Combichrist, Chinwag, by Rhiannon Marley

Combichrist frontman, Andy LaPlegua, is all too aware of the stereotype following Scandinavia’s metal boys and girls around like the smell of…how about a dead body? “I’m Norwegian, but I don’t necessarily have to have my corpse-paint on!” he laughs, when pressed about such clichés. “I mean, look at me! You’re taking pictures; it’s not exactly ‘dark’; sitting on my ‘dark throne’!” But despite his protestations of innocence, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies for Andy and his notorious quote-un-quote ‘Aggrotech’ baby.

5 studio albums and 9 EPs, including 2011’s new track, ‘Throat Full of Glass’, have kept their audio side bubbling nicely. Remixes, independent cinema exposure and a growing videography tick the standard CV boxes for acts with the words ‘underground’ and ‘cult’ in their critical inventory. But Combichrist are no shrinking violets. A storm has risen with feminists due to controversial lyrics and visuals; LaPlegua has worn images of the Confederate flag, and done photo-shoots utilising symbols of slavery, war and America’s civil tension. It’s driven critics, bloggers, and the opinionated layman observer wild, and to division. But does Andy LaPlegua really behold the views Combichrist flirt with…or is he just courting sensationalism? I’m about to discuss music, mayhem and mankind with the gent himself, for…
Rhiannon Marley (RM): You’ve recently been supporting renowned Industrial metallers Rammstein across both Europe and North America. Do you feel you have a musical affinity with the gents? Are there any choice elements you’re influenced by from the work of commercial Industrial acts, such as, and including, Rammstein?

Andy LaPlegua (ALP): “I really don’t think we have much in common at all…except as people; on a personal level, we get along extremely well. As people, we’re very much the same. But background-wise, I think we’re definitely from the way more ‘alternative’ scene than they come from. I think initially what they were doing – from beginning on; I think they had a way higher goal than we have. From day 1, I just wanted to do music; I never planned it out as this big, grand, ‘production’ thing. With all respect to them, I think it’s amazing, y’know; it’s not that I don’t like it, it’s amazing. It’s just that I’ve always done music for the music itself, and for the energy of it – never to do arenas or anything. The thought of us doing arenas is still, even after 100 shows with them, kind of ridiculous to me; I can’t believe we did arena shows – it’s just crazy! But um…I don’t know, we are all from, I guess, the harder music background; we are all more from the ‘darker’ metal stuff: the hardcore; the punk rock; that sort of stuff. It’s just different.”
RM: It’s well-known that your track ‘Shut Up and Bleed’ was featured on 2009 horror flick ‘The Collector’, and also that your YouTube slammer ‘Get Your Body Beat’ was released on the date of 6/06/06. Do you feel there is a certain ‘image’ of cult or macabre affiliation to uphold within the genre of your music? If so, is this something you embrace or ignore?

ALP: “No, I don’t think so; I think the music speaks for itself, and the character we’ve built around…like, I’ve got different projects, and different music styles, and different things, and I think I create kind of a ‘character’ for each and every one of them. And for keeping that together as a ‘character’ in that project, or in that band, it’s a part of the concept, and a part of the art. But me as a person: I’m very relaxed with everything that I do; um, I can ‘distance’ myself from stuff that I do as a character, but personally, there’s definitely a person of ‘me’ in that character, or the person of part of me, in that music. If not, I wouldn’t be doing it. But um…I don’t need to have a ‘rock-star’ image for doing this thing; doing a character around something is fun, and it can create something, but if you try to ‘live’ that character, I think you’re missing out on so many other things in life.”
I go to ask Andy my third question, dropping in the observation that he’s previously worked a lot with Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit fame, when he continues…

ALP: “[Wes Borland’s] a good example, actually. He’s nothing like Limp Bizkit…because if he were, we probably wouldn’t be working with him! No disrespect to Limp Bizkit or anything, but that’s not our thing. But he, as a person, and as a musician, is absolutely…a genius, and an amazing person. But Limp Bizkit is nothing that I would ever consider touching, y’know. Like, they’re doing their thing; they’re doing it great. But he’s definitely a good example of being just an artist, and doing different characters, and different things. Sorry, I completely ruined your question!” (Laughs)

RM: Not a problem at all; it’s always great when artists have a lot to say, and it adds to the interview experience. The reason I mentioned Wes Borland was to ask about ideal creative unions: if you could collaborate with any musician, live or dead, past or present, within the work of Combichrist, who would it be?

ALP: “I would really like to make an album with Johnny Cash and David Bowie. That would be an interesting album. I wouldn’t have to sing on it; I would just want to produce it and write it. I think that would be amazing. It’s because it’s two artists that are a tremendous inspiration to me; not necessarily musically, but just as musicians and artists, in terms of how they are open to everything around them. Going back to the same thing again: not getting stuck on one thing, and if there’s something that interests them, they would approach it, and not be afraid that it would be something different.”

RM: Keep your thoughts buzzing on your own musical preferences, Andy – there’s a question I want to ask you later on which I hope will probe a little deeper on that. Before I do, I’d like to ask whether you feel the European audiences are more or less receptive to the ‘Aggrotech’ style of Combichrist, than your native Norwegian or perhaps the American fans?

ALP: “Oh, I hate that Aggrotech term…it’s really hard to compare Europe to the US, because you have cities…it’s easier to compare cities. Berlin is very similar to New York. But it can be so different: New York and L.A. are so different. The same as Hamburg and Berlin, which are just three hours away, but it’s completely different crowds, and different type of mentalities. It’s almost impossible to compare, y’know. I don’t even know how to…I think American audiences are more open to something different. Germany, specifically: they have their ‘scene’, which is their Industrial Gothic scene, and it’s been there for so long: it’s so ‘bred’, y’know. They don’t listen to anything else: that’s their thing, that’s all they care about. But in the US, that scene is smaller, but the majority of our crowd there are ‘techno-kids’; ‘metal-kids’; ‘hardcore-kids’: all the things that we are influenced by, that’s the kind of crowd we have, like, all the different people. You come to Germany; it can be hard to do what we do sometimes, because we don’t have those ‘restrictions’ that most of the German scene-bands have. Anything goes for us: now we use a guitarist, y’know. It’s not ‘metal’, but we’re adding that influence to it. We have the ‘live’ genres: the percussionist, for instance. There are a lot of influences in there that are not German, electronic-based stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to push things like that in Germany, but we’ve done it for so long now, we just gradually got more and more to where we are at now; we kind of ‘snuck’ it in there. People kind of appreciate it now, but I think it’s definitely hard for a new band to do something like this, because they’re much more narrow-minded for their scene.”
RM: Although there are common denominators between your previous works and most recent album, 2010’s ‘Making Monsters’, what do you feel is most evidently developed in your skills, when comparing your primitive and more sophisticated works?

ALP: “I think every release kind of stands by itself. There’s one red line in everything that I’ve ever done with Combichrist, and that’s: ‘I’ve done exactly what I want to do, at the time I’m doing it’. And except from that, I do what I want to do, and not what people expect me to do. So that’s the red line through everything; except from that, I just go with what I want to do. The next album might even sound more like the first album – who knows? If that’s what I want to do when I’m doing an album, that’s what I’m going to do. If I want to do something completely different, that’s what I’m going to do. Everything evolves all the time, and you grow as a person; you grow as an artist; but deep at heart, I’m still the same person as I was when I…even more so now; I’m probably embracing more of what I did as a kid now than I did a few years ago. A few years ago, it was a little bit more important to me to make sure that things were right; now, I’m kind of pulling out more of the things that I enjoyed when I was younger, because I allowed myself to do so. There are a lot of bands who after a while, they go: ‘Oh, I can’t believe we did this back then’, or ‘I can’t believe that’, but there was a reason why we did it: it was because we thought it was fun, and because we embraced that, and I allowed myself to revisit that. The opposite, too; there were things back then that I didn’t allow myself to do, because it wasn’t ‘cool’ to do so. But now, I reflect on it; whatever I like, I’m just gonna like it. It doesn’t have to be a certain thing. I just like music, y’know, whatever it is; I’m not a big fan of hip-hop, but if I were to put it on the radio…if a song is good, I’m not gonna turn it off just because it’s a hip-hop song. If it’s good, it’s good. It doesn’t happen very often (Laughs), but it can happen. I mean, I’m not gonna shut it down for what it is; it’s rather for, y’know, the ‘packaging’. If it’s good, it’s good.”
RM: To touch back on your point concerning doing just what you want to do, and not what anyone expects you to do, are there any unlikely musical inspirations within the music of Combichrist to which you don’t mind admitting for Metal-Rules readers? Perhaps an artist or act that we wouldn’t expect you to creatively draw from?

ALP: “In my music? I’m almost obsessed by, what do we call it? The ‘Last Great Generation’. I’m obsessed about anything pre-1960. Lifestyle-wise, and just the mentality: hard work; how you treat people; just ‘goodness’. What inspires me the most in life is…I don’t believe in religion, but I’m amazed that people do believe in things, because it just doesn’t compute in my head that people can believe in things like that. I’m inspired by doing ‘right’ and doing ‘good’ with people. That’s basically my main principle on things, because what people think are ‘good’ and ‘evil’; it’s really not necessarily what is written in terms of religion; what’s written in terms of ‘behaving’, y’know. I’m a firm believer in only ‘humanitarian’ evil and good: nothing else has evil and good. So it’s just a human concept, it’s nothing else. I could sit and talk about this for hours; and that’s one of the things I put into the characters, too, doing this: putting that concept into the characters. Most of my lyrics, for example. So much of it helped to demonstrate…some feminist groups, for example: they think ‘Oh, it’s sexist or whatever’ [about the lyrics of Combichrist], y’know…no. That song you are talking about: it’s just a damn song; it’s just a character. You’re not gonna go out and yell at Wes Craven because some inbred person raped that girl on a hill. It was just a movie. And it’s not Wes Craven, it was one of his characters – and that’s how I feel about my music, too. It’s important to reflect good and bad in music too, because you shouldn’t forget about these things: they exist, and we live with it. We have to deal with it on a daily basis, so why not put it in music?”
RM: …And now for my last question before we wrap up, Andy: hypothetical Desert-Island Disc. If you could pick three albums to take with you to a desert island, what would they be?

ALP: “I would pick: ‘Apocalypse Dudes’ by Turbonegro; any Helicopters album; and Best of Billie Holiday.”

To cash in on bad taste might seem unsavoury. It exploits taboos in the corners of all our minds – understanding, of course, that such taboos are there to begin with. But LaPlegua reasons this through the drama of Combichrist: it’s not chauvinism; it’s characterisation. An easy scapegoat? Maybe. Insensitive and mercenary? Possibly. Or perhaps Andy LaPlegua, a clever and well-read man, is just playing on the way our minds work – for better, for worse. And maybe we ought to look closer to home to explain why controversy is so marketable. The idea that no publicity is bad publicity circulates cross-temporal, cross-stylistic and cross-creative shores: musically speaking, à la Cradle of Filth; N.W.A.; Lady Gaga. But I’m looking forward to seeing how Combichrist deliver onstage tonight – and to see if, in the words of Gone with the Wind’s Rhett Butler, “with enough courage, [they really] can do without a reputation”…

Photography by Jo Blackened