METRONO.ME interview with Lee Bartow / Theologian - part 1  4/28/2010

Your name, name of of any project members, and age

Lee M. Bartow (AKA Leech), Theologian, 38 years old


The capital city of Dis, New York.

How long have you been doing your project?
I've been recording music on my own since the mid-90s, but this particular project (Theologian) has only existed for about two years, give or take. It grew from the corpus of my previous project, NTT, which technically existed from 1997-2007, but had its final recordings released in 2009.

If you have any notable collaborators, how long have you known each other and how did you meet?
Theologian is by definition strictly a solo project, but lately I've been working on collaborative releases with a lot of great artists. NTT involved collaborations with Tim Spann of ABFALL, Matt Slagle of SIDE 3, Mark Kammerbauer of FRAGMENT KING, Chris Goudreau of SICKNESS, Chris McDonald of SKM-ETR, James Keeler of WILT, Jasse and Toni of, David Tonkin of ISOMER, Fallon Knieves of COVET, and a host of other people who have made extremely valuable contributions to the large discography that NTT produced.

Why did you pick Theologian as the name of the band?
The monicker Theologian was inspired by Clive Barker's novella, "The Hellbound Heart" which also inspired the "Hellraiser" films. In the book, the cenobites are referred to as "Theologians of The Order of The Gash."

How has your music evolved since you first started? What are the main themes or topics for your work?
I consider my output as constantly evolving. As I have essentially started over from scratch with Theologian, I've had to go back to basics in a way, and still have not quite sorted out exactly what the process will be for this project. When I first started doing new material using this name, I had a bit of an idea as far as how each track was supposed to be executed, but as I continued recording new stuff after the first ep (coming from Crucial Blast as a digital release in August 2010), I realised that I needed more freedom to fuck around. I've read comments online that certain people don't perceive what the difference is between NTT and Theologian, which just speaks to their ignorance of my process. NTT was composed of about 90% appropriated and recontextualised samples and contributed sounds, whereas all Theologian material is completely generated by me from scratch, with the exception of a single track on the "Maximum Bitterness Has Been Achieved" cdr, which uses film dialogue and a looped musical sample on one track.

As far as themes go, there is a correlation between the themes covered in all of my projects, which focus primarily on themes of loss and longing, obsession and unrequited love, and the negative aspects of those emotional states. That is simply a part of who I am, and dealing with anything else would feel quite dishonest, which is the polar opposite of why I do what I do. The point is to be as brutally open and vulnerable as possible, to let it all out of me. As I've grown older and have accrued more sadness, the anger has abated and I've been relieved of a large portion of my unbridled spite. NTT was very helpful in heaving some of the emotional weight I have felt in my life, and it served its purpose well. I was quite happy to bury that beast and Theologian, as well as my other project love is nothing. have sprouted as new life from the carcass of NTT.

Describe your music/art. How do you describe your music to people?
Adam at Crucial Blast described Theologian as "blackened synth dread" and I quite liked that description and fully intend to exploit it (thanks Adam!). The truth is that I've always had a very hard time describing my music to people who are not familiar with the world of heavy/dark music. If you're not an initiate of this type of art, it's not an easy thing to swallow. Many people have a hard time discerning between an artistic persona and the artist who stands behind it. I admit that when I was younger, I myself had difficulty making the distinction between who I was in my daily life, and the way in which I chose to express myself artistically. It's true that these things are a very deeply-engrained portion of who I am, but it does not make up the entirety of my true self. I can laugh, I consider myself to have a good sense of humour and to be quite silly and childlike in a great many ways. I am also extremely loving and generous and loyal to the people I care about, unless they wound me.

What music did you grow up listening to?
As a child, I was exposed to jazz by my father, while my mother preferred the likes of Bobby Short, Frank Sinatra, and a lot of music from Broadway shows. I was brought up to have an appreciation for music, but the music my parents listened to had very little relevance for me personally. My father played standup bass, or at least aspired to do so, and some of my earliest memories of him involve him holding me and strumming my back like a bass while dancing to jazz on the radio. My father's copy of Chick Corea's "The Mad Hatter" was something I'd listen to obsessively while playing with my Star Wars figures.

When I got older, I didn't necessarily seek out music on my own until I was much older. One kid got me interested in "heavy metal" and the first record i ever bought with my own money was "Number of the Beast" when I was about ten years old, which I actually still have somewhere. After that, I was sort of dependent upon what my friends were listening to. I'd fallen in love with electronic music at an earlier age, Georgio Moroder's score to "Cat People" and Wendy Carlos' score to "Tron" were in constant rotation on my mother's turntable in the living room (I eventually got a huge solid state record player/hifi as a hand-me-down that was the centerpiece of my bedroom for years). I also loved the score to the Disney film "The Black Hole." A friend of my parents saw that I was into the David Bowie track on the "Cat People" record, so she gave me the first album by the B-52s as a birthday gift. This was probably my first proper introduction to weird music.

In junior high school, I dabbled with Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, eventually gravitating to a variety of shit from Stryper to Cinderella, until I finally was rescued by some friends who listened to punk rock and deathrock. When I was 16, my favorite bands were probably Erasure and Depeche Mode. The first show I ever went to was Siouxsie & the Banshees at Radio City when I was in tenth grade, I listened to all that sort of stuff, The Pixies, The Cure, Sonic Youth. My friend Jane's father worked for Caroline Distribution, so he had huge cases of cassettes in his house, and she would give boxes stuff to everyone. By the end of eleventh grade, I was listening to The Misfits, GBH, The Angry Samoans, Exodus, Overkill and Swans... Especially Swans. The first Swans album I ever heard was "Children of God" and that was the fucking end and the beginning of everything for me. From there I just started to seek darker and heavier music, particularly anything electronic. I recall that at some point in my senior year of high school, I made a decision that I was going to listen to industrial music almost exclusively, because it was the only thing that really gave me what I wanted.

What's the first song you remember listening to or that sticks in your mind?
I don't recall a specific song, but as you can see above, there were several pivotal albums in my childhood that had a profound impact on my musical identity.

What are you currently listening to that you're really into? Can you give me a short list of stuff you've been into lately that you think should be investigated/listened to?
I don't really have a list, per se, but I've been listening to tracks from the second album by Crystal Castles maniacally for the past few weeks, ever since I saw them at Irving Plaza. The album was leaked, so I downloaded a few of the tracks after pre-ordering three copies for myself and two of my friends who went with me to the show, then I bought the digital version of the album after they pushed the release date up due to the leak. The latest release by Aderlating, "Devotional Hymns" is highly recommmended, as is their split with Painforged. Both are on my friend Butch's Shadowgraph Records label. Also on Shadowgraph is the amazing "Through the Fields of Mourning" by Welter In Thy Blood. Other recent acquisitions are "With Dirt You Are One" by Sewer Goddess, on Malignant Records (who released three full-length albums by NTT), "Flow" by Foetus, and "Winter Hours" by the amazing Tombs.
For the most part, I've been listening to a lot of my own stuff, as I'm currently working on several different releases simultaneously.

Who are your influences in general, musically and artistically?

While Swans has definitely been the greatest musical influence on me since I was in high school, Godflesh and pretty much everything that Justin Broadrick does. Jim Plotkin had a profound influence on me, and he exposed me to a lot of great stuff in the mid 90s. Brighter Death Now was possibly the biggest influence when I started focussing on making "noise"-oriented recordings, and along with Dive, BDN was sort of a direct reference point when I started working as Theologian. At this point I feel like I've grown past the need to cite influences, I'd say it's pretty obvious by now to those in the know. Artistically, I'm influenced by Clive Barker, the films of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, and I derive inspiration from a whole host of other writers and filmmakers, though in all probability the emotional discomfort I continue to experience as an aspect of my existence on this planet serves as my primary influence.

What got you into making harsh noise in the first place?

As I said above, there was a point when I was a teenager that I started getting into heavier and darker music, and my gravitation toward noise was just a natural element of my interest in experimental and industrial music. In the early 90s, I formed my first band, which was a sort of weird industrial rock outfit with two keyboardists, a guitarist and myself doing vocals through effects pedals. After that inevitably ended, I worked with another friend on a project which was the beginning of my veering toward doing more fucked up shit. These early endeavours whetted my appetite, and I just continued to fuck around with sound on my own until I started meeting people who were into similar stuff.  As is the case with many people, I was unaware of any sort of global "noise scene" when I first started fucking around with making noise on my own, and as I started working to make a scene happen in NYC, I met and became friends with more and more people who had been influences.

Are your sounds deliberately composed, is your work abstract, or a combination of both?

That's not an easy question to answer. I can't really put my process into specific terms, because it's just something that I do. I don't have any real system as such. NTT tracks would often be built around a specific sample that had a particular emotional impact on me, or sometimes they would simply serve as a delivery medium for a particular concept or set of lyrics.

Do you rehearse or plan your performance in any way, either in your heads, on paper or in a studio, or do you just wing it when it comes to performing and recording?

Theologian has only performed three times as of this time, and I've only been happy with one of them, which was at the second Northeast Noise & Power Electronics Festival in Massachusetts back in November 2009. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing with my live setup, and to directly answer your question, in general I prefer to improvise live, but within certain sonic ideas that I come up with ahead of time. NTT live was a combination of prepared backing tracks and improvisation. I generally tried to include other performers in my NTT shows, and sometimes we'd play after having only rehearsed once or not at all.

Could you describe your music-making process?

Not really. It's just something I do.

Where do you record?

My "studio" is called Leechnest Breeding Facilities, which is a play on the fact that it's my bedroom. For about a year, I had my recording setup at my friend Kevin's rehearsal and recording studio, but in the end it wasn't convenient for me to have to leave the house to work on music, unless I was working with other people. It worked in some capacities and didn't in others.

Do you have a home studio setup?

See above.

Can we see a picture of your work environment/studio setup and a brief description of it?

My setup is in total disarray at the moment, as is my life, and I'm not at full operational capacity, so I'm not comfortable showing you what it looks like. I'm not even really comfortable being here.

Are you prolific/are you constantly cranking out new stuff or does it take time to get it right and done?

It's a combination of both. I have gone through periods when I banged out loads of material all at once, and then there have been tracks that took me a year to complete. It all depends on my emotional state and whether I'm distracted by life's drama. At the moment I have about six releases that are in progress, which include several collaborations and the first official full length Theologian album, which is due on Crucial Blast in August 2010.

Are your live performances structured in any way or are they freeform?

See above.
Theologian on myspace

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