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Interview: Introducing: [melter] “Nobody has the right to invalidate any form of expression!”

Devolution caught up with Chicago’s dynamic duo Rob Hyman and Jax Allos from [melter] to discuss their collaborative way of working together, delve into what each member brings to the table and the reasons why it is a flat out no to ever accepting a major label deal if it meant censorship or a change of image….

Introduce the band in your own words…

Rob: “[melter] has allowed me to combine all of my musical ideas and influences into a unified idea, given a focus and voice by the contributions that Jax brings to the band. The music of [melter] seeks to introduce the listener to a sonic world of our creation, that hopefully takes them on a journey. It’s a process of creation and discovery that continues with the participation of an audience.”

Tell our readers about your current EP.

Rob: “The 5 tracks on our debut EP are a document of the beginning of the band; from our very first songs, to the first tracks written when Jax joined the band. We are proud of these tracks and are eager to release the newer material we’ve written in the last few years.”

Who would you say you sound most like?

Jax: “We sound most like [melter]. That may be a little…. A cop-out? A cliche? Our sound is an amalgamation of every sound we’ve ever been exposed to. We don’t sound like anyone. We have our influences but that’s all they are. Of course, at shows we get people who say “oh, you sound like XYZ band,” some obscure band I’ve never heard of.”

Who or what are your biggest influences?

Rob: “My early influences are a lot of post-punk, industrial, goth, and new wave bands of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s: Killing Joke, Bauhaus, The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Einstürzende Neubauten, Gary Numan, U2, PiL, Pigface, SWANS. A lot of my influences in the last few decades have been experimental electronic, drone and ambient music: Alva Noto, Ryoji Ikeda, Senking, Tim Hecker, Taylor Deupree; and diving into the world of modular synthesis, and artists like Alessandro Cortini and Caterina Barbieri.”

Describe your band members and what each person brings to the table.

Rob: “Initially, the core sensibilities and aesthetics of our music came from me, but that has evolved and morphed since Jax and I began working together. Songs develop as a combination of working in the studio, and jamming on them in a rehearsal environment. One of us will present an idea to the other and when the other has an idea to add to it, we begin to build it from there. Our rapport is very collaborative and open, and any idea is entertained. Songs tend to develop over time, as we continue to refine and try new things. We don’t rush the completion of a song. Even after a song may feel done, we may change it, if we prefer that change, up until the final recording is completed.”

What have you been up to this year?

Rob: “We have been busy planning and finishing up recordings and videos for a handful of releases this year. We’ve been playing steadily in our home town, Chicago, and in neighboring states. We are currently in the planning stages of two tours for late Summer/early Fall.”

If you could bring back one music personality, who would it be and why?  You get one, but this is a group decision.

Rob: “Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, but only if he agreed to release more music.”

You’re stuck on a night off mid tour with just a games console and a handful of games for company. Which games do you choose to play? Or do you just raid the mini bar?

Jax: “I have a farm game and crossword puzzles on my phone to entertain me. But it’s usually short lived. I have the attention span of a gnat. If we’re at a venue with downtime, if there is a pinball machine, I will always play. Solo or not. I always carry a little coin purse with quarters for precisely this! I love venues with games because it allows me to just take a break to exercise my brain. If Rob’s looking for me at a venue, the best bet is to check at the pinball machine first. No mini bar for me. I’d rather have an edible any day of the week.”

If the band got offered an amazing major label deal but it meant a change of image to something you are uncomfortable with and censorship of lyrics, would you take the deal or walk?

Rob: “No, we would never compromise on something we weren’t comfortable with. As a band grows and develops, there are a lot of challenges that come along that require compromise to some degree. But we believe in what we do, and have faith that what we’ve built together is special and should be protected. And so, we’d continue to hold onto that idea, as time goes on.”

Jax: “OH. That is a flat-out no. We refuse to lose our integrity as artists and the integrity of the songs. Sometimes it’s a phrase in another language that is relentlessly invading the sonic space and refusing to go away until it has its place in the song. Maybe it just so happens to be an expletive or maybe triggering to the listener in some way shape or form. If it makes a listener uncomfortable, GOOD. Too bad, so sad. That’s the lyric, that’s the narrative, in that particular song, that’s the unconventional sound undulating in a strange spot, so. It made me uncomfortable too, and I think you should hear it and be uncomfortable with me and we can all figure out what made it compelling in the first place. (laughs) That’s the point of all art, isn’t it, though, to evoke a feeling? Whether good or bad. We already know that’s subjective.

If the songs are challenging to listen to it becomes a question of why. The song that is off-putting to one person may be the same song that helps another learn a new truth about themselves. The listener comes from their frames of reference, with their own baggage…it’s all open to interpretation. When it comes to lyrics, I’m not bowing to other people’s hurt feelings or potentially hurt feelings. Nobody has the right to invalidate any form of expression… Not even me. There were some lyrics I was hemming and hawing about, and I brought them to Rob. I showed him both the original lyrical idea and the current idea I was thinking of, and he flat out said no, keep the original. Sure, it still made sense lyrically, but then it’s not being truthful to the original idea. And so, we operate under the mindset that that’s what was pulled from the ether, so that’s it. Maybe it’s an uncomfortable truth that needs to be heard by someone out there. But just don’t shoot the messenger. Maybe it’s just a story about subject matter that is taboo. Maybe the song structure is not radio friendly or has no chorus. It doesn’t matter. We’re not going to deny ourselves from releasing a song that may be interpreted as sonically abrasive just because a handful of people MAY not like it. We don’t deliberately strive to be abrasive, because it’s all part of the experience, if you will, but if it is abrasive, so be it.

We’re not changing it. We can’t conveniently omit the weird noises, the triggering lyrics, the randomly placed expletives and then only include the cookie-cutter, formulaic pop sensibilities that are deemed as “good.” Because that’s not how life is. Right? That’s not the entire human experience. Sometimes life is abrasive, but it’s ok to talk about it, it’s ok to be offended… it’s ok to stick your head in the sand, but is it healthy? Eventually you confront it. You can’t have the good without the bad.  Rob and I, we’re just the vessels decorating time. It doesn’t matter what we look like, how we’re dressed, what our age is… that superficiality has nothing to do with the actual music itself. How ever we show up, that’s how we show up. We come as we are. At the end of the day, the song wants what the song wants. Who are we to fuck with that?

TLDR: no.

Describe the local music scene of your hometown and how you fit into that as a band?

Jax: “I feel like the redheaded stepchild (laughs).”

When writing new music is it a collaborative effort or is there a main song writer?

Rob: “A lot of songs start with a ‘bit’ I come up with, then Jax will respond with a vocal idea, and we build from there. But we have begun to write a few songs that started with an idea from Jax. Right now, we have way more song ideas than we’ve had time to pursue, but that’s always a good problem to have!”

Jax: “For us, everything is collaborative. And there is no same approach to ideas. We usually start out with one of us sharing a, what we call, “bit.” For example, Rob will write a “bit.” That bit might be 10 seconds of a drum beat or 10 minutes of a cool drone. Then I’ll listen to said “bit,” (obsessively, of course) and I just press record and start vocalizing or playing along on piano or bass. And then they come out the way they come out. Other times when we’re at “Church,” we have unconventional ways of working on different parts where we will suddenly get this idea, I always tell Rob, thank you for humoring me, whenever I get in that flow… and just flow with it, sometimes obsessively, and see where it goes. They always sound like half-baked ideas, but we don’t dismiss an idea just because it’s unconventional or it breaks the rules of traditional, mainstream, formulaic writing. We don’t know if something works until we try it and hear it back in the context of the song. Some of the coolest ideas we’ve had are happy accidents.”

In the modern on-demand music scene is the concept album dead or do you feel there’s still room for them?

Rob: “I think there is still room for it. I think there is room for everything!”

The hardest step for any band today is going full time, is this something you envisage being able to do in the future?

Jax: “I feel like I’m already doing this full time! Every waking hour is dedicated towards [melter] goals. Rob and I do everything admin, merch, we do everything. EVERYTHING. Writing, producing, recording, promoting, an odd dissonant sound of two seconds of running water run through a bunch of effects or…”

How important is the local music scene to you as a band?

Rob: “We’ve been very fortunate to find a handful of Chicago bands that we’ve bonded with, and that means a lot to us. We try to support each other as much as we can, and it’s really a valuable asset to have peers that you can bounce ideas off of, and share information with. We feel very fortunate to have connected with them, and to hopefully continue that trend with more bands in the future.”

As a band who have been working hard to get yourselves out there in the live circuit and industry – what do you hope will have changed for unsigned and independent bands once this year ends? 

Jax: “I want to see more diversity on bills. I would love to see more female-fronted bands, people of color, more of a mix tape approach to bills. Shows don’t always have to be all bands of the same genre.”

Do you have a message for fans of your music?

Jax: “We love you.

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