” but that’s not really a genre, is it?

J – How much of Lozenge is improvised?

Kyle- a tricky question. we do entirely improvised shows on occasion… but as for DOOZY, 2 tracks (OODLY and GAULK) are completely improvised, and the rest are entirely composed. BUT the compositions ALWAYS include some element of uncertainty, openness, possibility for surprise or utter collapse somewhere in their structures — with our newer material, it’s becoming even more the case.

Philip- Example: One “entirely composed” song, “Want Not,” has a window in the middle that’s almost completely open. Kyle eventually enters with a repetitive riff, and Mark matches him with a beat, but until then we can all do whatever the hell we want. I consider it an “improv section,” because even though it happens at the same place in the song every time, it never has to sound the same twice.

J – Does the band ever tackle any jazz standards in the live setting?

Kyle- nope. we’ve only ever performed 2 covers of any form: a Ruins tune and a Birthday Party classic.

Philip- The covers were “Hail” and “Big Jesus Trash Can,” respectively. Jazz standards! Ha ha ha! That would be fucking HILARIOUS! Guys, can we do “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”? Seriously, though, I think the song called “Honky” (on the new album) was conceived as a permutation of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy”–it was originally called “Pistophery.” (Kyle, correct me if I’m wrong.) We renamed it “Honky” I think mostly because we couldn’t swing to save our lives, something I know is largely my fault.

J – Where does the band want to go next, directionally?

Kyle- collecting recordings for a live “improv” album, and hoping to record another “rock” album this summer. newer material finds us attempting to expand more, open up space, create more vague structures, develop a sense of group rhythm that is even further divorced from meter… we’ll see. and we’re hoping to tour Europe and Japan before we die…

Philip- I would like to see Lozenge capable of improvising collages (medleys?) of our tunes onstage. I would like to learn to tap-dance, or throat sing. Or both. I would like us to develop a language of musical cues, or even of gestural signals, to allow us to derail composed material at any instant–and then return to it at any subsequent instant. I also like something Kurt has been bringing to the band: experimentation with steady pulses at different speeds, or pulses that slip past each other or interfere with each other. It’s a way of bringing down to the micro level the “classic” Lozenge tension between tightly wound and totally unhinged: each beat, each note, is simultaneously in its “proper” place and being pulled out of meter. I could do that shit all day.

And yeah, Japan! We’d be huge in Japan!

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