An Interview with Preston Maddox of Bloody Knives and S T F U at Club Dada in Dallas, TX – March 14, 2017
Bloody Knives is the industrialgaze band formed by Jake McCown and Preston Maddox. Jack Harris now rounds out the band as a trio. On a very cold evening for March in Dallas, Texas, I had the opportunity to sit down with Preston and ask him some questions about the history of Bloody Knives, their writing process, what comes next, and sort of the things that interest him about his exploration of tones and textures. The night was the Moon Sounds Records showcase and before Nightmare Air took the stage, we snuck out of Club Dada and absconded to the band’s van so we could get some heat and a bit of quiet to chat.
Hello, Preston. Thanks for doing this. Why don’t we start with a question about your personal history? When did you all gets started in music?
I’ve always been playing something. I played the piano when I was a kid. Then I played in the orchestra. I played the violin. That was probably my first proper instrument. I got bored of that after a couple years and picked up bass guitar. Then I thought guitar would be a better tool for songwriting, so I got into guitar. Then I got back into playing bass. That’s what I do with Bloody Knives really. I probably wouldn’t play guitar now and, since I got my Rickenbacker, I would probably never play another bass. There is a constant envy of the amazing Rickenbacker. The detail that goes into those things is so cool.
Can you talk a bit about the general writing process of the band?
So, Jake and I, when we started the band, we were into a lot of dance music and a lot of hip-hop. So, what we still start with is kind of computer based. It’s always been a loop-based thing with drum machines and samples and stuff like that. We go from there and add more stuff to the song, fleshing it out. One of us usually has the files and the other one will expand on them. Usually, I do a lot of the arranging because it goes around the lyrics. But one or the other of us has the original idea and then we kind of work from there. Then, Jack comes in and does his thing on guitar.
So, the drummer and the bass player are writing the music?
That’s very cool and so not normal.
Yeah, I forget that. It’s like the rhythm section revolt.
You make some incredible choices in your music when it comes to sonics and tones. Can you talk about how you go about exploring tones and textures as well as what attracts you to tonal and textural elements within your song writing?
For me, it’s a matter of the idea that all music is sound. I started going down that path when I started writing a lot of ambient music and other experimental stuff like noise music a long time ago, after playing in a rock band. I came to that realization and started asking “what kind of sound is this” then I started working on complete the sound. Sometimes I work to thicken it, sometimes to broaden it. Sometimes it’s a matter of putting a puzzle together and there is a sonic piece that’s missing and I plug that sonic piece in there. Or it’s a matter of how much texture can I build, what can I layer on top of something else? How can I turn some sort of sound into a big ambient pad? It all started from not having the proper gear really. And then having to try to figure out how to fabricate the sounds that I was into without having the equipment that they had. Now I have the proper equipment but I still have the same methodology. I guess it’s a lot of sound crafting in a way.
It’s been about a decade since you have formed Bloody Knives. Looking back, are there any particular recordings that you are especially proud of and why?
The more I look back, the more I’m proud of… there’s one song we are playing tonight that we are going to close with called “Let Me Out” that was a B-side kind of thing. It didn’t get on our first record. We put it on this Rock Back for Japan compilation that happened when the Tsunami hit and they had the nuclear radiation meltdown. I think that really the Bloody Knives EP is my favorite in terms of nostalgia because we did better on that, in my opinion, then we did for years and years afterward. It was very basic. We didn’t know what kind of band we were going to be yet and everything was kind of up in the air but it all got put together pretty succinctly. Looking back on that, I’m pretty fond because it was like the beginning and you can hear what we were going to become. We had already kind of become that at that point and then tried to chase getting better than that.
I Will Cut Your Heart Out for This has this incredibly dense floor to it. Can you talk about constructing and recording of that album and how you approached the sound, if differently, from prior releases?
I think the biggest difference on that record was that we had more people. So, we made a focused effort to bring other people into the mix. I like messing with people and putting them in awkward situations because it helps them come up with much cooler stuff. So, I would play the loops without any context and have them come up with their parts that way. Or I would let them jam over something and not tell them I was recording it. There were three people, Rich Napierkowski, Martin McCreadie, and Jack was already in the band at that point. So, sometimes I would sample them without the song playing and create more sound with what they had already done, which was already cool. There was a lot of re-effecting things going on. And then having their input and playing around with the different kinds of textures from the different instruments. There are a ton of different instruments on that record. Rich had this OP1, the shrieky kind of sounds at the begin of “Reflection Lies” is him playing that OP1. I took that wave and reversed it with some delay and reverb and then reversed it back. So there was a lot of stuff like that. A constant process of getting the sound and taking the sounds created and creating another sound out of them.
I like to ask bands about songs on their most recent release that sort of stick out to me. Can you talk a bit about the writing and recording of “Blood Turns Cold” and “Poison Halo”?
Jake came up with the texture in “Blood Turns Cold” that you hear in the very beginning. That was kind of like the catalyst that started that song. I had this drum beat that I had from another song that didn’t work out. So, I took the drum beat and stuck it over his texture and that became the beginning of that song. There’s a song from this band called I Break Horses and it starts off with this sort of stuttered beat and goes into a straight beat at the end. I was like, “we should do that with this song.” So, yeah, it was me ripping that song off. I mean, we really don’t because we go into a drop tempo and don’t go fast. Then Jack has this nasty Birthday Party guitar line going over it and it makes it really tense. So, it’s not just washy and ambient but it’s also abrasive and harsh too. I’ve really always loved playing that song.
And “Poison Halo”… So I had this very heavy 80’s goth sort of phase listening to Christian Death and Sisters of Mercy and Asylum Party and stuff like that. So I was trying to write a song in the vein of bands like that because I always wanted to an organy kind of sound and that ethereal kind of goth sound. Like the Christian Death stuff, the ambience that they produced was kind of abandoned later and I wanted to revisit that 80’s era ambience. So, in my mind, that was my attempt at that. I don’t know how it came out officially but that’s what we were going for.
I have the same question about “The Descent”, which was just released on now sold out, very limited vinyl. Also, is this a view toward what to expect from the next album?
Well, the next album is more gothish and a little more industrial. We kind of lean more on the industrial side of our sound than we do on the shoegaze sound on the next record. “The Descent” itself was a relatively old track. It was supposed to be on Death or part of it was and then it just got shelved because it didn’t get finished. Before we do another record, I will dig through all the old stuff to see if something sticks out. Usually, it doesn’t, but that particular riff did. I took it and deconstructed it and made what eventually become “The Descent” and then gave it to Jack and Jake and they finished it off. It’s kind of indicative of where the next record is in a way. There’s kind of a dark gothy… well, a focus on witchcraft, just to put it out there. There’s a really heavy witchcraft theme in the next record. That alongside a more Aphex Twinish kind of deal, electronic sound that we kind of get into. But, it’s still melodic in most way though. It’s kind of heavier than the last one in some ways anyway, and in other ways, not so much.
For the gearheads, what equipment do you all use both live and in the studio?
In the live setup, I’ve got an Ampeg SVTIV and a Peavy 4×10 cab. Then I play the Rickenbacker [bass]. Then, if I’m not playing the Rickenbacker, then I’m playing one of my Fender Jaguar basses. It’s a great cheap bass. In the studio, I play the Rickenbacker and a PV Cirrus bass and I double them. I play the PV Cirrus clean and the Rickenbacker with distortion. The Rickenbacker I have has two outs for the pick-ups so you can send the stereo signal out. So, I will do weird stuff with the affects but just in the studio. But live, it doesn’t matter because it’s so noisy. Jack kind of switch between amps. He was running a Marshal JCM800. In the studio, he used a Vox and a Fender Twin a lot. We also do some direct guitar tones. Most of the bass, I’ll run direction. Sometimes I will mic it with a 57 or something to blend the signal. I do a lot of stacking… I always like stacking as much as I humanly can to change the sounds and the tones and stuff. Jake has Tama kit. He’s not gear specific and I’m not really either… well, until I played that Ampeg. It’s an all tube head and they are just so warm… yeah, I know that’s just like the most annoying term in audio “Oh, it’s so warm.” But it does. It rounds the tone up. Our music is so harsh that we need something to counterbalance it.
Jack kind of switches between amps. He was running a Marshal JCM800. In the studio, he used a Vox and a Fender Twin a lot. We also do some direct guitar tones. Most of the bass, I’ll run direction. Sometimes I will mic it with a 57 or something to blend the signal. I do a lot of stacking… I always like stacking as much as I humanly can to change the sounds and the tones and stuff. Jake has Tama kit. He’s not gear specific and I’m not really either… well, until I played that Ampeg. It’s an all tube head and they are just so warm… yeah, I know that’s just like the most annoying term in audio “Oh, it’s so warm.” But it does. It rounds the tone up. Our music is so harsh that we need something to counterbalance it.
What’s next for Bloody Knives? Should we expect a new release soon?
Well, the record. I’m not sure when we are going to put it out. It’s done-ish. We may have somebody remix it who is a very skilled engineer. I mean, the last one has only been out so long but I’m not patient. The last one took so long to finish that I’m ready to get to the next thing. There will be a lull, some dead time, after we finish the next tour. Hopefully, we will get back out to the west coast in the fall and then do some more S T F U which will take up some of my spare time.
Very cool. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.