Photo by Coss Photography, interview/story by Tom Murphy
Kill Minus Nine is a politically-charged industrial rock band in the classic mold established by bands like Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, Stabbing Westward and Pop Will Eat Itself. The group, comprised of veterans of Denver’s industrial, electronic and metal scenes, is releasing its latest album, #SIGKILL, tonight at The Moon Room at the Summit Music Hall where it will perform alongside Diveje (also releasing its own new album We Still Remain), eHpH and The Midnight Marionettes. Kill Minus Nine separates itself from bands operating in a similar stylistic vein with strong, fluid basslines, creative and evocative synth work and vocals that aren’t just gritty but tuneful and capable of conjuring emotions beyond just anger and despair. Truly a cut above the tired place industrial rock got trapped in in the late 90s and early 2000s. In the interview below, conducted via email, the confluence of influences and a kindredship of spirit goes along way in explaining why there’s more to Kill Minus Nine than might be immediately obvious.
Queen City Sounds and Art: Kill Minus Nine formed in 2013 but it can be assumed you were in bands before that. What bands did you play in before?
Corey Drake: Emergence, Die Brücke
Rob Holman: Emergence, Die Brücke, Aeon Crush
Jason Ayers: Die Brücke
Erik Johnson: NEMESYS – guitarist/thereminist. That’s right: a metal band with a theremin.
Noel Johannes: Emergence, Project 12:01, The Siren Project
What was your first exposure to industrial music and/or EBM? How did you get involved in making that style of music rather than some other kind of music?
Corey: Various clubs around Denver. Have always been involved in music in some form and ran into other like-minded musicians.
Rob: Probably Skinny Puppy in the early 90s. I was mesmerized. I’d never heard anything like it before, and the depth of emotion that could be represented with that kind of instrumentation and effects was what drew me to the genre.
Jason: The Deadbeat Club, I wanted to be a part of something that wasn’t your typical heavy metal band.
Erik: Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Einstürzende Neubauten. I was big into punk rock in the ’90s, but could never find a band or afford decent gear. Then I heard these guys making the same hard, fast, aggressive, politically-charged music, but using synths, samples, MIDI and tape tricks, and random junk—things I could afford. And then Trent Reznor started making records all by himself, demonstrating that you don’t have to wait for a band to start creating music.
Noel: Growing up in a small town (less than 1000 people) in northeastern Colorado as I did, and at a time that predates the Internet, the radio was my primary vehicle into the exploration of new music. I enjoyed rock, metal and grunge because that was what was being broadcast over the airwaves. Then one evening while sitting in my bedroom listening to the radio I heard a sounds unlike any sound I had ever heard. I heard KMFDM’s Megalomaniac and it blew my mind! At the time I was playing bass guitar in blues and grunge bands. People were always flaking out and not showing up to practice. Around the same time my drummer told me how people were using computers to write/perform music. This led me to sell my bass gear and buy a Korg workstation. A short while later I bought my first Macintosh PowerMac and Cubase for my DAW.
Your band is obviously different from some of the cookie cutter EBM industrial and future pop stuff that came out of the 90s industrial scene. What still draws you to making the kind of industrial music you do? What do you think the enduring appeal of the music has for you?
Corey: The emotional feeling and connection is what keeps drawing me to making this music. Push and pull, power, dynamics.
Jason: I find the challenge of integrating live instruments (guitar, bass, drums, keys) with heavy synth backing tracks very fulfilling once it all comes together and creates the enduring appeal for me.
Erik: I think what sets us apart is our desire to play and record live instruments as much as possible. Coming off of more than five years playing shows in the metal scene, it was always kind of hard for me to get excited about seeing industrial or EBM acts that consisted of just one guy with a microphone, and one guy with a MacBook. I’m not saying in any way that there’s a right or wrong way to do it, or that that way is wrong, but for me, I want to make dance-y, club-worthy songs that also feel organic—like they were played by a live band.
Noel: Nostalgia draws me. I have many great memories from the 90’s and the main theme that ties them all together is industrial [music]. I felt like an outsider living up north. I remember the acceptance and feeling of “this is my tribe” that I experienced when I discovered Rock Island [in Denver]. I hope we can create music that will inspire as well as contribute to a community that fosters acceptance.
#SIGKILL is a suggestive album name. What is the significance of it for you and of the songs you’re including on the album?
Rob: SIGKILL is a signal that can be sent to a process in a computer, to cause it to halt immediately. It cannot be interrupted, it cannot be ignored, it cannot be stopped. If you apply this idea to other processes in the real world, I think you can see that it conjures some compelling imagery.
Erik: Most of us are in IT or tech-related jobs, so we’re kind of repurposing what we know as social or political allegory. It’s like Tron—we fight for the users.
Iconoclasm mixed with more forward thinking, perhaps even progressive, political leanings have been a part of industrial music since it’s early days. Why do you think that music culture and those musical ideas lend themselves well to that sort of orientation in thinking about the world?
Erik: Pop music, by nature, needs to be inoffensive and accessible in order to make all the dollars. But counterculture artists – punk, hip hop, industrial – and their fans, are already outcasts, so we’re not encumbered by social pressure to fit into a class identity or milquetoast ideology. We’re adults, and we do what we want.
Industrial music has had a bit of a resurgence in the last few years. Do you have a sense of what might be contributing to that?
Erik: Everyone misses guitars in EBM? [Says] the guitar player.
Jason: I think the millennials are now discovering the genre as they become more disenchanted with the world.
Erik: I guess see above? It doesn’t matter where you live or what your politics are; if you’re a human living somewhere on this planet, the odds are that your world is kind of a dumpster fire right now and counterculture music always tends to thrive when social unrest does.
Noel: I imagine the resurgence of industrial music stems from many influences. One example that comes to mind is the genre’s love with dystopian themes. The current political climate inspires those types of fantasies.
What music are you into most now that isn’t really connected to industrial music or hard rock or heavy metal or punk right now? What makes it compelling to you?
Rob: 30s and 40s big band and swing. I think those songs are in many ways the bedrock of all modern pop and rock music.
Erik: I’ve basically had Run the Jewels’ entire discography on repeat for the past year.
Noel: My spirit animal is a sloth. I move at a slower pace. I believe that is why I gravitate to downtempo/trip-hop. Massive Attack’s Mezzanine will always be in my list of top 10 albums. Not sure is she qualifies as downtempo, but I love music by Bat for Lashes. The same can be said for Lana Del Rey.