"we get compared with yello and motorhead" says Jez of Leeds-based band MDMA, highlighting the confusion people experience about his band.
MDMA are about to release a compilation album of their work over the last two years, which may or may not help clarify matters, since it varies in style quite widely from song to song. Guitarist Martin endeavours to explain the formula.
"It's always the same every time you start a new band. The first songs are really weird, and then you gradually define what you are doing, hone into it and progress from that. We've just got to that stage - the compilation album shows us as we define the parameters. If you look at the first side there's two tracks on that, 'Godsquad' and 'Mommy', which are quite disparate: they kind of chart the boundaries and everything else falls in between the two."
The band members met while playing in other bands at a festival in Holland, and not all of them are from Leeds. Drummer Bobby Ray is American and still lives in Philadelphia, something that must surely create problems for reasons of logistics, if nothing else. Martin is quick to disagree.
"It's difficult, but not insurmountable. For rehearsals a lot of the songs are tied down over here, and we'll send tapes to Bobby in the States and he'll work on those. It's surprising how quickly things come together when we actually get to play as a band."
In part, this is made possible by MDMA's use of modern musical aids such as a Roland drum machine. However the band use their technology - samplers, sequencers, synthesizers - to create a sound that is as relentless and forceful as anything Sonic Youth or Napalm Death might do. Their music is simply powerful. What are MDMA hoping to achieve? Martin has the answer.
"Elevating people's spirits by giving them really good dance rhythms - really heavy, melodic music crafted into songs. What we do is use the drum machine and sequencer to write hypnotic backdrops, and then we add the spontaneity of live stuff over the top. It's like having your cake and eating it. We've got the hypnotic groove power of the electro machines, and the raucousness of rock 'n' roll."
Bassist and singer Keith nods in agreement and adds: "What we wanted to do - and are still trying to do - is to have music that is adventurous, that pushes boundaries. Our purpose in life is not to be rock stars, but to express ourselves."
Yet that expression can be stalled when the computer glitches before the first date on your tour. Having heard from their road manager about the problems, I was curious to find out more, so I put the question to Keith and Martin.
"What did happen with the computer yesterday?" Keith asks rhetorically. "It got a bit excited about the prospect of playing live, and passed out with the excitement!"
"I saw it having a few beers in the afternoon", laughs Martin. "On a more serious note, the thing is we are driving a lot of different units from the computer, and although it's been a godsend musically it's also a bit of a nightmare when you've got a lot of things going on, trying to make sure that everything's connected in the right order and the MIDI channels are assigned properly. Generally, you can guarantee a fair amount of confusion when you first start plugging things in and turning them on."
"ANY COUNTRY YOU GO TO, THERE'S A CERTAIN ROMANTIC EXCITEMENT INVOLVED WITH A FOREIGN BAND PLAYING. BUT IT DOESN'T SELL YOU."
Yet despite the problems that can arise, MDMA are definitely sold on the virtues of high technology.
Jez: "People are attuned now to high-quality sounds, rich sounds and powerful sounds that you need to get from modern technology. Even if you want to be in a punk rock band, you've got to have effects units for the guitar and a good bass setup."
A sad comment, but probably a fair one. And it has its positive side-effects. For instance, the investment modern equipment requires has made MDMA more conscious of the need to be able to survive financially, and this has added grist to the mill of their ambition.
"We have this fire within us that says we have to make music, and there's nothing else we want to do", says Martin. "You've got to be smart and you've got to persist, because if you want to make a living out of it, you've got to be extremely lucky."
MDMA's mixture of spirit and technology has already brought them to the attention of ex-Yello producer Carlos Peron, who has told Jez he wants to sample the sound of a car crashing to use as a kick drum on their music. As it happens, the prospect of working with Peron is one the band are looking forward to greatly, and such talk suggests a rather European bent to their music. Have the band found it easier to secure a following overseas than they have in Britain?
"Definitely not", states Keith. "There is one thing you can say, which is that any country you go to, there's a certain amount of romantic excitement involved with a foreign band playing. But it doesn't sell you; you've got to be just as good there to win people over."
Even so, MDMA have no hesitation in recommending that young bands tour abroad if they can arrange it. As they say, the process of being on the road and unable to go home after gigs helps knit a band's personnel together, and...
"It isn't the UK, so go there anyway."
It's all very much in the spirit of 1992. By which time, someone somewhere should have found words to describe MDMA.
Interview by Nigel Holtby
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