Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A World On Fire's Interview With 400 Lonely Things (Part One and Two)

Tonight of the Living DeadThis month’s giveaway prize is a signed copy of 400 Lonely Things’ Tonight of the Living Dead. This is a dark melodious journey into the zombie filled apocalypse as depicted in George Romero’s groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead. You can get a sample of this music right over here.

This is the first part of interview that will span the entire month. If you have any questions that you’d like ask 400 Lonely Things just post your comment on the facebook page, or reply to this post.

Who is 400 Lonely Things?
400 Lonely Things is just Jonathan McCall and myself (Craig Varian). We’ve been recording for over 20 years, but didn’t hit upon the name and theme of 400 Lonely Things until 2001 or 2002. The name itself was just something I’d scribbled on a pad where I would write down phrases and words that I liked. I didn’t think much of it when I first wrote it, but a few days later I realized that it described an obvious thread in our music that I’d never really noticed before: this kind of disconnected nostalgia that was equally creepy and comforting. I think we are driven by some primordial homesickness, for a feeling of belonging that seems lost, but may have never even existed in the first place. Like the phantom limb of a phantom limb.

What music has influenced 400 Lonely Things?
Because our music is extremely self-referential and introspective and private, I don’t feel that 400 Lonely Things is directly influenced much by other artists. Although a lot of what we do is sample-based, we often sample ourselves or our surroundings and when we sample other sources (like songs or films) – it’s usually to try to capture a feeling, time or association that belongs to us and not to the source material.

Do you listen to a lot of music?
Although I’ve thinned my collection of vinyl somewhat, I still have about a thousand pieces and I have a couple thousand cds boxed up somewhere in the house and am currently halfway through filling up a 160gb iPod. I listen to a lot of dub, especially Prince Far I and the Arabs and Scientist. I never get tired of Cocteau Twins’ pre-Capitol recordings. Lately I’ve been digging some of the 80’s music I loved when it was new (like Public Image Limited, Dali’s Car, Wolfgang Press, Echo and the Bunnymen) and some of the 80’s music I missed like The Sound and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I also love Ween! I’ve seen them at least six times.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
There are two artists who over the years have really come to mean a lot to me, and that’s William Basinski and Boards of Canada. I hear this same sensibility of nostalgia, homesickness, and repetition in a lot of their recordings that I feel is both a method and a thematic territory we have in common. Plus there’s just textural similarities that come from working with found sound. There’s also two albums that I couldn’t do without – David Sylvian’s “Gone To Earth” and Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works Vol II”.


What age did you get into zombies?
The first zombie movie I ever saw was Night of the Living Dead. I was probably 6 years old or so – this would have been probably 1976. I used to watch a show called Creature Feature every Saturday at 10:30am on a UHF channel in South Florida. I saw a lot of Godzilla and Gamera movies, Hammer films, Vincent Price flicks – the kind of stuff I would see in Famous Monsters of Filmland. The Amazing Colossal Man, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, The Thing – stuff like that. One weekend they showed NOTLD and I remember it being the first Creature Feature that actually scared me, and I was totally hooked on the very idea of zombies from then on. Sometime after that they showed Shock Waves and I really dug that, too.

By middle school, I was collecting magazines like Famous Monsters, Eerie and Creepy, Heavy Metal, Starlog and Fangoria and various sci-fi and horror comics. We would get the big Sunday paper every week and I’d comb through the movie section and cut out all the big Sunday ads for all the horror and sci-fi movies and tape them up on my wall. One of these movies was Dawn of the Dead (X-Rated!) and me and a friend of mine managed to con some kid / brother / cousin or something of his who was old enough to drive into taking us to a midnight showing of it. We didn’t think they’d let us in, but they did and the show was packed with a huge rowdy crowd – the movie was totally uncut and seeing that movie was a defining moment in my 11 or 12 year old life. Oh my God, that was seriously so fucking awesome. Later that year, we went again – but the version of the film they showed had all the violence cut out and we left before it was over.

What were some of your favorite zombie films and why?
One of the movie “posters” that I cut out from the newspaper was for Fulci’s Zombie. I couldn’t wait to see that. I finally saw it when it came out on VHS (which was still a new technology at the time, and the concept of renting these movies was even newer) and that movie sparked a life-long love of 70’s and 80’s Euro-trash zombie flicks, easily my favorite sub-sub-sub-genre of movies. There’s something about them that I never get tired of yet can never quite put my finger on what it is about them that I like so much…

When I was a kid, I was way into the violence and gore and these European films had it nastier than any of the others, and this quality was especially exaggerated by their poor transfer to VHS – everything was so dark and poorly cropped and it was hard to see what was going on, but what you could see was much more grimy and graphic than the bright stage-blood you’d see in something like Dawn (no disrespect to Savini).

These 70’s and 80’s Euro-zombie films are the inbred, demented little cousins of the Spaghetti Westerns I grew up on. Over the years I’ve grown to love how inept and wildly inappropriate and random they are, and how the gore in films is just so pornographically extreme and hysterical. They really are just awful and it’s so much fun. I’ve sinced owned many titles on Laserdisc and DVD and seeing them widescreen with a proper transfer has shown me that they are for the most part, very competently photographed – but they are still so incoherent and the overdubbing is just so shrill and often the actors (especially the english speaking ones) just stand there looking like they wish they could understand what the director was saying.

My favorites of these films are basically all the movies Fulci did in the few years around Zombie (Zombi 2) – House by the Cemetery, City of the Living Dead (Gates of Hell), The Beyond and also his sword and sorcery gore-epic Conquest. I also love Bruno Mattei / Vincent Dawn’s Hell of the Living Dead (Night of the Zombies) – that movie is a complete fucking riot. However, Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (The Nights of Terror) is in my opinion the single greatest achievement of mankind. It’s the perfect blend of incompetent film-making, terrible dubbing, atrocious acting, and insane screenwriting coupled with a great location, excellent zombie design (it’s like Fulci’s Zombie meets the Blind Dead) and really sickening gore. There is really just so many things wrong with this movie and twenty-something years later my friends and I still quote this movie almost every time we talk. And of course, the disturbingly delicious cherry on top of this mess is Peter Bark (shudders).

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