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August 13, 2006

Etiquette rules, be damned. Decahedron wants to talk politics, and they don't care if Emily Post considers it polite conversation.

It's hard to avoid the subject when you're from Washington D.C., even if you live so far beneath the Beltway you can't see the White House without the assistance of the Hubble telescope. That's where Frodus came from. Spawned by the D.C. underground, Frodus was a fire-breathing punk dragon that swooped down on the indie rock commonwealth in the mid-90s and set houses ablaze with raging, angular post-punk that smacked of Fugazi or Snapcase. Shelby Cinca and Jason Hamacher rode the beast until Frodus ceased to be in 1999.

Two years later, Cinca and Hamacher reunited sort of. See, Hamacher was traveling in Europe and Asia at the time, so Cinca got together with Fugazi bassist and long-time friend Joe Lally to put to tape the music playing in their heads. The three traded MP3s through the mail until Hamacher moved back to the states and they formed a band.

Initially, the trio was known as The Black Sea; in 2002, they released a three-song EP on Lovitt Records. Trademark issues that surfaced after the recording of their first full-length, Disconnection_Imminent forced the band to change its name. And then sometime during the mixing process for the record, Lally departed to spend more time with his family. Cinca and Hamacher went looking for a bassist and found Johnathon Ford, of Roadside Monument and Unwed Sailor.

There's revolution in the air on Disconnection_Imminent: an unabashedly political record that screams its anti-corporate, anti-war mongering message through the gleaming metallic clamor of Cinca's slash-and-burn guitars, Lally's wavy bass and Hamacher's piston-pounding drums. Decahedron is spoiling for a fight, and I don't think Clear Channel wants a piece of this. The media conglomerate gets skewered on "Delete False Culture," the record's furious first track.

Cinca talked to Lost At Sea recently about the upheaval surrounding Decahedron, his production work with Dead Meadow, the state of the country and how the tough War On Terror talk emanating from Washington actually shaped the sound of Disconnection_Imminent.

LAS: First, an obligatory question about the name change. Is Decahedron (meaning, according to the Lovitt Web site, a ten-sided solid geometric shape that's also a monolithic force that appears in the minute details of nature and primordial universal mass) more representative of the band's sound today as opposed to what it was when you were The Black Sea? It seems like the EP is more moody and atmospheric, whereas Disconnection_Imminent seems more tense and anxious.

Cinca: I believe the name change does reflect our self-discovery into what we sound like today. However, if we would have retained the name The Black Sea we would have written the same album but it all works out for the best. I feel that Decahedron sounds more vague and indefinable... and unbeknownst to us we discovered later that there are so many 'The Black [Something]' bands so aligning ourselves with polyhedra is much more exciting.

LAS: So, are you now an expert on laws regarding trademark issues? How much research did you do before re-naming the band?

Cinca: Not really. The Patent and Trademark Office website make it easy to change and search for such things. The name change kind of happened when I was on tour with the Cassettes. I was brainstorming in the van with my buddy who plays accordion in the Cassettes, Stephen Guidry, who is also consequently a big Frodus fan, and the name came up during hours of deep contemplation and he just looked at me and said "Yes.".. after sending the idea to Jason, he was unsure at first until he had a computer program pronounce the phonetics of the word.

LAS: You designed the cover for Disconnection_Imminent. Where did you get the idea for it?

Cinca: Oooh, lots of places. I just tried to approach the cover more as a textural painting done on the computer. I worked on it for a while with all sorts of different versions!! The image is a skyline of NYC reproduced a whole lot and layered and layered. It would kill my computer to render it in Adobe Illustrator since I had so much going on actually.

All in all, I was kind of getting sick of doing really clean designs, which I have a habit or style of doing so I wanted to go back to my fine art background when approaching the art work. The color scheme with its stark white and black and angular forms is kind of influenced by the artwork for Massive Attack's Mezzanine.

LAS: Anybody who's read up on the band knows Fugazi bassist Joe Lally was once a member. When he left, how did it change what you envisioned the band becoming or sounding like?

Cinca: Yes, we wrote the album and The Black Sea EP with Joe. I think the band will still go a similar route it would have gone with Joe, but Johnathon definitely has a different style so I think some of his approach to bass which is more of a building and chordal thing will be introduced opposed to Joe's more dub influenced style. We all learned a lot from each other from the recording session so the voice of Joe will still ring through my head when I pick up my guitar. It's what the creative experience of music is about - learning from the musicians you play with and taking a part of that experience with you.

LAS: Did it come as a shock when he left, or could you see it coming? How did it affect the way the band goes about writing and recording songs?

Cinca: No, we talked about it a while before. We knew it was coming. There was no drama. It was simply time for him to focus on family. It didn't affect anything since we finished the album with him, recorded everything, and he left near the end of mixing. We will write exactly the same now as we always did just three people in a room and seeing what we come up with and recording it all. Then at a later time we will revisit the recordings, pick things that we like from our sessions and focus on those.

LAS: You toured with Engine Down a while back. What were the shows like and how did the new material go over?

Cinca: the shows were pretty good. For the most part nobody knew who we were so it was a "hi, we are Decahedron, let us introduce ourselves..." tour. I think the material went over pretty well as far as I could tell.

LAS: After Frodus broke up, you and Jason went your separate ways for a couple of years. What was it that brought you two back together to play music again?

Cinca: We had a bunch of failed attempts of getting things together throughout the years of separation, but it's mostly that we have a good working dynamic and tension that we harness to push each other musically to think outside of what may be habitual for us as musicians.

LAS: How did you get involved in recording the two Dead Meadow albums? Did the experience affect how you record your own band's work?

Cinca: I have been friends with the band for many, many years. I've known the bassist since high school and he actually designed the first Frodus cassette record cover back in 1993! So it just kind of happened. I was into what the band was doing and how they were approaching things creatively, and they wanted to record an album in a less traditional way so we went for it. The experience definitely influenced how I record my own work. I developed a lot of my techniques when recording their albums that I apply to all my recordings now.

LAS: What were they doing differently that piqued your interest?

Cinca: They were just making psychedelic rock music that was different from anything else going on in DC at the time. And I feel they were going for it with an honest and a from-the-heart approach. I guess one could say the genre isn't the most original, but I think there are a lot of great layers and musical worlds within their first two albums.

LAS: How has your guitar playing changed since the days of Frodus? It seems like you're more open to exploring new sounds.

Cinca: I feel like it hasn't changed too much from the last Frodus album, And We Washed Our Weapons In The Sea, other than I experiment with more delays and wah pedal work than I did in the past. It's all things that I really loved that I got to explore on the Dead Meadow albums from a sonic standpoint so I'm just applying that to the music I create. One of the most influential guitar albums for me is The Verve's A Northern Soul, with it's psychedelic guitar approach that's thrusting a bit more into the modern age, so I think some of my love for those sounds come out on our spacier moments on Disconnection_Imminent.

LAS: Old concert footage of the MC-5 keeps running through my head when I listen to Disconnection_Imminent. Even though your record has a distinctly clean, modern sound, was there a conscious effort to make it sound as incendiary as possible?

Cinca: No, it's what naturally occurred. We initially started writing the album and had mostly spacey songs and then we felt affected by what was happening in DC, with the war on terror rhetoric and everything, and it was time to scream about it and make something jarring to express our views.

LAS: Do you see this as the most overtly political album you've ever made?

Cinca: Yes. It is the most straightforward with it's lyrical content.

LAS: In light of the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison, a song like "Lt. Col. Questions Himself," which questions how honorable the U.S. military's actions in Iraq and other places have been, really strikes a chord. Lyrically, it reminds me of Xiu Xiu's "Support Our Troops Oh!" I'm curious, is there something about our culture that makes it seem all right to degrade and humiliate people in our charge?

Cinca: I think people in power and soldiers have always done this so there is nothing different happening now than what occurred thousands of years ago. The only difference now is that it is documented, due to the widespread digital camera revolution. I think it's great that digital photography is everywhere and that's it's so easy to publish your life experiences to the world via the Internet. The world is more documented; the good and bad things can't go as hidden for as long as they did in the past.

I think overall that America has forgotten that it was built on blood and war - the civil war, etc. - and it's almost as if people don't realize history until the two world wars, which is when things were documented more with photography and film. It seems more real to them, so I think what America doesn't have which Europe has is a sense of humility. So in the end, this country won't become a balanced nation until it wakes up and realizes it's part of the world, which unfortunately doesn't happen until something catastrophic happens such as a world war, etc. I think past presidents strived for being a part of the global community, but the current administration has just sent this country back a multitude of years in progress.

The song "Lt. Colonel" is inspired particularly by a quote I read when the Iraqi war started from Lt. Wes Gillman on CNN.com where he commanded his troops to shoot "it" in reference to other Iraqis. The song is about him questioning himself and what he commanded. The whole beginning of the war to me seemed like all the US and the news got behind it and everyone was afraid to say it was a stupid war until things started to get sour. It was like high school and attending a mindless pep rally that really has no relation to you and you looking around wondering what everyone is doing.

I hope the soldiers that degraded the Iraqis are made an example of, and higher-ups involved in this are thrown into jail. I don't think anyone should get away lightly with it. If they do get away lightly with it I don't think people will forget that in the Middle East and it will just dig a bigger hole for establishing a welcomed American presence in that region for an even longer time.

Sorry for the tangential answer!

LAS: That's all right. Let it rip. It always seems risky to mix politics and music. Why are people so averse to records that take a stand on the issues of the day?

Cinca: People are averse to take a stand because they are afraid of losing fans and their careers. To me, they are just a part of the problem and are sheep. Revolutions, cultural and otherwise, truly have breakthroughs when it's strength in numbers and it's about everyone taking a risk for something to believe in - not just the ones that are willing to sacrifice everything for it. It goes beyond music too. It's about leaving your job because it supports something that you are against. It's just about being a smart consumer and smart citizen. Art reflects the collective unconsciousness of the world and society. Entertainers do not.

LAS: It seems the line that divides art and commercialism is becoming more and more blurred. When you hear say a Modest Mouse song on a car commercial, does it ... well, does it piss you off? Or is it a justifiable way for a band that plays music with integrity to get heard, and get paid?

Cinca: I think it's different if you strive to be a commercial rock band and consciously write music to get more radio play and picked up by commercials. I think you can retain artistic integrity and be in a car commercial. It's just a matter of why you are doing music. It's whether the car company is approaching you or you are approaching the car company.

TV commercials pay a ridiculous amount of money for music and I think at some level some bands have to be a "virus" and work within the system. I would be open for our music to be used on such a scale since once someone investigates more into us it has the potential to spark a lot of agreement in our dissent. It makes me think about when I saw Lord Of The Rings and the crowd erupted in laughter at the anti-piracy public service ad before the film. I think there are plenty of people out there that feel the current state of things with the media world being false, so I personally wouldn't have a problem being a gateway. However, I must say that if it was an SUV commercial, I may reconsider. To be honest with you though, I much rather be a part of an aggressive public transportation commercial onslaught.

LAS: Words like "disconnect" and "delete" and "false" pop out at you when you're listening to the record. It seems like such a simple thing to say to yourself, "Yeah, I'm going to go my own way. I'm going to quit bowing to a government that doesn't listen. I'm going to stop giving my money away to multi-national corporations who exploit labor forces in third world countries. I'm not going to be a slave to commercialism." But isn't it a whole lot more complicated than that? Society as a whole has been so quick to maintain the status quo and you've got seemingly disparate elements conspiring to keep those who rock the boat silent - for example, the Nader campaign - that systematic change appears almost impossible. Is our situation as hopeless as it appears?

Cinca: History has shown that large-scale change doesn't happen until cataclysmic events occur such as natural disasters, war, etc. Unfortunately things need to get pretty bad for a shift in power and mass thought. For example when the ozone has a gaping hole and cancer rates are sky high and oil costs are enormous then a green party president can get into power. Until then though it's just about continuing to support things that are positive and do your best to shop at independent stores, grocers, etc. It is rather hard and it's difficult to totally do that in many senses since you are stuck within your location but doing any little bit helps in my opinion. It starts as a spark and grows to be a fire, but it's possible that the fire won't even be seen in our lifetimes. There are plenty of people now with these ideas that are in politics and within the system of it all so it's just about keeping the thoughts out there, the feelings of discontent.

LAS: The CD booklet comes with a quote about how technology can be used to confine populations. Where did the quote come from and do you agree with the premise? Or is technology a tool for liberation of some sort?

Cinca: I agree with the premise. It comes from the Dune trilogy. At the same time as technology is liberating it is important to also remember that technology such as weapons, surveillance, etc. can be used to confine discontent. The War On Terrorism has caused many countries aside from our own to act unethically in the guise of introducing laws to halt terrorism and invading privacy and impinging on basic rights. Things can go so sour that a terrorist could be considered to be just anyone who simply disagrees with an ideology. If anything, that quote is just there to be documented as something to ponder for the future, not necessarily referring to the direct now.

LAS: Back to the music. I hardly ever listen to music with headphones anymore, unfortunately, but the other night I put Disconnection_Imminent on my portable CD player and was floored by how much energy the record has, and how it bombards you with sounds you don't pick up otherwise. I was wondering, when you make a record, do you think about how a listener is going to be affected by how they listen to it, whether it's with a phonograph playing a vinyl copy or someone driving in the car with the CD playing in the background while stuck in traffic?

Cinca: Yes. Generally, with the more atmospheric songs we do with the thought of headphones or a stereo at night. There are many layers of sounds within them, songs like "Pay No Mind," "Every City Is A Prison," "Endings," and "Corner Of..." Also "Delete False Culture" has an 808 Bass sample at the end for sub-sonic car stereos, so there is a lot of thought involved within the way the music is presented.

LAS: "Burning Lights" is my favorite track off the new record. The vocals are so powerful. Were they given any studio enhancement or is that all Decahedron?

Cinca: All Decahedron. I double the vocals, but that's it.

LAS: You're on the Plea For Peace tour. What is it that shows like that can do for a cause, and do you think it has been able to accomplish what it set out to do?

Cinca: Definitely. There were more than 50 people a night registering to vote, so I think it totally did what it set out to do and cause awareness and get people involved. Even if a small percentage actually vote it's better than nothing.

SEE ALSO: www.decahedron.net
SEE ALSO: www.lovitt.com

Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other articles by Peter Lindblad.



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