Dumbass Retrospective

From the new Trash Records Retrospectus/Prospectus:

Dumbass: Past, Present, & Future

Dumbass too is old. It’s an old band… older than Trash Records by several years. Dumbass started some time in early 1994… twenty years ago now. Dumbass has had countless members, made days worth of music, presented many faces to the world, etc. etc. etc.

We started out with me, a guitar, my friend Jeff, and a collection of buckets and paint cans that he banged on with two very large screwdrivers. Our early recordings were made on thrift-store tape recorders, making sound on sound recordings by linking 3 decks together using an RCA y-cable that I got from a broken motorcycle helmet intercom at work (we used headphones plugged into the microphone jacks as mikes).

We have been, for most of the life of the band, an “experimental” project. We certainly started that way, and we are deep into another experimental phase at the moment, but there have also been times where we utilized the skills we developed through experiment to express certain ideas without at the same time, working on new experiments. This is why I like to refer to Dumbass as primarily an “expressionist” band. We are often experimental – pushing ourselves into new creative territory, experimenting with technique, with the creative process, with ourselves – but we are always expressive, and, particularly, expressionist.

Our most important influences (though perhaps not the most obvious sonically) were artists like Bowie and Pink Floyd as well as Skinny Puppy and pre-thrash Ministry (these last two are easier to hear). Nearly every Dumbass album has been a concept album; we come up with an ideal (usually a philosophical discussion or explration) and then try to express it sonically. This makes for a catalogue that varies widely as far as sound, feel, and even musical genre goes.

We’ve broken into scrap yards in the middle of the night with a portable tape recorder, made recordings high up in the mountains, hours and hours of driving away from civilization. We re-wired old computers and bashed drum kits. We programmed synthesizers and recorded raging rivers.

The most important moment in Dumbass’ history occurred sometime in 2000 when Fixer joined the band. There have been more people in this band than I remember, but the band has been Fixer and I since 2000 or 2001 with a small number of people coming and going since then.

We are currently working on new material. It’s a big project, and I think it’s very good. But its slow going. We’re being very careful with it, and, unfortunately, we don’t have much free time to work on it. And we live hundreds of miles away from each other at the moment. But the new material is progressing, in slow, meticulous little bits. This is an experimental project, and we are pushing ourselves hard. Central themes are difficulty and distance, which we are artificially enhancing rather than trying to alleviate and overcome. I hope we will have something to release by the end of the year, but no promises.

In the meantime, as I mentioned in the Trash Records retrospective, we are going ot upload some material that never saw a web release. The first thing will be The Execution of Random Actions, in which we explored the notion that human beings are no more able to be truly random than computers. We began each recording session with no pre-decided ideas or plans. We tried to do things randomly:

“I’ll record some drums.”

“I’ll record some bass.”

“I’ll chop up what you just recorded.”

“I’ll chop up what you recorded a week ago.”

“I’ll slow this down.”

“I’ll delete the guitar.”

Etc. etc. etc.

We plugged instruments in or miked them up and just pressed “record.” Lyrics were written the same way: I would randomly decide to lay down a vocal. Sometimes I would open my notebook and just write whatever came out, sometimes I would decide to edit this or that text, sometimes I would just stand at the mike and make it up on the spot. At one point I flipped through my notebook, reading lines and words from songs from previous albums at random. And yet…

And yet, it’s all strangely musical. And yet, lyrical themes developed (a series of song texts that revolve around the seasons, for instance). Random things should surprise you… what surprised us was just how un-random it all sounded. We had an inkling that this is how it would turn out, but not the extent (did this inkling affect the outcome?).

I like this album a lot, but it got a bit lost between the bigger projects that preceded and succeeded it. It’s nice then to put it out now where it can breathe a bit more.

This is a noisy album, it’s sonically harsh at times, but it has, I think, a strangely deep musicality to it that I have a hard time explaining (a result, no doubt, of the “random actions” forcing our musical subconscious, instincts, muscle-memory, etc. to take the wheel as our conscious planning-minds tried to forsake the driver’s seat). It’s also a lively and, I would say, again, strangely joyous album.

Look for it in May.

And look for updates on the new project as it progresses.


Stream Audio

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Updating the Dumbass webpage

This may take some time.
It’s a big site overhaul.

“The negative form of the self exercises a loosening power as well as a binding power; at any time it can quite arbitrarily start all over again, and no matter how long one idea is pursued, the entire action is within a hypothesis.”