INTERVIEW: Bells into Machines Talk New “Your Crime Scene” EP

It was roughly four years ago when the Paul Barker/Chris Connelly collaboration Bells Into Machines was announced (Slicing Up EyeballsNew Noise, Exclaim), but only recently has the collaboration seen the light of day. On November 17th, the collaboration released the superlative Your Crime Scene EP.  A collection of six songs and a remix, the EP is more than just a collaboration between Barker and Connelly, rather it’s a collective that also includes Lee Popa, Toby Wright, and Brian Diemar.

Obviously, Paul Barker is best known for his long tenure with industrial legends Ministry, but has gone on to produce other projects, like Flowering Blight, USSA, and his “solo” album that accompanied the Ministry Fix documentary, Fix This!!!. Last year, he toured with Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer outfit and is currently readying the release of more Lead into Gold material. Chris Connelly sang on several Ministry and Revolting Cocks albums, but over the last 15-20 years has put out numerous solo albums; and most recently, his collaboration with Jason Novak called Cocksure. Both Barker and Connelly have been on the road this year with Novak and Front 242’s Richard 23 playing the Revolting Cocks Big Sexy Land and select songs from Connelly’s tenure with the band.

Lee Popa did live sound for Ministry’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste tour and Killing Joke’s Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions tour, as well as mixes/remixes from everyone from Living Colour to White Zombie to Tool. Toby Wright is a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with Alice in Chains, Primus, and Slayer – among countless others. And Brian Diemar has played guitar in AM Conspiracy and has also worked as a producer and remixed tracks for the likes of Depeche Mode, Porno for Pyros, and the Chemical Brothers. Indeed, the Your Crimes Scene EP is greater than the sum of its parts. Collectively, these musicians and studio whizzes have produced something that is familiar to those rooted in the industrial scene, but also reaches out beyond the genre constraints.

The songs on this EP benefit from great melodies, be it the instruments or Connelly’s vocals. Some of the tracks lean toward industrial-dance, like “Wretched Little Deity” and “Ordinary Fascists,” while others hit a little harder, like “Machine Gun Odessa.” Some of the tracks are synth-heavy, like “Your Crime Scene My Career” and “Zero Soldiers,” but “Missions” subverts all expectations. A ballad featuring acoustic and slide guitars, it’s easily the most unexpected song here – but completely cohesive with the collection as a whole.

We’re thrilled that we were able to chat with every member of the band to get their insights on the creation of this EP and what’s in store for the future.

Buy the new Bells into Machines Your Crime Scene EP – iTunesAmazon

How did this project come together?

Lee Popa: Well, I have been working with Paul in Oregon here, helping him get some Lead into Gold together and doing some mixing and we were sharing a studio together. Brian contacted me, said he wanted to do something like that. I put it with Paul and then Chris came into the project and Toby makes records that influence me, so I jumped at it.

Brian Diemar:  Toby and I have been working together for quite a while. The thing about this project is…we are all friends! That makes it easy and fun. We also all respect each other musically.

Toby Wright: Brian and I have been long time friends when we both lived in Los Angeles. I moved to Nashville, and he to Alabama, and we kept in touch and formed a musical alliance that is stronger than ever.

Chris Connelly: Brian reached out to me, I did not know him prior to this and I am always happy to work with Paul, and so we both agreed to participate.

Paul Barker: I was approached after Chris had already laid vocals on “Crime Scene,” and I loved it.

The songs sound modern, but also recall a little of RevCo’s “Linger Ficken Good” and even some KMFDM (in my opinion). Was there any discussion of musical direction? Or did it happen organically? 

Lee Popa: Well, Sasha (Konietzko) and all those guys were on our first tour in 1990 with Ministry. So the reason KMFDM sounds like us is because Paul and I were a big influence with the band and we spent time in the studio with him and then I did mixing with him, so I kind of shaped their sound. I’m the one who did the White Zombie mixes with Sasha and I got him a gig doing remixes for Living Colour. And as for mixing, these are the sounds and pallets we went for, and Toby Wright is with that, we just read his resume, kaboom. So it just kind of happens this way in my opinion.

Brian Diemar: Nothing was pre-planned. We just wanted to do songs we enjoyed, regardless of “style.” There are only two genres of music…good and bad.

Toby Wright: It was an organic growth, we never intended to copy or sound like anyone else, but ourselves.  I think we all dislike the categorization of music, that’s why we can be so diverse in our music because we don’t label it…it’s just music.

Chris Connelly: No, not with me anyway, I approached the project as a vocalist and lyricist only.

Paul Barker: There was no talk of musical direction; everyone contributed to the songs, some more heavily than others, and we all have our styles. In the end it was a consensus.

Check out the video for “Your Crime Scene My Career”

Can you describe the writing process? What was the process of bouncing ideas off each other to finalizing the songs?

Lee Popa: Well, Chris is so talented he just went in the studio and just ripped those songs in a second. We had a lot of the music done and basically what happens in our processes, we just turn things off cause we already put the kitchen sink in there, so a lot of our producing is subtraction instead because we’ve done so much addition in the recording process.

Brian Diemar: We did this record via Dropbox and communicating on the phone. Each of us live in different areas. We all did the music and production. Chris wrote the lyrics himself. I do not use the word genius often, but Chris really is a genius with lyrics. He also has a fantastic voice! Janne Jarvis wrote the lyrics and sings on “Zero Soldiers.” He is a phenomenal singer/lyricist as well.

Toby Wright: Yes, the files were shared digitally, and since we all live in different parts of the country we passed them around with the final round coming to me to put any missing layers and then do my mix magic.

Chris Connelly: The writing process for me was straightforward. I sat down with the music and waited for the words to come, and I remember the specific day because it was the day of the Boston Marathon Bombing, which I heard about on the radio as I sat down to write…and I was outside on the street with a notebook and a pen feeling the way we all do in the immediate wake of something as terrifying as that. It certainly informed what I wrote. I don’t invite opinions about what I write, so I did not consult with anyone about it.

Paul Barker: Yes, files were shared. We did not get together to work out ideas, we simply trusted each other and some songs were radically changed and some not at all. Each person chose which songs they wanted to contribute to and so the files went around. There is compromise when you collaborate; this isn’t my record, Brian’s record, Chris’ record, or Lee’s or Toby’s.

I bought my copy from iTunes, who have it categorized as “Industrial.” Is that a term you identify with? Or would use it for classifying this EP?

Brian Diemar: I think they just used that to classify it or the “history” of the members. There are some of those aspects, but we have an alt/country track, so I do not like to classify it as one genre. There are no rules in music anymore. Like I said earlier, I believe in two genres, good and bad. Hopefully we lean toward the good genre!

Toby Wright: I agree with Brian, good and bad…….and what I said earlier about the categorization of music.  But, sure you could put it in “Industrial”.  There are certain aspects that definitely fit that mold.

Chris Connelly: I don’t care about categories, if it is called industrial then that’s fine. I have no feelings either way.

Paul Barker: “Industrial” means the same thing to me today as 30 years ago. I make the music I make and never consider what “type” it is, or how it’s interpreted. I’m not trying to sell it, it sells it.

Industrial, historically, encompasses so many different styles and artists – from Throbbing Gristle to Ministry. Do you consider it a relevant category today? 

Lee Popa: It’s funny, Paul and I were just having this conversation yesterday. We play pop music for the apocalypse. Call it what you will.

Brian Diemar: There is some good stuff still coming out in the “industrial” scene. 3Teeth is amazing. The new Go Fight record (Jim Marcus, from Die Warzau—Which we did a Bells remix for), is a great record. Electronic/industrial, but very hooky and melodic. I really do not listen to much of the industrial stuff. I am at home listening to Delta Blues and Johnny Cash.

Toby Wright: All of the categories have their relevance to those that need categories to listen to music.

Paul Barker: By process of elimination, what else could it be called? If, eons ago, someone coined the term “alloy” or “smelting,” we would be discussing the merits of falling under that word. You are right, it is an umbrella term which encompasses many different styles, some inventive, some clownish, some formulaic, just like the music in all categories.

bells into machines
Buy the new Bells into Machines Your Crime Scene EP – iTunesAmazon

It was about a year ago that a full length album was announced. Since this is only an EP, can we expect more to come? Are there any plans to tour or play select dates?

Lee Popa: Who knows what the future holds, but you know Chris is a very busy person and so is Paul and so is Toby and so is Brian, and in a real world we’d love to do all that stuff but we have to be realistic. It’s difficult at this moment. I’m in Japan with my own band pinksideofthemoon and we’re on terrestrial radio, so we juggle like it’s a circus.

Brian Diemar: A full record with new tracks and a bunch of remixes will be out early in the new year. I don’t see touring in the near future (unless someone wants to put up some serious cash!).  We would definitely love to play some festivals and one-offs.

Chris Connelly: There is certainly more material recorded, yes. As far as touring goes, I am not sure.

Paul Barker: Yes, there are more songs, and I’m sure they will see the light of day in 2018. Bells Into Machines might play some shows, but it’ll be difficult to get everyone involved to be able to do it. Anything is possible.

“Mission” fits in the with collection of songs, but is also a little bit out of left field. You may or may not agree, but can you tell me how that song came together?

Brian Diemar: It is certainly not expected with this bunch, but I think it fits! Toby and I have been writing and producing country. I absolutely love old school country and wanted to incorporate it into what we do. We had our friend Kevin Post, from Blake Shelton’s band, play the slide and banjo on it because he is a ridiculously sick player!

Toby Wright: This one was one of the songs that we felt would benefit from “other” treatment.  Most of the songs started out with all the same instrumentation, and then as things got added musically, and we all finished our parts, I would make alternate versions. This song was a good example of that and once Brian and I decided that it was definitely a better representation of the song with alternate instruments, we got our good friend Kevin Post to guest.

Chris Connelly: It came about the way they all did. When I am writing for a specific piece of music I leave myself open and let the words come to me initially, then I will maybe finesse a couple of things, but the music suggested these words, and so, out they came.

“Machine Gun Odessa” and “Wretched Little Deity” sound a bit more like what I would expect from a Paul Barker/Chris Connelly collaboration. They have a raw, industrial vibe that makes perfect sense for what a lot of listeners would probably anticipate for this project. 

Lee Popa: Thanks, I think that’s the only place I played guitar is on those tracks.

Brian Diemar: I think those are definitely closer to what some would expect from us. I think they are still more melodic, but retain a little of that “industrial” angst.

Toby Wright: Yeah, I think those two are definitely right out of Paul’s and Chris’s wheelhouse, but with that said, they are seriously accomplished musicians that can play anything that their hearts are into. The writing process was a “throw a track together, pass it around” kind of a thing and when it all came back and they were finished we all evaluated what the outcome was and I for one was pretty pleasantly surprised. I really love our body of work, and think that we all gave our all, and I think it shows!

Chris Connelly: It’s really not Paul and I’s project and I disagree, we would not make music like this together. Check out our new “MELLEKKO THE BAND” EP. I honestly just wrote words and sang them on my own with very little contact with anyone else. No one in the band lives near me, so I was left up to my own devices which I made clear going in. I don’t have time to sit in a room with a bunch of dudes trying to reinvent the wheel…I wish I did sometimes!

At what point in the writing process was a result like these songs reaffirming for what you were doing and at what point did you want to get away from that and try something different? 

Lee Popa: Personally, myself…how I see it is if Chris goes into the studio and puts on vocals, I have a responsibility to put music underneath it. “Missions,” Brian had a vision first. Rule of recording: you never give a bad idea to your friends, you give them your best ideas and a shockingly good isn’t it.

Brian Diemar: We just wrote and recorded. We did not plan or have any thoughts as to how the record should sound. Just writing from deep inside and letting it out. I can speak for all of us and say we are very proud of what we have done. I don’t think you can say it sounds like this or that. Sure, there are the influences, and where we come from, but we tried to distinguish ourselves from anything else.

Paul Barker: I always want to try something different, work with different people, and see what I come up with in different scenarios.

Chris, from a lyrical standpoint, where did you draw inspiration from? Everything is open to interpretation, of course. But, did you have any ideas about what you wanted to write/sing about? Or did you just rely on the music to dictate the direction? 

Chris Connelly: As I mentioned, The Boston Marathon bombing was the initial spark, but it happened right after I had read a lot about Russia, Chechnya and the conflict there. I guess it would be fair to say that within all of these lyrics is some kind of a struggle between people. This writing came at the tail end of a few albums I had written that were politically motivated, dealing with the plight of refugees and people being forced to flee their own countries, etc.

Paul, the process of recording has evolved immensely since the early days of Ministry to now. Certainly, several aspects have made things easier, but how has it affected you creatively? Do you still have a process of tinkering with gear, fx, etc to find new sounds? Has new technology made this easier or more difficult? 

Paul Barker:  The amount of time it takes to get things done might be faster- it’s certainly less costly, but the amount of time it takes to come up with music you want to complete hasn’t changed. So no, creatively it’s not any easier. Yes, I play with new gear, but so many times that’s just a distraction from getting the work done, and it’s been like that forever. Do you want to spend your time learning new equipment, or writing music? It is a balance.

the void report would like to thank Paul, Chris, Lee, Brian, and Toby for talking to us about their new EP. Don’t be a loser, buy it now (iTunesAmazon) and look out for more from the band in 2018. 


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