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"I Won't Freak Out This Time"
satanstompingcaterpillars: are they pagans, or just extremely creative? Meet the enigma behind "the autumn kaleidoscope got changed" (album, sing to us.), the most poignant and captivating album of recent years.
On the evening of Friday, October 19, 2001, I learned a fairly critical lesson: Nobody respects a man dressed as Raggedy Anne. I was either scorned by bigots, or molested by lecherous swine who mistakenly assumed I was one of Them.
Tom and Ken Fec certainly weren’t impressed by my attire. The cousins, Pittsburgh natives who call themselves satanstompingcaterpillars, seemed disgusted upon meeting me, and uncomfortable sitting next to me at our table in the Beehive Coffeehouse. To alleviate the tension, I started the interview on a gentle note by asking Tom, “What’s your favorite color?”
“I don’t have a favorite color!” he snapped, “What do you know about colors, anyway?! Your lipstick doesn’t even match your mascara!” With that, he jumped up, and stormed out of the café.
“What’s your problem?!” Ken barked, “How dare you speak to us about colors; what’s wrong with you?!” Then he too left and joined Tom outside. They returned five minutes later, and sat down, Tom’s eyes glowing an eerie tint that is only seen in a Jedi.
"Here's the deal," Tom growled, "Don't ever ask me about colors again or I'll thump your skull for you."
Thus, I moved on.
ME- Who would you say your main influences are?
TOM- Honestly, Flaming Lips changed the way I looked at alot of things, “The Soft Bulletin,” that came out when I was making “The Anti-Freakout Method.”
ME- That show was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life, up at Metropol.
TOM- I don't want to say a single album changed everything, but if there is, it's “The Soft Bulletin.”
ME- What did they do that changed your course?
TOM- The music was just so different, it was all about Life, every aspect of Life was in the album, and it was just so different, it hit me. I'm sure there were so many other albums out there that were like that, but at that time, I was ready to understand it.
ME- So, what's this thing called Allegheny White Fish?
TOM- That was like our evil alter-ego, in the past.
KEN- Allegheny White Fish was just ridiculous fun- no seriousness went to it at all.
ME- Was it more hard-core?
TOM- It was real loud and noisy.
KEN- It's the extreme opposite of what we're doing right now.
ME- When did you guys first start getting into music?
KEN- He (Tom) was in it long before me.
TOM- That's a long story. I don't remember if I was in tenth or eleventh grade, it was '96, but my other cousin and I started it. He taught me how to play guitar, and it went from there. Basically, he wanted to start it, he started a band, and then he was on a ton of drugs, and his songs got really, really...
TOM- Yea, and they weren't songs any more, and I think the last song that he wrote, he was sitting in his basement singing, “I want to kill myself,” and just hitting the guitar...
Ken is hesitant to sit next to me.
KEN- He was just about off the edge at that point.
TOM- Yea. That was right before he tried to kill himself.
KEN- Now he just burns himself with cigarettes.
TOM- It used to be me and him wrote the songs- he wrote his songs, I wrote my songs, and we wrote songs together.
KEN- You can hear it in the earlier albums- there's a distinct difference between the sounds throughout the album.
TOM- Yea, and as they went on, he would have less to do with it.
KEN- Before I joined with these guys, I was in a metal band. I got into the band in late '98, and it was us three, and I saw it when I first got there that he was kind of...off. What happened was, we were practicing one night, just so we had our stuff together, because we were finally going to be playing out. I remember that night distinctly...
TOM- Same here.
KEN- We were down in my parents’ basement practicing, and I look over, and he had stopped drumming completely and started banging his head off the wall, broke his one drumstick, and we kept playing. He got off his drumstool, and put his head on the floor, and we could tell that he'd just broke.
TOM- We have it on tape. You can hear a person deteriorating and going crazy.
KEN- It's so bad. You can hear at the beginning that he was keeping a drum-beat, and at the end you can hear it: you hear him hit the symbol that broke his drumstick, and he starts banging his head on the wall. And we just kept playing. It's pretty sick. I haven't heard it in a long time.
TOM- Um, he had to go, obviously. That's when satanstompingcaterpillars happened, my mood changed, and he was gone. Near the end of making “Anti-Freakout,” I sort of started to get serious, and that CD is like a mix between insanity and seriousness...
KEN- That's why it's called “Anti-Freakout.” At the beginning of it, the first five or six songs are absolutely insane, but when he started writing really personal songs, it “anti-freaked” him. That was the whole idea. That's where “Flower Slides” came from.
TOM- Yea, “Flower Slides” is more personal, and everything changed, so I changed the name, and I changed the ideals.
Somebody said something about “Flower Slides” that I really liked: it reminded them of the point where, when you're drowning, you realize there's nothing you can do, and you just accept it. I think that's another thing that helped me make the new CD, and to be happier. Once you say all that stuff, and you realize you've accepted it, it's behind you. Know what I mean?
ME- Yea, you take that step back, you look at the Picture, deal with whatever, and you go on a little smarter with a better grasp of what's going on.
TOM- Yea, even though nothing's changed.
ME- How long did it take you to put “Flower Slides” together?
TOM- Um, the majority of it took about three months.
ME- So what was going on with “autumn kaleidoscope?” Is there any underlying message or consistent thought process that was going on through that?
TOM- Yea, it sort of ties in, like, if you take the season, and how we didn't use anything on it, just an acoustic guitar and little pieces of crap. It's like loneliness. It's really wierd. Right now, I really don't know how it's happening, 'cause I think the songs are just writing themselves.
ME- Are there any particular influences you can pinpoint to “autumn kaleidoscope?”
TOM- Neutral Milk Hotel, even though it doesn't sound like it. I saw that you can sit there with an acoustic guitar, and not polish anything, and blow stuff out whenever you want to, and it can still be so real and beautiful.
ME- Have you pulled out any anger in any of these albums?
TOM- I've never pulled out anger, even in the crazy songs.
ME- So, what's the deal with the new album?
TOM- Um, with the new one, I got everything off my chest that I needed to get off my chest, and I wanted to get back to sort of experimenting a little bit more with sounds and not worrying about being so personal, not worrying about trying to make myself cry.
KEN- It's the same style, but a whole other genre. It's the same music but it's happy, instead of being sad.
TOM- I sampled alot of beats from old records. The new stuff is all old-school and hip-hop beats. Black Sabbath has a song, “Behind The Walls Of Sleep,” and I use the drum loop from the end as the beat for one of the songs.
ME- Where are you going with this one as opposed to “autumn kaleidoscope?”
TOM- Remember when they got psychedelic on Sesame Street?
TOM- Right there, exactly.
ME- Where do you expect to go after this album?
TOM- I honestly don't know. It depends on what mood I'm in.
… O.K., here's what I'm going to say: With the new album, if people bash me, then I'll get sad, and I'll go back to what I was doing before, but if people like it, maybe I'll stay happy, and keep doing it.
ME- When you play out, how do you pull that off? Is it just you again, or is that both of you guys?
TOM- I do vocals, and play on the sampler and guitar, and he does bass, then we have another kid who does old keyboards and stuff.
ME- As far as playing out, do you have any plans to evolve in pursing other instruments, like a drummer?
KEN- We need a real drummer.
TOM- I'd like to get a drummer.
ME- You're in college; where do you go to school?
Tom basks in Pee-Wee's approval.
TOM- Art Institute.
ME- What's you plan with that?
TOM- Try to graduate by Christmas.
ME- Is your ultimate goal after school to keep going on with the music?
TOM- Yea, I want to do both, I mean, I don't want to go crazy with the music, because I want to still have something solid at the same time, like a real job, but, you know, I'm not trying to jump into a career anytime soon. I'm not ready for it.
ME- Has the explosion of the Internet and Napster, Audio Galaxy, etc. obstructed the way artists express themselves, or has it made things easier?
TOM- So much easier, yes, without the Internet, we'd be nothing.
KEN- We still get two of three downloads a day on MP3.com, but no one knows who we are. We're obviously getting some exposure from the Internet.
TOM- Without the Internet, you guys wouldn't know who we are, there would be no you guys (E-zines).
ME- I see it the same way. Yea, it takes money away from the producers, but it seems to make musicians almost not need a producer, not need the backing of a company. All you need is a computer, and an idea.
TOM- I feel that anybody who's losing a little bit of money through the Internet, who cares? because they have enough to begin with. It's not hurting anybody, all it's doing is helping us. Guys now even release stuff just for the Internet.
ME- Where would you like to see the future of music go? Would you like to see the whole Napster idea take over and pretty much eliminate labels?
KEN- That way, whatever music is good is what makes it.
Find out more about satanstompingcaterpillars at: http://www.satanstompingcaterpillars.com