Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Interview: Zach Wäger of DEAD ANIMAL ASSEMBLY PLANT

Photo: Bright Music Photography

Oregon-based industrial metal collective, Dead Animal Assembly Plant, combine a taste for theatrics with a love of macabre horror and aggressive industrial metal to create their uniquely raw sound. Antihero Magazine recently spoke frontman, Zach Wäger about the concept behind Dead Animal Assembly Plant, as well as the release of their EP, OFH: Prime Cuts in January 2017.

Dead Animal Assembly PlantScott Martin: Can you tell me a little bit about the background of Dead Animal Assembly Plant?

Zach Wäger: I would say it was probably like 2007, I was working on another project in my friend’s band called Down In Oblivion, and I had a lot of ideas that didn’t really go along with what he was wanting for his stuff. I’m like, “Oh, I’m just gonna do a side project.” Dead Animal Assembly Plant, as a name, came up because it’s actually a business license that you have to get in the state of Oregon in order to transport and store animal carcasses. When I stumbled upon that, I just thought that was ridiculous and just absurd. I thought, “I’m going to start a band with that name.” I just liked the absurdity of it. That’s kind of how it started. It was just me, just tinkering around for a few years.

It got to a point where I wanted to start doing live shows and I didn’t want it to be karaoke with just me up there with a laptop, electronic equipment. I’m like, “All right, I need to get a band together.” Funny enough, through my friend that I in the band with that made me want to start a side project, he then kind of joined Dead Animal Assembly Plant, and then we, through mutual people, pulled in Eric, who’s the drummer. I’ve had to remove some members of the band. It’s changed faces a few times. It’s definitely been an adventure so far.

Scott Martin: Can you describe your sound?

Zach Wäger: The sound, it’s drastically different from how we started. Originally, it started as sounding more like early to mid-90s industrial music. Just kind of the raw, electronic sound. We’ve transitioned more into more aggressive industrial metal. Now, I would say we probably sound more similar to maybe like Antichrist-era Manson or like Rob Zombie with some elements of Skinny Puppy or KMFDM, stuff like that. It’s kind of like a hodge-podge of like different influences and ideas.

Scott Martin: What is the concept behind the name, “Dead Animal Assembly Plant“?

Zach Wäger: Dead Animal Assembly Plant, from the onset, even before it was like a full-on band … I’m a drama nerd. I lettered in it in high school, I did plays. I’ve always been really dramatic. My biggest influence is like Skinny Puppy or Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson. They always put on a strong theatrical show and always had a really strong theatrical presence. From the onset, I wanted to have Dead Animal Assembly Plant have that marriage of theater with music with emphasis being placed equally on both. I started creating a mythology around Dead Animal Assembly Plant and how it all stems from this turn of the century German butcher who ends up feeding humans to his machines and making human hamburger out of them in the building called the Sweet Meat Slaughterhouse. It kind of built off this foundation of a mythology of kind of an 80s-slasher horror story. It’s building from that into … going a little bit more into ideas like the Hellraiser concept of there being this multi-level kind of torture experience behind it.

Scott Martin: Sweet Meat Slaughterhouse, did you come up with all that on your own?

Zach Wäger: Yeah, I came up with the initial concept of the Sweet Meat Slaughterhouse and the German immigrant butcher for whom tragedy befalls him, and now he asks, “What do I do?” I’ve always grown up just being obsessed with horror. It really is an amalgam of probably all the stuff that I was exposed to as a child and teenager. Now it’s become, definitely to its benefit, more of a collective, I feel. The idea of it growing and expanding with all these additional characters has definitely become more of a collective idea with my band mates and with other people like the guy who makes most of our masks. Everyone has really helped kind of expand the concepts.

Scott Martin: Tell me a little bit about your sponsor, Dirtbag Clothing?

Zach Wäger: Dirtbag is awesome. I love those guys. We actually first ran into them at Knotfest. They had a tent … if I remember correctly they had a tent right next to Blackcraft Cult, who is another clothing brand I absolutely adore from California. California’s got all the best independent clothing lines. I remember talking to someone from there and they mentioned how they had a sponsorship program. I got a card. It was actually my drummer who contacted them after the fact, after Knotfest, and established that relationship with them. They’ve been so supportive with their sponsorship program. Not only just promoting us and connecting us with PR people, but they also have helped us make merch like printing shirts and giving us a good deal. I really hope that our relationship with them keeps expanding because they’ve been so supportive. We love them to death. We like their clothing. We like them as people. I just hope that we can continue our relationship with them.

Dead Animal Assembly PlantScott Martin: Is your PR being handled by yourself and Dirtbag Clothing? Since you are a DIY band, do you have any problems getting your name out there?

Zach Wäger: We’re completely independent. We don’t have any label or management or agent or anything like that. All of our PR, everything with promotion and getting the name out there has been driven … It’s been driven by everyone. It’s been really crowd-oriented. Our fans … I hate using the term “fan” because, to me, it kind of denotes a separation, like an “us” and “them.” I kind of consider it family, which maybe sounds nuts, right, but I really do. They’ve been so pivotal in getting us at any point where we’re at now.  Independent. Recently, after the release of our video, Dirtbag actually … They’re trying to start a PR side of their sponsorship and so we were kind of the guinea pigs. We worked with an Independent PR person that they hired to try to get the video and our name out there. Her name is Shawna and she did an excellent job. They really did an excellent job, especially for it being kind of like a pilot program. That was our first real just touch upon having a PR person. Up to this point it’s been just us and everyone on social media just pushing us, forcing us down people’s throats, which I really appreciate.

Scott Martin: Tell me about your latest release, OFH: Prime Cuts?

Zach Wäger: That was actually … there’s five tracks from a recently released full album. The full album was called Old Fashion Hellfire. That one … it was a very bittersweet album for a lot of different reasons. It didn’t quite come out production-wise like I had hoped. We had the opportunity to work with this producer, Marc Jordan, who’s based out of California, as well. He worked on this band 16Volts album, and so we got connected with him through them. He was just like, “Hey, how about you just pick some songs and I’ll mix them, and then I’ll send them to get mastered by Howie Weinberg,” who’s also in California. Everyone’s in California. They both had impressive resumes, especially Howie Weinberg. He did stuff with Nirvana, the Ramones, Muse, The Pixies, and Rammstein. He’s big names. It’s like, “Okay. We have to do this.” The most recent release is the EP and that’s five songs from Old Fashion Hellfire that just sound way more professional.

Scott Martin: To say the least, you were happy with the way it came out?

Zach Wäger: Very happy, yeah. To me, it almost sounds like different songs. It’s like, “Okay, this is how I wish the whole album sounded like.” No way could we afford to have the whole album redone this way. It’s expensive. We’re just happy that we had the opportunity to at least work with these guys and have something that we feel is more … a better representation of what we are trying to do.

Scott Martin: Can you tell me about your songwriting process? Is there any specific subject that inspires your songs that you write about?

Zach Wäger: Honestly, the biggest inspiration really is just society, which again, I guess kind of sounds like a cliché for a lot of bands. All you have to do is turn on the news or turn on your Facebook feed and see all the absurdity that is just reality. We draw on a lot of what is like personal conflict, the idea of self-destruction, through almost like just self-mortification of reality. Sometimes there’s like straight-up horror elements, thinking about serial killers or whether it’s figurative or literal monsters. We try to keep it varying because we don’t want to be like a heavy political band, that kind of stuff. There’s plenty of those. We don’t want to take that away. Even if we have a political message we try to make it ambiguous so it can be interpreted in different ways.

The writing process, it’s really become very much collective, which for me personally, I’m happy with. It went from just me toiling by myself to here’s all these people who have their different ideas. They’re coming from different musical backgrounds. It’s versatile in the sense that we don’t have a specific structure. Somebody might say, “Hey, I have this guitar riff idea.” We record it from that. We build a song. “Hey, I have this one lyric, one line in my head.” From that, we build off a song. Sometimes we’ll write the lyrics first. Sometimes we’ll write the music first and then write the lyrics behind that. It’s kind of a fluid process because we don’t really like structure.

Scott Martin: Who produced the Prime Cuts EP? And where did you record it at?

Zach Wäger: I have my own little satellite studio in my apartment. We did a bunch of recording there. We also did recording at, at this point, a former band member’s place. He has a recording studio. We did a lot of recording there. For the EP, on the two tracks we were able to do some live drum tracking in a professional studio setting in Portland. The name of the studio is escaping me right now. Basically, we recorded in three different spots. It’s pretty much all DIY.

Scott Martin: What is the concept of the music video for “Rise With Me“? Who produced it? Where was it filmed?

Zach Wäger: The music video was directed, edited, videoed by this one guy, Karl Whinnery, he’s amazing. I actually met him because he did a music video for my nephew who does hip-hop. I thought he did such a great job with such a simple concept that I’m like, “Okay, well, we’ve never done a music video. We’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting. This is the perfect time.” We contacted him. He’s super amazing. I had a basic concept as far as the idea of the music video, but he just expanded on it. We filmed in three different locations. Down there for you guys, you get a lot of rain. Up here we’ve been getting so much snow and ice. It was unusual for the Portland Valley area. Yeah, if you go up to the mountains, par for the course. We filmed in three different locations during some of the worst weather the Northwest has seen in like decades. That figured.

The band shots were done at a classic car junkyard, one of those you-pull-it kind of junkyards. They were really nice. We paid to use the space and they just let us film all day. It was miserable but it was a lot of fun. The other two locations were guerilla filming. We didn’t quite have permission, but we got it done. The second location was an abandoned mausoleum. The third location was a hydroelectric plant, an abandoned hydroelectric plant from like the turn of the century. I was trying to take a less literal approach to the lyrics. The concept of the song is basically the media exploitation of mass shootings through the eyes of the people perpetrating it. It’s them processing the onslaught of violence on the news in almost this grandstanding way, and then taking that and being like, “Okay. I want to be number one. I want to have a high score on the video game.” That’s the concept of the song. The video, I wanted to kind of marry the idea of that concept with … the storyline of the video is it … kind of using a totalitarian religious aspect to it, where you have these three guys, very uniformed. They’re like the average … when you think about mass shooters they’re white males between the ages of blah and blah. I wanted to get people that fit that.

The priestess, the one that kind of commands them, I wanted her to be androgynous but at the same time represent the object of desire. Everything that they want but can’t have because there’s a lot of that sexual frustration behind a lot of their twisted thoughts as well. The concept of the album is, it’s disparaging, which is funny because some people have been like, “Are you trying to promote school shootings?” I’m like, “No. Are you not watching the video or listening to the lyrics? It’s like the exact opposite.”

Scott Martin: Who does your makeup?

Zach Wäger: It kind of depends on which band member. Eric does his own, the drummer. Reggie, the guitarist, does his own. My wife does mine and hers. She’s an amazing artist in general. I can do my makeup but it takes way longer and it doesn’t look nearly as good. She does my makeup and her makeup.

Scott Martin: What artists inspired your music?

Zach Wäger: For me personally, my biggest inspirations are Tom Waits, Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Ogre from Skinny Puppy, Raymond Watts from PIG, Jim Thirlwell from Foetus. People that really have just done their own thing unapologetically. They didn’t really do anything in their music careers to placate people. They’re just like, “This is what I’m doing. You like it? Cool. You don’t? Oh well.” My wife has a strong metal, horror punk influential background. She kind of brings that element to it. My drummer, he loves metal. Really into, I don’t want to say commercial metal but just that metal with hooks and that clever aspect to it. The guitarist, he’s so technical. Metal and classic rock. He just has strong influences in bands like KISS and all that. It’s kind of a wide range. It’s good because it keeps us on our toes.

Dead Animal Assembly PlantScott Martin: Here’s an off the wall question. If you were a character in a horror movie, which movie would it be and why?

Zach Wäger: That’s a good question. I really like that question. Thank you for asking it. I know exactly who I’d want to be and that’s Pinhead from Hellraiser. Pinhead was always my favorite, I guess you’d call it, slasher villain. I don’t even think he was slasher because I love Clive Barker and his books. It is like this beauty behind him. There’s a poetry. Very well-spoken. It’s like a perfect combination of horror with poetry and sexuality and kind of exploring the depths of all of that. It’s a character that is not necessarily torturing you for the sake of torturing you, but kind of reaching into your deepest, darkest, worst desires, and kind of amping them up. Definitely Pinhead from Hellraiser.

Scott Martin: Do you relate a lot to Pinhead?

Zach Wäger: Maybe in my mind I would like to think I do, but I’m probably not nearly as articulate as Pinhead. I kind of want it to be an amalgam of different horror elements. The grittiness of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The cannibalism side of it, the grungy, dirty side. I never wanted to be …

Scott Martin: Like the movie, Saw?

Zach Wäger: Yeah, exactly.

Scott Martin: Like, shock rock?

Zach Wäger: Oh, exactly. Yeah. Shock Rock and just wanting to engage the audience with creating different characters. Creating an experience. If someone’s taken the time to come out to a show, then you owe them a show or else they can just stay home and listen to your album.

Scott Martin: What other plans you have for the rest of the year? Do you pretty much just play shows around the Portland area for now?

Zach Wäger: Our goal this year is to definitely at least do a west coast tour. We’ve played Seattle a few times. Other than playing Knotfest in San Bernardino, we haven’t played California. We need to do it. We love playing California. Because of that thing, we have fans in California. We want to get back down there. There’s really no reason … We’re trying to work something out with another band and jump on their tour and do the west coast. If for some reason that falls through, even if we’re just hopscotching to small venues and it’s completely self-funded, that’s fine. We’re going to play outside of Oregon, outside of Portland, this year. We’re working on a new album, which will be out next year. One more CD release this year will be the single for “Rise With Me.” There’ll be remixes on it. So far, we have some pretty good people, really good people, I don’t want to say pretty good, doing remixes and it’s just a matter of gathering up the other ones. That’s what we have for the rest of the year unless something random and awesome happens, which hey, we’re always looking forward for that.

About Scott Martin

Photographer - California - Bay area

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