By RL Segarra
From the moment you hear it bam, bam, a pounding, bam, bam, rhythmic in nature, bam, bam, bam, pounding into your mind, into your soul, primal, tribal, bringing you back yet pushing you forward, the music the mesmerizing beat, your hooked , you want to hear more, more of this band more of the music they make, more of Tribal Machine. Every time I play their music and friends are over, good conversation is flowing, someone will stop in the middle of a sentence and say "Damn this is good, who is this?" It is with great pleasure that I present an interview with the intelligent, creative, musically gifted, political, outspoken Sever Bronny of Tribal Machine.
RLS: Where were you born, at what age did music grab your interest, and what kind of music was it?
SB: I was born in a small town in Poland, 1979. I had the privilege to see many countries before I was even ten years old. My parents kept moving and taking international trips. I got to see many different places which sparked my imagination. I suppose I yearn to see many more, perhaps that's why I want to tour so much. Throughout the journeys and at home, I was still heavily immersed in Polish culture. My parents listened to a lot of traditional Polish music, including Polka. But I also grew up listening to the Beatles, Leanord Cohen, and other rock n roll. An eclectic assortment that filled the background of the house. I also sang a lot of old Polish folk songs when I started going to the Polish version of boy scouts. 15 or so years more immersed in song, dance, culture. It was magical. Music did not really interest me, however, until I was about to enter High School. Nirvana, Guns & Roses, Pearl Jam. These bands peaked my interest and fed my indulgence for teenage angst. But that did not compare to when I was in grade nine, around 1993 or so, and I heard NIN's "The Downward Spiral". I was high as a kite at some dark house party when on comes a song called 'Hurt'. It blew my mind. I promptly bought this strange, alien record. It scared and tantalized me at the same time. Mechanical yet highly emotional. It was a perfect match for my consciousness. Thus started my love affair with Reznor's music. I was a rabid fan from that day on, and would remain a die-hard loyal supporter for many years, until my own music limited my need to listen to other artists.
RLS: Can you recall the moment as you were listening to NIN, Pink Floyd, The Doors etc. these bands that you have said are your major influences, that you decided that you wanted to make your own music and take it down your own unique musical road?
SB: A good question Ramona. It was not so much a moment but a series of them. A gradual evolution from being a listener to an artist. It happened not long after I fell in love with Reznor's music. I had this old Yamaha keyboard, a PSR-003 or something like that. I would record myself playing the clunker on the computer using windows media player. This was before Windows 95, back in the 3.1 stage of the game, when dinosaurs still roamed the circuit boards. Back then you had a "boost button" that doubled the speed of the computer, in case you wanted to see your favorite game do a speedy Gonzales or something. It was ancient technology by today's standards. A cool effect on media player was "reverse" or "echo". Come to think of it, those were like the only effects. Anyway, I would grab a few spoons, some pots and pans, and start banging away while trying to navigate the keyboard. All I could manage to record was about one to two minutes at a time because of memory limitations. When I was feeling particularly clever I down-mixed what I had onto a cassette deck (remember when you had to push play, record and the pause button all at the same time?) and continued on this way until I had a five or more minute song. It was an archaic but alarmingly fun way to do it. It was also novel, and somehow felt like I was at the forefront of where music was going.
By the time I was in the eleventh grade I had a few more instruments. Among them a drum machine, a heavy metal guitar pedal (no guitar yet), and a four-track. At this stage I was a rabid musician, although what I actually came up with was nonsensical, no matter how much I raved about it. It simply sucked. I had the same kind of delusions you'd see on American idol nowadays. But I believed in what I was doing. I had a blast distorting drum beats and recording what I came up with on the four track. That really formed the basis of what I was to do years later. I would sing and scream to NIN records using a floor lamp as a microphone. It was just so fucking cool to pretend you were Reznor up there on stage trashing shit. What really did it for me is seeing Nine Inch Nails at Woodstock. I must have played back footage of "Happiness in Slavery" hundreds of times, studying every nuance, every angle, every gesture. It was a total obsession. Not long after I took a big step by convincing my parents to buy me a computer recording system. I chose to use Cubase software on a PC platform, for "compatibility" reasons. Of course, the "compatibility" never came into use and I found myself having to argue with everyone why the PC was perfect for my needs, as everyone well knew a Mac was where it was at. At the time the Mac was light-years ahead of the PC for music recording purposes and I found myself navigating uncharted waters. I did not end up meeting anyone recording with a computer till college really. Because of this I went through a tremendous amount of trial and error. I lost a lot of material in the process just to have a stable recording medium, which didn't really happen till Windows XP came out. That was the pitfall of the PC. Back then Windows was terribly unstable, and I didn't have a clue what I was doing. It was hell, simply hell when something went wrong, and man did things ever go wrong. Through it all I was lucky to have supportive parents who nurtured what I loved, even though they did not quite approve of it. (Reznor and Marilyn Manson were definitely "Devils" and "Evil" in my parent's eyes). I started taking voice and piano lessons to give me some semblance of competence. It's funny how things work out though, because I absolutely hated music in school. I dropped the subject in grade 9 and at the time thought good riddance, glad I never have to deal with that again in my life. This time though I had a wonderful teacher who taught me that music was about feeling and simplicity. I would bring him my latest computer-recorded mixes and he would criticize them with the aim of helping me improve them. He catered to my needs and taught me, in the limited time we had together, what I needed to know to get my songs listenable. It was around this time that I made the choice to do it for the rest of my life. It was a conscious choice. I hunted around for some way to do it professionally, and settled on a Music Production and Engineering college based out of London, Ontario Canada, which deserves its own chapter. By the time I got to college my imagination had already given me the stage, even though there was a terrible disconnect between my imagination and reality.
RLS: You said Tribal Machine came to be as a solo project when you were still in college studying musical production and engineering. Where did the name Tribal Machine come from?
SB: Yes, in my first year of college I gave the project a name and made it "official". I spent a lot of time trying to find a good name for it. I settled on "Tribal Machine" for a number of reasons, but mostly because of the philosophical attitude the name took. In my mind it represented a nice duality of humanity struggling with technology, direction and its own animal roots. Hence the title of the first record, "The Awakening of the Animal".
RLS: What made you decide to add Brad Wutke and Brian "Meta" Hartlen and say yeah these guys need to be a part of this?
SB: Many years later, when I was living in Nanaimo, BC Canada, I met some very talented musicians who I asked to contribute to the project and help it go 'live'. It was very gradual and it kind of gelled together over time. Although TM had many members come and go, In late 2004 we actually started to rehearse a good deal as a unit, or "band". We've had a few more members come and go since then, and we're looking to find a drummer at some point and add a keyboard player too. Both Brian and Brad have their own solo projects called "Metatron" and "BuyProduct", and they're both incredibly talented people in their own right.
RLS: Can you explain the gas mask?
SB: The gas mask was Brian's idea. He put it on while we were playing live for a song once and it looked awesome. It's his thing and it fits what we're doing.
RLS: Your music has been described as Industrial Folk Rock.
Do you think that is a good description? If not how would you describe it?
SB: I am not sure if it's the perfect description, but it is apt at times. There are definitely story-telling folk-like elements to the music. Although to really base it in the genre of folk I think is a stretch. Since then I've come to kind of think of it as Industrial / Classic Rock / Alternative with a dash of middle-eastern chant and a pinch of folk.
RLS: What comes easier to you; the words or the music? Do you hear the music first and write the words to it or do the words come first and the music composed around them?
SB: The music definitely comes easier. Writing lyrics that make sense with the music and also have something to say is the most challenging thing in the world to me. I spend many hours banging my head against the wall, sometimes listening to the same verse over and over and over for hours on end until I come up with something undeniable. It's a Darwinian process both musically and lyrically, in fact. I also think that's the secret to it all. I bang out fifty or so parts to a verse by the time it gets anywhere. Sometimes I delete whole sections and start from scratch if it doesn't blow me away. This next record I am working on will have a very high personal standard. I have raised the bar to make sure only the best work gets in there. So far it's fucking exciting as hell and I can't wait to release it. My aim is to blow "Soldiers in a War of the Mind" out of the water, and that will be tough as hell. I think as an artist you have to challenge yourself. It's easy to fall into the trap where you think you're some kind of genius just because people like your music. I feel if you get stuck on the idea that whatever comes out of the tips of your fingers or from your vocal is amazing and "art" then you are bound to drown in mediocrity. I think no matter what level you're at or who you are, you have to push yourself and really work hard and fight tooth and nail for quality. Having the highest standard for your own art and music is key. As to how I write music itself, I kind of let things go where they please. I never write a song really with a purpose in mind at the beginning. Every time I try it totally backfires. I can sit down and say to myself I am going to write the most beautiful and sad song ever and by the time it's actually done it ends up sounding like some sort of manic industrial freight train that's angrier than a motherfuck and is barreling down at you. I find it's easier to have a general idea and then kind of loosely form your thoughts and music around it.
Usually after the entire verse / chorus structure is complete do I then sit down and try to iron-out lyrics. This is where the true challenge comes and lately I've been taking to totally procrastinating with it in some pathetic attempt to stave off the pain of having to write.
I am no longer content to sit down and just scribble nonsense. Every song must have a strong story. If that's not there it's garbage and is typically discarded or left behind. If the average keyboard / guitar / drum part is kept for every ten separate takes for Tribal Machine, a vocal and lyric is done about fifty times before it makes it into the final mix. Mind you that's not always the case, when inspiration strikes very little gets in the way. I am talking about the rest of the time when you're an ordinary Joe trying to come up with something that's inspiring and makes a difference.
RLS: You make strong political statements in your CD "Soldiers in a War of the Mind". Will you continue using your political voice musically in the future?
SB: Oh absolutely. That's the beauty of art, music, and lyrics. You can interpret whatever you like. It's a blank slate and you can write and say whatever you like, well, almost whatever. There are social constraints and boundaries of course. But pushing them is so much fun isn't it? And for me, it gives me purpose. The novelty of making music has long since worn off and if there is no purpose driving you forward then it's just a hobby. I feel like I have this strange arrogant gift where I can decipher things in the public mood and kind of put them down on paper, interpret them musically and let them fly back to their owners in a different form. Kind of like a mirror. I want to tell stories that reflect things, emotions, tragedies, the struggle of a people destroying itself in so many ways. Sometimes that means I have to delve into the political side of life. So be it. Certainly not every record will be politically charged. I am planning on release a record full of songs that have a much more human story to tell, more individualistic and story-like. The stuff that didn't fit into the themed records.
RLS: How would you describe your first cd and compare it to the second, Soldiers?
SB: "The Awakening of the Animal", in comparison to "Soldiers in a War of the Mind", was a crude, volatile and emotional record. Deeply personal in nature, it focused much more on the "I" rather than the "we" as SIAWOTM does. TAOTA is sold out at this time, although it's not the last you'll hear of the record. I have plans on re-mastering it at a future date and adding a slew of songs that were made in the same time frame that deserve to be on there, and releasing it as a kind of follow-up. It will be recognizable but still entirely its own entity. I totally want to keep the sanctity of the original.
RLS: How would you describe Tribal Machine Live?
SB: It's still an evolving thing for us, although we're getting better and better with every show. It's getting more theatrical and spontaneous. I love putting on a show and connecting with the audience. Staring them down and spitting the verse while telling them a story is quite appealing to me. It's definitely an experience for everyone involved and we're continually pushing the envelope and expanding the show. I have big plans for it and I can't wait to really get the thing on an international level. I think the story that these records tell translates well live, especially theatrically. I think that although it is entertainment, it can provide meaning for some and can express that meaning viscerally through a live show.
RLS: Any plans for touring in the near future?
SB: Well, we're still negotiating our way through the music industry. Touring is a big thing and we're approaching a point fast where we're going to need to tour the U.S. and Europe. But it's not an entirely easy thing to do when you're totally independent. I hope to enlist help on this matter soon.
RLS: Anything you would want people to know about Tribal Machine or Sever Bronny?
SB: I don't know how to answer that question really. I guess the best thing for people to do is to tune in and listen to the story, read the lyrics, come to the shows and check out what's been written online to get to know what we're really about. In the end, I think it's the music that is what's most interesting. Although if you want to talk to me just hop on over to our myspace site at myspace.com/tribalmachine and say hello.
RLS: How has myspace, the internet in general helped in being a vehicle to promote music from unsigned bands like Tribal Machine?
SB: It's been a tremendous help and has really shifted the power over to the artist. I think it's far easier now than ever to do your own thing. The net allows you to test who you are image-wise and to feel out what the reaction is to your music. This gives you much more flexibility because people will then work with you based on that rather than what a record company deems is "Saleable". This is very important when you're a guy like me who needs to be able to say anything he wants on a record. I think it would have been much harder to write "Soldiers in a War of the Mind" if we were on a constrictive label. I do think that record companies have their place though. At this time it's not very feasible to tour internationally without some kind of record-label support. I am thinking Tribal Machine will have to find a home on an independent label soon because I simply can't manage that kind of thing all on my own. I also sick of paying bills. I'd rather focus on making music and touring than all the distractions of everyday life. But then, who doesn't? The net has also brought forth a huge catalogue of music, de-centralizing it and giving it a global air. We have fans from every country now and we've been invited to places I've never head of. It's very exciting to be able to answer fan mail straight-away and talk to fans live online. For many people it's also a novelty to be able to talk to the artist, as traditionally artists were unreachable and the closest you got to one was at the foot of the stage or when you threw an empty Evian bottle at them (sorry Marilyn). I consider Tribal Machine an international band in every way really. And that's because of the success it has seen on myspace and on the internet in general. I look forward to seeing where it all goes.
RLS: What does the future hold musically for you?
SB: The future holds at least ten full-length albums for Tribal Machine. That is a goal I have set and I look forward to the journey very much. I have many many years left of making music, and I feel I really have only just begun making serious music. The next album will be a whole new Tribal Machine, and I can't wait to release the name and a sneek preview.
RLS: Thanks again Sever. You are wonderful.
SB: Thank you very much Ramona it's been a pleasure!
Interview by R.L. Segarra