KILL YOUR FRIENDS marks the solo debut of Douglas J. McCarthy, a founder of pioneering British electronic band Nitzer Ebb. Maintaining the mix of aggressive dance energy and melodic hooks that Nitzer Ebb have come to be known for, Douglas drew from a wide range of musical influences from his ‘teens till now’ in order to give his solo material a sound of its own. He started work on it during the most recent Nitzer Ebb tour before finishing it in Los Angeles with Cyrus Rex and Producer/DJ Mark Bell. In the following interview, Douglas discusses the making of the album, Nitzer Ebb, and more.
Your bio says that you started writing the album while on tour and it was completed over a two year period. Could you describe the process a bit? For example, were you focusing on lyrics or also doing initial arranging/sequencing? How complete were the songs when you entered the studio?
Douglas J. McCarthy: I started thinking about the direction I wanted to take with this album whilst still on tour with Nitzer Ebb, namely, more dance/cub orientated. I wanted to try and capture the atmosphere of 80’s and 90’s electronic music without being a pastiche. In between chunks of touring I started writing some basic grooves and basslines mostly using NATIVE INSTRUMENT’s MASCHINE. Then my wife asked me to be involved in an art event called SONIC HORTICULTURE in The Netherlands and Berlin so I fleshed out 4 of my basic ideas and played them live without any vocals. 3 of those 4 tracks actually appeared on the album pretty much as they were but with vocals. I continued writing in this way throughout the process either with Maschine or Logic, sometimes very simple sometimes more “finished” but I would essentially work on the music first then approach the vocals.
Are there tracks that you feel were particularly influenced by where you were when you started writing them?
DJM: not really actual tracks, more the vibe, or my memory of the vibe for each “era” I had in mind. So for ‘The Last Time’ I was thinking very much 80’s New York B-boy but also, say, the British interpretations – Cabaret Voltaire, New Order or Malcom MacLaren for instance.
Was this material conceived from the start as being for a solo release, or was there initially the possibility of it being used for Nitzer Ebb?
DJM: yes, absolutely for my solo project.
You’d left the music industry for a while – are you currently focusing on music full- time?
DJM: I am, well, unless I don’t sell enough of KILL YOUR FRIENDS I am anyway! Hahaha!
Had you considered doing a solo album in the past?
DJM: I have always written songs but either they have appeared on NE releases or they were just for fun, this was the first very conscious decision to put my name forward and central as a solo artist.
When you first started with Nitzer Ebb, the electronic musical technology was much more limited than it is today, making it necessary to creatively work within the confines of available gear. How has the evolution of the technology affected your creative process, both with the later Nitzer Ebb material and your solo album?
DJM: Immensely. It is difficult to fathom (even for me and I was there!) how different the musical and technological landscape was in 1982 when we first started writing and recording. I guess the biggest single change is freedom. The freedom to make music pretty much anywhere at any time and it still for the most part be of the same quality, or sit with a complex Eurorack modular system but running untold passes straight to disk and not worrying about how much tape you’re using etc. Having said that, that very same freedom can generate pretty generic sounds so the basic approach has and never will change – good song, good parts interesting sounds. As Alan Wilder once very helpfully said after critiquing an effort from myself and Bon, “yeah, all we need now are the sounds and the parts”.
While “Kill Your Friends” does have its own identity, the sound doesn’t stray too far from the last Nitzer Ebb release, “Industrial Complex.” Were you giving any conscious thought as to how you wanted it to sound compared to Nitzer Ebb, or were you just open to whatever emerged with the material and collaborators?
DJM: I was very much concerned with making the album sound as “electronic” as possible – little or no guitar etc – so I suspect that gives the air of some of the NE sound but I had made no conscious effort to do so. There is also the fact that my memory of musical influences are closely tied to NE’s so again, not a surprise if there is a crossover.
What are your general thoughts on the changes the music industry has undergone in recent years, as it relates to launching this solo album? For example, while the internet makes it easy to reach out to Nitzer Ebb fans, does the amount of music out there make it a challenge to reach out to new audiences?
DJM: It is a crowded market and even saying market makes it sound as if there is some kind of actual selling going on. I am fortunate that there is a very loyal fan base for NE and now my own solo work. They are extremely aware of the real effects of supporting artists that you like. Things are much quicker than they used to be – people’s attention span has suffered with the internet for sure – but we try to keep a steady flow of things to keep and gain peoples interest.
What made you call the album “Kill Your Friends”?
DJM: The full title, originally, was LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, KILL YOUR FRIENDS. A title that came about through a conversation my wife where having about some people we know who are more than a little erratic and unstable. It was meant as a comical play on the old adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, just us being silly. In the end I thought KILL YOUR FRIENDS sounded punchier and it was easier to do the artwork!
Are you planning on touring to support the album? If so, any idea when and what the live line-up will be?
DJM: Yes, indeed we are. It will be a very minimal setup with Cyrus Rex twiddling knobs on a compact modular system and Jeff Smith playing a couple of keyboards, probably a Moog Little Phatty and a Prophet ’08 with a bunch of effects. We are aiming on NOT having a laptop on stage and instead running all the sequences from an Elektron Octatrack. I’ll be up front pointing and shouting.
You’ve been part of many musical collaborations over the years – have you been involved with anything else recently?
DJM: Yes I have a few that I’ve started, finished and have plans for: KING BRITT; KENNETH JAMES GIBSON’S REVERSE COMMUTER; NICOLE from ADULT; SANNON FUNCHESS from LIGHT ASYLUM are a few that come to mind.
KILL YOUR FRIENDS is out on February 18 and is currently available for pre-order on iTunes. Vinyl and CD copies can be ordered from pylonrecords.com. For more info, and to hear more of the album, visit douglasjmccarthy.com.