The Damage Manual: Music For Murder
By Joel Gausten
Very few musicians have a resume as impressive as Martin Atkins does. The British drummer first began his twenty-year career keeping time in John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image Limited (PiL). Since then, he has drummed for some of rock's most innovative acts including Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Killing Joke, Murder Inc., and Pigface. His latest musical offering, The Damage Manual, is his collaboration with a who's-who of longtime friends and former bandmates. First, there's Jah Wobble, PiL's original bass maniac who later worked with Sinead O' Conner. On guitar is Atkins' former Killing Joke/Murder Inc. cohort, Geordie Walker. Vocal duties go to former Ministry/Revolting Cocks member Chris Connelly, who previously worked with Atkins in Murder Inc. and Pigface. The band began causing a stir last May with the unveiling of a seven-song EP, <1 (released on Atkins' own Invisible label). The onslaught will continue with the September release of the band's debut full-length album, tentatively titled Music To Be Murdered By. An energetic person to say the very least, Atkins was as excitable as ever when he recently phoned me from Chicago to fill me in on all things Damage Manual.
Obviously, The Damage Manual is comprised of four very busy people. When did you all decide to take time to work on this project, and how long did it take to put it all together?
Martin Atkins: Well, the beginning was me deciding that I wanted to work with Jah Wobble. Originally, Wobble was going to come into my studio and record some bass loops. I engineer stuff as well as record and produce it. And, I thought, "you know, I haven't seen Wobble in sixteen years. I don't want to engineer his bass loops when I see him. I wanna play my drums!" So, I called him back and said, "look, fuck this. Why don't we just go down to London, I'll book some studio time, and we'll go mad!" And, I thought we'd get, like, a three-song EP out of it. Then, Geordie called. He doesn't live in England now; he lives in Detroit these days. I don't know why he called. He was just kind of around. So I said to him, "hey, guess what I'm doing tomorrow." And, Geordie jumped into the studio with us. We recorded the basics of twenty-two songs in two days. Most of the material from the EP and from the album is first takes from those first two sessions. I loaded everything up into my computer in my studio, and I spent four months chopping things around, focusing things, destroying things, and throwing some loops and bleeps over things. Then, I called Chris Connelly to see if he'd be interested in singing on it, and he was. So, I came out to Chicago and recorded some vocals with Chris, and then spent six or eight months mixing and chopping and editing and arranging and putting it together. So, the EP is already out. The album will have seventy-two minutes of music, with six mixes from Bill Laswell and a remix from Alex Patterson of The Orb.
Musically, how does the EP compare to the album, and in general how would you describe The Damage Manual's sound?
Oh, God that's difficult. How does it compare to the EP? It's as nasty as the EP in places, and as in-your-face and aggro. I think Bill's mixes are more open than my mixes. My mixes are like someone with a hammer hitting you between the eyes constantly, and I think that the combination of the two approaches is much more successful than either all of Bill's approach or all of my approach would have been. Bill's mixes make my mixes more intense, and my mixes make Bill's mixes more open. So, how does it sound? Oh, God, it rocks! I don't know how else to describe it.
How has it been working with Wobble again?
Well, it's strange to work on new music with someone I was in a band with twenty years ago. I think it was at the London show that I had some flashbacks. We were both on "American Bandstand" twenty years ago with PiL. We played to eleven thousand people in Los Angeles with police helicopters and riot police on horseback. I've been through a lot with Wobble. Musically, we are extremely connected. And, you know what? It feels good to be making music with Wobble that's relevant now. It would have been embarrassing and crap to have done an album that sounded like an '80s reincarnation of PiL meets Killing Joke. It would have just been embarrassing. Of course, I didn't want anything to do with anything like that.
Since all for of your are notorious workaholics who usually have a number of things going on at once, do you see The Damage Manual as a temporary collaboration or as a full-time band?
It's a full-time band. It's taken up an awful lot of my time for the past year and four months. It's very important to Chris and to me, Geordie, and Wobble. By the way, Lee Fraser from Sheep on Drugs and Bagman is running samples for us. So, we're a five-piece band. And, it's very important to all of us. You know, I don't think anyone would say, "no, no, this isn't important. It's just a project we've hashed together to make a bit of cash." But, you know, I could answer you're question, or I can tell you that it's pointless to answer your question, and the best way to answer it really is for you to come and see the band. You just see it on everyone's face. This is real, it's meant to be, it's concrete, it's dangerous, and of course it's a priority. I don't think that you can do anything in the music business in the year 2000 without it being a priority. If it's not a priority, you're fucked because there are a thousand other bands that are a priority to somebody.