Interview with Matthew Setzer: All you ever wanted to know and then some more

 

With work for bands like London After Midnight, Skinny Puppy and ohGr, Kanga, Indradevi, and even more under his belt, Matthew Setzer has shown himself to be quite a talented and prolific musician. His technical and academic background in music is just as impressive as the list of bands he’s worked with; he boasts a Bachelor of Music in Composition/Technology from the University of Montana, a Master of Fine Arts in Experimental Sound Practices from the California Institute of the Arts, and a certificate in Luthier Skills from the Musicians Institute. He’s built his own instruments, including his main guitar, and has worked on some very interesting projects that bring a performer and his stage act even closer together, including an interactive microphone for vocalists to use.

We wanted to know more about the man behind that guitar and learn about his creative processes, his path in the industrial music scene, and what the future holds for him, as well as hearing about his experiences touring, travelling and playing festivals all over Europe. In this interview, from a few days before Indradevi’s San Francisco show on May 25th, we found out Matthew is as talkative as he is productive! Here’s what he had to share with us.

What got you involved in music in the first place, and what made you choose to go with the guitar as your main instrument?

I’ll start with playing the guitar. I’m the youngest of three siblings and my mom is artistically inclined, so she put us into, like, chorales and orchestras and theatre things and stuff like that. We were always, kind of, just doing a lot of after-school stuff activities exposing us to that side of things. So we all grew up with that, but it’s not like I’m from a musical family or anything. There’s no musicians there that I really followed. I started playing piano and violin and string bass and all that stuff. Then in junior year of high school is actually when I started playing the guitar, though I had played bass since middle school. I remember for Christmas one year I got myself an electric guitar, like a really shitty one. I got it because I thought it had a cool paint job and it came with the guitar amp, the cables, you know… I’m pretty sure it’s still at my parents’ house. Anyway, if you’re a bass player, you’re pretty hardcore about it. But when I got that electric guitar, I was like “man, this thing is awesome!” because you can play whole songs with it, and I was more into the whole song, you know? With the bass, I was playing more old school stuff. When I was in middle school, my brother and I, we rented Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, and during the credits, they play Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones, and I had never heard the Rolling Stones before because my parents didn’t listen to that stuff, but I remembered that line with the guitar… and I had the guitar that I just got the day before, and I figured I had to play that, that one little thing, and from there I started learning more songs, and that was it.

As far as making music, well, my practising music was really ramped up in junior and senior, especially senior year of high school. I grew up outside of the biggest city of Montana, but there’s not a lot going on there, so I really got into playing guitar and I had a really good guitar teacher. Then I graduated, moved out of the house, applied to a bunch of schools, and I was pretty scientifically and mathematically inclined, so I thought “hey, that’s something I can do”. I was looking at engineering schools, and I got accepted to a few, so I thought I’d go off and study that… about halfway through my second semester the only thing I cared about was playing my guitar, I didn’t give a shit about anything else. I thought, I should really get in on this and focus on my music, I’m just lying to myself otherwise. I told my parents I was gonna go to a school in the state, I wasn’t gonna go out of state for that, and go to a music school. A big reason is that a guy I played music with went to the same school I ended up going to, and he was a year older than me, so I thought, I can just start by going to this guy, and kinda commit to it more. That was a big turning point for me. I’m doing what I want to do and listening to myself, and when you’re 18 years old, you have to learn to do that anyway. You start gaining your own experience and going beyond what your friends say you can do or what your teachers say you can do.

I have a retrospect of being in all these bands, like Skinny Puppy and London After Midnight, and collaborating with these other bands, and a lot of these guys are high school dropouts, you know? And I think a lot of it is just that I was probably pretty immature, I just wasn’t ready to do it on my own. I think part of it was geographically speaking too. Nobody in the state of Montana has my lifestyle, so I didn’t really have any mentorship. So yeah, that’s how I got into music.

That’s all pretty cool to hear! I was going to ask about what other instruments you play, but you kind of answered that for me already.

Yeah, I play my piano at home a lot, actually. You can probably even see my electric piano a little bit from here… [He moves aside a bit and I see the piano to his left, then he gets up and moves closer to it.]

Oh yeah, I see it! Cool!

At home I don’t play that much guitar, I mostly play my electric piano, that’s kind of my thing. [He plays a few notes on the piano, and sits back down.]

What about becoming a producer, how did you end up doing that on top of everything else?

To speak to that and to my guitar playing, the best thing I ever did for playing was becoming a producer. I talked about playing bass, I kinda wanted to play guitar and sing these songs and learn these songs, and the bass part was kind of a step back from all that. Producing is REALLY taking a step back, and when I started producing, I learned to really take my music to the next level. When I started making whole songs start to finish, that’s when I really learned what a guitar does in a band and in a mix and I’ve gotten a lot better at playing from it. It’s still really all about the songwriting, though… the producing and recording, all that stuff really doesn’t matter, what matters is the songwriting.

So it kinda made you look at the music and at the songs in a different way.

Absolutely! It kinda changed everything, it was a pretty big thing for me. I probably really started doing that in 2011.

It’s already been a little while, then.

Yeah, yeah.

So when did you join London After Midnight, and how did that come about?

Well, I’ve never asked to be in a band, I always end up getting a phone call, or someone’ll ask me to be in a band. This idea of bands having great big auditions, like the drummer from Kiss or whatever, like “oh I won the audition!”, that’s not my life. So I took these night classes, I was interested in building guitars. The guitar you see in pictures of me, I built that. So with that, I had just moved to LA, and I got a job, a really good job building guitars at custom shop, I was building custom guitars start to finish. It kinda just happened, I just called this guy and I got hired the next day! His name was Neal Moser. He designed a bunch of guitars back in the seventies, and he’s a big deal in the luthier community. A luthier is what you call a guitar builder. So anyway, eventually I had saved up the money to buy a microphone, but instead I blew it all on concerts… [We both burst out laughing.] I mean, I was finally in a big city, I could finally hear some goddamn MUSIC! And it was GREAT!

I think a lot of us would have done the same!

Oh, it was AWESOME! I don’t regret any of it. No regrets at all! Anyway, I was going to a lot of clubs, you know, a lot of gothic clubs, industrial clubs, and a lot of concerts, and I started making friends and meeting people. Anyway, being a younger person like I was, you kinda start to fall in with questionable people. I made friends with this guy named Randy, and he played bass guitar, and he had just gotten into this band called London After Midnight. He knew that I was a guitar builder and I could fix anything, so I started working on his instruments, and then London After Midnight were going on this European tour… this would’ve been fall or winter of 2007. I had been to one of their rehearsals and that’s where I met Sean. Then I was working on his guitars and Randy’s guitars. I was pretty fast and gave them a buddy deal, and they were like “oh this guy’s great!”

What ended up happening is the only guitar player for London After Midnight left the band right before they left for Europe. It was awful. Randy called me and said “hey, do you have a passport?” I was like “yeah, what’s this all about?” and he asked me “do you want to play guitar for London After Midnight?” I was in grad school at the time up at CalArts studying Experimental Sound Practices, and I would’ve totally left school to go on a tour for London After Midnight, like, school can wait, fuck you guys! What am I even going to school for, you know? So I was like “when are you guys leaving?” and he says, ten days. WHAT? And it was all fly dates, like, every show was a fly date, and of course I was like YEAH! So he sends me a bunch of music that night to learn, and I went down to their studio the next day and played a bunch of songs with them in their old studio in Hollywood. They had already gotten all of the plane tickets for the old guitar player, so they were trying to transfer the tickets over and they asked the label to forward the money to get me a plane instead of the old guitar player, and the money didn’t come through. I ended up not playing that tour, so Sean, the singer, he had to play lead on everything while singing. I think it was very stressful, very fucking stressful.

They had just released an album called Violent Acts of Beauty, and they did tour in 2008 for that. They played Wave-Gotik-Treffen which I was unable to play because that was the day I was graduating from CalArts and my whole family was gonna be there and I was like “I can’t believe I’m saying this, I can’t do this one, but I can do the rest of the shows!” They had to fill in for that ONE show, but I did the rest of this huge US and European tour with them. It was a great year in touring, and that’s when I got with my first real band. I remember the first show I had with London After Midnight was support for Mindless Self Indulgence. It was this Metropolis thing down in Arizona, I walk out and there’s 1200 people there, and I’m like, I don’t know anybody here! I was so used to forcing all my friends to come to my shows, and I was like, wow! People flew down from Canada to see London After Midnight because it was their favourite band. The same thing happened with Skinny Puppy, you kinda get inducted into that world and you see that it’s a very special thing. So that’s how I got into London After Midnight, I got a phone call and just… said yes!

Sometimes that’s all it takes!

Yeah!

What about when you started working with Skinny Puppy, did it kind of happen in the same way?

Kind of the same way, yeah. I’m real active in the local suspension community, we pierce people with hooks and hang them up in the air, and I got real into that scene. [He pulls out a big hook and shows it to me. It’s a little smaller than his hand.] That’s one of the hooks, just to give you an idea.

It’s a lot bigger than I imagined!

Yeah, there’s bigger ones too, this one is like 8 gauge. I don’t suspend in public but I’ve suspended a couple times, it’s very intense and it’s quite an intense group of people. I did this show with this suspension performance group, Constructs of Ritual Evolution, that utilizes theatre and music with suspension. I did music for them and kinda became their music director. I did this show in Las Vegas for their ten-year anniversary in 2011 and I met this girl who called herself Jenocide, her real name was Jennifer but she used that as her stage name. She was helping out with that show too. It was a very stressful, very intense show.

A few months later, I’m at an industrial club in Los Angeles called Das Bunker, and I’m downstairs in the noise room and my phone rings and it’s her. I walk out into the hallway and it’s loud as shit. I have the phone right against my head and I can’t hear anything, and she says “Matthew, what are you doing in November?” and I tell her “I have like, a million things coming up. Why?” and she says “I wanna hire you to go on tour with Ogre from Skinny Puppy as their stage manager!” And suddenly, it’s like a miracle, my calendar’s all freed up and I have all the time in the world! For that tour she was the tour manager and I was part of the crew, like, the tech guy. We did that tour and we all just got along really well, and it was just so, so awesome. I kept in touch with Ogre and with those guys, and in 2014 when Skinny Puppy was on their tour, since I was working with Ogre I got hired into a stage position with them and I did a couple tours with them. It was their booking agent who said, we’ve got a good market, but we have to up the music element again, and what that meant was adding a guitar player. Ogre and the tour manager, they asked me if I wanted to play guitar for Skinny Puppy and I was like, yeah! I don’t want to just be a fucking tech guy, I’m a musician, I’m an artist. I love Skinny Puppy and what they do, so I’ll commit to doing something with them that I might not do for another band because I like the band. It was a conditional thing when they asked me to play with them, either you’re playing guitar or it’s not available, because they didn’t want to work with anyone else. It was amazing, of course I said yeah, and it was just awesome.

That sounds like it was an amazing experience.

Yeah, so it was similar to London After Midnight, where it was like “you’re the guy, you gotta come up and do this thing”, I guess I make my own luck, really.

Clearly! So you’ve played a few festivals in Europe, what’s your favourite memory or favourite experience from them?

Man, festival conditions are never good. Always come and go, plug and play, if something’s gonna go wrong, it’s gonna be in a room full of people, you know? I would say… man, we played Castle Party, which is a festival in northern Poland, not too far from Dresden in Germany, and THAT was really cool! It was a thousand-year-old castle atop a mountain, and the backstage is IN the castle and you’re looking out over the land, it was pretty surreal. I’ve played pretty much all the goth-y and industrial festivals in Europe and that was really cool. As far as the environment of a festival, M’era Luna was cool, Amphi was cool, but really, Wave-Gotik-Treffen is just… I’ve had unfortunate things happen at Wave-Gotik, mostly video stuff where it’s out of our hands… but the whole city of Leipzig in Germany turns into this mecca of goth kids and it’s just insanely awesome. As far as on the band side, my favourite was Castle Party, but if I was gonna go as a spectator, it would be Wave-Gotik.

I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about it.

Yeah, if you have the wristband, you get on all public transit for free. It’s a huge thing, it’s awesome stuff. Anyway, that’s my two-part answer.

Between playing festivals and playing standalone shows, what do you prefer and what makes them different from one another for you?

Festivals are fun, but it’s hard to have a festival show feel like a club show. At a festival you have this weird mob mentality where the whole group of people, they just kinda get shuffled between venues. As a band you’ll probably have more people see you than if you were just playing by yourself, and in some ways that’s good, but you’ll have a better show at a club because it’s your fans and they know what’s up, so you can play stuff like B-sides or new material and they’re gonna love it more than the festival crowd would.

Yeah, I’ve only been to one show that was part of a festival, I’ve never been to a full festival before, but at the shows I’ve been to the bands always end up playing a couple of songs you wouldn’t expect like B-sides or really old songs and I feel like at a festival it might just be lost on people for a similar reason. At a festival they’d be there because they’re already there, but at your own show, they’re making an effort to come see you.

On that note with London After Midnight, we played Convergence Festival in Boston a couple weeks ago, it’s a real goth-y festival at Brighton Music Hall, so not a huge venue. We played a new song, “After the End of the World”, that’s not released publicly, and the crowd’s response was really good, I was surprised! They really liked it!

It’s always good when there’s a good response like that, especially when you don’t know how the crowd’s gonna react.

Yeah, definitely. The best festival show I ever played was a few years ago in Europe, we were the midnight special at Wave-Gotik. One band a year gets to be the midnight special. That was with Skinny Puppy, we were on tour so it wasn’t like a one-off fly date. I remember, that year either people just weren’t talking to each other or they didn’t have it together, because we didn’t even have a sound check even though we were the super special headliner. Our tour manager, he’s a pretty scary guy, and he walks into the venue and… I don’t want to say anything bad about The Mission UK because our problem wasn’t with them specifically, but a lot of the drama happened with them. They said their sound check was at noon but our manager was like “I’m pretty sure we signed a contract that said our sound check is at noon”, and it turns out they sent out two contracts with the same sound check time, so both of us had our sound check at noon. That was their only date, they weren’t on tour like us, and our tour manager said “fine, we don’t need a sound check, take it”. That was kinda nice, actually, so now I could go to Wave-Gotik and fuck around all day and go hang out with friends and go do crazy shit. Really, touring is work, you work a lot. When we went out and played that night, I don’t know, something magical happened at that show. We had a great show, but like I said, festival conditions are just not good.

I can imagine, yeah. How do European and American audiences differ at shows, and how the festivals compare in Europe versus American festivals?

The scene in America is a lot smaller, and honestly, Cold Waves is the best festival, hands down. Jason Novak and his team of people do a really good job, but it’s nowhere near what’s going on in Europe. I think twenty thousand people go to Wave-Gotik, and he’ll do like two thousand for Cold Waves. That’s one tenth of the size. There’s logistics too, there’s a lot of countries close together in Europe, and you just don’t have to go as far to hear things. I’ll say this, though, I know it’s a popular thing to hate the United States, but I will say one thing, the US is hard. This is a hard market to break in, and if you can do it, you’re gonna make it everywhere. You never hear a band say “oh, I’m big in the US but not anywhere else”. If you can break into the US, you’ll break into Europe and the rest so easily.

I do think the music benefits from that, in a way. Not that our music is better, but the worst music all comes from Germany. The worst bands and the worst music I’ve ever heard all come from Germany, and it’s because the scene is so big there that they can afford to support a bunch of these terrible bands that would never make it here. Their ego gets all bent out of whack. I’m not gonna name any bands because I want to stay professional, but they’ll go and play Wave-Gotik and be like “Oh, we played for ten thousand people!” So these bands will play a bunch of festivals in Europe with a bunch of other bands, they get this number in their head, then they’ll come to LA and play for 65 people on a Friday night because no one gives a shit. A lot of the more active industrial bands are all coming from America right now. I really like Author and Punisher, he’s down in San Diego and builds his own instruments. I’ve seen Youth Code a few times, and love them or hate them, they’re good stuff. It’s something new, I can get behind that.

It makes a lot of sense the way you explain it.

That’s my comparison, but you also have to go and play festivals in Europe, it’s awesome.

It’s worth it for the different experience, definitely.

Yeah, absolutely.

Couple questions about some people you’ve worked with now. You’ve worked with Kanga before, right?

Oh yeah!

How did you end up meeting her and working with her?

Man, working with Kanga was AWESOME! I know you have a few questions about my Indradevi project too, but we’ll get to that later… anyway, that’s with my friend Greg, he’s a really good friend of mine and him and I are really into female singers. There used to be this venue called the Complex here in Los Angeles and Greg calls me up and says “hey, there’s this girl Kanga playing at the Complex, she’s a really good singer, it’s great music, you gotta go!” So I went to the show, and that’s how I met Kanga. I actually got a ticket and went to her show! So I went to the show and I’m listening to the music and looking at the crowd and I was like “man, this band’s got something going on!” She’s young, she’s talented, she’s a good songwriter, and as you know I’m really all about the songs. So I talked to her after the show, and she’s a really big Skinny Puppy fan. She knew who I was since I play guitar in Skinny Puppy, and we got along really well. She was like “yeah I’m still working on my album right now”, and I had a small studio in my house I had in Pasadena at the time, and we kept talking and exchanged phone numbers and she said she wanted to take some studio time with me to re-record her vocals since I had an isolation booth. She came over and recorded vocals for the whole album in two sessions. It went real quick. She’s a good singer, and she’s also a really good engineer and producer, so I didn’t do all the editing and such that she ended up doing, because being an engineer, you’re mostly just editing. I can just record a bunch of takes and give her all the sound files and she can work on the sound and stitch them together herself.

After that, she called and said “hey, would you be interested in playing guitar on the album?” I was like, yeah, I WOULD be interested in doing that! Her and I worked out a deal, she paid me my flat rate for a studio fee and I cranked out all the parts. I recorded all the guitars in two four-hour sessions. It went really fast but it was really healthy. When you’re working with creative people there’s a high flow. She’s very creative, and very easygoing. She could say “yes that’s working” or “no that’s not working”, and she walked out with everything she needed. Then she called me after that and was like “OK, I’m gonna go for broke on this, do you want to be in the band?” and I was like yeah, sure! She was like “I know you have bigger bands and stuff, but we get along great and I’d love to have you play guitar with me” and I was like yeah, I’m into that. I’m totally into that. She’s got that big Gary Numan tour coming, and I’ve met Gary a few times, he’s a great guy and I’m so glad she gets to go on this tour.

So that’s how I met Kanga. I went to one of her shows.

Awesome! And how was your experience at her UK shows a couple years ago?

The whole thing was put together by a friend of mine who’s involved with Armalyte Industries. We flew out there and played a couple shows, we played a show in Scotland which was awesome. We played a venue in London with Marc Heal and he was rad, those people are all great, the whole thing was very good, very positive. And we played the same venue in London that London After Midnight played in 2008. I was pretty nostalgic about that and I was telling them, man, this used to be called the Islington Academy! And in the venue, there were pictures in frames from concert photographers, and there was a picture of London After Midnight, it’s actually still there! And I was like “see? I told you!” So that is to say, my shows in the UK with Kanga were very, very good.

And you toured Europe with Skinny Puppy the same year too, eh? What was that like? I imagine a pretty good experience as well?

Absolutely awesome, oh my God, everything was so good about it. We played some big festivals, we played Download Festival, Wave-Gotik-Treffen… Skinny Puppy’s big enough that it can play all these big festivals. The shows were fantastic, everyone got along really well. My friend Dustin filled my old position with Skinny Puppy as the stage manager, so I’m on tour in Europe with one of my best friends with a band that I’ve loved forever… it was just awesome, that’s all I can say.

Good, good! And last year you also toured with ohGr, what’s it like working with Ogre and how did that tour turn out?

The last two years we’ve done two US tours in a row, we did KMFDM two years ago…

YES! I was at the Boston show, it was AMAZING!

Oh yeah, that was at a venue we played with London After Midnight too, Brighton Music Hall. So we did that tour, and then we did our own headlining tour with Lead Into Gold and Omniflux last year, it was a good tour. Skinny Puppy’s much more of a theatrical thing, and the ohGr project, the intention is that it’s much more of an industrial rock band. It’s a lot of the same members as Skinny Puppy, like Dustin was playing in that too, and William, the old guitarist for Skinny Puppy, he’s always been in the ohGr project too. It was a good tour, but I had a rough time because I had some family issues, I had to deal with my dad getting really sick… he’s doing okay now, but it was very stressful for me. The tour itself was great, but personally, it was very hard on me.

I can see how something like that would affect you a lot, it’s good that he’s OK now though!

Yeah, there were times where I was just thinking “I don’t want to be here”… Looking back I realize how incredibly stressed out I was, it was really rough. August 11th, with London After Midnight at M’era Luna Festival, we were headlining there and it was the day after my birthday, and three days later we started the ohGr tour, so I was in full rehearsal mode with two bands at the same time… and that’s when I found out my dad was sick, while I was in rehearsal with both bands and everything was happening all at once. The tour itself went great, it was just a lot to handle.

Yeah, that’s understandable. In regards to tours, it feels like you’re really on a roll because you were on tour with Psyclon Nine recently too.

Yeah, it was last minute. Two weeks before that tour, Nero, the producer and songwriter for Psyclon Nine reached out to me to ask if I wanted to do a two or three-week tour with him. Tim Skold was playing guitar so I went back to playing bass guitar and keyboard for that tour. My friend Jon Siren is the drummer for Psyclon Nine, and I thought, hey, I’d like to be able to work with him. I worked with Nero on an Indradevi show once. He and Greg produced a show, like a mini festival at this warehouse in Los Angeles called the Black Castle. It was Psyclon Nine, Android Lust, Indradevi, and a few local bands. Nero had bad reputation back then, lots of drama around that band… drugs and freakouts and just a lot of bullshit. When I booked that show… I can deal with egos, I can deal with crazy people, all I wanna know is… is he gonna come play the show? And he did! He came to play the show, and they were great! I didn’t have any problems with him at all. So that’s how him and I got to know each other.

They just called me out of the blue and asked me to do the tour. I didn’t audition for it, I just knew those two guys from the band. Anyway, Nero doesn’t do drugs or any of that anymore, he’s been sober for a couple years and he’s very happy with that. He’s in a good place, and I think he also understood that I don’t put up with undue bullshit, you know? So I did the tour, and I had a great time, I had an absolute blast. I don’t want to say anything bad about the guy, but I was really surprised just how talented he was. The dude’s a really incredible singer, and he really knows music. He knows the scene, and he really knows whole catalogues of bands, and I think that really shaped his ability to write good songs, because Psyclon songs, you know… you can’t really play them on an acoustic guitar or around a campfire. It’s very electronic, like a soundscape type of thing, but as far as that sound’s concerned, he really nailed it. I do like electronic music, and I was a hired gun on that tour… I played the bass, played the keys, and I had a blast. I was pleasantly surprised with how well that went. Tim Skold played bass on the first ohGr tour in 2001, so him and I know a lot of the same people. Tim is like, the nicest guy ever, he’s just rad. That guy has the best stories ever. The things he’s done… but he didn’t have a big ego about it, no rockstar bullshit, it was awesome. I was very pleasantly surprised with how that tour went.

That’s awesome! Now, onwards to Indradevi! I have to say I really love the unique sound you have with that project.

Thank you!

There’s a lot of unexpected influences in there, like Cambodian and Indonesian sounds… what inspired that choice of sound and how do you mix that with the industrial sound?

It’s been difficult finding a place for Indradevi to land because the sound is fairly unique. We’re taking instruments from mostly Southeast Asia and blending it with the musical influences from where I’m from. It’s definitely not full-on cultural appropriation, but you do have to be sensitive about it. My friend Greg, it was his brainchild. He’s a filmmaker, and he really got into Cambodian pop music from the 60s and 70s. If you listen to the music from that era, they were really doing pretty much what we’re doing, because they were listening to the Rolling Stones and the Ramones and a bunch of American rock bands, a bunch of guys playing guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, wearing sunglasses, and they were like “cool! Hey, we can do that!” They come from a different musical background so they have different strings on their instruments and such, so they had to change things a bit to play rock n’ roll, but it was very natural for them to use their own kind of sounds and their own instruments mixed in with what you hear in rock n’ roll. Dengue Fever, a newer band we work with, they’ve done a great job of recreating the kind of music they were playing back then. We’re definitely not the first ones to do something like this, but we have our own take on it. A big reason we booked that show with Psyclon Nine and Android Lust is that we really wanted to play a show, but we had a hard time finding something that worked well with us, because it’s like, where do you fit in when you’re really forging new ground? It’s definitely a lot easier when you’re just playing with a band that fits the industrial or metal sound more readily.

As far as the idea of Indradevi, Greg was really into Pen Ran, Ros Serey Sothea… pop stars from Cambodia, a lot of them were murdered by the Khmer Rouge, the communist dictatorship that came into power in 1975. It was run by this guy Pol Pot, he was a terrible man, he killed off all the scholars, artists, musicians… they were all systematically murdered. A quarter of the population was basically euthanized, it’s the biggest massacre in recent history. It’s crazy. I’ve been to one of the killing fields up by Phnom Penh, and it was just crazy. I mean, a LOT of people died, pretty much everyone there has a story about how their family was forced to move out. Greg’s a filmmaker and he appreciates the story behind the whole thing, and I’m into the story of music and songwriting. We started the project as a way to honour these people and acknowledge that art survives, the whole “gone but not forgotten” thing. It’s a project with a very positive message and I stand by it. It’s been difficult trying to find a place for it to land, you know? Like, I did an Indradevi remix for PIG, and I was like, thank fuck I know those guys, that’s how I got it!

I’m always trying to elevate Indradevi a little more. We’re actually playing a show on Saturday (May 25th) in San Francisco, so we’ve been rehearsing a lot. It’s fun, we wear these… actually, I think one of your questions was about the masks, right? So we wear these masks because a lot of these songs are in Khmer, and we use female singers that speak it for the vocals, it’s actually been a bit of a challenge finding them. We didn’t want it to seem like cultural appropriation or anything, we’re partly doing it to be weird since we never set out to be a “normal” band. We especially love gamelan! There’s Balinese and Indonesian gamelan, we favour Indonesian. Something we can really sink our teeth into with this project is mixing Southeast Asian culture with the culture we’re from, and electronic and industrial music. So Rangda and Barong are the two characters we portray with the masks, we’re masking ourselves because I don’t want it to be about Matthew Setzer from Skinny Puppy and London After Midnight, we’re playing these two characters and we have female singers fronting the band.

So you really want the project to stand on its own without people knowing who’s behind it or without that influencing what they’ll think of it.

Exactly, and because that would just make people think it’s a side project. Maynard James Keenan, the singer from Tool, he has a great way of talking about his other projects. Of course he has Tool, but he also has A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, and I was reading an interview with him. The interviewer called A Perfect Circle and Puscifer his side projects, and he was like “they’re not side projects, it’s like having more than one child… a parent can have more than one kid and love them all equally, and musicians do the same with their bands, otherwise it makes it come across as if, say, he doesn’t take Puscifer as seriously as he does Tool. I held on to that, being in a bunch of different bands myself, I thought that was a great way to look at it.

Yeah, I agree with that. So what’s the meaning behind the names of Rangda and Barong?

Oh, they’re deities in Southeast Asian and Indonesian culture. It’s like a yin and yang thing, good and evil. We really liked that idea. Indradevi, the name itself, came from this Cambodian king named Jayavarman III, from the 1100s I think? His wife was named Indradevi. They had a huge empire and she was a very powerful woman. That’s part of why we go for female singers. I went to India with Greg and I met this guy there and told him about the project, and he told me that name had Hindi roots. Devi means god or goddess, and Indra… what did he say about Indra? Anyway, he said it was a very powerful word. Barong, Greg’s character, is a lion, the king of spirits, and Rangda is this terrible witch who made a deal with the devil and kills unborn children inside of pregnant women… it’s really, really bad. There’s music and dances that go along with their story, so it just fit with the overall idea of the project.

There’s a lot of really cool stuff in this project, it’s awesome hearing about the inspirations behind it!

It’s a deep culture, there’s a lot going on. Lots of late nights on Wikipedia…

What about your videos, what were the inspirations for those?

Ah, that’s more of a Greg thing. I did the art directing on the videos, but it definitely mostly comes from him. For the first video, “Step Away”, we actually filmed a lot of those scenes at the Black Castle. We work together on the project as a whole, but I’m more hands-on with the music and the video stuff is all him. You do your thing and I’ll do mine, then we’ll put it all together! A funny thing about the “Idols” video, you know the guy with his face all wrapped up talking into the microphone? That’s Ogre!

Really? That’s so cool!

Yeah, we got Ogre in there! We’re talking and putting everything together for the video, and Greg was like “OK, we need this guy who’s gonna be all wrapped up, but we need a creepy guy who’s gonna move in this weird way…” and I was like “we should get Ogre to do it!” and Greg asks “do you think he’s really gonna do it?” so I tell him “well, the guy owes me a favour…” I asked Ogre and he was like “yeah, sure” and he came down to do it, it was a lot of fun. And honestly, Ogre was perfect for it! He acts in a lot of horror films, after all. He’s a great actor. It comes naturally to him.

With Indradevi, you toured in the US last year, and of course you have your show coming up in a few days. Any more shows planned for the future?

Nothing concrete for now. We’re looking at shows for July, maybe, but nothing set in stone yet. We ARE talking about another album. I know a guy up at CalArts who has a band with a full gamelan, and a gamelan is many musicians and many players. I was at one of their shows about a month ago, and it blew my mind! That’s my next goal, I want to record live with a full gamelan. That’s the future of Indradevi right now. The first album was very difficult, it was a lot of figuring out what the hell we were doing. Then we had our EP, and by the time Idols came out a couple years ago, it was all becoming a lot easier, which is what you want, and we had a better idea of where our sound was going. That’s another thing you want, to really have your thumbprint on your sound.

Interesting news! That actually answered my next question, I was going to ask what was coming up with Indradevi.

Yeah, I kinda bowled over that one.

Going back to London After Midnight, you performed at M’era Luna last year and you’ll be at Wave-Gotik-Treffen this year. I’ve heard the band’s working on new material, so first of all, ARE you working on new stuff, and if you are, do you plan to play some of it at the festival?

We will play one of our new songs at the festival, the same one we played recently in Boston, “After the End of the World”. We might play another of the new ones, but the jury’s still out on that. We’re doing a full remaster of the first album “Selected Scenes…”, then we’ll release the new album. I’ve been working with Sean and with my composer friend David, he’s helping us recreate all the tracks now. It actually sounds like a rock band now and not like they cut up tapes… so many things were just not done right originally. It’s been a long time since London After Midnight released an album, so there’s a lot in the works for that. It’s been great to have David around because it helps having a creative studio guy who’s outside the band… it really helps push things forward. Things are looking good for London After Midnight as far as future stuff, but as far as release dates, I have no idea.

We’ll just have to be patient, I guess! So, I know you do remixes for other artists sometimes. I’m especially curious about the London After Midnight remix of The Diamond Sinners by PIG. It’s credited to the band, but is it a bit of everybody or is it mostly you?

I did the whole song, that was all me. I had to get it done real fast. I wanted to do it but I approached Sean about it because it felt like the right thing to do. Putting it under the band’s name was just so it would be a good stopgap for the band’s activity. He’d come over to my place and I recorded a bunch of vocals with him… that drone thing you hear in the song is Sean’s singing that I retracked.

What’s your favourite part of doing remixes?

Hmm… man, I enjoy mixing, a lot of people don’t, but mixing is like magic to me. When I’m working with other artists whose music I appreciate… you get a different look at their music. No two people work the same way.

And seeing how other people work with their music shows you different ways to work and can influence your own work afterwards.

Absolutely. I’m not a purist, I don’t think I know what I’m doing… [He starts laughing] But if I learn something new, I’ll start doing it that way. That’s another reason why I like working with David for London After Midnight.

You also worked with Evestus recently, I’d love to hear how that turned out.

So Evestus is this guy named Ott Evestus who lives in Tallinn, in Estonia. This is a funny story… Skinny Puppy played the last show of their European tour in Helsinki. Everyone went home after that except me and Dustin, we went travelling around the Baltic states after that. My mom is Lithuanian and I wanted to go see Lithuania. We took a ferry that brought us to Tallinn for a couple days, and it almost looks like a medieval town. We’re just walking around and this huge SUV drives by on this tiny road, and this guy with a bunch of piercings and dreadlocks drives by and waves at us. I’m in a country I’ve never been to, in a town I’ve never been to, and this guy drives by… and I look at Justin and I go “that guy in the car just WAVED at us like he knows who we are!”

When you go on a tour, once you’re done your energy just goes… dead. So we go around the corner and go in this caffé because we needed caffeine, and while we’re sitting there I get this Facebook message on my phone, and this guy says “hey, welcome to Tallinn! I went to your show in Helsinki and it was awesome!” and I was like, holy shit, that’s the guy that just drove by us in the SUV! I don’t share my personal life on social media at all, so he had no way of knowing we were coming to Estonia. The next day he invites us out to dinner with him and his wife, and they were AWESOME. His wife is rad, she’s an art director. The next day, he took us in the car with him and drove us around and showed us around town, and we had a really good time. After that we went with them to their lakehouse in the countryside and stayed with them for a couple days. He turned out to be the nicest guy and really took good care of us. It was great. I told him if he ever wanted to make music together, I would be totally down for that, so he sent me that track “Mad World” to collaborate on, and I laid down the guitars for that.

That’s a pretty interesting way to meet another musician! So, since touring and travelling go hand in hand… what’s your favourite place in Europe that you’ve seen so far?

Oh man…

Can’t really narrow it down to just one?

I don’t think so. I love going to Europe, I love travelling… I really liked Budapest and Prague, I’d like to travel there on my own someday. Everywhere over there… the whole continent has a special place in my heart. The sound guy for London After Midnight, we’ve been friends for eleven years, and when we landed for M’era Luna last year, it was my birthday and he was like “hey, I would love to hang out” so it’s just me and him, and I’m looking around going “man, I should just move here for a little while” and he just SLAMS his hand on the table and he goes “MATTHEW! EVERY TIME you come here, you say that! Every single time I see you! For over ten years, this is what you’ve been saying!” Actually, I submitted a request for dual citizenship not long ago, I have familial ties to Luxembourg, so I applied for that to get a Luxembourg passport and everything. It’s a plan B of sorts.

So Marija told me you developed an interactive microphone of sorts… I’d love to hear how that works and how you came up with the idea.

So as I mentioned before, my undergrad degree was in music technology, and I got accepted to CalArts after I moved to California. I hated school and the last thing I wanted to do was more school, but CalArts is different. A big thing with me and my music education is that I have big ideas about art and how to be expressive on stage, and that’s why I’m drawn to the industrial music scene, it’s about how to be expressive with EVERYTHING. Talking about expression, when you watch a vocalist sing, they’re sometimes just standing there, until they get into it and they grab the microphone and start moving around and that really adds a layer of performance to it. I thought, well, technology should be able to accentuate the performer’s abilities. It’s a lot of lost input watching the singers be expressive and move around with the microphone, so I thought, that can be captured and rolled back into the performance. For example, a performer grabbing the microphone, that could be programmed to add distortion and delay onto the voice, or change the lights on the stage, or even trigger interactive video stuff.

I didn’t get into coding that much, I’m not a programmer, I’m really more of a hardware hacker… I’ve learned it’s more important to be musical than to be tech-savvy. After I got that idea, it was during my first semester, I had a working prototype built pretty quickly. There were a lot of sensors inside, and if you squeezed the microphone, how hard you squeezed affected the sound of the microphone, and it had a button on the back that would pretty much let you synthesize your own voice, and that was affected by how you moved it too, but it had to be simple movements so the microphone could interpret them properly. If it’s too abstract then the microphone just misses it entirely.

I showed Morton Subotnick my interactive microphone, he suggested I patent it, but that kinda fizzled out partly because I didn’t have the money for it, and partly because I was busy working on electroencephalograph technology, reading brainwaves of people and using that to control robots we were making. I’ve used it in some of my shows, but I’d like to go back to it and keep developing that. I haven’t seen anything like it yet… I need to get Ogre to sing on one of those things. I’m not interested in patenting it anymore, I’m more interested in putting it out there and seeing what other artists can do with it… and having it out in the public domain prevents it from being patented in the future, which I think is good. I’m not in it for business, I’d rather just see it become a thing on its own.

I think it’s a really unique concept! Is there anyone who’s using it in their performances right now?

No, it’s in a box in my cellar. No one’s using it right now. It’s on the list of Things Matthew Setzer Needs to Do, get that back out there.

Something to do for the future, I imagine. It was worth asking! So what other projects have you worked on or are you working on that we might not have heard about, assuming you’re allowed to talk about them?

One band I’ve been doing a lot of work with is Timur and the Dime Museum. We all went to CalArts together, it’s kinda like this punk vaudeville thing. Of all the bands I’m in, that one is the weirdest. We did a Klaus Nomi song on America’s Got Talent years ago, and we worked with a producer named Beth Morrison in New York, she does all new media operas. We’ve done all sorts of shows and even opera theatre festivals with the band thanks to her. It’s less of a band now and more of a theatre group, with a costume designer, a lighting designer, videos and a lot of interactive stuff. We’re working with the composer David Little right now who’s written a piece for us, and it’s gonna be a big goddamn deal.

Theatre and opera work different than rock n’ roll. You load into a theatre and you’re in there for a week. I’m used to just setting up and playing a show. Theatres book a year in advance… so if you book a show you’re not playing it until next year because of how the budgets work.

I also have… I’m pretty sure I can talk about this. It’s a very exciting new project. It’s with a guy in a punk band, but I should probably talk to him more before I start talking about it… but then again, he already has pictures of him and I up on Instagram and everything, so I’ll just say it… it’s with Eric Melvin of NOFX! He’s been coming over to my place and we’re working on music a lot, we’re doing this punk meets hardcore techno, industrial project. Of course he’s the punk guy and I’m the more industrial guy, and it’s been awesome, just blowing my mind. He’s super motivated and positive and so easy to work with, you know? I’m not a punk guy at all, and I told him, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know anything about punk… and he’s like, it’s OK, I’m gonna be your guide! And every week he sends me a new album to listen to. I kinda regret not getting into punk earlier now. We haven’t thought of a name for the band yet, we do have a bunch of working titles, but we have to hone in our sound first. That’s what I’d like to work on more once I’m not so busy.

If you had more free time, what else would you like to be doing?

I think it’s really important to have hobbies, you have to have things you’re into that aren’t music. I’m really into vintage Volkswagens, like old VW bugs. I have two. One is my old car from high school, it sat at my parents’ house for ten years and my brother helped me get it running again… I’m making a kind of Mad Max art car out of it. I cut the back of it off and I put these big tires on it. The other is a 1957 oval window I plan to restore. I’m going kinda crazy with it. The car needs to be fully reassembled. Over the years I’ve built up this stack of cool little parts… in another world where Matthew has a lot of free time I’d be working on a lot of cars like that. I go to meetups and get the magazines and all that stuff too. The reason I’m staying in Europe after the London After Midnight tour is that at the end of June I’m going to this three-day meetup and swap meet of sorts… it’s gonna be awesome! I’m really looking forward to it.

I feel like being a professional musician I don’t really fan out about people… like I’m happy for their success and all but I don’t get excited over them like I used to before. My friend David who’s helping us with London After Midnight was like “what are you a fan of? What is a thing that you’re into that’s not music-related?” and I told him I was into VW bugs, so he was like “imagine that you’re in a VW shop or something and the guy who invented them shows up, what would you do?” And I’d probably fanboy over that, but I wouldn’t do it with a musician because that’s just part of my life now.

I agree with you that you need to have something you do that’s out of the scope of what you normally work on… it keeps things fresh.

Yeah, definitely. And it makes you better at what you do, you won’t burn out.

I feel like after a while you hit a wall if you’re always doing the same thing.

Yeah, you lose it. People I went to school with ten years ago, I keep in touch with them, and my friend who’s a costume designer is starting to lose it because that’s all they’re doing. Being a musician, you need to have another outlet for your creativity.

Eventually you’re gonna have to force it and that doesn’t always work.

Working with a deadline can be good, though. A lot of creative people work well under pressure. Now that everyone has home studios and workstations, making music is a lot easier, and hard deadlines can make it easier to actually get to work and stop you from trying to make things too perfect.

Especially with creative work, it’s too easy to get caught up in it and it’s hard to actually FINISH stuff.

Ogre said it best: “You have to abandon your artwork”! You do all that work and you put all that intent into it, but once it leaves your hands, it becomes something else entirely in the hands of people who appreciate it. You have to learn to let go of your own work.

That’s definitely a good way to look at things. Well, that’s it for me! Thank you for your time, this was fun and it was great talking to you!

Great talking to you too! Hopefully I’ll see you around sometime!

promo pics by Tristan Pinceaux

live pics by Marija Buljeta

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