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Steel for Brains

Exploring the Brains behind the Noise

There are unsettling vocals, and then there are the tortured and gnarled wails of Alan Dubin (Gnaw/Khanate/OLD).  With every one of Dubin’s bands, from the industrial grind of OLD to the doom benchmark group Khanate to his most recent experimental noise project Gnaw, the distinctively desolate vocals bring an even darker layer of pitch to the already sinister noise background.  Dubin’s vocals are not simply an exercise in shock routine.  Listening to songs such as “Under Rotting Sky” from Khanate’s 2001 S/T (Southern Lord) debut or the more recent “Widowkeeper” from 2013’s Horrible Chamber (Seventh Rule), reveals a vitriol that is both absolute and authentic.  Boiling up from the most primal recesses of consciousness, Dubin’s vocals are fiercely inhuman yet strangely familiar to the commonality in darkness that resides in all of us. SfB had the opportunity ask Alan a few questions regarding his own journey and what draws him to constantly experiment vocally.  

What brought you to music initially, Alan, and what do you find about it that compels you to continue creating?  

I was exposed to music really early on and just took to it. I have memories of playing dodgeball in first grade (this was the 70’s) and our gym teacher would blast Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, etc and had friends with older siblings who we’d hang out with that would play tunes so I got to hear all that stuff as a small brat. I got into many phases growing up like riding dirtbikes and my “wannabe ninja warrior”mode with throwing stars etc. but the music love always stayed with me.

When I was about 14 or so, I got into the heavier stuff. NWOBHM was taking off and then a few years later, it was thrash and hardcore. I was one of those infamous tape trading guys and ordered demos from bands and was just immersed in metal. It was a glorious time back then and of course, I got together with some friends to form a band. The first one being called Vile Stench and then Old Lady Drivers. All these years later, I still have the fire to make music that I myself am interested in with musicians and friends I admire.

How have you seen yourself evolve as a person and as a musician since you first began singing?  

As a person, I think I’m pretty much the same immature man-boy except now I’m tired all the time. Heh heh. As a musician, I think I’m always trying to evolve and create something that seems somewhat new to myself. There’s so much regurgitated music in all genres but especially in heavy music. It’s so completely rare to find any shock and awe these days so for me, it’s rare that a band has any wow-factor at all.

99% of black metal bands are bullshit clones (no need for any more), grindcore is boring (no need for any more), retro metal has been done to death, open e-chord generic hardcore and pogo punk are worthless…and one man band laptop experimental knob twiddling “noise”, yeah right?, is basically a nerd with no musical skill pretending to be cool. Hmmm…basically I’m a bitter old man I guess. Get off my lawn. Sorry that led to a small rant. My fingers just kept typing.

What is it about heavy/experimental music that you feel makes it the perfect medium for what you want to create?

My need for music experimentation comes out of not wanting to rehash the same thing over and over again. There’s no point to that because it just becomes boring. Every band I’ve been in has evolved album to album and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great musicians who constantly re-invent themselves as well.

Do you see the heavy music world as having changed much since your time with OLD? 

Well, now there are waaaaaaay too many bands. It’s no longer magic and excitement, well it’s been severely diminished, when a new band is on the scene because it’s all been done and heard before. “Too many bands, not enough fans”.  I can only speak for myself, but music just has to have that intangible magic quality to it in order to be captivating. It’s difficult to wade through all the muck of sameness these days. 

What do you see as a possible reason for the recent growth in popularity for extreme music?  

I think “extreme music”, fuck, I hate that expression because there’s not really anything extreme about most of it but I know what you mean, grew in popularity due to longevity and over-saturation. There’s so much shit, so many bands, too much, that it can’t be contained. The rebellious factor is gone and is now just normal and pathetic.

What do you see as the greatest detriment for heavy/experimental music in 2014 as opposed to 2001 when Khanate debuted?  

When Khanate started, it felt like we were exploring a new realm (I always try to sneak that word into interviews) and while we certainly borrowed from existing genres, we pushed in all directions even further. In 2014, Gnaw has a similar mindset but are perhaps a little looser with regards to genre. Music creators having limited imagination and the acceptance of subpar regurgitated normalcy in music by the masses both combined are the greatest detriments these days. Heavy music has the excitement of buying a bag of socks at JC Penney except for the magical few who dare to push the push-less boundaries or just have that certain something that can’t be explained. 

Is your creative vision for Gnaw different than the one you had with Khanate?  How do you approach writing lyrics?  Is there a kind of specific consciousness you try to embody or channel?

For me, the creative vision lyric-wise is very similar for both bands in regards to conveying unsettling story-lines and making the songs “visual”to a point via lyrics, delivery and music. I find I continue to write like always have. An interesting phrase could pop into my head and I can expand on that turning it into a story or perhaps I think of a scenario and just put that story into words hopefully helping to make a song contain “mental pictures”. It could be after a bad day or even a good day or I can just be inspired by a new piece of Gnaw music. 

Is creating art that’s genuine or perhaps truly honest harder in the digital/information age?  Is it more difficult to create an unsettling or moving atmosphere when so many are desensitized or over stimulated at almost every level?   

I think your questions in itself tells a lot about the current state of creating art. I think that artists and musicians should create works for themselves and not give in to any trends, shit out the same exact work that’s been out for decades or care what people think. Jump off the bandwagon and just go apeshit for yourself! If you keep doing it and like it, perhaps other people will like it and take it as credible. If they don’t, fuck it because you appeased yourself and that in itself, is honest.

Thanks to Alan for his time.

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7 months ago
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    The inimitably awesome Alan Dubin. Loved his recent(-ish) contributions to Deathstench and OvO.
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