The mighty HASTCO returns, as promised a year ago in this space, with a remarkable new record. Visit their Bandcamp page to preview (or download) it, and then settle in for our review of the digital album and our new interview with the musicians, below.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Almost a year on from my previous interview with the Hair and Skin Trading Company (discussing their 1992 classic album Jo In Nine G Hell) and the debut of the first track from this new self-released record, I Don’t Know Where You Get Those Funny Ideas From, we finally have lift off.
If I look back to where Hair & Skin Trading Company (HASTCO) has been musically over the past 25 years, from the metallic tribal intensity of Jo to Over Valence’s psychedelics to the LSD infused shocking soundscapes of Psychedelische Musique, the band have consistently made bold and matchless musical statements throughout their career. Here we have the coalescing of those disparate elements into a superbly wrought album filled with propulsive atmospherics and an updated sonic palette that takes us over the edge never to return.
“Cruz” is the ignition that lights the area aglow as the jets start to come alive and the superheated mix of gases detonates and expands over the area. Here the throb of the bass and the sonic chug keeps the listener on the edge of their seat as they leave the ground.
“Cezanne” is a shocker with its Kraftwerkian processed vocals and dance beat. It’s a fascinating number that should be played at any number of end-of-the-world shindigs should America’s Cheeto in Chief get reelected.
“Nihil” is a menacing tune that builds brilliantly and leaves the listener devastated at its conclusion. The droning voices in the background leave you questioning your own sanity. The head fake of calm in the middle then coalesces into a massive sonic assault that would be the perfect soundtrack for a Mad Max sequel.
“Octo” if you imagine Hawkwind’s “Valium Ten” stripped, processed and then electronically sequenced you might get part of what this track has to offer. The fuzz guitar, spare bassline and pulsing singular beat mated with hushed vocals creates a narco-haze that is hard to shake and left me wanting more.
“Wabi Sabi” is a 14-minute stunner that makes its case early on and then builds certain looped elements to a euphoric rush. Through the dilaudid churn, like a whirling dervish we spin, trancing out, as we round the next corner seeing a car aflame and a glow off the canyon walls.
“Lila” closes out the album and left me speechless. It’s a uniquely arresting final statement, replete with an off axis recurring background with hallucinogenic guitar stretched over it. It’s unsettling, introspective and beguiling all in the space of seven minutes.
I Don’t Know Where You Get Those Funny Ideas From left me stupefied and a tad melancholy since many of the numbers on here made me look back at my own life and contemplate what’s next. It’s that sort of visceral, cathartic experience I crave. It will take you to uncharted territory in your mind’s eye. Key tracks to target for your streaming and/or downloading pleasure: “Cruz,” “Cezanne,” ”Nihil,” “Octo,” “Wabi Sabi,” and “Lila.”
I’ve been telling people for most of my adult life that this is a band worth checking out. This record shows the band at a creative high water mark. HASTCO, who’ve put this album together mailing the tracks back and forth to each other, have created an otherworldly, bold and intelligent record that will have you clamoring to climb aboard for another rotation.
I talked to the band recently about the new record, and the artists – solely responsible for the music: Neil MacKay, John Wills, and Nigel Webb – were more than forthcoming with their disclosures and observations.
BLURT: How long did it take to record this album and were there tracks left off it that will be used on future projects?
Nigel Webb: Probably took about 1 year to exchange songs/tracks and parts, ideas – total recording/mixing time a lot less. Similarly, I guess about another 10 months ‘maturing’.
John Wills : The album came together quite slowly mainly because we had to work remotely. We swapped files and tinkered with them but I found it a displeasing way of working.
Neil Mackay: Back a bit, John and I played in the Loop reunion and toured the UK and Europe a little. John left as he wanted to record and Robert didn’t want to record with us. When in London I met up and jammed with Nigel and we all somehow decided to do a new album. It took quite a while. I initially bombarded John and Nigel with tracks of varying quality! I have been doing online file swapping for quite a while with previous projects on the Escape Velocity Label, also I recorded a nice album with Randall from Fuxa called Fuxa and Neil Mackay. The album probably took 2 – 2.5 years. [The] next one will be quicker I hope. Many tracks left off. We wrote 75 [plus] tracks I reckon ( Nigel hope you’ve still got them all ! ) … We write material specifically for an album, we do not just release [“demos”] we had lying around. It’s bloody hard work. Bloody good fun [that] but can be frustrating, confusing and all the rest, but once you have something you like it’s well worth it. Everyone should try using a multi-track recorder at least once! Creation is fun, If it isn’t [then] don’t do it !
BLURT: You mentioned to me that you mailed the tapes to each other to add and complete the songs. How was it working like this and what challenges did this present to completing the record?
Nigel: Working this way [via mail] is a lot different, almost a concept really – I learned a whole lot.
John: HASTCO really [works] best when songs come from jams and live improvisations that could be later developed. [Having] said that, I think we have produced an album that’s vibrant and exciting and made us explore things differently.
Neil: Of course it is always best for everyone to be in the same room at the same time. Playing in a group is about the inter communication between humans. I would always prefer analogue to digital but not so possible these days. I still keep meaning to get my cassette 4-track out again!
BLURT: How does this album differ from HASTCO’s other recorded output?
Nigel: Most HASTCO things were recorded with all three people being in the same physical space. [This is not the case on this.] We also sometimes used to work with engineers, there are none [on] this one. Also we used to all have home studios but recorded/mixed in proper commercial studios. [This is all ‘home’ (ish).]
Neil: Less live drums. Less “liveness” to it in a certain way. Completely different in a way, although Psychedelische Musique employed lots and lots of edit, cuts, sound manipulation. So there is a bridge there.
BLURT: Any particular tracks that you are especially proud of?
Nigel: I like all of them but “Nihil”,”Yes/No” & “Cezanne” are my faves this week.
Neil: Same. Sometimes I think a track is awesome, spot on, then I spot the pimples, warts, varucas and scabs that we/I didn’t clear up. Listening back to your own music, one can be very critical of the work and attention to detail. FYI all the crap edits on the LP are mine(lol). In future it would be good if John could do all the editing so much more accurate!
BLURT: Will you release it on vinyl? Where can fans buy a copy of the CD/LP?
Nigel: Would be great to release it on vinyl/CD… but not sure if it will be possible (Neil?)
Neil: Yes of course Nigel, I have $3,000 NZ+. [I] would love to and am doing a limited CD soon. Keep your eye bananas peeled.
BLURT: Who did the cover art?
Nigel: Dan Holliday did the cover art, [although I have been ‘experimenting’ with it further].
Neil: Our main man Dan Holliday, premiere art man for the Sausage Machine [who] still makes awesome vibrant art. Check him [out] on FB. He has a new screen print out soon. Plus check Dans daughters band, Skinny girl diet! Thanks Dan. I/we owe you!
BLURT: It’s now been 25 years since your last record Psychedelische Musique. What informs the new record? Is there a certain statement you’re trying to convey?
Nigel: Yes, as a statement, you can still make records and be a band 11,659 miles (or so) apart, but you need much longer cables! I think we released a 4 track vinyl EP after Psychedelische Musique and had an album..or two of recorded material that hasn’t been released yet that isn’t to do with this new one. This is all new material.
John: I don’t know if there’s a statement other than we are all living in the most unpredictable times and this is how we all expressed it consciously or unconsciously.
Neil: I don’t know. I don’t understand what [you mean by] informs! I now do music as it is something I do. I try to be relaxed when I record / write, that’s the most fun for me. Creation! The record company side of things that I run is hopeless. In other words we need a manager but aren’t making any money to afford one. I must say I am really pleased and a big thank you to the people who have bought the album so far. Rock on. Hope you have fun listening and don’t take it too serious.
BLURT: In the intervening years, has your taste in music changed at all? What sorts of bands do you listen to these days?
Nigel: Since the last EP, I have probably gotten into a lot of different music. I found myself personally revisiting ‘rock’ music & krautrock for a while, and getting into a huge amount of YouTube stuff I hadn’t listened to in years:
Roky Erickson, A Place to Bury Strangers,Trumans Water,Polvo, Swans,Can and recently Son house,Charlemagne Palestine, and also The Urinals (SoCal 1980s) – all sorts.
John: My musical taste is constantly changing. I try to live in the present and hate nostalgia. You know, Facebook posts about how great classic albums are really piss me off. We mustn’t stagnate we must all create. I like some of the latest Grime[s] especially the female rappers coming from a very direct feminist stance. There’s some great poetry happening on this stuff. Other than that at the other end of the spectrum I’m really into field recording.
Neil: I worked at Rough Trade shops in London for 17 plus years so much musical tastes were pretty broad to start with (or after that I should say – what an education and a privilege to work with such awesome people and with such awesome product, music.) In my car I keep [flipping] between stations. I listen to Hindi, pacific islander, Chinese, NZ and anything and everything [that’s] on the radio. I do have a certain liking for Bollywood music. I find it is an awesome amalgamation of every style of music!
BLURT: Finally, any plans to play out for this album and are there future projects in the works? Any bands in particular that you’d enjoy playing with?
Nigel: Would be great to play live again, not sure if it will be possible.
John: I’m working with 3D sound and creating VR for theatre which is very exciting. I’ve just finished writing a new Pumajaw album which will have a vinyl release next Spring.
Neil: Love to hmu… everyone and anyone.