5 albums, 64 tracks and more than 4 hours of lasting listening – including plenty of alt. versions, unreleased material, pieces from unknown or forgotten compilations, tracks previously on tape albums that were never released on vinyl or cds. These are the features of the huge retrospective that was recently released by Erik Skodvin’s label Miasmah, titled “Commencing”. But Volcano The Bear – the brainchild of four imaginative Leicesterians (Aaron Moore, Nick Mott, Clarence Manuelo and Daniel Padden) – has been active for more than 20 years. Their experimental approach to composition consisting of redrawing or cancelling the boundaries between Dadaism, Krautrock, noise, surreal comedy, folk, improvisation and so-called Post punk lets them get out of the obscure shadows of the underground and gain many fans all over the world. We spoke about their recent volcanic ash cloud with Aaron Moore. Enjoy the read!
Chain D.L.K.: Hi folks! How are you?
Aaron Moore: Hello. I’m doing well, thanks.
Chain D.L.K.: I’m sure many readers of our long-lasting web-zine already know you, but let’s go back over the timeline…first of all, why did you name yourself Volcano The Bear?
Aaron Moore: Nick Mott and myself had an improv band called Songs Of Norway. At this time, Mott and I were hatching the idea of a new music project. We were rehearsing with SON one evening. In the rehearsal room was a poster for the band Volcano Suns and after we’d finished playing a piece of new music one of us said to call that piece “Volcano” immediately after someone else said “The Bear”. We all agreed it was a great name for a band, and on the way home Mott and I decided to call our new project Volcano The Bear.
Chain D.L.K.: When you began to add titles to VTB discography in the second half of the 90s, you used to number the releases (Vol One, Vol Tu, Vol iii…) except of the sixth one, “The Inhazer Decline”. Why such a choice? Were you thinking about no longer making records?
Aaron Moore: The naming of our songs and album titles is very much a part of the band’s creative process. We enjoy playing with words. Our self-released live albums on our own Volucan label needed titles, as well as catalogue numbers, so we combined the two. I always remember something Daniel Padden said in the early days as we discussed the naming of things.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you remember the names and the faces of the six people who bought the six copies of the first edition of “The Inhazer Decline”? Steve Stapleton by chance? 🙂
Aaron Moore: Yes, of course! Though there were 9 copies pressed. One for each member of the band. One for VTB’s studio engineer Kev Reverb. One for Stapleton, as we were sending it to him to be released on United Diaries (as it turned out some of the tracks were used for our first release ‘Yak Folk’s Y’are’ and some for the eventual ‘Inhazer’ version for UD). The other 3 copies were given to friends of the band who we’d invited to do some backing vocals on one of the tracks. Stu Brackley, Steve Hill and the brothers who ran our favourite record shop in Leicester (Ultima Thule), Alan and Steve Freeman, who got to share a copy I believe.
Chain D.L.K.: Most reviewers label your style as improvisational even if there are many hooks to so-called plunderphonics a-la-Negativland, Krautrock or the most provocative side of (more or less esoteric) industrial… first of all, do you like to get labeled or “mis”-labeled?
Aaron Moore: I don’t mind getting labeled. Sometimes they can be quite hilarious. We never set out to create a particular style of music. Our music is about spontaneity. It’s not about us wanting to sound this way or that way. I don’t think we consider that way of doing things as an option. Our music was always much more about sound rather than style. When you’re making a piece of music by throwing apples into a bucket of water, there’s no genre reference for that.
Chain D.L.K.: Some stuff (particularly the first one) could surmise Neil Campbell’s Vibracathedral’s outputs…anyway, what are the really distinguishing elements of VTB compared to similar bands/projects?
Aaron Moore: We always found it strange that we were compared to our contemporaries. Be it Vibracathedral Orchestra, No-Neck Blues Band and Sunburned Hand Of The Man, for instance. Those bands had such a different approach to collaborative music making and improvisation. They were/are much more homogenous than VTB. I think they approached their music much more collectively whereas we had a more individualistic way of collaborating. Each member of VTB has a different approach to what VTB music is. Most importantly, and if we ever had a creative manifesto it is this, each member is allowed to do whatever he wants on a particular piece of music and the other members have to allow him to do what he wishes, even if we don’t like it. It’s all about trust. I trust their creative decision making, and who am I to say it’s the wrong thing to play? In VTB there is no wrong thing to play. It’s a beautiful and powerful philosophy which has impacted my life in general. Another difference between us and our contemporaries was our choice of instrumentation. I may be wrong, but I feel other bands on the circuit were centered on rock instrumentation, predominantly the use of electric guitars and bass guitars. Our instrumentation was much more fluid and the use of tape as an instrument was and still is very important. We also sang a lot. Our improvisations were springboards to studio compositions. I don’t think there were many bands at that time using the studio as an instrument. There was a lot of documentation of happenings being released, whereas our albums were more crafted and composed.
Chain D.L.K.: Did Leicester or life in Leicester influence your style? How?
Aaron Moore: I personally think it was very important. Leicester isn’t a creative hub like London. It definitely didn’t have an experimental scene. There were four guys making experimental music and they were all in the same band. We had no local contemporaries and that helped in our development as there was no influence from fellow musicians on a scene. We only had each other to be influenced by. At the same time, we had pretty much stopped listening to contemporary music. We started journeying back for inspiration. I feel this was a subconscious attempt to keep our music from sounding ‘of a time’.
Chain D.L.K.: Later (after The One Burned Ma), some malicious reviewers implied Volcano The Bear tried to emulate Captain Beefheart…do you agree with them?
Aaron Moore: Ha! Really? I don’t think we ever sounded like Beefheart. We couldn’t have if we’d tried. We’re not good enough musicians. We were determined to not sound like anything else, so emulating other bands would have been counter to our mission.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the weirdest sound object or sample you ever used in your tracks?
Aaron Moore: What is weird? We didn’t set out to be a ‘weird’ band. We were only interested in being un-conventional. Of course, we used dozens of un-conventional sound objects and still do. We were always inspired by using non-musical objects and making them musical. How can we make a piece of music out of this brick or this bag of tools? What does it sound like when we bow this or strike that? I used to joke that we would make a piece of music out of bowing each other’s hair. We bowed everything we could get our hands on. We had great success bowing an electric fan once. The plastic rods that keep jars from falling out of a fridge door is a sound we used many, many times. Not because these things were weird but because these were sounds we’d never heard before. This sonic quest is a journey we are all still taking.
Chain D.L.K.: In 2002-2003, some of your members started solo-projects, which didn’t last so long…how come?
Aaron Moore: We all still have solo projects. We never stopped.
Chain D.L.K.: The worst compliment and the best critique you received for some of your awesome live performances? What was the most amazing live performance you like to remember today?
Aaron Moore: That’s a tricky one. I remember a performance we did at the Venn Festival in Bristol. I think it was 2006. Someone in the audience shouted out “pretentious wankers”. That really irked us. How the fuck can we be pretending to do this? I think to be pretentious requires a lot of planning and forethought. We never really planned anything. It was always about being spontaneous. A lot of people along the way have asked us which art school we attended. As if we could only make music and perform this way because we’d been to art school! None of us went to art school.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to come back on live stage? If so, how?
Aaron Moore: There’s always a possibility but at the moment I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. We all have other commitments. Families, work, etc. I’d love to have the four of us play some shows together again. Mott left the band in 2007 but since working on the new retrospective 5 LP box set ‘Commencing’, which came out last month on Miasmah, he’s interested in playing live with us again. Clarence Manuelo has categorically said no to playing live again so it’s difficult to see the quartet back together on stage. Manuelo stopped playing live after the winter 2007 European tour. Since then Padden and I have toured as a duo, but he now has 2 children so it’s more difficult.
Chain D.L.K.: According to some reviewers, “Yak Folks Y’Are” is the most nonsensical output of yours…do you agree?
Aaron Moore: No, I don’t agree at all! The dictionary definition of nonsensical is “lacking intelligible meaning”, “foolish, absurd.” At times our music is absurd but it is filled with meaning. It is thoughtful, and even at its most abstract, cohesively constructed. We’re very serious about our music, even when it’s playful.
Chain D.L.K.: Could you tell us something about “Commencing”, the huge retrospective collection recently released by Miasmah?
Aaron Moore: Erik Skodvin (Miasmah boss) is a friend of mine and a couple years ago at a VTB concert he suggested doing a VTB box set (he’d had a few drinks by then). A few months later I wrote to him asking if he was serious about doing a box set and that 2015 would be VTB’s 20th anniversary. He said he’d like to, so for the next 2 years Erik and I worked on putting it together. VTB has a massive archive and we went through dozens of hours of music. The box set is 5 LP’s containing 64 tracks with a bonus download-only album of 10 tracks that didn’t make the final cut of the box. A large proportion of the tracks are unreleased; some were unfinished recordings that I completed during the curating of Commencing. There’s a few tracks from our first cassette releases, a few from our live cdr series, some obscure compilation tracks, a couple of alternative versions of previously released tracks and a live LP. There’s also a 50-page book of writings, photos, old gig posters, etc. included.
Chain D.L.K.: Did you choose the organization of the published material? Was it difficult to find old recordings and rarities to include in the 5 CDs of “Commencing”?
Aaron Moore: Erik and I came up with the final track listing with a bit of input from the other guys. Mott helped out a lot with the visual side of things but Erik did all the design and layout. It was only difficult making the final decisions on the tracks to be included. There were so many tracks to choose from. At one point I discovered a bunch more old live recordings and decided not to even listen to them. We had too many choices. There were a lot of tracks that we had multiple versions of from different sources: cassette tape, cdr, mini disc etc. It was quite a task to go through those to decide which was the better-quality version. The whole process took Erik and me about 2 years and hundreds of emails. I must have worked on it for a few hundred hours over that 2 year period. We’re all immensely proud of the finished product. It’s a beautiful set! So far we’ve had extremely positive feedback about it so it was all worth it. It’s been a fascinating journey and the whole band has been surprised at the breadth of music we created over the past 20 years.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think that audience is more trained to understand your art today or do you miss something of the late nineties’ “inner receptiveness”?
Aaron Moore: I don’t think so. I haven’t noticed a difference in how our audience responds to our work. The audience is probably smaller than in 2006, for instance, but I don’t think people’s ears have changed.
Chain D.L.K.: Any other work in progress?
Aaron Moore: Well, there is an unfinished VTB album recorded between 2007 and 2011 at Faust Studios with Hans Joachim Irmler. It was initially going to be released on Klangbad but in the end, we bought the tapes. We’d begun the process of mixing it when the box idea came up so it’s been shelved for a while. At some point, we’ll get back to it and finish it. Other than that we all have different projects on the go, independent of VTB. I have a band here in Brooklyn called Gospel Of Mars. It’s more of a live project. I also have a recording collaboration with Erik Skodvin from Miasmah, another project that got shelved for the box set work! Mott recently released a new solo album and is working on a couple of other projects, Manuelo is working on some new Earth Trumpet material and Padden is still active with his One Ensemble group. There’s always something going on with us.
check out Volcano The Bear Bandcamp at: volcanothebear.bandcamp.com