Mike Scalzi Discusses Science Fiction Concepts On New Album
There is a certain irony in publishing an article on the World Wide Web discussing man's ruin via technology. It's hard to refute Mike Scalzi's point, though. Slough Feg's founding member conceived the central idea pertaining to his latest release "Digital Resistance" (released last week, February 18th on Metal Blade Records) while observing his students lose mental capacities due to obsessive cell phone use. Technology can be a crutch for us to lean on, if taken away, we lose the ability to perform certain functions (such as math and retention). Today, technology advances at such a rate that can prove confusing and frustrating, especially to those not accustomed to change.
Sci Fi and fantasy aren't exactly new influences in the realms of metal, but easier to notice through Slough Feg's eccentric sound. Their music contains a familiarity to band's like Queen, but done with circus organs and primal percussion. Slough Feg albums are humorous in some instances, while gravely serious in others. You don't believe me, just read Scalzi's thoughts in the following interview as he expresses some of the ideas held within "Digital Resistance."
Rex_84: How do you feel about your new album "Digital Resistance?"
Mike Scalzi: I like it and I listen to it a lot, but I'm sick of it already. I've been in the studio forever. I get sick of all my records before they come out because I listen to them too many times. I have to work on them far too long. I don't know what happened, beside the fact that I wanted to finish it really badly and I did. (Laughs) I've done too many of them, man! It's another record I did that I tried to write good songs. I was excited about a lot of the songs¬--playing organ. Writing lyrics is a real pain in the ass, so I wrote about what I was thinking about, which is kids staring at their cell phone. It's kind of an Orwellian concept, nothing too original. It's your basic '50s Sci Fi, techno-fear kind of thing. There isn't much besides that being said. It's a fantasy that has become a reality. People's brains are getting very flabby, stupid and not having original thoughts. This is going on, a lot! Once you get out of places like San Francisco and Austin you'll see people's whose minds are just melted.
Rex_84: Was this something you noticed as a professor?
Scalzi: That's one thing I can say that influenced me. That reality, yeah. See, kids over the last ten years, I've been teaching seven years and before that I was in school, I've seen their minds go. Everything I used to know as a young person seems to be gone. They still listen to rock music, even some of the old rock music and still wear some of the same clothes, but it's very different mindset. There is another theme. It's not just about technology, it's about getting old in general.
Rex_84: Resistance to change?
Scalzi: Yeah, there are a lot of songs on the record like "Magic Hooligan" and the last song, "Warrior's Dusk" that have a sadness: you're not a kid anymore. You can't just play Cowboys and Indians in the backyard. Even in your twenties, what are you doing? Running around partying and playing in metal bands. It's the same thing: you're just playing. And it's over. You can do that. You're a person in your forties. Everybody else has mortgages they have to pay. Some of the record is about not wanting to grow up as a middle-age person. Also, it's about looking at the kids and knowing you have nothing in common with the current young generation, yet feeling you have nothing in common with your own generation. It's a feeling of alienation. What's to blame--technology, the generation, people growing up? Kids now staring at their cell phones all day and becoming these sort of drone/clones, cyborgs that can't think for their selves, and people from my generation getting older and not caring about what they used to, becoming dull, weird, suburban people. Everybody is gone.
Rex_84: Speaking of the resistance to change, you wrote the song "Luddite." I did a bit of research because I wasn't familiar with that movement and the historical significance of it. Does that fit into the same idea you mentioned of resisting change?
Scalzi: Yeah, absolutely, although I don’t use it in the historical sense. They were a group from around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Right?
Scalzi: They were people who thought it was going to mess everything up and it did! There is some historical significance, but it’s also used to describe your basic techno phobic—can’t deal with technology, doesn't get it or doesn't like it. There is also some philosophy in it like Existentialists like Heidegger. The German philosopher Heidegger said pretty soon we’re going to get to the point where our identities are not what they were. He wrote a book that said technology is going to take over our consciousness in a way, no computer chips in our brain—this was written in the early 1900s—but in the way technology influences the social world and the way technology influences that—ourselves are being altered so much that we’ll never get back to being the same creatures that we were like in the Nineteenth Century. He said this. He said he was scared of it. Shit man, he became a member of the Nazi party. That’s part of it because he wanted to get back to the soil. There are Socialist Nazi concepts like that look to the Teutonic, peasant lifestyle, being isolated from the rest of the world. I don’t care about that, but I understand the point that technology changes us in a way, in such increments, that we don’t even notice it in the generation of today compared to when I was that age. It’s so much different in ways we don’t even recognize.
Rex_84: Some, like Ray Kurzweil want to merge the man’s consciousness with the machine. Kurzweil is a genius who invented many things, but he is part of the Transhumanist movement. Do you think that’s going to happen?
Scalzi: Any Science Fiction fan would say I don’t want to merge with the machines. I think it’s kind of interesting. He’s consciously saying he wants to do that, but I think it’s happening anyway to people without them knowing it. How long is it going to be? How many years until the cell phone is not something you actually hold in your hand until it’s chipped in your brain. Not that they are going to force someone to do that. They are going to put it in your brain. Not that they are going to force someone to do that. The interface between the nervous system and digital technology will take a long time. It will happen eventually, but that’s a long shot, but I think having computing capabilities in your body will happen quickly. That doesn’t even matter. It’s the psychological aspect is fucking people up. In order to retain information you have to use your memory. You have to use it or lose it. They are losing it because they don’t have to use it.
Rex_84: Jacque Fresco started the Venus Project. He wants a future where all the robots do everything for us. We don’t have to do anything (work), that way we can spend our time doing whatever we want.
Scalzi: Which is what, though? What do we want? So we don’t want to cook food or exercise and move our bodies around. We don’t want to be engaged in each other. What is it that we need the robots to do so badly is what I want to know. Are we going to clean our own houses? What are we going to do if the robots are doing all that stuff? What the hell are we doing? Isn't surviving what life is? We’ll be developing more technology so the robots will do more for us. What the fuck…I don’t understand that, man! What do human beings do? They survive. That’s the point. Yes, it’s a vicious circle. There is no point to it, but that’s the way it is. Maybe I should just move out into the woods and chop wood all the time. Even worse, go out in a loin cloth and hunt fish with a spear. That might be more satisfying than sitting in front of a computer all the time. I could do that, but I don’t.
Rex_84: You mention killing technology in a couple of places. Was that (Voivod) album in your head when you created “Digital Resistance?”
Scalzi: I have that record. I just use other names…it’s relevant, so fuck it! I’ll just throw it in there.
Rex_84: Is it similar lyrically?
Scalzi: They are talking about technology killing people. This is about people trying to kill technology.
Rex_84: So the technology doesn't kill people?
Scalzi: Yeah, basically. You’re probably thinking I’m just writing lyrics.
Rex_84: No, I find the concept intriguing. One thing about the album that’s interesting is the album art that features Romulus and Remus. Can you tell us a little about that?
Scalzi: We had talked about what we wanted on the album cover. That’s always an issue. It’s a big pain in the ass. You have to tell some artist your idea and hope they render it the way you want it. With a metal album there is always a fear that the art will look cheesy, too commercial or too slick. I didn't want that. I was like, “fuck, we need an image, a very strong, iconic image!" It’s always up to me. People aren't very assertive or come up with ideas that are very good. I was just thinking about it one day. We were talking to the label about it and they said the strongest image we have is from “Traveler” that wolf, space dog. I thought that image was really silly, but that’s ok because we’re pretty silly. Then I thought, the traveler dog in another environment. We’ll have the wolf as Remus and Romulus because that’s a really powerful image. Instead of the space dog, it would be a space wolf sucking on the teats of technology. It’s like a cell phone mother they’re hooked up to by umbilical chords. When the artist tried to do that, it didn’t look very good, so I said fuck it! Just do Romulus and Remus in some destroyed civilization. It’s a very vague reference to what the album is about. It’s sort of mysterious. That’s good, I guess. I wanted a civilization in ruins much like the Kiss cover of “Destroyer.” It’s this purplish background and the sky is red in this destroyed city. Instead of having the band stand there, have Romulus and Remus.
Rex_84: The first track "Analogue Avengers / Bertrand Russell's Sex Den" references Bertrand Russell. He had a different view point on sex for the times. What is this track about?
Scalzi: That's me knowing he had weird ideas about sex, weird sexual things with his graduate students. I haven't had the opportunity to experience that (laughs). Really, the best explanation for that song is it came up as a joke talking to these guys about Bertrand Russell, Bertrand Russell sex. I don't know, the fact that he was involved in these various sex things. It's really supposed to be a heavy metal version of "Don't Stand So Close To Me." That's about as close to a description I can come up with for this song (laughs).
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