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Interview with Paul Lemos

Controlled Bleeding has been around for quite a while, with their first vinyl being released as Knees and

Bones on the American Psychout label in 1983. Their music has developed from its primitive, noisy beginnings quite considerably.

From their interest in harsh noise music developed an ambient, atmospheric, grandiose and gothic music, experimenting with abstract compositions through highly regarded albums like Between Tides on Swedish label Multimood, and Music for the Scourging Ground on Sub Rosa in Belgium. Lots of use of echo and reverb to create as emotive and ominous an atmosphere as possible.

Much of their more recent music has explored the more ambient aspects of this sound, such as the Sub Rosa LP Les Nouvelles Musiques de Chambre 1, a record shared with Benjamin Lew. The Italian compilation Gag showcases this attitude too.

As their music has matured, so has their approach to its creation. Originally quite spontaneous and improvised, in recent years their understanding of their art has led them to create more carefully crafted music, more structured. Meanwhile, they have moved on to yet another new style, this time on American hardcore dance label, WaxTrax.

With their album Trudge, and various 12" releases, they have explored a more rhythmic, more commercial music. Hard rhythms combine with the gothic feel of some of their other music to produce truly individual "hardbeat" music. The majestic feel of the singing reminds me of Killing Joke's more angst-ridden moments, and the drum patterns remain reasonably unique. Also on WaxTrax, they have released a 12" single under the name of Joined at the Head, exploring the hardcore guitar / drums music so beloved of Ministry and others, and doing it with considerably more panache. This music continues alongside their interest in more experimental, instrumental work. Controlled Bleeding consists of Paul Lemos, Joe Papa and Chris Moriarty in various combinations, although Lemos is the core of the group. He has also released various solo recordings (eg. Sludge and Hog Floor on Dossier Records), as well as compiling the Dry Lungs series of compilations, which have documented various strands of the post-industrial experimental music scene.

The following interview was conducted by post in April 1991.

EST: Why do you make music? George Bush doesn't - I don't - why do you?

PL: The reason why one pursues a particular interest or passion isn't easy to explain. Music has been my only love since I was about 10 years old. I don't know what stimulated this, but it has existed as long as I can recall. I think that some people need a creative outlet to balance their overall existence and allow for stability, and music serves this need for me.

EST: It may be a boring question, but what got you started? And what caused you to change towards more experimental music?

PL: I've always been interested in the most extreme music I could find - this has been the case all my life in the late 60s through the 90s - I've never learned to play by the book - the whole process was based on experimenting, as it still is today. Through time, this experimenting brought me to a point of certain musical competence. So, presently, I have the ability to pursue different musics. But for most of my musical career, I've had no choice but to be an experimenter.

EST: Why do you still make music, after all these years?

PL: I still work on music because it is a release; it's something that I can give myself to emotionally. I can empty the venom and the depression through this process of making personal music.

EST: Do you get bored easily? Your musical style has changed frequently since Controlled Bleeding's inception.

PL: Yes, I do get bored easily; this is true. But we work with different musical styles because we're excited by a lot of musics - I've always been very open to music of various styles and this openness just broadens as I get older and as my tastes move back to musics of the 1100s - 1500s, music that I knew little of when I was twenty years old. So, as I become involved with different musics, as a listener, I find inspiration.

EST: How do you regard your releases? As lasting musical works, brief experiments, documents of continuing developments?

PL: I don't regard them as anything more than a sort of personal diary of certain creative developments or regressions. Some of the earlier works haven't dated well - some of them were done without a lot of care or technical knowledge. So I block out certain records, I disown them in my mind. But the CD rereleases give me a chance to improve my original errors. LPs like Curd make me ill. But the CD that will appear is very exciting I think.

EST: You've released a lot of material - over twenty albums by my count. How much of this do you think stands the test of time?

PL: No, we haven't issued twenty Controlled Bleeding lps. As far as material, there are only about 11 records (which is still a lot) - then there have been a number of reissues, compilations etc. because so much of our stuff has been long out of print. I'd say that a lot of it stands the test of time in terms of content, but recording quality often has been poor. I wish that the work was all well recorded a lot better, but it was all done in my small home studio - I never learned about mixing, recording etc. So, the earlier records were pretty primitive because of my lack of knowledge. I wish I could go back and apply the knowledge I presently possess.

EST: Commercial groups may only release three or four albums in their lifetime: are you more prolific because you apply less quality control? Do you consider it an advantage to be able to release such a variety of material without having to justify it commercially?

PL: You're quite right, I've issued a lot more stuff than most commercial groups (but less (probably) than Nurse With Wound!) It's a completely different scene. Rarely do I work under restriction of binding contracts etc ... The first several projects were done for small labels and sold a thousand or two thousand copies, then went out of print. So, we're not thinking about talking about a release that is selling a fucking ton and being distributed worldwide. At this point Controlled Bleeding is a more commercial entity, and thus we have to deal with contracts that are quite restrictive. In fact the next releases will be under very rigid contract. So yeah, I could always do whatever I wanted, issue anything I was working on. When working on 4 and 8 track, one is a bit more prolific than when working on complex midi-stuff on 24 track... So its' been a 6 year evolution of sorts.

EST: How do you feel about that perennial curse of "experimental" musicians: obscurity?

PL: As mentioned, I like a lot of musics. Although I experiment with sound, I enjoy structured technical music as well (played in my own warped way). So, I don't care whether experimental music remains in obscurity. If it became commercially acceptable, it probably wouldn't be very exciting any more. So, I don't think about obscurity. I look for appropriate labels for the various projects I'm doing - some are obscure, some aren't.

EST: Do you wish you could release music with better packaging, on better formats, or to a wider audience?

PL: CD is a fine format, most of the packaging has been fine. Really, I have few complaints. Again, the distribution depends on the label.

EST: Would you release more commercial music in order to get better known or to subsidise your other projects?

PL: The more commercial music I do is done because I very much enjoy it. I don't give a damn for making $ from music. It is strictly done for my own fulfillment. So no, I don't do beat music to fund experimental work. The experimental work is the least interesting for me at this point.

EST: Is it all an uphill struggle financially, and if so, what keeps you going?

PL: I teach high school, as I have for a decade, so I don't view music as a means of income - the money has been okay, but it's just reinvested. So, as mentioned music is a need, it's not done for $ or for fun. It's a necessary part of daily existence for me.

EST: What are your future plans for Controlled Bleeding, both in terms of forthcoming releases, and longer term development?

PL: We're looking to issue the future work on a decent major label that will allow creative freedom. I want simply to record whatever is exciting at a given time - there is no musical vision here. Our other project, Fat Hacker, is now signed to Road Runner and is most satisfying in its huge, grinding ugliness. Controlled Bleeding is one outlet and it will be whatever it should be on an emotional level.

EST: What sort of music has inspired you in the past and now? How did you get into this sort of music?

PL: A lot of music has inspired me. Everything from Funhouse (Stooges), Kick Out the Jams (MC5), Electric Prunes, early Pere Ubu, Sex Pistols, E. Varesé, George Crumb, early Swans, Arvo Part, Cage, Eno ... etc ... Everything that has ever excited me has been of some unconscious inspiration. I listen to a lot of opera, sacred music, rap, noise, etc ... So all of this interest has been synthesised somehow. Also a lot of film and poetry has had a potent influence.

EST: Do you feel the underground music "ghetto" is healthy at the moment?

PL: I don't consider it. It's very varied. What's underground and what's commercial - these are very relative terms. I enjoy a lot of the Earache stuff as well as Public Enemy, Dust Devils, Lustmørd, Sonic Youth. So, the underground will at a point become the commercial. We just have to wait a bit for audiences to catch up to the music. I've become very bored with N.W.W., Current 93 and 90% of what is termed as experimental music or the underground. I'd much rather hear GodFlesh. Are they still underground?

EST: Are you an artist or a musician? Performer or recorder?

PL: I'm not a performer. An artist? Well, I'm not sure what constitutes an artist. Yes, obviously I'm a recorder. Beyond this I do not think about these categories - this is one you'd have to answer.

EST: Thoughts on collaboration? The differences between your solo work and group work?

PL: Solo work, group work. I suppose it doesn't vary a lot. Much of what goes under Controlled Bleeding has been solo. When Chris and I collaborate we develop solid structure songs. My solo stuff tends to be a bit noise oriented and looser. Collaboration with Chris has become very fruitful - but outside of this, I don't have a lot of time to collaborate.

EST: Some of Controlled Bleeding's recent work could easily be described as pompous and overblown in its sheer power and scope. Any comment?

PL: Pompous, overblown? For you, perhaps. For me, it just came to be. Again, I don't think about whether the music is pompous. I don't like pompous music. So if this is the way you hear some of the work, it wasn't intended. As mentioned, I make music for my own pleasure and can only hope others will find value in it.

EST: Some of it is also unpleasant, full of suppressed violence, power and evocative of almost totalitarian imagery. Am I being unfair here, Paul?

PL: I guess for some, the music may be considered unpleasant, ugly etc ... Again, wait till Fat Hacker appears - I think this will redefine our ugliness. The music we do always reflects some internal conflict or personal angst or insecurity ... So, yeah, a lot of it probably seems pretty charged up - either violent, or as you say pompous. So, no you're not being unfair. But again, we don't set out to annoy or repulse. It's just personal music, limited by our technical ability. A lot of our music is about spiritual struggle, coming to grips with one's own insignificance, one's powerlessness, one's inability to understand the deep past or future.

Interview by and (C) Brian Duguid.