MEET THE ARTIST: TOM SHEAR (ASSEMBLAGE 23) - UNTER.TON | MAGAZIN FÜR KLANG- UND SUBKULTUR

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MEET THE ARTIST: TOM SHEAR (ASSEMBLAGE 23)

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At first: "Failure" was your second A23 album, but comparing to the debut "Contempt", which seems to me more searching, would you say, that this album was the essential milestone that defines the sound of your project?
Some of the stuff on "Contempt" was already 5 or 6 years old by the time it came out, so quite a bit of evolution in my sound happened by the time I got to "Failure". But yes, I’d say that album sort of marked the beginning of where the project would go from that point on. You can hear very early seeds of it on some of the "Contempt" tracks like "Anthem" and "Purgatory", but "Failure" was for sure the first full dive into that sound.

"Failure" was released 20 years ago. Now you come up with a re-issue. What was the reason for it?

"Failure" was an important album for me for a lot of reasons. As we talked about, it really kind of marked the proper start of the way A23 sounds. Also, it’s obviously a very personal album to me. And a lot of the fans tell me this one was sort of special for them as well.  It just seemed like something worth re-visiting.

For the new edition the songs were mixed once again. Were you somehow unhappy with the original versions?
Haha… oh yes. "Failure" was the first album I ever did in a DAW, so I was literally learning as I went along. I really had no idea what I was doing in those days, so I made a lot of really stupid mixing and production mistakes. I didn’t want to take the original  songs and polish them to perfection, I just wanted them to sound the way they should’ve sounded if my production skills had been any good at the time. Imperfections in music, even if they drive us crazy as musicians, are ultimately part of what makes people feel close to music. It’s the human element.  So I didn’t go in and fix the pitchy vocals or anything like that. It is what it is.

What did you feel while working on this 20 years old material? Did some memories of that time come back on the surface?
It was strange. I recorded that album in Logic 4 and it’s now up to 10.6. There were so many more limitations at the time. But mostly, it was just frustrating to see how sloppily organized things were, how many of the old plug-ins didn’t exist anymore, and what ridiculous production errors I made. It did really bring back to the time when I was working on it. It was funny, too, to realize there were some parts buried in there that even I had forgotten were there. For example, in "Silence", there was a lo-fi sample of a German guy saying "Ja, gut!" I don’t even know why I put that in there, but I had completely forgot it existed because it’s so buried in the original.

I at that time was really flashed by the combination of hard rhythms and melodic music. This was Future Pop in perfection. But many people are linked to one special song: "Disappoint". A true emotional story about the suicide of your father. Are there still fans talking to you about this song?

Yes. It’s crazy. Every time we do a show and meet with fans afterwards, I have at least 2 or 3 people share stories with me about a loved one they lost to suicide and how the song helped them in one way or the other. When I wrote it, I wondered if it was too personal or raw to share But when we started playing it live and I started talking to these people, I realized that suicide was a lot more widespread than I thought. But because there is a bit of stigma around it, people don’t talk about it as much as they should. I think that needs to change. I do think people are more open to talking about mental health issues now than when this album came out, but we could do a lot better.

This song is the persona's single mourning about not being able to help or anticipate. Are there some questions you could answer yourself after so many years?
I think for most people who survive a loved one’s suicide, there’s a tendency to self-blame. Did I not love them enough? Was there something I could’ve done to keep this from happening? Was I not enough to stick around for? But this is just our human brains trying to rationalize actions that aren’t rational. The truth is, most people who commit suicide do so because they’ve been in mental distress for a long time and it became unbearable. The best thing we can do is to provide resources for the people who need it and to remove the stigmas from talking about mental health issues.

How hard is it for you to perform „Disappoint“ live?
When we first started, it was extremely difficult. My dad’s death was still recent. I broke down a lot. But as time went on, it became less of a sad song to me. I mean, obviously, it’s a sad song about a very sad subject, but talking to people after shows and hearing about people’s similar experience was actually a very positive feeling. It sounds weird, but I feel very positive when I sing that song now. I feel like I’m telling a story that needs to be told.

When I listened to your songs again, one particular line of "King Of Insects" now has in my opinion a deeper meaning in this prospering time of social media: "Words come easy behind the screen, when there's no interface-to-face to be seen". This reminds me now of the people spreading hate in the web without thinking about what this could do to other people. Are you perhaps also astonished or even frightened about some lines that have now more actuality as they had 20 years ago?
Obviously, that kind of mindset was what inspired the song, but I think that was already a well-established thing even 20 years ago. There weren’t just as many sites to spread it around. Something about anonymity really brings out people’s true selves out in terrible ways sometimes.

The re-issue comes along with a second cd with the songs in the same order, but all remixed, for example by Rotersand, Clan Of Xymox and also yourself. Did you make the choice which band had to cover which song?

I think I let a few of the artists choose, but for quite a few of them, I knew what I wanted them to do. So it was a bit of a mix. I ended up doing “King of Insects” myself because a couple of the bands I had hoped to have do remixes fell through.

After so many years, "Failure" still sounds so fresh and vibrating as it did in 2001. As you worked on this album back then, did you feel also that "Failure" would be that great?

Quite the contrary! In fact, the title “Failure” was kind of a dark joke to myself. Because “Failure” represented a pretty drastic change in the sound from "Contempt", I was convinced people would hate it. I was quite happy to be wrong.

|| INTERVIEW: DANIEL DRESSLER | DATE: 10/01/21 |  CONTACT>

Website
www.assemblage23.com

PHOTOGRAPHY © MARI SHEAR

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