"The digital world enhancing the physical" - An Interview with Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace is perhaps best known as the drummer for Preoccupations, but recently, he has been branching out, using Sensory Percussion in collaboration with guitarist Greg Ahee of Protomartyr and vocalist AJ Lambert (Nancy Sinatra’s daughter) for a new multi-media project call Bloodslide that “pushes against the pillars of post-punk and explodes them into new shapes." We caught up with Mike to learn more about the project and how it uses Sensory Percussion.
When did you first start using Sensory Percussion?
I first started using Sunhouse in the spring of 2018 right before Preoccupations began touring the "New Material" album. A friend from Toronto turned me on to it and I became obsessed. I'm the type to get fixated on things when they resonate deeply, then WHAM all of a sudden months or years go by in full pursuit. A long time ago my best friend Pat and I went to a Zakir Hussain concert dressed in drag on mushrooms having zero clue of what we were getting ourselves into. We were only 17 and had never experienced classical Hindustani or tabla, and only a very little bit of psychedelics. My mind was so fully blown that within a few years I'm living in Kolkata under a world renowned tabla guru trying to wrap my head around this incredibly complex and ancient art. Luckily, Sunhouse didn't take a decade of practice and moving across the world to find a guru who would take me in. Instead just a few months of troubleshooting, helpful tech support and having a ton of fun playing around. Shortly after, I'm incorporating it live, every night on stage all over the world.
Insanely detailed programming, not replacing but enhancing the physical performance. I'm playing all the parts so every little bit is infused with human feel, yet sounding more like the machines than ever.
Tell us about your new project Bloodslide. How and when did it come to be?
Bloodslide was really one of those things that just happened. I didn’t even know it was happening as it was happening, which is kinda my favorite part... I'll have to explain. Preoccupations was on tour in DC in the Fall of 2019 and we got a message from Greg Ahee (guitar player from Protomartyr) inviting us over to this tiny lounge around the corner from the 9:30 Club, where we were playing that night. Our set had just finished and we got there in time to see Greg and AJ Lambert performing some renditions of her grandfather Frank Sinatra's tunes. It was surreal going from one venue with crazy lights, haze and loud powerful energy to this totally low key dimly lit jazz bar. I was flooded with memories of my family and my grandparents as Sinatra’s (both Frank and Nancy) had always been staples on the record player surrounding family get-togethers and holidays. Fast forward half a year later, AJ asks Greg and me to come to Los Angeles and work on some ideas with her. I thought we were playing on some AJ Lambert originals! I had been asking for demos and rough sketches so I could prep the session and try to learn some of the tunes and it wasn't until a few days in that Greg and I are looking at each other like "did we just start a new band, I think we just started a new band" ?! We only had 6 days to rehearse and whip something up, then 4 days booked at The Lair Studio. AJ came up with the name Bloodslide randomly like, "...can you guys even believe there are no metal bands out there called Bloodslide?!". We all laughed and decided on the spot to adopt the moniker.
How did you guys start working with producer Sonny DiPerri, and what is his role in the group?
Sonny and Greg knew each other from his past work on Protomartyr's 2017 album "Relatives in Descent". Which is such a badass album, among the many other badass albums under that man's belt. When AJ said she had him on board, I was instantly super pumped. With only 4 days to track, having a producer that is a total wizard is massive. I've worked on so many self-produced projects, which I do really enjoy, but not nearly as much as having an incredible engineer do it so effortlessly and streamlined. It allows you to stay focused on developing ideas, without getting caught up in all the technicality involved in each process. I don't even think we had any edit notes from the mix, seriously one round and we were all like, yup sounds fucking crazy, good to go!
Punk/post-punk is not typically a genre that incorporates a lot of samples, laptops, etc. What do you feel music tech like Sensory Percussion brings to genres that usually stick to more traditional instrumentation?
YES and NO to this. My favorite concept of the post-punk genre is that there really are no rules. Lots of genres in the past have taken this to new levels, but post-punk has broken it in the coolest way. In a way that jazz, punk and early experimental electronic music never had the chance to, because the technology just wasn’t around then, and the melting of culture and information was (and irrefutably still is) deep in the steeping. You can have a total dance hit with lush layered samples, sequenced drum machines and locked in arpeggios right next to a total wall of pummeling cathartic noise, then go into a funk break with some monotone vocals doubling a sax line and call it all post-punk. In my mind that's a very beautiful thing. It seems to me that before you needed to have the sound, have the style, have IT, whatever IT was at that particular place and time. This wave of post-punk revitalization really feels like all bets are off and therefore artists are integrating more technology and pushing the envelope of what's possible in tonality, composition and style. I was honestly a bit embarrassed about having a laptop on stage, I won't lie. I knew I was going to get roasted for it, but once my band heard all the tones and ideas coming out, they were hooked. Sunhouse is the perfect example of the digital world enhancing the physical. Insanely detailed programming, not replacing but enhancing the physical performance. I'm playing all the parts so every little bit is infused with human feel, yet sounding more like the machines than ever.
What is your typical recording process? Do you overdub Sensory Percussion sounds or record both acoustic and electronic drum sounds in one take with a hybrid setup?
Recording-wise, I’m tracking four Sunhouse triggers individually through separate outputs alongside whatever the midi out info is speaking to. In this case it was Elektron’s Digitone. The Digitone is so perfect as it has 4 synth engines that can operate on their own midi channels. Thus one synth engine per drum, though I rarely use more than two or three, it makes me extremely happy to know I have a designated synth engine per trigger if need be (lord knows I'm awaiting the day!). The drums themselves are mic’d up in a traditional studio sense but of course Sonny has his own style and applications of mic’s and techniques. One of Sonny’s tricks that I really love in particular is building a tunnel off the resonating head of the kick drum using mic stands and moving blankets or whatever you have, essentially elongating the drum and creating more space for resonation. I wish I took a picture of how many channels of the board my rig alone took up, I'm going to estimate like 16!
Who creates the visuals and how do they relate to the artistic mission of Bloodslide?
The visuals are created by Ommatidium Studios. Their role in the project is central to the realization and examination of many of the large scale themes we were exploring. I really loved the idea of utilizing all these new digital visual applications of virtual reality, augmented reality and datamoshing to create stunning images and environments. This runs parallel with utilizing the new digital applications of Sunhouse triggers and hybrid drumming to create intense and intricate sonic landscapes and song structures. I wanted to make sure that both the visual and sonic elements of the project were married together and working in tandem to explore similar avenues. There's a great deal of value in approaching concepts from multiple perspectives and working with Ommatidium, we were able to do that.
Bloodslide's bio says the project "mobilizes sonic and visual viscera to confront and dissect art in our nouveau digital world." What role does Sunhouse play in this confrontation?
Sunhouse took a big role in the sonic and nouveau digital departments no doubt. The first two tracks of the EP “Pica” and “Trap Door” were written around a loose Sunhouse sketch I had been working on prior to rehearsals with Greg and AJ. Due in part to being on a very tight timeline, but mostly the fact that everybody was really down and feeling it. I find it compelling that the role of the drums has been completely reversed, from accompaniment to lead, musically and as a songwriting tool.
I find it compelling that the role of the drums has been completely reversed, from accompaniment to lead, musically and as a songwriting tool.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Bloodslide's limited edition vinyl will be mailing out very soon! The album art is so beautiful and is infused with an augmented reality experience which is something I have never seen before. Snag a copy via Bandcamp before they're gone forever!
Preoccupations will be attempting our first tour back in November. We've had a hell of a time wrapping up our new album with Covid and cross border living. I'm beyond excited to say that it's just around the corner, 100% self produced, the drums sound insane, the whole album sounds insane. In the words of Samuel Jackson from the 1993 blockbuster hit Jurassic Park "Hold on to your Butts"!
- MacBook Pro
- 4 Sunhouse sensors
- Studio house kit from The Lair Studio in LA
- Scarlett 18i8 interface
- Elektron Digitone 8-Voice Digital Synthesizer
- Istanbul cymbals
Read the Pitchfork review for Bloodslide EP