After touring relentlessly in the last few years, hard work has paid off for Combichrist. The aggrotech act gained a hoard of new fans when they provided support for Rammstein back in 2010, and followed up with a UK tour last year that saw them share the stage with iconic industrialists Mortiis and Aesthetic Perfection. After another successful UK tour in July and with new avenues in the pipeline – including a solo project from main man Andy LaPlegua and a soundtrack for the upcoming ‘DmC: Devil May Cry’ video game – I caught up with the Norwegian for SoundShock, to find out why the band have generated as much notoriety as they have fame.
“You do it so much and so long that you get to a point where you ask ‘why am I doing this?’ But every now and then you get a reminder of why.” Combichrist mastermind Andy LaPlegua is in reflective mood. When he looks back at his extensive life on the road touring across Europe and America, he realises he still can’t get enough of life as a musician. “You go onstage and you think ‘that’s why I’m doing this.’ Everything else can suck; the travelling, the lack of sleep, the lack of decent food – then you get onstage and that’s where it is.”
Andy still has a fire in his eyes when he describes the life he has become so very well accustomed to. Since relocating from his native Norway to Atlanta, Georgia in the US around 2004, he has developed his love for hot rod cars and motorcycling. But more significantly, he’s furthered Combichrist into a stronger electronic entity. The band have a strong discography now which stems back to ‘The Joy Of Gunz’ record in 2003 and up to fifth full-length ‘Making Monsters’ in 2010. But despite a strong studio output, it’s always been about the blood-beating euphoria, unrivalled energy and insatiable charisma of the band. “You go onstage and you get the ball rolling then you feed off each other and it’s an interactive experience,” LaPlegua explains. “It’s completely different if we would be doing a rehearsal or there’s nobody in the venue. Sometimes that’s why it’s hard to do music videos, because if you want to do some kind of live performance in the music video, it’s really hard – even after all this time – to be in front of a camera and give the same energy as you would give onstage, because there’s a camera and a person behind it. That camera man – he’s not going to give you any feedback!”
Latest video ‘Throat Full Of Glass’ stirred its own share of controversy when it landed on our laptop screens last year. The video was criticised by some for its apparent sexism and graphic violence, but as LaPlegua explains, it was harmless fun that was blown out of proportion. “We got a lot of shit with people saying we were throwing the girls around and it’s sexist, but if you had been there you would have known that it was the girls that said ‘hey, why don’t you do this?! Here grab my hair!’ And we said ‘are you sure? Should we do that?! Does it hurt?’ And they said ‘it’s awesome! And it’s going to look great on video!’ The girls got us in trouble! [laughs] And we got all the shit for it! We get the blame for being assholes, but they were the ones who got us into it. [laughs]”
Reaction to the video online criticised LaPlegua, with one Chicago-based DJ saying that the video supported an ‘inherent message’ reinforcing that “beating and humiliating women makes you a tough guy.” “It was really funny in the aftermath of it,” LaPlegua says. “Some people were saying it’s a macho video, but we never once thought about that when we were making the video. So there was so much self-irony in it and we were laughing the whole time! We were losing our minds laughing – we thought it was the funniest thing ever. We really wanted to make it into a ‘70s B-movie, in an exploitation movie style and we were just laughing the whole time doing it. Then we saw the aftermath afterwards and it was all so serious, but that’s one of the reasons why we were laughing.”
It’s preposterous that such reactions should be given, especially when considering the countless films and video games that sport much more violent themes. But at the same time, Andy realises that some of Combichrist’s concepts have either been taken too seriously or out of context by some fans. When the band formed in 2003, LaPlegua found the Combichrist name from the main character in a punk fanzine he made in the ‘90s. He wanted to represent this character within the music, and in the same way a film will present you with heroes and villains, the Combichrist protagonist had the potential to be a moral messiah or an evil anti-hero. In presenting these concepts to fans, some twisted the interpretation and thought Combichrist were endorsing the wild actions of the unpredictable character. “In the beginning, you didn’t really think that you’d have such an impact on how people think because the band wasn’t really popular,” says LaPlegua. “I would do anything to provoke and anything for the fuck of it. But after a while, you do realise that some people might take this seriously. Maybe we shouldn’t be saying this, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this, because you somewhat feel responsible of how people start behaving and acting when they take it seriously, and there are people taking it seriously. I started getting to a point where I was deliberately cutting down what I was writing about these because it gets scary. You don’t want to end up being a Manson figure, and I’m not talking about Marilyn Manson!”
Other controversy struck this year when LaPlegua was accused of racism at this year’s Kinetik Festival in Montreal. Canadian industrial act Ad•ver•sary showed a video criticising LaPlegua’s use of imagery which also included scrutiny of Austrian co-headliners Nachtmahr too. “They had a video and in the background there’s a picture of me with a rebel flag shirt and [a voiceover saying] ‘other people known to have associated with this flag are…’ and they said Ku Klux Klan. They were saying that I was racist for stereotyping an Asian girl in a school uniform and stuff like this, and I was like ‘come on man, that’s my best friend’s wife, what’s so racist about it?’ There were so many levels of wrong in it to the point where I was like ‘hey man, can I borrow that video, I would really like to show it during the show!’ He (Jairus Khan) wouldn’t let me. Sometimes people are ignorant. But I met with him after the show and he was a nice guy. We had a talk and I think he might have had a different view on things, but it’s good communicating. Just because you don’t see head-to-head all the time, it’s good to talk to people.”
LaPlegua’s tolerance shows the obvious level of respect he has for his fellow musicians, even when under fire. But when communicating his message in music, he has used a number of mediums. The five main projects in his life are respectively ambitious, achieving a widespread level of recognition in the electronic industrial world. Whether it’s the catchy future-pop EBM from Icon of Coil, the techno-fused Scandy, the rockier Panzer AG or the full-on rock n’ rolling psychobilly of newest project Scandinavian Cock, LaPlegua has experienced a wealth of success. In true fashion of a man addicted to music in its many forms, he’s all set to begin a new phase in his career; going solo. The new route began taking shape after he worked on ‘Bottle Of Pain’; a song made especially for the ‘Underworld: Awakening’ movie soundtrack. And by the sounds of it, the solo project will cut into deeper, intimate territory.
“Bottle Of Pain is as close to me personally as it gets,” LaPlegua explains. “I always liked what I did with Combichrist; it’s not like I’ve done anything that I don’t like. Combichrist was always a project I was working on that tied everything together – the imagery, the high energy show, emotional energy and it was a concept. Bottle Of Pain is more of a song that I would’ve written if I would sit and play the music only by myself; where we don’t need an audience to have that interaction that we talked about earlier. It’s close to my heart in the way it’s written and the way it’s recorded. It made it very personal. It has also kick-started me to do a solo album with just acoustic stuff and start writing more. It’s almost like more Tom Waitsy with influences of Johnny Cash; everything from Tom Waits and David Bowie to Chris Isaak and Tim Berry. Hopefully that will be out in not too long.”
‘DmC: Devil May Cry’ is out in Europe on 15th January 2013.
Feature by Calum Robson.