Sometime in the last year, Force Publique shifted its focus a bit to include electric guitar rather than bass and the opted for using an MPC over playing pre-crafted beats made on software. The resulting sound is still darkly moody as it was during the band's more post-punk period, but this version of Force Publique is stronger and more confident with a noticeably broader palette.
We recently caught up with the duo, which just premiered its first music video, a cover of "Today" by Smashing Pumpkins (download the track for free here), to talk about its new musical focus, as well as their preference for a more personal and homegrown aesthetic over slick production on in its new video and the pair's continuing preference for making sad music together.
Westword: Since last we talked to you, you incorporated guitar more into the band's sound.
Cassie McNeil: We both went back to our original roots as to what made us play music. For him, it was hip-hop, and I started playing guitar from grunge and shoegaze, so we wanted to combine or influences instead of reaching for a genre. Obviously Nirvana was the first one for grunge. For shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine. Even '60s revivalists like Brian Jonestown Massacre, I listened to a lot.
James Wayne: For me, it was mostly I had learned to make music on an MPC, and I had given that up to learn software at some point. I did that for a long time, but it wasn't as immediate and didn't have the tactile thing I liked about it. I used it again, and it got me back into beat making and production. It doesn't have the same kind of driving, motoring thing a computer does. It has more of a groove to it. There's something about an MPC that always sounds like it's supposed to be a hip-hop beat. It has a certain swing to it.
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I got into it because of Jel on Anticon. That's what made me buy an MPC. I was fourteen and saw him live and wanted to get one. I saw him with Subtle a couple of times, probably at Rock Island, maybe Larimer Lounge or the Bluebird, as well. I liked Blockhead at the time. More recently, all of the Triangle guys, like Clams Casino, oOoOO and Holy Other -- I like that ambient beat music that is kind of dark and slow but based around a hip-hop rhythm.
When you got back into playing guitar, Cassie, what kinds of sounds did you explore at first?
CM: Well, my first band was grunge and my second band was a classic rock band. I was obsessed with being technical about playing guitar, and I had a Les Paul and minimal pedals. I wasn't into sound so much as soloing and bluesy tone. I sold my guitar when I decided I didn't want to play it with this band because every time I picked up my Les Paul, blues came out somehow.
So I traded it in for a Jaguar, and I started buying a bunch of pedals. I really wanted an ambient, wall-of-sound effect. That's still a challenge for me that I'm trying to learn more about. I bought a digital delay after an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. I heard analog pedals always sound better.
It depends on how much control you want to have over the sound.
Yeah, it was a really old pedal that buzzed a lot, so maybe it wasn't grounded or something. So I got a Boss DD-7 and a Cathedral pedal. My dad was always in experimental rock bands, so I learned a lot about pedals from him and my brother. He uses the analog Boss delay. I like that one because you can control it better than the other pedal I had bought.
I'm using that and the tremolo bar, which is what bands that influenced me use, like My Bloody Valentine, A Place to Bury Strangers and even the Horrors. They understand sound on a whole other level.
JW: When we played with them in November, I was blown away because I didn't realize those drones were just feedback, just the sound of his amp turned up. I had no idea he could keep that in tune.
CM: That's the challenge of having digital and analog sounds because with that band, everything is there, so the sound guy doesn't have to work as hard. With beats in the background, you just drown it out. Mixing those two sorts of sounds is challenging as well.
JW: We just finally got speakers last week that are loud enough to compete with guitar amps, so we can hear ourselves and hear what's going on.
At that APTBS show, it seemed as though you stepped things up with your sound quite a bit.
CM: I feel like we've stepped it up even more.
Why did you cover "Today" by Smashing Pumpkins?
CM: It was definitely random. I wanted it to be something so different from what we usually play, so we could make it our own rather than something really similar and maybe let down the people that like the original. I never really listened to the Smashing Pumpkins. I just heard their more well-known songs when I was little. I never had an album. But that song is really good, and I thought that we could interpret it really differently.
In making the video, it looks like you used VHS source tape and spliced it up. Did you make that together?
JW: We had a friend help us film it and edit it.
CM: We have never made a video before, and the guy that made it wasn't experienced either.
JW: It took forever. It took over a month to learn to edit it. At first, we were trying to make it sound clean and high definition, and I realized I didn't know what I was doing or how to correct colors.
CM: We put the video on to a DVD and played it on a TV and filmed that. I thought that would look cool, and it looked how I wanted it to.
JW: It fit the song well. We want to invest in a VHS camera, but those are around a hundred dollars.
CM: It would probably break all the time, and you have to have supplies that are difficult to find and you have to convert it.
It looks like you filmed some of it at Riverside and Fairmount mortuaries?
JW: Yes. Riverside is by that oil refinery? We were driving out trying to get as close to the factory and drove past it and thought it was the creepiest-looking cemetery we had had ever seen. You can see factories in the background. It was disgusting and cool.
That's where the graves that used to be in Cheeseman Park went when it was turned from a graveyard into a park.
JW: I didn't realize that. That's crazy.
Why did that kind of lo-fi video look appeal to you?
CM: I feel lit looks more personal. Anytime I see VHS footage it feels like it's personal, like it's at someone's home or something that you're not necessarily supposed to see. It makes it more human and less perfect and produced.
JW: I like idea of it with that song. A song from the VHS era. I think for a lot of people there's something nostalgic about hearing that song.
So you want to take all of your old songs off of YouTube?
CM: We're too critical of ourselves. That's why we never put things out. We always hate something a few months after we make it. It pushes us harder but we're always too critical.
JW: I think the thing that carried over is the overall mood of the music, definitely that kind of melancholic -- I don't want to say "dark" because I don't feel our music is very dark.
CM: I feel like our music is sentimental in a way. Personal. Darkly sentimental. We've always just played sad music together.
Why sad music?
CM: It makes me feel provoked in some way.
JW: It moves me in some way. When I hear music that is the opposite of that -- like really happy or positive or whatever -- it doesn't make me feel anything.
CM: I don't think people notice happiness as much as sadness as when they're feeling it. They think happiness is just normal. But they remember the sadness because they really feel it. I think that's how it is with music, too, because you really feel the sadness, and you remember it more than the happy music all around that you tune out. That's what's funny about that "Today" song -- the lyrics are happy.
JW: The lyrics are happy, but I feel like the original music is melancholy.
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