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Skin to Soul: An Interview with Egrets on Ergot

Egrets on Ergot | Credit: Chelsea Robbins

Egrets on Ergot | Credit: Chelsea Robbins

.:.SKIN TO SOUL.:.

An Interview with Egrets on Ergot

by Christos Doukakis

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Do you want to know more about a newly formed band playing idiosyncratic post-punk with an experimental and political edge? If your answer is enthusiastically ‘yes!’, then it’s time you met Los Angeles’s Egrets on Ergot. This quartet stretches its themes through personal struggle, curiosity, Dada, and perceived absurdities to societal observations, intangible visceral expression, saxophone, and tons of immaculate energy.  Get to it!

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Heathen Harvest: You describe your sound as experimental post-punk. Please define what experimental means to your sound.  In what ways have you corrupted the standard post-punk sound to give it an experimental edge?

Egrets on Ergot: ‘Post-punk’ is a broad term, therefore maintaining as a pragmatic descriptor for our particular band. It’s a fine term, having had over thirty years of finding comprehension in the minds of (principally) non-mainstream music fans. We generally prefer to be terse on this topic because we appreciate when we are given the chance for an organic experience—left to artistically identify and assess at the innermost personal level; to reduce first-time listeners’ prejudice or potential anticipatory snobbery; because we have found it almost futile to recite the heaping amount of comparisons we’ve been dealt from the vast array of commentators.

We have failed to hone in on one or two particular band’s or label’s respective sounds to establish any recurring theme in our music, instead writing almost every song with inspiration from a different group or song. We take a variety of essences of different styles and string them together. Perhaps the end-result is a vomit collection of twenty varying styles, but played with our instruments and by us. With that being said, we do love the dark atmosphere of deathrock, industrial, and darkwave, the neurotic dissonance of no wave, the intense and danceable angular variety of post-punk, the soundscapes of krautrock and psychedelic rock, and, of course, the raw energy of punk rock (we also love world music and film scores). A fan of, say, West-Coast ‘deathrock’ or Manchester’s eighties indie/punk may check us out based on the ‘post-punk’ descriptive tag expecting to hear familiarity and get a track like ‘Skin to Soul’ or ‘Mangkukulam’ and be thrown off. Maybe they will keep listening. The ‘experimental’ tag prepares them for that.

Also, we are inspired by what are idiomatically considered ‘experimental’ musicians or albums, like the Dead C ‘Tusk’ or Nurse With Wound and the Red Krayola, so the tag may be of service in this instance. Lastly, ‘experimental’ may apply to any future endeavors of Egrets on Ergot as we are ever-changing and would like to remain open to writing an orchestral piece using a computer, empty soda cans, and a white-noise field recording of the Everglades someday.

HH: There are a few experimental extreme metal projects utilizing saxophone in interesting and unique ways (Shining, for instance, comes to mind), but it’s by no means as common in post-punk music of any kind.  What brought about the idea to use saxophone? Was this a meretricious move in order to differ from most post-punk acts?

EE: We are fans of post-punk music and all its facets. Outside of the guitar, bass, and drums format, the saxophone may be the most common additional instrument appearing here. It traditionally has permeated the genre thoroughly. Adam (singer) had clarinet experience from junior high. He abandoned it, and then a woodwind interest was revived when he found a cheap, used alto sax at a pawn shop while living in Long Beach. After a couple years of familiarizing with it, he felt it would appropriately accent this idea he had for a new band coming out of Los Angeles.

HH: ‘Serve Us Tender’ is a fine piece of musicianship, mixing punk aggression with artistic experimentation. In addition, Paul Roessler (the ScreamersNervous Gender45 Grave, Twisted Roots, the Deadbeats) was the producer of this latest album. What has his work meant for the sound of Egrets on Ergot?  What is behind the importance for you to push boundaries in a decades-old genre that is experiencing new vitality currently?

EE: Roessler believes in us and apparently holds our art and personalities close to his heart (unless it’s all a sick act and a dirty lie). He humbly provides opinions when asked and has naturally assumed the role of a mentor, whether he realizes it or not. It can be said that he is a band member; he plays keys on a few recordings and live whenever possible. The importance might lie in helping to revitalize seminal figures like him, who undoubtedly have gone through disenchanted swings, fearing all their fantastic innovation and hell-raising of the seventies/eighties turned the heads of the painfully conservative and stagnant pop culture of the moment, then petered out. The fire and grit of avant-garde during that era was the point of reference for us in regards to the music that registered most profoundly in our guts. Roessler has implied we play a role in him regaining hope in the naughty realm of local music, and that we make him giddy and fuzzy-feeling. But don’t take our word for it.

Some people apparently feel that contemporary trends in music are unoriginal and lackluster. However, we’ve found growing numbers of subversive pockets of like-minds that are reclaiming art and music as their own, keeping it weird and exciting. We feel like we are a part of this; then again, maybe we exist simply as an homage to the records and aesthetics of the legends that inspired us. Are we nothing more than a callback, or are we a new animal altogether? The listeners can decide for themselves.

HH: Could you please share a few words about your latest video for ‘Raven’s Ravine’? How did the collaboration between you and Chad Fjerstad emerge?

EE: Our guitarist, Heather Galipo, met Fjerstad doing special-effects makeup on a video for his and Danny Wylde‘s band, Chiildren. “Raven’s Ravine” was directed by Adam with camerawork by Chad Fjerstad. Paul Roessler is the shamanic character clad in Heather’s makeup handy work and Adam’s Shaolin monk robe. It was shot on location of where Adam penned the lyrics in Bronson Canyon’s “batcave” in the Hollywood Hills (this is also where the dismembered man’s pieces were found, as told in “Not in My Back Yard.”). The rest was filmed in Adam’s apartment and the animation is by Ashkan Faghiri.

HH: Apart from this extremely clever video, which other videos would you point out for this year?

EE: We will soon be releasing a video for “Joke on Round Eye,” which is the third track on Serve U$ Tender.

Egrets on Ergot | Credit: Chelsea Robbins

Egrets on Ergot | Credit: Chelsea Robbins

HH: Although your sound refers to post-punk, your band ethos and attitude—as far as I can tell—could be defined as pure punk. Would you agree with this statement, and why or why not?

EE: It very well could be defined that way in certain contexts and depending on who you are. At the very same time, there most likely are or will be plenty of “pure punk” folks who would describe our attitude as hipster/poseur, emo, or too romantic for punk. We feel that the sound and the ethos of the band are not black-and-white, direct, or absolute, because that’s not who we are and it’s difficult to view the world through such a lens. What we do maintain without compromise is honesty to ourselves, and that happens to be a defining characteristic of punk culture. We’d suggest many bands with the post-punk sound could be viewed similarly, perhaps more so even, than a “pure punk” band as it’s been explored that as soon as punk rock was established and defied constructs, it conformed and subscribed, thus rendering itself an example of its own original plan of satirical attack.

HH: Who do you consider to be the most influential bands for Egrets on Ergot’s sound today? In addition, could you please share some Los Angeles underdogs that we should be taking notice of?

EE: Our most influential bands are the Birthday Party, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Einstürzende Neubauten, Get Smart, the Blackouts, Dancing Cigarettes, the Alley Cats, Silver Apples, Saccharine Trust, Bo Diddley, A Certain Ratio, the Residents, Bauhaus, Captain Beefheart, the Stranglers, the Pop Group, and Gun Club.

The current bands we think deserve more recognition are Zawa, Mod Pods, Harry Cloud, Mynx, Remorseless, Argument?, Terminal A, LA Drones!, Dogteeth, Panthar, Native Fauna, Mo Dotti, Slip Fall Die, Illuminati Sex Party, Prettiest Eyes, Danger Junkies, Loto Ball Show, Peg Leg Love, Girl Pusher, Gorgonzoloft, Sister Mantos, and French Vanilla.

HH: Regarding your lyrical themes: Are they mostly inspired by the decay of the modern world?

EE: Sure, why not? But, more accurately, it may be that they are inspired by the beauty and awe found in the world—or our micro-world—at this time. The world is changing, as always, but is this decay? If so, how do we explain getting something like an Egrets on Ergot six=song EP out of it? That seems to be a creation.  The lyrics tend to birth from personal struggle, curiosity of Dada, perceived absurdities, social examination, and intangible visceral expression with the finished pieces being angled rather objectively. So, maybe the topics aren’t necessarily illustrating decay and certainly not subject to a “modern world” context. After all, “nothing has ever changed” —Iris Seen.

HH: Lately, you have been busy performing in a vast variety of venues and festivals. How would you describe a typical—if such a word suits you-—Egrets on Ergot show? Do you prefer playing in small venues?

EE: We always push for variety when it comes to booking. Our typical set is rather short, messy, and with an ample amount of physical movement.  We don’t really have a venue size preference, but do not appreciate places that enforce more than a couple unforeseen rules, such as “must wear shoes to play,” a la The Down N Out in L.A. I’m pretty certain that we’ve enjoyed every house show we’ve ever played—they tend to have the best energy because you can’t escape the sound and the close quarters usually help incite a rowdy response. We adapt to larger spaces, but the energy seldom seems comparable. A memorable show was getting banned from a fancy French restaurant, Taix, in Los Angeles because the crowd got crazy—salt and pepper shakers, plates, silverware, glasses, and chairs were flying everywhere.

HH: What were some of the most notable good or bad incidents to happen to you in a live setting so far?

EE: In San Antonio, Texas, we played a small bar called Faust Tavern. This place was hot and packed full of punks. Towards the end of the set, Heather fell back into the cymbals, which sliced a cord on the ground and electric sparks sailed through the air behind our drummer Matt Sherin. All the while, Adam was hanging from the ceiling rafters with one hand, playing saxophone with the other and holding the microphone with his feet, kicking beer glasses off the speakers. Daniel, the bass player, was swiveling his hips, center stage, like a hula girl. The people really liked us that night.

HH: Considering what appear to be your punk roots, does Egrets on Ergot have a political side?  If so, what do you hope your fans perceive the project as standing for?

EE: Political, somewhat. We make social commentary out the ass. We try to draw comparisons and metaphors, linking political issues to personal and localized events or themes. We write with foresight of relativity, objectivity, and a pervading sentiment of the theoretical oneness of all personal experiences. It can stand for finding intrigue in the otherwise mundane, right in the wrong, comfort in the peculiar, reversal of separatism, and grace in dissonance.

HH: Do you believe that punk, or even post-punk, should be associated with modern politics?

EE: No more than post-punk should be concerned with drinking beer and doing drugs; any type of music should be associated with modern politics. Moreover, we don’t believe anything should be associated with anything. We’d rather not spend time or energy proselytizing what anyone or anything should be, when anyone/thing already is and are. We are doing.

HH: What are Egrets on Ergot’s future plans? Recording your debut album? Touring?

EE: We’re touring for the first time to Vancouver, Canada right now. We’ll also be releasing a video for “Joke on Round Eye” soon, recording our first LP this summer, and looking for a label to aid in touring Europe and elsewhere.

HH: Thank you for this interview.  This last space is for you to say whatever you feel has been left unsaid.

EE: Please lose your mind at least once in this life.

Egrets on Ergot | Records Ad Nauseam