.:.WASH AWAY THE DUST.:.
An Interview with Edmund Xavier of Horrid Red and Teenage Panzerkorps
by Dirk Leggett
Edmund Xavier is a San Francisco-based artist who has formed more than a handful of amazing projects, mostly under the experimental/post-punk umbrella. Most of his band’s releases are on his very own record label, Burundi Cloud, which also plays host to a few of his friend’s projects. We sit down with him today to get a better picture of his art and the influences that guide it.
Heathen Harvest: Thank you for letting us chat with you, Edmund. You are a man of may aliases and projects alike. In regards of the Burundi Cloud label, what is the aim of the label and its artists?
Edmund Xavier: Thanks for taking an interest. I appreciate it. The label is just a way to have total freedom, to be free of release dates and normal rock band obligations. Some of the albums take physical form via other labels, but Bandcamp has been liberating as a direct line from recording to people hearing it. My aim is to make great sounds, to experiment with new gear, and to get better at making music. The pleasure is finishing a track or pulling something off, whether that be a melody or a surprising chord change.
HH: It’s interesting that you mention the label’s trademark of melody. The atmosphere surrounding the label’s releases is quite heavy. It’s one of the more mysterious labels around today, cloaked as it is in beautiful lushness while simultaneously waving am eerie banner of distort towards the heavens. In the collaborative sense, do you usually record with whichever group of friends is available for a specific project, or does the team of musicians at hand decide the project?
EX: Teenage Panzerkorps is very much a band. The early stuff all comes from two sessions in San Francisco in a garage in my old house. That was around 2001. We did four or five other sessions over the years, in Berkeley, Oakland, and one in Berlin. That makes up all the other releases. It was hours of jam sessions on 4-track cassette tape that I fed into my musical grinder and added stuff to over time. Horrid Red came as a side-project with Bunker Wolf visiting from Germany. He was stuck in my flat for a few extra days, so I suggested he sing on some drum machine-based stuff I was working on. It spiraled from there, with me making most of the music and building songs from his vocal tracks. The thread through all of this music is a sense of melody going against heavier sounds, rhythms, noises, or Bunker Wolf’s sometimes harsh vocals. I’m a melancholy pop person at heart; you know, listening to the Smiths and staring at the wall. The FWY! stuff is solo jamming: make a beat, play some bass, etc. Sometimes I drag Clay Ruby into it.
HH: Is this influence specific to the Smiths as a whole, or is it more in-tune with the hand of their guitarist Johnny Marr?
EX: I listen to a ton of music, but the Smiths are the apex of something for me. I guess it’s in the melodies; guitars, yes, but the vocals and bass are signature in sound as well. Not that I try to sound like them, but just the mood they have come to define, I guess. The melodies rip into your soul.
HH: I’ve purchased many Teenage Panzerkorps cassettes in the past, but one shipment stood out in particular. It was the Games for Slaves cassette, and the packaging inside was a magazine article which read Quilts of Geese Bend. After reading the torn article, I couldn’t help but realize a similarity between the art images depicted and the covers of your FWY! project. How important are visuals in connecting the music you create?
EX: FWY! is like an art project. I was making beat-driven sounds, but when I stumbled onto the method for making paper art, it all came together for me. I just went to Walgreens one day and bought some paper and glue, and somehow it all came together in my head. It was easy after that. I just love music that has a heavy visual element. Factory Records (of course) and Independent Project Records in Los Angeles were big influences. I should mention that half of the Teenage Panzerkorps stuff was designed by Boy True (the project’s bassist), including that Games for Slaves xerox collage. With FWY! and Horrid Red, I really wanted a visual code. I know most people are experiencing music on the internet, and the FWY! images were designed to work as thumbnails. They were brightly colored and were supposed to immediately connect the listener to the world of FWY!—this kind of pleasant dystopia.
HH: Black Tape for a Blue Girl of Projekt have also gone the independent route by reissuing their early works through their own Bandcamp page along with a few bonus tracks. After seeing a small restock of sold out releases such as Gold of Days and Firehead, do you consider reissuing often, or do you try to keep the releases somewhat of a rarity?
EX: All the physical releases came from other labels: Brave Mysteries, Siltbreeze, Dub Ditch Picnic, Soft Abuse, etc. Burundi Cloud is purely digital. I did make some t-shirts, however.
HH: Were the t-shirts from the Teenage Panzerkorps era?
EX: I’d like to do more, and I don’t intentionally make anything to be rare, but I have a small audience, so it’s hard to keep stuff in print. There have been like six or seven t-shirt designs at this point! Boy True and I had a conversation once about becoming a “t-shirt band,” like the Misfits. [laughs] Maybe we should just release Teenage Panzerkorps shirts and not release any new music!
HH: In this era, shirts before anything else may just be the ticket! In the height of Teenage Panzerkorps’s reign, the band offered a bundle of two cassettes, one being a B-side version of “Nations Are Insane,” and the other being a brand new release at the time called “German Reggae” and t shirts. A bunch of shipping mishaps took place at that point. Would you mind describing the issue and if this was a precursor to you starting your own label?
EX: Agreed! Oh, right, you are referring to that Canadian label. I didn’t know him personally, but I guess he bailed on a lot of stuff due to drug problems. I heard he is reformed now. It was a bummer because Horrid Red was about to go on tour and he was supposed to send us all this merch that never came through. I hope he didn’t rip off too many people. I think this is a common story in the land of punk rock and surrounding genres. No big deal. I have low expectations.
HH: It’s always a shame hearing of events like that. I followed what was happening through Terminalbordom back when I was looking for something similar to what was going on in the Pacific Northwest “lo-fi” scene—bands such as Meth Teeth and Eat Skull. Once I found Teenage Panzerkorps, I was instantly hooked. At the time, Blank Dogs were making a quiet storm on the Internet and at record stores. It’s funny to see a small amount of information on you, Mike Sniper of Blank Dogs, and the owner of Captured Tracks alike. How did Teenage Panzerkorps end up releasing an album under the Captured Tracks label?
EX: There was this guy in San Diego who took all these pre-orders for a Blank Dogs single that never happened. He was supposed to release a Teenage Panzerkorps single too, and Mike Sniper saw it was in limbo and offered to release it. That was long before it became a big indie label. It’s funny to imagine Teenage Panzerkorps on the same label as Mac Demarco. I mean, what the fuck? [laughs] But yeah, Eat Skull had some great tunes. He used to live in San Francisco.
HH: Yeah, it’s kind of crazy to see how far Captured Tracks has come in bringing in the masses. At least you can say Mike has a good ear for music!
EX: For sure, Mike is the real-deal record collector guy; a great musician also. Too bad he stopped recording.
HH: Oh, most definitely. I feel that the two of you would make a fantastic duo. The guitar styles, to my ears, are quite similar as well. He’s released a 7″ with Gary War titled Roman Soldiers. Would you ever consider working with him if given the chance?
EX: Sure, we actually talked about it. At some point he was going to play guitar on something, but he’s super busy. I don’t know him too well—just through lurking around the music world.
HH: You have worked with quite an array of talented people over the course of your career. Residing in San Francisco, how did you meet German native Karsten Scholl (Bunker Wolf) of the Nazi Dogs for the first time, and how did that connection transcend (if at all in that order) into working with Clay Ruby of Burial Hex as well as SPK and Death in June‘s very own John Murphy?
EX: Boy True and Catholic Pat are a few years older than me and were involved in the South Bay/San Francisco hardcore scene in the eighties. Boy True (Jason Honea) was the singer of Social Unrest. He met Bunker Wolf at a Social Unrest reunion show here in San Francisco. That must have been in the late nineties. A year or two later, Bunker Wolf was visiting and Jason suggested we all jam together on some “punk” while Bunker Wolf ranted in his native German. Somehow it became something, though I’m not sure how. A few years later, Jason moved to Berlin. I think Jason met John Murphy (SPK) just from doing shows and hanging out in Berlin. I’ve known Clay Ruby now since the early 2000s, just through being involved in tapes and CD-Rs. He has a crazy ear for bizarre music and is a great guy to collaborate with. What I like about all of these characters is that they are not afraid to make some bizarre shit and take it into the unknown. They have no rules. It’s fun to make traditional punk too, but Teenage Panzerkorps/Horrid Red just do whatever strikes our fancy.
HH: In regards to these very bizarre characters creeping into the unknown, the Walking Korpses is a very good example of this. Did this project, like Horrid Red to Teenage Panzerkorps, form as a side-project, or was there something more sinister begging to crawl out of Horrid Red’s pink flower bed?
EX: You’d have to ask Boy True about that. It’s really his project. He surrounds himself with some interesting weirdos and punk-rock legends in Berlin, so I think it grew out of that. Bunker Wolf and Clay Ruby, I believe, contribute after the fact via technology.
HH: Are you still close to Boy True?
EX: Yes, very much so! He’s one of my best friends. We only get to hang out once every three or four years, but we keep up on the Internet like everyone else these days.
HH: A lot of your songs are described as “desert disco,” which I find to be quite humorous but nevertheless clever, succeeding in describing the sound your projects have put out. In particular, Nightly Wreaths has a vibe to it that teleports its listeners into a land somewhere east of the Red Sea, guiding them on an opium-induced journey. The album speaks volumes in terms of emotions. Nightly Wreaths being Horrid Red’s third album release, what was behind the drastic change in once being more of a lo-fi, bass-kissed, reverb-laden recording style to the more clear and harmonic Nightly Wreaths or Gold of Days recordings?
EX: I like your description. Yes, “desert disco” was sort of tongue-in-cheek. I think that after making Celestial Joy, I was done with that harsher sound and wanted to make something more psychedelic. I thought it would be an interesting juxtaposition with Bunker Wolf’s voice. Also, I was probably getting better at recording. I’m fond of those post-punk bands that start off crude and get more dreamy or exotic like Swans, or like when Robert Smith (the Cure) and Steven Severin (Sioux & the Banshees) teamed up as the Glove.
HH: Those kinds of slow progressive change-ups always call for debate within the listener fan club. You have those that prefer the Jesus and Mary Chain‘s first couple of records and those that enjoy all of them.
EX: Teenage Panzerkorps was all gray. Horrid Red started to bring in colors. I wanted to really expand and have no rules. I didn’t want to be stuck in a particular genre. I probably lost some fans along the way, but some people will get it. I should add this about Nightly Wreaths: Bunker Wolf literally went on an “opium-laced journey” in Thailand, so the record is partially inspired by that. You can see some footage of him in Thailand in some of the videos.
HH: There’s definitely an unspoken story being told through each and every album from each and every project. I don’t mean this literally, of course, because my knowledge of the German language is next to nonexistent, but like you have stated already, the emotion and vibe that is delivered is most certainly telling us something of importance.
EX: The lyrics are wonderfully simple and thoughtful, and are about love and drugs. [laughs] There are bits of poetry in there as well, and some weird German profundity, but always with humor included.
HH: Recently, I spoke Shayde Sartin of Sonny and the Sunsets. One of his favorite albums is Bowery Electric‘s second album, Beat. That album is a roller coaster of drone and is just simply feelgood melancholy pop. Is there a connection between FWY! and Sonny and the Sunsets?
EX: Oh, yeah, Bowery Electric was great. I used to have those LPs; I wish I still had them! Shayde is an old friend and we collaborated on the last Sonny and the Sunsets record. I made some of the beats. There was some great rhythmic stuff in the nineties that probably seeps into FWY!, like Bowery Electric, Seefeel, Long Fin Killie, Stereolab, etc. The Too Pure label had some great stuff.
HH: Yes, Beat is one of my prized possessions! Tell us about the band Art Museums, which has two releases under the Burundi Cloud imprint.
EX: Art Museums was a band which I had for a few years with Josh Alper, who sadly died in a bike accident. We had records out on Woodsist and Slumberland. It was a pop band like the old C86 stuff, I guess. We used old drum machines also. I think I wanted it to be like old Cabaret Voltaire NAG NAG NAG mixed with bubblegum sixties pop. It was a fun project that ended badly, with acrimony and lost friendships; a total blunder that put me off of playing in bands for awhile.
HH: One of the first reviews I read of Blank Dogs was one comparing their sound to Cabaret Voltaire’s NAG NAG NAG.
EX: I can see that. It’s like the “Louie Louie” of industrial music.
HH: Everything you touch musically sure seems to have a way of showing exactly what it’s supposed to be about. Art Museums sounds like a feelgood California summer band clearly from the modern age but with a mind from the sixties.
EX: Thanks. Yeah, I like to make a statement. I feel like bands should tell a story. My favorite records are educational in a way. Like the Fall or Joy Division, you feel like you’ve read a poem just by looking at the sleeve. Bands in general should be more about flowers, dreams, and poems instead of simply posing. Song titles are important too! Song titles should be absurd. I was always a big fan of over-the-top poetic bands like, say, Rites of Spring. I mean, fuck calling that “emo.” It’s more like violent romantic art.
HH: Not too long ago, either you or Bunker Wolf (I can’t quite remember which) stated that there may be another Horrid Red-related project coming in the near future. Can you confirm this as true?
EX: I hope so. We have some recorded, but I haven’t had time to finish them. I think we need to get together in person and work on it for it to be top notch. The global political scene is making it more difficult. Bunker Wolf has fears of being turned away at the border. I think at least an EP is there, but I need to carve out some space to make it happen. I spend a lot of time on Horrid Red. It took me a year to make Celestial Joy. I was losing my mind.
HH: I’m a fan of very straightforward lyricism in a realistic and romantic sense, like Echo and the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles. Is there a reason why you keep FWY! an instrumental project, or do you ever plan on releasing songs with lyrics?
EX: I like keeping FWY! tight to this one concept. I want it to be a reliable source for driving music or background music. In a sense, it’s commercial if not utilitarian. It’s like concrete blocks and landscaping.
HH: I was hoping you’d give a response like that. FWY!, much like the fantasy of the perfect drive, is steady in coast with no sign nor need to break.
EX: It’s an experiment, really. Can I make FWY! stuff all the same but different? It’s not always easy to find a new aspect to it, and then suddenly I figure out a new way to do the same thing. The artwork and the music are linked. It can all fit on one giant album.
HH: The releases for FWY! are abundant, yet they all stand on their own. Would you ever perform live or with Horrid Red given the chance? Do you prefer the recording side more?
EX: Horrid Red did one West Coast tour after Celestial Joy came out. FWY! has done two shows so far. I’m not sure what will happen next, but I know I’d like to do more. Horrid Red is tough due to travel expenses and border issues. FWY! is tough as a one-man band to make it interesting. It’s maybe best experienced in your car anyway.
HH: Oh, no way! I could see FWY! performing easily. Maybe with time we will be blessed with a new project of yours. For now, however, I think that’s it for my questions Edmund. We’d like to thank you again for sitting down with us today and letting us into your very busy psyche. Is there anything else you would like to say?
EX: It would be fun to combine a FWY! performance with a visual element, like a film with colorful footage of roads and freeways. I just haven’t gotten around to it. There will definitely be more stuff up on Burundi Cloud, probably later this year. I can’t be stopped. Thanks again for the interview.