Child Abuse

Child Abuse
If the quirky yet provocative moniker doesn’t get your attention, the bizarre spastic rock modulation and jarring vocal bursts almost certainly will. Whether you get it or you don’t, Child Abuse’s divergent set of musical inclinations draws from Cambodian folk music to contemporary jazz, bringing together a world of styles while ensuring that you’ll always be left guessing as to what comes next. This Brooklyn three-piece are relatively new to the scene but their self-titled debut out on Lovepump United is turning more than just a few heads.

You have done a bunch of splits but this is your first full-length, correct?
Singer/keyboarist Luke Calzonetti: That’s right, well, actually that’s not correct. We did an album as a two-piece about four years ago, a self–released CD-R. So technically it’s our second record but our first record as a three-piece.

Did you start writing this album with a clear idea of what you wanted from a full-length or did you just kind of jam it out over time with no real plans for any sort of continuity?
I felt like when Tim [Dahl, bass] joined the group he brought more of a sense of glue to the songwriting process. In terms of having a vision of the record, it takes us a while to write songs because we’re all stubborn motherfuckers. We always fight in practices about song structure, so we knew what we wanted to do but at the same time this is our first record with Tim so a bunch of the songs are the first songs we wrote with him. We were just trying to gel with him, if anything, so basically what happened with that was the record. We actually re-recorded two old songs that we wrote as a two-piece.

Would you say this "fighting” brings more to the end product or do you find it just slows you down?
It’s quality control, I think. Not everyone can write a great part automatically, so a lot of it is just trial and error.

It’s never a source of animosity?
No, no. It’s like we’re all brothers. I can call Tim or Oran [Canfield, drums] an asshole to their face and they wouldn’t take it personally. But Oran does most of the yelling at us during practice — he’s the drummer — not ’cause me and Tim are trying to do our own thing, he just has an ear for rhythm more than most people do.

Most of the lyrics are audibly indecipherable and not included in the liner notes. I was wondering if in the writing process they’re just sort of an afterthought or is there something you actually want to talk about?
There are certain ideas in the lyrics for sure but as far as the vocals are concerned, at least for me, if I hear some guy on an indie rock record or something trying to be witty it just totally turns me off.

So what you’re telling me is that you don’t like the Decemberists?
Yeah, something like that. If anything I just sort of approach the lyrics as a kind of tone poem, just using the voice as an instrument itself. I had certain ideas when I was doing the vocals; it was kind of weird when I was doing them because I had just broken my collarbone two weeks before then so I was doing the vocals with some really fucked up bone shards coming out of my chest. If anything that just kind of helped me, not word it but get a feel for what I wanted to do. If anything, I like the idea of having [the vocals] open-ended; I would listen to the vocals after the fact. It was kind of like a stream of consciousness thing where I would pick out exactly what I was saying and a lot of the stuff I would come up with after listening to the vocals or the basic tracks was stuff that was way more surreal, way more psychedelic than I could ever write. In that respect, I like the randomness of it; it turns out to be a lot more intense. If I was trying to write something about a girl or a situation like that I feel like it would just come off as plain. I like poetry and certain song lyrics and bands; it kind of grounds the band to a more literate sort of thing when they’re just talking about x and y. I wanted to be this totally unhinged, primal scream kind of thing.

That sounds like a very organic production process. Would you say the rest of your music comes the same way?
For sure; there’s nothing pre-planned. How we write the songs is very organic, how we write the vocals is very organic, it’s definitely a primal thing. I was going through a lot of shit at that time too and like the Tears for Fears thing, "shout, shout, let it all out,” it was on that kind of vibe.

Do you feel like sharing said "shit”?
We recorded it in January and I was going through some weird shit. Basically I was working as a delivery guy in New York City for two years and I got hit by a car on my bike and broke my collarbone, badly. As a result of that, I broke up with my girlfriend of a long period of time, so I was kind of in a weird purgatory state. It was a weird therapy, if anything.

Obviously you’ve made music before and will continue to do so but do you think that brought anything special out for this record?
I think this record was definitely in its time and place. I don’t anticipate our next record will sound exactly the same, I’m sure there will be parts of it that sound similar but we’re all going through a lot of different shit now than we were then. A lot of it is just trying to survive in New York City. It can be so fucking tough. It’s a constant barrage of stimuli and/or problems that you have to deal with. For us to make the same record again would be stupid.

Is that part of why you do what you do? Is it a survival tactic? What makes the music you write and play interesting to you?
I think it’s playing with two extraordinarily awesome musicians. I get so much influence from these two other guys, and in some respect I’m sure they get some influence from me. I wouldn’t even consider myself a musician. I’m not trained. Tim is a professional jazz bass player, Oran’s been playing drums — he’s self taught — but he’s a jazz drummer and he plays with people like Trevor Dunn. We all draw from each other.

Speaking of influences, you listed pretty much every country in South East Asia as an influence on your Myspace page. Why?
Music from Burma is a huge influence for me; I kind of have to thank Alan Bishop for that with the Sublime Frequencies stuff. The Princess Nicotine CD was a huge influence on me in terms of trying to put a little bit of that influence in there. Music from Laos is a huge influence, folk music from Thailand, Cambodian music, a lot of that stuff is organ-based and I take a lot of influence from that. It’s also very organic music. Obviously I can’t understand the lyrics, so to me, listening to it as an outsider, listening to vocals that make no sense, is kind of like Child Abuse in a way.

What do you think about people that call you "avant-garde” and do you think that maybe these influences contributed to it?
I wouldn’t consider us avant-garde. I just consider us a rock band. When I think of avant-garde I think of people like Pierre Henry or the modern composition dudes. We have weird timing and weird sounds, we draw from the avant-garde and we’ve been in avant bands before but in a way we kind of wanted to use all those influences for something more accessible, or not even more accessible, but something that made sense to us. In terms of avant-garde, it’s a very broad term. Maybe like an avant rock band but even that’s reaching.

Along the same lines, what do you think of everyone always comparing you to Genghis Tron? Do you think that’s just ’cause of the label association, or that they really just don’t know what they’re talking about? I’ve never really understood it and considering it’s so prevalent, I’m just wondering what your point of view is.
Genghis are really good friends of ours and they took us out on a tour when no one was giving a shit about us. Honestly, I don’t see any resemblance between us and them at all. I think a lot of it is just that people hear a grind part with keyboards and automatically think Genghis Tron. That said, they’re great guys but we don’t do beats. There are huge differences. We share a similar set of traits. If anything it’s a lazy comparison; I hear so much more in our music than just Genghis Tron.

I don’t hear any of it at all.
No offence, but a lot of these journalists are just lazy and they don’t do their research at all. They see that we’re on the same label and they see that we play with them or they don’t get certain parts and they automatically assume we’re underneath that umbrella. Regardless, bands like Genghis Tron, or even Discordance Axis or the Locust, we share a similar set of traits but I feel like we’re coming from a different angle. They’re all coming from different angles.

This may be a horrifically obvious question but I’m just wondering if you’ve gotten any flack for the name? Have there been any groups protesting outside of your shows with posters saying you can’t make light of it?
Yeah, we’ve gotten shit for the name. We’ve actually gotten a lot of shit from New York journalists. Most people assume it’s an ironic name. When we chose the name we wanted something to portray what we were doing musically and the name itself sounds perfectly vague. It’s not pro or anti. At the time, I’d lived in DC for a while and I roadied for this band called Dead Meadow, but even in Brooklyn, I was getting subjected to these glossy band names doing these noise-jam-hippy sessions and I was so turned off by that. I was actually just sort of turned off guitar music in general and to some extent I still am. We wanted a name that just kicked people in the ass, something as real as possible.
,br> What is the flack you’ve gotten for it? Have there ever been any real problems?
I think people who realise what the name is all about love the name. My mom loves the name, my dad doesn’t. It depends. But for example, we played at SXSW last March and it was one of the worst experiences of our band’s existence. We played a good show with this band called Drumcore and a Japanese band called Metalchicks but the soundman had heard the name of the band and when something happened with the P.A. he didn’t do anything about it. He was giving us attitude all night and we were trying to be nice about it — we’re all nice guys. I think a lot of it is people who may have been abused as kids thinking that we’re making light of this awful situation and they take it out [on us] in a subtle way, like not doing their job sound-wise or coming up to me asking me why we named the band Child Abuse. These people are supposed to be progressive artists. The guy who did our album cover, this guy named Albert Oehlen from Germany, when he heard the name it made complete sense to him. It is what it is; it’s not good or bad. At the same time, I can say I was abused as a kid emotionally; Oran can say that as well. So for people to think that we’re making fun of it, we’ve been through it ourselves.

Do you think you might run into a similar problem crossing the border?
I’m kind of worried actually. I’m wondering if Exclaim! is going to help us if something happens. I am kind of worried about what the border officials think of the name. We have a couple of fake names we’ve used when we get pulled over by police.

What are those?
We have Jam Sandwich and Oran’s old band’s name, Optimus International, which is really positive. Just when needy people that really have no connection to what we’re doing ask me what my band is called I kind of avoid them at all costs because I really don’t know what their reaction would be and I really don’t want to put that on anybody. We’ll see; I don’t see any huge problems getting across the border but who knows?

I was going to say you could give them one those names but when they check your merch they may start to question you.
These are just CDs we have in our distro.

We just happen to have hundreds of them; we hear they’re really hot up here.
Exactly. It’s funny, we get more support about the name outside of New York City than we do in New York City. Like I said, all these hipster types that pride themselves on being up on the trends and progressive are way more reactionary about the name than a kid in Texas. It’s bizarre.

I think that may come along with the "I’m more politically correct than you are” thing.

Since you haven’t toured Canada before, what have you heard about it?
I haven’t heard much. I want to eat the moose when I’m up there. I’ve been to Vancouver before but we played downtown, which was so fucked up for me to see. There were all these crackheads walking around zonked out of their heads. But I’m psyched to see the middle of Canada. Hopefully it won’t be too cold.

What’s your favourite Canadian stereotype?
Well, let me tell you, every Canadian I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of Canadians before, are extraordinarily nice and considerate. I have yet to meet a mean Canadian. I’ve definitely met some naïve Canadians before and I don’t know if that’s because they’re from the middle of nowhere but there’s a certain sort of sweetness to Canadians that I like a lot. I’ve had nothing but good experiences.

Are you actually touring in a school bus?
We have a short bus that we bought four months ago.

Does that require a special license?
No, it’s actually registered as a passenger van. It’s an insane little vehicle. It’s got its own battery for the AC; it’s got this insane AC/heating system that we will probably need in Canada but it’s a great little tour mobile. You’ll see it when we roll through town.

You didn’t put a banner that says Child Abuse on the side did you?
We took these promo photos that we photo shopped and doctored up that say Child Abuse on the front — the heading, whatever — where it says the destination or the name of the school bus but I don’t think we’ll be doing that any time soon.

It would be interesting to see the kind of trouble you could get into.
We’d get into some serious trouble. I can’t even imagine touring in England with that thing ’cause there’s the paedophile scare. People are so afraid of anything having to do with child abuse or paedophilia over there.

That’s Gary Glitter’s fault.
Exactly! It’s like this witch-hunt but I still think English people are way more appreciative of the name than Americans are.

One last question, since it’s so close to the end of the year. What’s your album of the year?
Of contemporary music?

I’d say this year is considered contemporary.
You’re asking the wrong person. I would have to say for sure, for me, the Soiled Mattress and the Springs record. They’re from New York, they’re kind of like a lounge jazz act. The Zs record, Arms, which came out on Planaria is also excellent. There’s so much shit that’s come out in the past year, even people’s CD-Rs that they’ve given me that I’m super into.