|An Interview with Theory of Negativity
From the rural industrial sub-culture of Rumford, Maine, winter of 1996 -
by Ross Spodumene, geomusicologist and freelance talusman:
Adam Mazza - Vocals, guitar, music, lyrics, art
Pat Malia - Guitars, vocals, music, lyrics
Jason Rowland - Drums
Rick Thornton - Bass
are sitting in swivel chairs in the 24-track studio where they have just finished their 14-song CD
"Theory of Negativity".
In their mid-twenties, the four have been playing and writing music together since junior high school
and have released two full length CDs and two cassette EPs (Theory of Negativity, The Rat Sugar,
The Brain Parade, and Peace Corpse) in the past four years. Their music has evolved into a loud,
tightly-wound assault of metal influenced rhythms, harsh guitar tones and emotional vocals that
stab, crash and careen through the music without the ever-painful "look Ma, I'm a misunderstood
rock star" inflection. Which, by the way, is good.
After more than a year of performances in support of "The Rat Sugar", Theory of Negativity have
developed the chops and stamina to play at punishing speeds and intensities with ease. The group
has built up their song-writing muscles as well. They use a variety of song structures, rhythms,
chord progressions and instrumental tones to great effect while avoiding the "World O' Exotic
Influences" which all too often drags less creative types into a mind-roasting hell of ego-tourism
and virtual reality ponytail primping.
Outside The Outlook studio in Bethel, Maine, snow is caking up on U.S. Route 2 and the backyard
thermometer is well below zero. People told me I was nuts to drive 75 miles in zero visibility to do
this interview. Posh, I said. It's driving back that scares the hell out of me.
For openers, I ask the band why there's only one "quiet" song ("Scare You") on their CD because
I'd like to hear more. They say they like playing quiet/slow songs but didn't want to overdo it.
I say to myself, that's true. I like the "slow" song partly because it's surrounded by fast music and
reallyl sticks out as a result...Probablyl if the CD was all slow songs, I'd wish they'd to more fast ones.
I ask why some of their lyrics point toward a certain political opinion, but stop short just before the
opinion becomes clear. They say they don't want to make the meanings so obvious.
I say to myself, well, if the lyrics spelled out exactly what their "political idea" was, then I might
disagree and then I wouldn't like the song as much. This way, I can listen to the song and not think,
well, it's got a great hook, but they ARE singing about EATING BABIES...
For the record, absent any backwards masking, members of Theory DO NOT ADVOCATE EATING
BABIES. But that doesn't mean you should dismiss them for being behind the times.
So I ask:
Q: What brings about the anger on this CD?
ADAM: No, it's the truth.
Q: Would you call it angry?
PAT: Yeah, in a way. I listen to alot of abrasive sounding music,
ADAM: It's not exactly anger. It's more like misplaced hyperactivity. I think these songs are catchier
than our first CD even though they're more harsh and abrasive.
PAT: You can play them on an acoustic guitar and sing them - and
they're still the same song.
Q: All of them?
PAT: Well, a couple might be tough...
Q: What were your goals when you were recording?
PAT: We wanted all vocal songs -- no instrumentals -- and we wanted them to be abrasive. We did
end up with one instrumental ("Wisconsin Death Trip"). We wanted to do a whole concept rather than
recording a bunch of songs that sprawled around different styles. Something straight ahead.
ADAM: Something noisy.
PAT: Noisy and loose end-y. Not clinical. More like a big, oily creaking machine instead of something
that sounds real smooth.
Q: So you're not perfectionists?
ADAM: We definitely had ideas we wanted to get right, but a lot of these songs were first or
RICK: It was kind of strange to spend an hour moving and setting up the equipment and get the
song done in five minutes.
PAT: But that's better than spending an hour playing and still not getting it right. Usually, if you
over-think things it makes them worse. There were songs we worked on for quite awhile that just
didn't have the spark we wanted, so we left them off.
Q:Were you really well-rehearsed or were you just lucky in getting
a song right the first time?
PAT: We rehearsed just enough so we knew the songs but not enough so there was no room to experiment. Then, once we started recording, we could experiment with something we hadn't had
in mind at first.
Q: Like what?
ADAM: The distorted vocals. We hadn't thought of that until we
Q: Some of the vocals have a real crackly, crunchy distortion
like a police radio. How did you get that?
PAT: Some of those are from a six dollar Radio Shack microphone that we ran through a guitar amp.
It feeds back horribly if you're not careful.We also used an old mic of Ted's (producer Ted St.Pierre)
called a "Recordio" which makes insane sounds too.
Q: What other things did you experiment with in the studio? It sounds like there's a backwards guitar
solo on "Devilhead".
RICK: That's Adam using an E-bow (a guitar device that creates long sustained notes when it's held
over the strings). He didn't even know the tape machine was on when he was playing.
PAT: Adam got done and said, "Hey that sounds cool, let's try it," and we said, "You don't have to,
we just recorded it."
JASON: There's a backwards cymbal crash on the quietest part of "Devilhead", too. It builds up slowly
then cuts right off before the song goes back into the heavy part. We did that on the spot, too.
Q: Since you wanted all vocal songs, what was your criteria for lyrics? How did you decide what words
were going to go on the CD?
PAT: For my lyrics, it's just stuff I write and I have no idea if it's going to end up on a song or not.
I just write stuff anyway. Most of it never gets on. Maybe one out of 50.
ADAM: Most of our stuff relates to a super pissed-off anti-prejudiced
point of view.
Q: But most of your songs aren't saying "don't do this" or "we hate bigots". The meaning is veiled
instead of being direct.
ADAM: Sometimes it's better not to be direct. We're usually talking about more than one thing in a
song anyway. One line might not be about the others, but they all relate to the same theme. If
someone takes these songs to mean something macho and prejudiced just because we're loud and
freaking out, then they're taking it the wrong way. Otherwise, the more ways it's perceived, the
Q: So all the words here are meant to be multi-interpretational?
PAT: In general, I don't even know the lyrics to my favorite songs. I tend to listen to the melody as opposed to the words. To me the words aren't that important, believe it or not. But that's a personal
Q: Given that, do you spend much time fussing over the words?
ADAM: We do. I'd rather get the words right than leave them the way they are just for the sake of
getting the song done. If you don't like them when you're recording, you're not going to like them
later on either.
Q: Throughout the CD, the vocals aren't riding on top of everything else. They're stuck right in the
middle of all the noise. Was this the way you wanted it?
PAT: Definitely. I don't like it when the instruments are in the background. I like it when the band is
overpowering the singer. This CD sounds a lot more like the way it sounds in the room when we're
Q: Some of these songs sound pretty hard to play, physically. When you're writing, do you ever say,
"I like it, but are we going to be able to play this night after night?"
ADAM: It's not so much that they're hard to play, it's that some parts are hard to remember. We have
to keep playing them to get them right. Some of the overdubbed stuff you can't do live, anyway.
JASON: Some of the songs are forearm-death on the drums. I'm going a hundred miles an hour with
my right hand and Pat's double-picking or I'm doing a tick-tick-tick thing all the way through on the ride
cymbal and then there's a one second break and I'm right back to it. It's getting easier though.
Q: One of my favorite songs on the CD is the instrumental "Wisconsin Death Trip". In a way it's not
like your other stuff because it's slow, quiet, and mostly acoustic, but the melody still has a dissonan
t edge. Why that song, and why that name?
PAT: Adam wrote it, played the acoustic guitar and piano, and I played the guitar solo. It just sort
of happened and we all liked it. It's name after a book by Michael Levy about a town in Wisconsin
where everyone went crazy back in the 1800s. There's a part where a guy went into the town square
and dug a hole a filled it with dynamite and there were all these people watching him. Just before he
stuck his head in the hole he said, "Here I go," then he lit the dynamite the blew his head off. And all
these people were standing there watching him. They were as crazy as he was.
Q: Did any of them eat babies?
PAT: No, they weren't as warped as you are.