Paul Lemos of Controlled Bleeding interviewed about "Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps"

Published on September 11, 2016
Controlled Bleeding
Photo by Heather Bondra

“Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps” marks the first full new album since 2002 from Long Island-based experimental band Controlled Bleeding. A double album, it contains a unified set of 5 pieces (‘Larva Lumps’) as well as a set of more primal instrumentals (‘Baby Bumps’). Controlled Bleeding emerged in the late 70’s with founder Paul Lemos as the only consistent member. For much of their career, the group was rounded out by Chris Moriarty and Joe Papa, both of whom have since passed away. Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps emerged from Lemos solidifying relationships with new collaborators, again taking Controlled Bleeding into new musical directions. In a phone interview, Lemos discussed the new album and Controlled Bleeding’s long career.

It’s been a while since there was a full new Controlled Bleeding album. What factors inspired you to return now with “Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps”?

“I don’t feel that I ever really stopped working on Controlled Bleeding music. I would always take long breaks, to find my bearings again. Because you start getting into a rut, and you start playing the same things. Sometimes by leaving it, you find new inspirations. I’d been doing different projects, such as compiling different archival things. For example, there was a box called ‘Songs from the Sewer of Dreams’ that came out in Germany, and that had one side of completely new music on it. And then ‘Odes to Bubbler’ had new work on it. So it’s been coming out in a more fragmented fashion. The inspiration, I suppose, is just kind of solidifying a relationship with two new collaborators and being inspired again by their input. This is a new record, but some of the music dates back five years ago.”

Was it always intended as a double album?

“Originally, I was going to release it with another, smaller experimental label. We’d been talking about doing it for a long time, and I guess I dragged my feet. But I had the conception that I wanted it to be a double album. I wanted it to be one album of the new work—5 pieces that were developed as a unified suite of material. That one is ‘Lava Lumps,’ and the other, ‘Baby Bumps,’ was to be a session that we’d done with Martin Bisi that was never released. I’d been sitting on it, and wanted it to be documented as a bonus CD. The label I was working with was great, but unfortunately they didn’t have the time or money to invest in doing it as I conceived it. So when I started talking to Storming the Base, they seemed receptive to the idea so we decided to run with it.”

Do you feel that digital distribution changes the nature of a ‘double album’?

“It’s very frustrating, because my brain is absolutely in physical music. I never download anything. I don’t think about a digital release, but I’m sure a digital release outsells the hardcopy these days. With this album, I see the discs as two separate entities. I don’t want it lumped together as 16 tracks to become this massive body of music. So I’m still thinking of it as 2 separate albums within one package. It is frustrating, though, to have to think digitally.”

Some established bands have actually done physical-only releases recently. For example, the most recent Rasputina and Pop Will Eat Itself albums were not released to digital music stores. Did you consider doing that?

“First of all, I really wasn’t aware of that. I thought it was the opposite, where it was just digital releases and no hard copy. I didn’t know it worked the other way. It didn’t even occur to me, and I figured that if Storming the Base was going to release the record and invest in the record, they’d want to be able to sell it in as many formats as they could. Aesthetically, it would be nice to just have it as a hard copy, but then I think I’m really limiting myself in terms of the people who could access the music. I’d like to offer it to as many people as possible who would like to hear it.”

The Controlled Bleeding lineup has rotated quite a bit over the years. How has working with different people affected your approach to music?

“It’s always had a massive effect because you feed off the energy of your collaborators. I’ve done a lot of music and a lot of Controlled Bleeding releases as solo recordings. It’s hard to get out of my typical music orientation. But when I’m working with someone else, I feed off their aesthetics. The problem is finding someone whose aesthetics can balance your own. That’s the tough part. With Chvad SB and Mike Bazini, the two guys I’ve been doing a lot of collaborating with, we’ve been able to channel our energies in a very passionate way. I generally tend to make very aggressive music; a lot of times that’s just where I’m going. They are able to temper it a bit. Like with Joe Papa and Chris Moriarty before they died—that was such a fruitful collaboration, mainly because we had such completely different musical interests.“

Will you be performing live in support of the new album? If so, what can we expect in terms of material? Will you be performing music from both discs?

“When it comes to live performance, it’s a strange thing because it’s always been so much of a studio project that playing live seems to me to be such a completely different entity. I’m starting to formulate an idea of playing with a 5-piece. We’re starting to rehearse, and I don’t know what it’s going to be. It’s a tough question. We’re just going to start playing absolutely new things, improvising, and then maybe we’ll see what we might want to do from the record. But we probably won’t play anything live from ‘Lava Lumps.’ That would be hard to reproduce on stage. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. We’ve been talking about maybe even going back to some of the Wax Trax! material and playing some of the older songs and digging into the vault a little bit.”

During the Wax Trax!/Roadrunner years, you’d been categorized as part of the “industrial” scene. What were your feelings on that?

I’ve never really related to any scene. I really don’t like it when the music Joe and I did is lumped into a gothic category. Getting packaged onto cheesy-looking gothic compilation always bothered me. I never think about categorization or scenes when I’m working. I’m not part of any of it. I wouldn’t even know what the industrial scene is today, and I never liked being lumped into being a Wax Trax! band. I always thought we were kind of outside of that. It’s strange because the music has morphed and ended up on labels that were appropriate for it, but I’ve never slotted into a categorization. I let other people do that.”

But there were people who would go out and buy anything Wax Trax! put out, so I’m sure you reached new audiences by being associated with it.

“Oh, lots and lots of people. It’s a funny thing, because the origins of the recorded music go back to very severe noise and Broken Flag, which is kind of a renowned noise label, an early noise label. That’s really where our origins are, so I would imagine that it’s strange for people who like the early music to have seen us morph into something much softer and rhythmic. They might perceive Wax Trax! as getting more commercial. People who discovered us with Wax Trax! often despise the early music and maybe even despise the later music. I think we draw people from various camps over the course of time. I don’t see that the music we’re doing with the new record has any real relationship to Wax Trax! music or the Broken Flag music except that maybe there is a deep-seated aggression in it.”

When you start new music, do you usually have a clear sense as to what you want to do, perhaps in relation to previous work? Or does it just organically evolve?

“It’s very much an organic thing. Consciously, I’ve never said, ‘Well, we’ve done that before so let’s do something different.’ Sometimes you’re really inspired by music you’ve been sitting with and listening to. For instance, over the past several years, I’ve been listening to a lot of free jazz and a lot of harsh aggressive structured music. Even some really early fusion. I think that comes through in the recordings. I see traces of it in the new record. It’s always a case of what feels right at the moment. Sometimes you begin with a certain bassline and it might just be this grimy, horrible blown-out thing. I start kind of painting sound around it until I find the orientation for the song.”

How have you been affected by the evolution of musical technology over the years?

“It’s been really hard for me, because I’m an idiot when it comes to modern technology. I’m a complete Luddite. I don’t digitally record, so I have an old analog studio, and it’s very hard for me to be able to work with other people in that studio. Even getting recording tape for my machine has become an impossibility. So I’ve been recording in other people’s studios and losing control of music that I would normally record myself. It’s interesting because it’s forced me into a different environment. Some of the music on ‘Lava Lumps’ could never have been done in my own studio. Chvad, who I worked with on Protools, has so many different editing and sound possibilities that I could never approach. With his production work, he’s allowed me to create something that I would imagine but couldn’t create in my analog studio. So it’s been really fun and illuminating, but in the same token it’s been a little bit frustrating because I lose control of how I would mix things and the hands-on process that I’m used to. I’m not used to mousing every move that I make. I’m used to faders and hitting things hard in the mix.”

How much time did you devote to Controlled Bleeding? You’re also a teacher, correct?

“Yeah, I’ve been teaching high school English for 35 years. Recently, I have not been dedicating a lot of time to musical activity. In the past couple of years, I’ve been pushing it a little bit more. After Joe and Chris passed away, or even before that, I’d become very lethargic and was not putting a lot of time into it. And I really regret not putting time into it before Joe Papa passed away because we had talked every week about getting together to record new work. We were supposed to do a project with Tatsuya Yoshida, the drummer from Ruins. We never actually did it because he passed away before we got our asses up and recorded. So I don’t know; it’s that lethargy that always hurts me. And there is no question that working full-time partly causes it. Being a teacher and grading essays every week takes an inordinate amount of time. It’s hard to balance, and sometimes I depend on my collaborators to motivate me and push me to get going again.”

Are your students aware of your music?

“They see a lot of stuff on the internet. They ask me questions about it, and I’ll talk to them about it, but I don’t want it clashing with what I do in class. For them, it’s so removed from most of the things that they relate to and appreciate that they lose interest pretty fast. If they listen to it on Pandora or wherever they access music, they think it’s kind of strange. But I guess they’re fascinated by it. I keep it out of my job at school as much as I can, though.”

You said you prefer physical releases of music, but what do you think about online distribution and streaming making it easier for listeners to find your past music?

“I think it’s good and bad. I think it’s great that people have access to so much, to things they’d have to pay ridiculous amounts of money for on eBay, being able to access some kind of ancient cassette track that I didn’t even know existed. It’s fascinating the amount of material that people can access. But that’s also the problem; it’s a real catch 22. It dilutes everything; there’s so much. It’s this massive flood and I don’t think people are able to savor any particular album. I know when I was younger, an album would come out that I had waited for, and I’d sit with that record and really ingest it. It seems so disposable to me today.”

You’ve released music on many different labels. Would you have preferred to have a steady label throughout your career, or have you intentionally tried to work with different people?

“I just think that partially I’ve been such a lousy businessman and so non career-oriented when it came to music that probably I wasn’t the best investment for one stable label. And also, my creative interests were diverse. So if I were to work with Wax Trax!, they would be interested in putting certain music out, but I’d have other music they wouldn’t be interested in at all. It forced me to interact with labels that dealt with different musical aesthetics so that I had more of an outlet. In doing that, though, I think you split your audience up and confuse people. They don’t know what they are going to be getting at any given point when a release comes out.

Getting back to the new album, could you elaborate a bit more about the ‘Baby Bumps’ sessions?

“My drummer, Tony Meloa, was someone I’d worked with back when I was a kid in college, in the first lineup of Controlled Bleeding. He was the drummer and we played places like CBGBs, opening up for Suicide and stuff like that. I hadn’t worked with him for years and years. Then when Joe and Chris passed away, he and I started working together again, and it was a really vital combination, just drums and guitar, and it worked. We decided to make this our band, and it might have been foolish to call it Controlled Bleeding because it really had so little similarity to what we had done in the past 20 years. But it became a serious project for us, and one day Mike Bazini, who was playing keyboards with us, invited us to go to Martin Bisi’s studio. He was friends with Martin. It was just a live recording. Martin didn’t produce it; he just engineered. We played live for 3 or 4 hours in a brutally hot studio. Some of the pieces were really stirring, and we thought of maybe issuing them as a separate CD entirely quite a while ago, but the project just never happened. So I wanted to make the session available. Some of those pieces were on ‘Odes to Bubbler.’ It’s kind of strange, because ‘Odes to Bubbler’ wasn’t meant to be an official release. It was just supposed to be online, so I didn’t include what I thought were the highlights of the session. I kind of regretted it, because ‘Odes to Bubbler’ became a CD, and the best parts of those sessions didn’t surface on it.”

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