Today ‘Deafers’ we have the honor and privilege to interview Marc Heal, following the November 2016 release of ‘The Hum’. Though no stranger to industrial music, this album was a solo effort released from Armalyte Industries. ‘The Hum’ calls to lovers of all things industrial, as mysteriously as the worldwide low-pitch call of that very same phenomenon.
Marc Heal has written, produced, and contributed to several music projects over the years. He was a founding member of Cubanate, he has added to several video game music works, collaborated with Raymond Watts and even wrote a book entitled ‘The Sussex Devils’. The latter was published by Unbound in October of 2015. We’re glad to have caught Heal in an active period of his musical history.
Thanks again for taking the time to allow us to interview you. I guess the biggest question comes first. Why solo? Why now?
I didn’t plan to make a solo album, I worked that way out of necessity. I had been living in Singapore in the past few years and I hadn’t made any music since I’d been out East. Then I wrote a batch of songs and I thought, I want to record them. That’s the first thing: this album was driven by the songs. But I didn’t know any alternative musicians here. I’d never worked alone. I had no engineer, no studio, no collaborator. And anyway I wasn’t sure what “it” was.
I mean, I knew that musically it wasn’t Cubanate. All this happened long before the Cubanate reunion in Chicago.
So I figured that if I did want to make an album, I would have to do it solo from beginning to end. That was either brave or stupid, depending on what you think of the end result.
How was that experience for you? Was it intimidating this time around doing a solo work?
Yeah, I was nervous. A name is like a mask. It has a protective value. I noticed very few people in industrial music used their own name and the more I thought about this the more I realized that this was symptomatic of what I regard as the malaise in the “industrial” genre. Everyone is playing make-believe.
Of course there’s nothing wrong in a bit of cosplay. But not many people in electronic music are looking around at the world. They can seem to find the confidence to speak their own mind. It’s all stock response – a rehash of sci-fi movies and comics. One thing I learned when writing my book, “The Sussex Devils” was that speaking the truth often feels uncomfortable or uncool. But nothing else is of much interest in the long term. So without vulnerability, art dies.
And those Terminator-esque tropes might have been interesting twenty-five years ago but now they’re tired. I’m bored of skinny white boys pretending they are cyborgs. And I am bored of fetish. It’s in the mainstream now. OK, darling, you like whipping dudes. Fine with me, but don’t think that’s shocking anymore. Shock us by showing me some truths, some wit and perception. I’m kinky like that.
Anyway, once you’ve seen one band pissing over each other on stage, you’ve seen them all. With friends like that, who needs enemas?
So, I thought. Don’t give it a “project” name. Don’t wear a mask. Fly under your own flag.
Did ‘The Hum’ meet your own expectations sonically or exceed them?
Well I’m always critical, but yes. Sonically, this time I tried to leave more space. Maybe I didn’t go far enough. Next time I want to leave it really empty.
I’m pleased with the songs. I feel that at least I managed to create something different and intelligent.
I learned a lot during the process. It’s an important and necessary part of making an album to listen back to it and enjoy it yourself. Then afterwards, you become restless. Onto the next one.
You’ve done several musical works over the years. Did you draw from those experiences sound wise, or did you decide to do things differently this time around?
Obviously you are only the sum of your previous experiences but I did change the way I worked on ‘The Hum’. Partially this is because I was alone.
I had to learn how to mix properly, and also to be critical of my own vocals. And if you are engineering yourself, as a vocalist it’s psychologically challenging. You need to constantly switch between technician and performer.
I set up a palette of sounds and used a few synths. I didn’t waste too much time on sound design. I didn’t nerd around endlessly making bug noises on modular synths.. I think the modular synth revival is responsible for a lot of prog-rock, hippy crap. Any wanker with a patch lead thinks they can produce some, beard-stroking bullshit these days.
The ‘Adult Fiction’ EP had a special, limited edition vinyl release alongside digital. How did that decision come to pass?
Giles at Armalyte Industries was passionate about doing a vinyl release. It was the opposite of the normal label / artist relationship. I was fretting about the costs, Armalyte wanted to give it the full luxe treatment. I’m really glad they did.
Were you involved at all in the creative process behind the ‘Adult Fiction’ video?
Well, Gabriel Edvy directed the video. She and I tossed a few broad conceptual ideas around, to make sure we understood each other. And I gave her a bit of background to the song.
But once that was sorted she completely led the process. Fine with me. I trust her and she’s one of those people that won’t let something go until it’s perfect. And during the video schedule she was coming over to Chicago from UK to do visuals for Cubanate at Cold Waves. On that trip she visited her family in Kansas. That worked out great because she was able to shoot in both London and in the US. Those agoraphobic, post-apocalyptic shots are filmed in Kansas. It would have been tough to achieve that wideness in the UK, and they give the fiction / dream sequences some real size.
Gabby also suggested Ilua for the lead, my girl with the savage vision. She turned out to be just right. She looks believably rich, otherly and slightly spooky. It’s always a tough call. Whilst I wanted “her” to be alIuring, I also wanted a real woman, not some hired-for-the-afternoon sexpot.
How do you feel about working alongside Armalyte Industries?
Giles and I worked on the ‘Compound Eye’ EP I did with Raymond Watts. We found we worked well together. He’s into what I do, but not afraid to be truthful. He nags me to get things done and pushes me in the right way. It’s a good working relationship. It’s very punk rock. No contract.
Jules Seifert, the other half of Armalyte, definitely added something. I found that I could produce alone apart from the final mixes, when you have often over-listened to the track and have lost perspective, another set of ears is essential. Jules acted as mastering engineer and also like a final mix advisor on ‘The Hum’. Bloody useful.
I reflected afterwards that although I’ve been signed to bigger labels back in the day, with bigger marketing budgets, working with Armalyte actually improves the end product from my original conception, rather than degrading it. I’ve never been able to say that before. It’s a rare compliment to be able to pay a label.
Lyrically, there is a lot ‘The Hum’ has to say. There also does not seem to be one theme but many- do some of these come from personal experiences?
Yeah. It’s in my nature to be rather detached and journalistic, I fear. I tried to see each song as a mini-film. I based them on truth, real settings and people. Of course I took some liberties. I blended characters, amped things up, edited things out to make them punchy. But it’s all observational. In fact, the woman who wrote the real Adult Fiction “story” recently heard the song and recognised her book from the lyrics. Awkward. Luckily she took no offence and thought the tune was catchy.
That’s a good example of what I mean. Attending writer’s groups in Singapore may seem poor soil for song inspiration but I think that a good writer can find something interesting from anywhere, anyone.
Did you always have a draw to do electronic music work? Do you prefer this over traditional instrumentation or is there a happy medium of the two?
See, I got into electronic music because I fell on love with synthesizers early. They’re my thing. As you age you realize that great sound can come from any instrument. But to my shame I never learned to play anything else.
But synths are just tools. The songs are what counts. There’s a fetish that’s grown up around old guitars and synths and whatnot. I like the technology myself but once you start being in thrall to the tools of the job, you are finished. I also believe in using what you find, who you find. All I had was myself, a Moog and Benny Ong on guitar. Very well, let’s make that work.
If you put me in a room with a piano and a banjo, I could still make an album. It would still sound like me. The human part is everything.
What’s in the future for Marc Heal? …
No one ever knows that, least of all me. I can only work on the project that excites me of the moment. I wish I was more disciplined.
We do plan to do some more Cubanate shows for 2017 and I want to keep doing my own stuff. I’ve just started writing again. I hope more happy accidents and weird stuff happens. I enjoy that.
Photo credits: Kym Bernabe