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Wa -- Conner

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A conversation with Assemblage 23 main man Tom Shear.
By Wa -- Conner   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, January 07, 2005
Posted: Friday, January 07, 2005

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Back from a grueling European tour of 18 shows in 21 days, Tom Shear, the introspective giant behind Assemblage 23, prepares an even more grueling tour this March/ April in the U.S., in support of their 5th studio album, STORM, released in the fall of 2004.

Assemblage 23

Interview with composer/vocalist Tom Shear

by Wa


Back from a grueling European tour of 18 shows in 21 days, Tom Shear, the introspective giant behind Assemblage 23, prepares an even more grueling tour this March/ April in the U.S., in support of their 5th studio album, STORM, released  in the fall of 2004.

Assemblage 23 was born after Shear attended what would later be credited as a seminal 1988 Depeche Mode concert. A true diehard and devoted fan of the punk DIY movement, he willingly put forth years of blood, sweat and tears before his creative efforts paid dividends with the club favorite "Purgatory" from his 1999 album CONTEMPT. Because of his sincere commitment to remain true to himself and the type of music he wanted to create, heís become a constant fixture on the goth/electronic scene. We were able to catch up with him and learn more about his unique perception of the world, music, and Assemblage 23.

Now that you are finally on an agreeable label (Metropolis Records), what are the greatest challenges you face as a musician these days?

Iím my own toughest critic, so with each album, I feel like I sort of have to outdo myself in some way or other from the previous album..

What things ignite your creative passion? Do you have a muse?

For me, the music is a muse in itself. Writing for me is incredibly rewarding, so its seeking out a new melody, or finding words to express an experience Iíve had... that drives me. It also lets me blow off steam and get the more negative feelings out of my system instead of leaving pent up inside, which is motivation enough in itself.

From your perspective how does STORM differ from DEFIANCE?

I think theyíre very different albums. Defiance was a bit more of a somber album, whereas I think a lot of the songs on Storm are almost optimistic. The tempos are obviously a lot higher on Storm, and the drums are mixed much more prominently, so itís a much easier album to dance to. The sound palette is a bit different... There are a lot more metallic type synth sounds on Storm... The drum sounds are edgier. But I think most noticeably, Storm is much more layered... Thereís a lot more going on in the tracks than there was with Defiance, both instrumentally and vocally.

Were there any unexpected challenges or surprises you encountered while recording STORM?

Mixing it was tough because there was so much more going on that there were a lot of individual parts competing for the same space... The chorus of ĎGroundí alone has about a dozen or so synth-lines going on at once, and mixing something like that obviously takes a lot more time and effort.

How long did it take from conception through mixing and mastering to assemble STORM?

About 2 years. More of the work was done toward the end, as obviously there was touring for Defiance and other stuff that kept me out of the studio, but the writing began almost immediately after Defiance was completed.

Congratulations on "Let the Wind Erase Me" appearing on the Billboard Hot Dance singles chart earlier this year. Was that the first time that a song of yours had achieved this honor, and how did you feel about it? Were there mixed feelings?

It was pretty cool, but honestly, I didnít think about it too much. I think the single just happened to come out at a time where there werenít a lot of new dance singles being released, so we made it onto the charts. Itís in no way an indicator that somehow A23 is appealing to a mainstream audience, it was just a fluke really.

How do you feel about digital music distribution? Are you a Vinyl/CD person or an Apple iPod person?

Iím a CD person. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to be able to hold the case in my hand and read the liner notes... Look at the artwork and that sort of stuff while Iím listening. Not to mention MP3 just doesnít sound as good. As far as digital music distribution... I have mixed feelings about it. I think itís inevitable that we are moving towards a time where this will be a major way that people buy their music but, for the time being... it is too easy for people to simply bootleg stuff for free and most people arenít going to buy something they can get for free. Even a lot of the Ďpay for downloadí sites arenít legit either. I found some site based in Russia that was selling pretty much the entire Metropolis catalog which they were selling without my consent and without Metropolis getting a dime. There was a pretty major Ďlegití site in the US that was doing the same thing. So I think there are a LOT of thorny legal issues that need to be sorted out in order for digital music distribution to be truly viable.

Who or what is spinning in your collection recently?

Tim Wright is someone Iíve been listening a lot this year. Heís on Novamute records and does hard house type stuff with elements of jungle, d ní b, acid, and just about everything mixed in. And of course I have to give a plug to backandtotheleft (, a band I produced and released their album Obsolete on my own label (23db) this fall.

What dream person or group would you like to work with most and in what context?

I really donít like collaborating, to be honest. I donít like having to compromise and in collaboration, compromise is inevitable. Iíd much rather watch a producer I really admire, like Flood, and see what things I could learn....

Your favorite curse word?

(laughs) Fucktard. (laughs harder)

Any favorite books you are or have read recently? Favorite authors?

Chuck Palahniuk is probably my favorite author. His writing style is so interesting that itís very difficult to stop reading one of his books once you start. Heís just put out some new books, so Iím hoping to pick those up soon.

Dimebag Darrell, formerly the guitarist with Pantera was recently gunned down while performing on stage. Has there ever been a time when you actually feared for your life while performing live?

Not really. I mean, every now and then you meet a fan who is a little bit separated from reality and takes things a bit too far, but I think those types of people are rare. That was a terrible event though... And so completely senseless. At least he died doing what he loved.

What are your thoughts and feelings regarding what seems to be an increased levels of violence exhibited by audiences at live performances?

Iíve never experienced it myself. I mean, yeah, every now and then a mosh pit will break out or something, but itís all in good fun. I donít know... I donít think there IS an increased level of violence. Every now and then, something terrible happens, but even in the 60ís there were things like Altamont... I think we are just more tuned into them now because news is so much more readily available, through the internet, etc.

From your extensive experience, what advice or warnings would you give to the musician out there who dreams and aspires to make music their primary profession?

"Donít get your hopes up." Not being discouraging, just realistic. Iíve found that people have some huge misconceptions about this scene and how big it is. The number of artists in this scene who are able to make a living from it is miniscule... less than 5% probably So if your motivation is to Ďget on Metropolisí and become a big star, you might want to reevaluate your reasons for doing music. Do music because you love it. Do music because it makes you happy. If you go into it thinking "Iím going to get rich and have the phattest studio in the world", I guarantee you disappointment. If you stay true to your reasons for making music and do it because you enjoy it, you can never be disappointed whether 10 people buy your album or 10,000.

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