Influenced by the early Wax Trax! music, Eric Powell launched industrial/rock band 16volt in the early 90s and put out a string of acclaimed albums. 16volt went on hiatus after their 2011 “Beating Dead Horses” album, with Powell shifting his focus to another project, Black December. But now he’s back with a new, self-released 16volt album, “The Negative Space.” In a phone interview, Powell discussed the return of 16volt.
You’d stopped doing music at 16volt at one point. What made you return to it?
“Yeah. I kind of took a little break from it. The last record we put out was in 2012. We were faced with a lot of frustrations with that record, especially around our label that we were on. We tried to do something a bit different with the side project called Black December, but we kind of found ourselves in the same position with the label. That was a dumb move on our part. Ultimately, I just needed a break from 16Volt, and I got that out of my system and came right back to it.”
This new album is self-released. How is it different not being on a label?
“By self-releasing, we took all the control as well as the responsibility. We were able to do an Indiegogo campaign and had a lot of fans who were generous and gracious and helped us out. We were able to take a lot of time to make the record. There was no scheduled release date; there was no budget cap. We were able to go in there and take our time and have a lot of fun doing it. Not that previously the label was ever breathing down our neck or anything like that, but there would ultimately be a cap on the budget. Doing it ourselves made it feel a little bit freer. It broke us out of the regular process and made it feel more exciting, like we were moving into uncharted territory. In this way we were ultimately accountable directly to our fans, rather than in a sort of passive way. I think that was really exciting.”
Without a set budget and schedule, did you ever feel that there was a danger of not knowing when to stop?
“We had extra time, but we certainly weren’t using that time for its own sake. It never felt rushed; it was always sort of like the appropriate amount of time. It allowed us to do things like play around in the studio. Some of the songs that are on the new record were really written in the studio, which is a really different experience for us.”
Did you post any works-in-progress to your Indiegogo supporters? If so, did fan feedback shape the final album at all?
“We did a little bit of stuff, but we were really protective of it. Until the whole thing was done, there were only a couple of people who heard it. We were releasing some snippets as we were making things, but if anything, it was more just encouragement rather than direction. “
At this point, are you set on staying independent, or would you consider releasing on a label again?
“We would certainly welcome a good situation. Ultimately, we just want to be able to do what we feel we can do. When the label is holding you back from that, it kind of sucks. So for us, if we could get into a good situation with a label, sure, why not. Anything we can do to keep doing what we’re doing and get out there and play.
The flow of the album seems really good. Did you put a lot of thought into the song sequence?
“We did. I wouldn’t say we were over the top about it. We just felt it was a nice progression. It starts off a little more reminiscent of our older stuff, and a little more ‘industrial.’ The first song is almost like a marriage of our rock sound and industrial sound. We felt like the pacing was right. It starts off a little more heavy and then it goes into more melodic and calm sort of stuff and finishes up with fast-driving stuff. But we probably talked about the album sequencing in total for only 3 or 4 hours. There was no real science to it, other than just how it felt to us.”
Did you work with other musicians, and if so, what was the line-up?
“Mostly it was Marc Jordan, who produced the record and co-wrote some of the stuff with me. Then we had a few musicians come in, which was great. But 95% of the work was done by Marc and me.”
Do you feel that you had a consistent creative/working process throughout the album?
“This one was really interesting in that way. It was sort of all over the place. I had some older demo stuff that we mixed in with it. One of my favorites, ‘The Greatest Worst Thing Ever,’ was written in the studio. I was playing around with one of the Malekko delay pedals, playing guitar. We recorded the basis for that song in one take and built everything on top of it. That took a total of 2 days. And there are other things on the record that involved a lot more editing and breaking things apart, restructuring. We approached each song as an idea and let it dictate what it needed.”
Are you planning on touring to support the album?
“Our plan is to get out and tour as much as we can next year. So right now we’re figuring out what we want to do and how we’re going to do it. Our hope was to be out this year, but things are getting late, and the record took longer than expected. We want to do it right, and we want to do it well, so we’d rather wait a few more months and make sure it’s the right thing. I’d love to get over to Europe as well; that is something we’ve never done. It’s almost a must do for us this time.”
How do you feel the evolution of technology has affected the way you work?
“There is convenience and also speed. And it is more global now. We can do things now that we used to have to sit in a room to do from anywhere. We can do rough mixes while sitting in an airplane traveling somewhere. I can record production level guitars that end up as the final guitars in the recording in my home studio. Things have just gotten a lot easier. But for me at least, for things to be audiophile quality, you have to eventually go somewhere that has the really great old mics and a nice old mixing board, just to get that sound.
“But I also feel like it sucks in a way, too. We do all this work to make this thing absolutely beautiful sonically, and then people download it as mp3s. But who knows, someday maybe people will come back. That’s why on our digital downloads we have 3 formats, one of which is high def audio, 96k, straight off of mastering with no compression whatsoever. We’ve sold a few of those, so that’s great. Some people love it.”
Many artists now are breaking away from the album format and releasing more individual songs or EPs. Have you considered doing that?
“We thought about that, and I’m not closed down to doing that in the future. Just for me, as a fan of music, I love albums. Maybe it’s pretentious, but to me songs are a moment in time that are captured. If they are true and real and from the heart, one snapshot doesn’t necessarily cover the spectrum. For me, an album is a collection of different things that happen in a period of time, and I feel that one song sort of feels cheap to me. To keep people’s attention nowadays, there is definitely a model for releasing a single and then another one in 2 months. So it’s not something we’re closed off to; it’s just that for us we wanted this to be an album.”
16Volt has been around for over 20 years now. What are your thoughts on the evolution and response to this style of music over the years?
“If you look at the bands who started doing this sound in the very beginning, it was a pretty small handful. Really, there was only one label that was paying attention to it and saying ‘Hey, this is its own thing.’ That was Re-Constriction Records. I think for a lot us, there was the early Wax Trax! stuff that we all fell in love with. You may have come from a metal background or a punk background or whatever, and we just sort of mixed that in. In that timeframe, I think we were doing it more so than any of the Wax Trax! bands were. We had those same elements and instrumentation, but we were adding a lot more rock into it.
“In the early days, at least that I can remember, the only band that was really doing that might have been Nine Inch Nails. It wasn’t calculated. It’s sort of a sub-genre maybe or a style of industrial rock that never really got its day in the limelight. I think it’s always struggled. It’s interesting because I think when people hear it, they might be taken aback by it at first, but the more they listen, the more they like it. In this genre, we have a lot more people who love what we do than we have haters. It’s just never got its proper push. It’s evolved, and there have been bands who came out and had the right package together and got more into the spotlight, but they have sort of come and gone. I’ve always just hoped that it would pick up. It’s sort of a peripheral hope. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing no matter what. Of course it’s a lot more fun to play a show where there are 10,000 people than when there are, you know, 10.”
For more info on 16volt, visit 16volt.com.