Litany Liner Notes: Furnace Re:Dux - by Corey Goldberg
In mid-1994 cEvin Key and Dwayne Goettel of Skinny Puppy were in Vancouver working on the album, The Process. The record, begun in Malibu, had become mired in strife within the band and due to tensions with their label. The chaos surrounding the album would ultimately lead to the breakup of Skinny Puppy. In these times of conflict, Key and Goettel began to seek an alternative outlet for their creative energies. "The first idea for Download, stemming from the last track on Last Rights," Key says, "[was] to make an entire LP within that concept. While in Malibu I started laying down tons of analogue jams to DAT that were idealistically going to be the basis for bed tracks. I really loved the program Sound Designer at the time for being able to take sections to a playlist and sequence them that way without any restrictions. This was how most of the first dozen [Download] songs were made, like 'This is Quality Grass' and 'So Easy to Kill.' The next series of tracks were from a series of jams Dwayne and I had done in the first Subconscious Studios. [These were] pieces that were intended for Skinny Puppy but not chosen or worked on by the others, so there were many of those, including 'Mothersonne,' 'Seven Plagues,' 'Sigesang,' 'Killfly,' 'Outafter,' and more."
Much of the music from this period would later be released under the Download name, but cEvin feels that it was the inclusion of Mark Spybey and Phil Western in the proceedings that signaled the true start of a new project. "The jams that began with a concept of bringing in each of our friends became the real beginnings of the actual band Download," he says. Spybey agrees, remarking, "for me, Download became an entity when we all started to play together. I think cEvin and Dwayne came up with the name whilst they were in L.A., feeling that some of the music they were making didn't fit Puppy, [but] I can clearly remember that the idea of Download as a band was crystallized by those early Furnace sessions. Before that it was cEvin and Dwayne making music, some of which was used for Puppy, some of which was used for other projects including Download."
"I brought in Mark Spybey who I met through Zoviet-France," Key says. "I had heard one member was now living in Vancouver." cEvin had met a member of the band years earlier and wondered if the new neighbor was the same person. "In fact, he was not the member I had met [before], so it was an interesting way to kick things off." Spybey remembers that "[in] 1992, when I moved to Vancouver, I sent a tape to a local radio show host and she introduced me to cEvin. I went to meet him armed with a cassette tape packaged in a box with a luminous miniature Virgin Mary statue. Mary obviously made an impression as we started to improvise together at my place. When he returned from L.A. during The Process sessions he would give me a call and we'd play together." Key has fond memories of these impromptu collaborations. "Mark was really into the process of the minimalist scene and was really good at making me feel happy with all the jams I'd had with him at his place," Key recalls, "They were all really therapeutic. Mark is an occupational therapist, so also I [have] to say that he had a calming type of feeling for me to hang with."
The Download lineup was completed with the inclusion of Phil Western. "Dwayne brought in Phil, who he had made a 12-inch with and had met through the record store Odyssey Imports where everyone bought their CDs and vinyl," Key says. Remembering his early encounters with Goettel at the shop, Western says, "He was a techno music enthusiast, as was I, so our conversations initially revolved around our mutual tastes in music. That friendship was active for quite a while before I was ever a part of the Subcon fold. The Process was almost entirely made from beginning to end before I ended up doing anything musically with them. The first thing I was asked to participate in was doing some Wavestation parts for The Process. By that point, Dwayne and I had released a record together and made a few songs and jammed together lots of times, but at my studio. I had referred the guys to this woman who was a realtor and she had told me she had office spaces upstairs in the Seymour Building. The building was right across the street from Odyssey Imports, which is where I was every day. I ended up spending a lot of time up there in the studio once they moved in there and Dwayne told me one day that we were all going to jam with this guy Mark from Zoviet-France. That excited me because I was a big fan of them." "Phil was like the young techno guy," Spybey says, "but we were all excited about the same kind of music at that time-techno with an experimental edge. cEvin invited me down to the studio to make music together-cEvin, Dwayne, Phil and I. Roles were established organically. We just did what we normally do."
The four-piece began a series of jam sessions that would become the raw material for the creation of Download's debut album. "The concept was much like Brap," Key says, referring to Skinny Puppy's proprietary term for sessions of electronic improvisation, "get together, hook up gear, do a sound check, discuss a tempo, and have everybody locked to the clock of the master computer, then jam. From there each could have his own stereo pair of tracks and later we [would] look back and see what [was] recorded."
Download's sound took shape quite quickly. "Things always grow and with each person's unique input the group had a very original sound right away," Key explains. "Mark brought the text and the idea of our front man playing with toys, trumpets, odd horns, and such. I liked how he wanted to invent words and try new concepts. His setup was mostly an array of things that he could place a small microphone on or near and derive a sound [from] or a loop into his delay. That was pretty much a trademark of Zoviet-France's style. Each of us were, at the time, very proficient at our setups. Mark with his world from Zoviet-France. I had a very large setup of analog synthesizers, Arp 2500, 2600, Serge Modular, two Pro Ones, Ms20, VCS3, drum machines, radio, tapes, turntables, and live drums. Dwayne had his setup which I would relate to as digital-FM world, samples, K2000, S1000, SY77, and a Minimoog. Phil was using a Korg Wavestation, Roland 202, Tb303-goodies that he was very good at using. So we had a pretty balanced set of instruments. Phil was young and brought in a different sound than what each of us were doing. So we all were complementing each other pretty well."
Spybey recalls these sessions fondly. "I was in a different room," he says. "We all wore headphones. We agreed on a BPM and, with a cunning chart supplied by Rave, programmed our delays so they were in time with the beat. All tracks were separately recorded and we just set the tapes running. The rest is history. We worked late into the night and had a ball. Those sessions were brilliant. There were hours of them. I had a four-track and I manipulated tapes. I had one effects unit, a Boss SE50, and ran microphones into it, including a lot of contact mics. I used my voice, children's toys, and small ethnic instruments. It meshed because what I was doing acted as a kind of wash over the top of the sound. Sometimes my strange little delayed rhythms would influence what others did. I think we worked together seamlessly. Easy thing to say-hard thing to achieve. All of the musicians were skilled improvisers."
Western remembers the different instrumental spaces each musician occupied during these jam sessions. "Back then," he recalls, "my setup was a K2000, a Jupiter 6, a Wavestation, and three SE50s. And I worked with the Eventide processors a lot. I had an 808 drum machine, too, and a Yamaha TG77. My gear and cEvin's gear were synchronized from the master clock and Mark and Dwayne did not use clock-they just played. Dwayne used his SY77, a Minimoog, and a K2000, and Mark had a large array of sound making devices and contact mics which gave him a completely unique space in the mix. cEvin had all of his analog equipment set up at that time in a square enclave with easy access to the controls, so each of us kind of occupied a different sonic space. We had a lot of fun working together. We took breaks, we smoked, we came back, we jammed. It was not all that many sessions to be honest. [It was] a few nights and afternoons in a fairly concentrated period of time. The jam cEvin and I did for 'Energy Plan' happened on one of those nights, too, which I recall being the first time he and I ever made a track together as just the two of us-although Dwayne was there. He was in a fetal position on the floor though-long story."
Western is critical of himself in hindsight. "I was still very unsure of myself at that time and compensated for that by acting like I thought I was hot shit," he confesses. "I was a bit of an asshole, as I recall. But I tried to do good work. My submixes were corroded and the SE50s sounded like shit. I programmed a lot and wrote nice wave sequences and drum patterns and worked the Eventides like a champ. I just did what I thought sounded cool and tried to make good musical decisions. That was all I knew how to do at that time. This was before Macs could do all the crazy stuff they can do now so I used an Atari 1040ST. It was all MIDI and samples and tapes. It was a different process."
Spybey can't remember if these jams were originally convened with the expressed purpose of building material for an album or if they were just for fun. "I suspect we enjoyed what we did," he admits. "The [final] songs on Furnace were largely edited together by cEvin. He worked really hard on them." Key edited the multitrack recordings of these raw jam sessions into the basic tracks that would be further developed into finished songs. "The jams that we did often ended up as source material for the bed tracks for songs to come," Key explains. "I would transfer all the Da88s into Logic and then cut them down to a smaller size piece that grooved and then just start editing and working. This was really about sitting there all day and carving away at all the parts of the four people and then seeing what could be sequenced and added at that point to make a larger idea. When the arrangement was complete I would then record Mark's vocal or extra toy effects and lay them in last."
In addition to the tracks sourced from their collective improvisations, the band adopted existing compositions of Key, Goettel, and Western. "We knew that Download was also well on its way when we started adding pre-composed tracks to our list of jams, which started around mid-1994," Key says. "Some songs for Download were originally written as demos for Skinny Puppy, [like] 'Sigesang' and 'Mothersonne.' They were just never looked at with Skinny Puppy." These existing song ideas were completed with contributions from the rest of Download. "I was not familiar with Skinny Puppy," Spybey admits, "I knew the name and understood they were a popular band [but] I had no knowledge or awareness of the songs' origins and I had no preconceptions or felt no trepidation at all in working with them. I liked what I heard. I was asked to provide overdubs for some songs which I did with cEvin recording the sessions. Songs like 'Siegesang' and 'Mothersonne.' 'Siegesang' made my head and body shake. I didn't feel that the songs were reverent objects that could not be played with. Phil brought stuff in like 'Beehatch' that he was working on at the time and it gelled perfectly. I think the key is to not do too much when you approach songs that feel kind of together."
Western sees his role as mixed. "I think [my contribution] varies from song to song," he says. "Some songs were more influenced by me but not too many. I like to think we all contributed equally in the end. Some songs were brought in by cEvin and Dwayne and we added little things here and there. 'Beehatch' was a song I did and then [everyone] added their parts to it. [Another song] on the album that began as my piece [was] 'Seel Hole,' but again everyone contributed to it in the end. It's not like any of the songs were mine. In the end we all got our hands dirty." cEvin explains the origins of some of the other tracks, revealing, "'No Mans Land' was made by Phil and I when Dwayne was gone in Edmonton the first time he went. I did all three versions on Sound Designer with Ryan Moore hanging by my side. Mark and I did 'Cannaya' and 'Stone Grey Soil' one night in Subconscious. [It was the] first time I ever used Protools and the sequence from 'Stone Grey Soil' was from the hybrid Doepfer MAQ 16 Krafwerk sequencer when I first got it. At the end of 'Cannaya' an edit was made in the song into a lovely Lo-Fi Wavestation piece that Phillip had made on his own. 'Lebanull' was a track assembled from the multi-track jam sessions and then added to, so it does feature everybody equally. 'Omniman' is an example of a track from a jam that was then turned into a song." Western remembers the track as being "Dwayne and cEvin's song but it got edited and modified in post-production. As for the [song's] name, I really have no idea-could have been Mark or cEvin." "Isn't there a synth called The Omni?," Spybey wonders. "That rings a bell. Probably a playful use of words, a lot of that went on." Speaking of wordplay, Spybey says of 'Beehatch' that he "honestly can't remember [where the title came from]. I always loved the title, though, and, no, it has nothing to do with calling someone a female dog. I always loved the song too."
On Furnace Spybey found himself in the unexpected role of lyricist and singer. "My voice largely afforded unfettered access to a musical vocabulary that seemed to work," he explains. "I'd never claim to be a vocalist but at the same time I'd never claim to be a musician. None of us were content to play only one instrument. My voice was an easy instrument to pick up and play. I don't understand MIDI. I don't care about it but everyone else could chain all these electronic boxes together and make music." Through most of the album, Spybey's voice functions as one of the many in the mix, not especially more or less prominent than any other instrument. His contributions are central, however, to Furnace's organic, earthy quality. On tracks like 'Seel Hole' and 'Cannaya' his voice evokes the primitive, like the mutterings and roars of an ancient, reptile part of the mind being unmasked. This is aided by his approach to language. For much of Furnace, Spybey relied on a procedure of invented language to birth exotic yet familiar streams of words. "The process was swiped from Zoviet-France," he explains. "They used Old English words cultivated from a number of sources including the book White Goddess by Robert Graves. I was into that book before I met Zoviet-France. I think they assimilated these ideas in a quiet way but I went for the jugular. I used words straight out of Old English, Norse texts and, in some cases, translated words into that language. I doubt it would stand up to linguistic scrutiny but it made sense to me. I think this resonated more for me at that time as I was living in Canada and felt more able to reflect on my Englishness, something I was previously ashamed of. If I [may] be pretentious for a moment, I don't like reductive music. I don't like song titles like 'Dead Kinetic Wrench' or 'Tactical Cycle Meltdown,' and I don't like lyrics that are so obvious that they leave the listener with nothing to do. Just a hobby horse of mine."
A few songs on the album rely on traditional English, including the particularly affecting 'Mothersonne.' "I wrote it as a poem in about 1986. It was inspired by a sculpture of the Pieta by Fenwick Lawson in York Minster that survived a famous fire of the building. I wrote several poems, one of which became 'Mothersonne' and another 'Base Metal' from The Eyes of Stanley Pain. The pervading theme of both was my desire to have a relationship with my father, something I was largely denied as he died when I was young. So it is a call to John, my father. I think I have struggled since in coping with his death. I still think of him a lot. The sculpture moved me a great deal, the prone dying Christ reaching out to the totemic figure of the mother. Over the years I have been unconditionally supported by my mother. The poem accompanied me to Canada in a file of my writing and it just seemed to fit the music we were doing. In 2005 the file was destroyed when my house was flooded. I got the words off a website and a year or so ago but a friend who I had not seen for many years [recently] returned a file of my poems I had given him in about 1997. There were copies of all of the poems that I had used in Download songs, including 'Mothersonne.'"
Of the aggressively pounding 'Sigesang,' originally contributed by Goettel, Spybey remarks that, "I have to say [it] was always the highlight of the Download live show for me. It's a sledgehammer. I added vocals that got buried a bit. I was quoting bits of Beowulf, I think. I believe 'Siegesang' means 'hate song.' I thought that captured what the song said to me. As Mark Stewart said, 'anger is holy.'" The track underscores the tribal implications of rave music and, in pushing the percussive intensity to its limits, presages the concerns of the breakcore movement of years later. While it's possible to hear the roots of potential Skinny Puppy songs in these tracks, Download have unquestionably claimed them as their own and transformed them into something ultimately far removed from The Process.
In addition to Spybey's voice, Furnace also features that of Genesis P'Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. He had begun working with Puppy on The Process. "I had recorded the pieces from Genesis P'Orridge while in Malibu," Key says, "and started to think that they would work perfectly in Download. I called him up, and he was very excited and he also suggested that we record some pieces over the phone, which we did, and achieved that natural Lo-Fi sound." P'Orridge functions as the natural counterpoint to Spybey. Where Spybey strives to remain obscured and inexplicable, P'Orridge is direct and clear, his words evoking the catchy universality of political slogans or religious mantras. He breaks the record's conceptual fourth wall to confront the listener directly, asking, "hey, you lot out there, are you listening? Are you smiling? [...] Do you understand? I doubt it."
Spybey reveals one other guest that might have been, "I doubt anyone will remember this," he says, "but I bumped into Eddie Prevost, legendary drummer from the British free improvising band AMM on Robson Street in Vancouver. I am a big fan of AMM. We went for dinner with him and I took him to Subconscious. We really wanted him to play with us but he very politely declined. I think cEvin's monster drum kit scared him! He was used to a modest little jazz kit."
Furnace demonstrates an unmistakable world music influence. "We all had eclectic tastes," Spybey notes. "Phil was into ethnic music and I had a CD of some really great obscure stuff from all over the world and he ended up sampling one or two bits. You know, I come from a bastardized school of musical appropriation, call it ethnological forgery or fourth world or whatever. No sound is innocent!" Western adds, "I think Mark and cEvin and myself are all fans of world rhythms and that sort of music and bring it to the table as an inherent influence. So when we constructed drum parts we tended to go that way [with] more tribal elements as well as feeding off of each other. So if Mark was making sounds in the other room that were otherworldly that would inform the ideas that would come up in me, and it was just a circular, synergistic thing that happens when four people play music together." There were a variety of influences in the mix. "I was listening to Spacemen 3, Spectrum, Detroit techno, Can, and about a million others," Western recalls. "I was really into the drone and still am."
Throughout Furnace, instrumental voices seem to come alive and breathe. The bass line of 'Omniman' sounds like it's speaking. The opening call of 'Noh Man's Land' rings like a birdsong. The quirky burbling synth of 'Seel Hole' shudders unexpectedly, suggesting polymeters as the drums move in and out of various grooves. The bass line in the first section of 'Cannaya' hums with the guttural chant of a dance around the fire. The combination of tribal rhythms, dance grooves, harsh noise, serene melodies, and ancient language made Download's sound distinctively alien. Spybey describes a bit of what made them so unique in the varying scenes of 1995, remembering, "I was excited about techno and the English [and] European scene. Ambient music and chill out were happening. I felt that this was, in part, like the electronic orchestration of Zoviet-France, if you like, and I can remember feeling excited about music. In about 1995 I went back to the UK for a holiday and it was good to hear what was happening in London especially. There seemed to be a desire to join up the dots. The isolationist school was in blossom. Techno felt rhythmically, minimally perfect and yet the top layer, if you like, often seemed boring to me. I believe Download created an interesting top layer. I think we were amongst the best at doing that-years ahead. I really couldn't abide the concept of chill out, though-have to say the very idea made me go green. Hence the reason cEvin and I used to go round shouting the word, 'kill.' Naturally we were not remotely interested in killing anything, being vegetarian, animal loving, humanist types. When the rather serious but nonetheless nice industrial German record label guy came to see us in Vancouver we jokingly asked him to make T-Shirts for the European tour with the words 'kill out' written on them and with true Teutonic zeal he did just that. It's all rather embarrassing now but at the time I found it hilarious." Download successfully merged the sonic depth of IDM with the aggression and intensity that had been Skinny Puppy's trademark. With its basis in collective improvisation, Furnace eschewed the freeze-dried clichés of EBM, industrial dance, and by-the-numbers techno. As confrontational as it was trippy, it was an electronic music that was alive and breathing, at once archaic and futuristic-ritual music from space. While they shared some of the same DNA, this band and Skinny Puppy were entirely different animals. "Download was about four people getting together and mutually making music in an improvised sense," Key notes, "whereas Skinny Puppy had become a full on studio project [in] which we never utilized this method of writing."
The album is bookended by a pair of tracks recorded by Spybey with effects by Key. "cEvin was keen to include some bits of Dead Voices On Air type stuff into the Furnace. I recorded these two tracks just before the CD was mastered. He set me up in this little room in Subconscious. 'Mallade' was a little play on the name of my favorite duck, the mallard. 'Hevel' was a lot longer originally and cEvin apologized for having to cut it but the album was too long. I liked that track and wouldn't mind hearing the whole thing again-it really rose in intensity. I was using this instrument cEvin gave me called a Strum Stick." Key explains that on "a lot of the small pieces I made with Mark I put a lot into the recording and sound design and effects, such as 'Mallade.' So I really have to say that we developed a very unique style at that point as a two piece and it was documented on Furnace. We also toured shortly thereafter with the same two-piece setup as Dead Voices on Air. I don't believe we ever recorded any other small pieces together that weren't released on Furnace except the few that became DVOA or on the Invisible comp." Spybey believes that the Dead Voices on Air track 'Glae Bastards,' later released on the Subconscious compilation Paradigm Shift, may have been recorded with these tracks. "[Key] was using the Eventide on my voice," he says, "and the strum stick never sounded better. cEvin edited and produced 'Glae Bastards' onto Protools. I think. I think we just did it almost in real time with overdubbing improvisations and playing with the effects."
Key has mixed emotions about the final stages of assembling the album. "I remember this period [of post-production and editing] as a kind of very productive period," he reflects, "but Dwayne had gone back to Edmonton to detox. So I was alone in the studio most of the time. I was very anxious for Dwayne to come back and hear things and be involved. I will never forget playing him 'Omniman' and 'Lebanull' for the first time as he had just heard the jams and not the [finished] arrangements and it was a special moment. Indeed, Dwayne passed away even without seeing or hearing the final version of Furnace. It was the worst thing to happen from such a positive situation. I spoke to Dwayne two days before he died, and he told me, 'I wish I could be at the studio, making music, that's where I wish I could be, but I have this guy here sitting over there, I see him, it's a challenge.' For me it's a story that's pretty hard to deal with. In July 1995 I had the most vivid dream that Dwayne had died. I woke up, and started crying. I didn't know why it [seemed] so real. Dwayne was in Edmonton the first time doing a detox for a month. When he walked in the studio door that one day I was so happy to see him. Not only could I play [him] all the work for Furnace that was done, but he was okay. I told him about my dream, and he said, 'don't worry, I'm not dying.' It was around this time that we jammed a few new tracks that [didn't make] it onto Furnace. One night we jammed 'Meteorite,' and both of us were very excited about this track. When we left the studio that night he said, again, 'Hey partner, don't worry about me, I'm not going to die' and he rode off on his bike. I remember walking down to a friend's with the tape of 'Meteorite' and a feeling which I haven't had since. It was a feeling that we had found our musical language and that no matter what, if we could make a song that made us feel that good each day, by just improvising, it was such a gift we really cherished. To think that shortly afterward he would actually die and the whole special world we had would never be again still haunts me to this day."
To mix the album, the band initially turned to Skinny Puppy's longtime producer, Dave 'Rave' Ogilvie, who had returned to the fold to help complete The Process. "We took several tracks to the bigger mix studio and met up with Rave and we mixed four or five songs there," Key explains. Rave's involvement with the album ended after this one mixing session due to personal conflicts. "I have to say, and it's nothing personal," Spybey opines, "I didn't understand the need to bring Rave in to mix some songs and feel the results, whilst not being offensive in any way, really didn't add that much. No need to muddy the waters. I think there were some external politics being played out and Download became involved. cEvin's mixes were great."
Recalling the final mixing sessions, Key reveals some of the personal tragedy that underpins this album for its participants. "This was in August, 1995," he says, "Dwayne came up to me right on the second to last day of the mixes and said, 'Do I look strange to you?' He had only been back from Edmonton for less than two weeks and he didn't look unusual to me. He said, 'I am back on and have been using again.' I remember feeling very scared and asked him what he needed to do. He said he had to go back to Edmonton right away. So I took him to his place and that was the last time I ever saw Dwayne. He died at his parent's house August 23, 1995. I think Dwayne would have become something like a Richard D. James or Squarepusher. I wish I could say I could [have seen] that. In some ways I feel I was given a premonition of Dwayne's death to try and help. Dreams are weird in that way. I have dreamt of Dwayne several times in the thirteen years. But not enough."
For Key, this struggle is documented by 'Attalal.' "This was the last song Dwayne ever worked on in his life," he reveals. "I remember watching him working on it. I had thought, pretty much like all others, that Dwayne was clean at this point. But as I later learned he was struggling hard at this time. I recall seeing him fully asleep while working on the track and I now know what it was. At the time I thought he was listening with his eyes closed. It's a very special song for the emotion in his piano part." "I think it was musically one of the jams we all played at once," Western says. "I can hear Dwayne's distinctive playing on it. And Mark's vocals. And cEvin's bass lines. And my synth stuff. I think we did that one live pretty much." With Goettel's electric piano perhaps the quintessential illustration of his singular melodic gift, 'Attalal' is a pensive slice of utter beauty-one which we are lucky to have eternally preserved for us on record.
"Dwayne was pretty much in the end days when this album was completed, and so it is hard to say [what he thought of it]," Western explains. "We did talk about it the night before he died and he was looking forward to moving more into an electronic music vein with the sound of Download. All of us were happy to have pulled it off." "Dwayne was into the album and into Download," Spybey recalls. "I know he was genuinely excited about the idea of touring. I didn't know Dwayne terribly well but my memories of making music with him are joyous. He was a very lovable, unique guy. I used to bump into him all over Vancouver, with his trousers swaying against the ground, armed with a variety of carrier bags and he was always, always sweet and loving." Spybey views the experience of making Furnace quite positively. "I loved the music," he says, "I didn't feel I had more or less of a role or responsibility for the end product than anyone else. I felt proud of the album. I gain no pleasure in listening to what I did but I do feel entirely satisfied with the outcome. I love the album and the memory of the time is of feeling like we really were happening. It was a joyous time. I know there was an undercurrent of concern for Dwayne but at the time of recording I really didn't know him very well. I got to know him better. Puppy was imploding about that time, too, I guess, but although it was impossible to ignore, for me Furnace was about comradeship though music making."
For Western, it is far more difficult to separate the music from the memory of its contemporaneous struggles. "Well, when Furnace was completed, I was excited, and wanted us to be a band," he says. "The problem was that Dwayne was dying. There was a very desperate energy in the air as the album was completed. It's not really a time I remember as being particularly healthy or happy. That being said, we all did have a good time when the chemistry was right and we were in the zone, so to speak. Mark was always healthy and brought a positive energy to the proceedings, and cEvin and I were just getting to know each other. I don't know-I want to say a bunch of really nice things about it, but it wouldn't be honest. It's one of the darkest years of my life that I can remember so it's hard for me to separate that from the music. I can say that it is the album by Download that I would be the least inclined to pull out and listen to these days but I tried to recreate my relationship with it with the Re:dux CD. That being said, there are songs I do truly love on Furnace. I don't want to sound like I am being negative about the music. It's more where I was at at that time in my life was just not so great. I know I loved 'Cannaya' [and] 'Mallade.' I loved how the album began. I loved the spooky stuff Mark did."
While the name Download tied to the project to the final, instrumental track on Skinny Puppy's Last Rights, the name of the Furnace playfully connected it to the instrumental closer of The Process, 'Cellar Heat.' "'Cellar Heat' equals Furnace," Key hints. "It's the pathway. Where we went-what we did." Spybey's take on the title is that "it was exactly that-a furnace that you could throw just about anything into and it would burn." "Each of us would [explain the title] differently," Western admits. "The significance of the name is clearer to me in retrospect. It seemed apocalyptic-fire and brimstone. There [were] a lot of destructive forces at play during that time. I don't know. It was a document of some pretty heavy shit."
For reissue as part of the From the Vault 2 series, the album has been greatly expanded into Furnace Re:dux. The band decided to return to the original multitrack tapes of their jam sessions of twelve years earlier to offer fans a glimpse at the elements of Furnace in their original, raw form as the additional disc, Re:dux. Phil explains that "the Re:dux sessions are part of the same jam sessions that constitute Furnace, but I always remembered when Furnace came out, thinking 'Hey wait. What happened to that one thing we did?' and noticing that things were missing. I kind of forgot about them over the years, but when I went back to the original tapes and listened to all of the recordings we did, it all came back to me. I realized that we left an awful lot of really great stuff off of Furnace. It was definitely nostalgic and reminded me of how happy and carefree we seemed to be at that time. Things hadn't gotten super heavy yet when those jams were done, although Dwayne was already fairly deep into his addiction-but so was I, to be honest. I was very young, and not really that aware of how insidious and deadly addiction is. It wasn't until we got to the post stage of the album that things got quite dark. I listened to every one of the tapes and transferred them onto the computer. And then when that was done I went back over them and chose what seemed like the best pieces to work together as a cohesive whole. The last track, which is very long, is actually edited down into four pieces from a jam that lasted an hour. I wanted cohesion and I wanted [Re:dux] to play as an album. I don't really like to get bored when I listen to an album, so I was definitely trying to avoid that. I also wanted to skip any parts that seemed indulgent to me-pieces of music that would have been interesting only to those who made them. It was very important to me also to show a different side of the improvisational Download, which to me was quite based in trance, minimalism, hypno-repetition, etc. I also wanted to capture the ritualistic or shamanistic atmosphere that the music sometimes achieved through Mark's otherworldly sounds and cEvin's percussive elements and just get that overall spookiness that we sometimes achieved."
Re:dux stands as a document of four men engaged in a real-time musical conversation presented live, as it occurred. "There was absolutely no post production done but there was some editing," Western explains. The musical comradeship to which Spybey referred is audible. "In a sense," cEvin muses, "[Re:dux is] the rough sketch of an idea that eventually got built into a larger one." "Not to be controversial, but I actually prefer Re:dux to Furnace as a listening experience," Western admits. "I have never made it all the way through Furnace, to be honest. Of course, I have listened to the whole album in pieces, but I have never sat and played it beginning to end. One of the things I really enjoyed about Re:dux is that when I put it on it played like an album to me. It didn't sound fragmented, or comprised of [disparate] elements. It seems like an album. Again, it's kind of just a different editing or selection process, since the material comes from the same sessions as the Furnace material. I was fortunate to be in the position of being able to choose what to use as it sort of ensured that I would be happy with the final result."
The four-piece that recorded these jams and the ultimately resulting album would sadly never exist again. Goettel's death created a void that could not be filled. Western left the band shortly thereafter. He rejoined for the tour of Europe and North America that followed Download's follow-up to Furnace, The Eyes of Stanley Pain, but the conclusion of that tour signaled the end of Spybey's tenure in the band. Western and Key would continue to record as Download essentially as a duo. However, after Spybey's guest appearance on 2007's Fixer, he and Western formulated a new collaboration. Born out of Furnace much as Download had been out of Last Rights, their new project, Beehatch, has reinvigorated their working relationship. "It was the result of one of those 'hey shall we make an album together?' kind of emails," Spybey says. "After about a week of sending files to each other we agreed to form a band. We both felt so confident of the outcome. We agreed to release the album with Lens Records and had the whole thing finished in a month. I felt this was something we needed to do. I didn't spend a lot of time with Phil in Download but I met him a few years ago at a show in NYC and I loved the guy-light was shining out of him. I have very strong feelings for both cEvin and Phil." The shared experience of Furnace looms over their new venture. "We chose the name Beehatch because it was a song we made together all those years ago, and seemed like a good symbol for us picking up where we left off," Western says. Spybey sees it as "an acknowledgement of the impact that [Furnace] had on us and a general doff of the cap in its general direction. It is something that binds us. I also like the word." "I feel like Beehatch is an opportunity for Mark and myself to get back to the organic and experimental side of music that made Download so interesting," Western explains. "We both just want to make cool music you know? We came together at a really good point for both of us creatively and have found a working relationship with each other that is completely based in mutual respect. There is no leader. Nobody takes the lion's share of the work. Everything is very socialized in our arrangement and all of the energy goes into the music. I think we have something very special in this project and it excites me to be making records with someone and wanting to listen to those records when they are completed. It never feels like a job. It's been wonderful." Spybey is equally enthused with the results. "I love Beehatch, it is one of the only projects I've been involved with that I can listen to and enjoy," he reveals. "I'm still listening to it. I'm proud of it. I'm not sure we could have made a better album and I thought that about Furnace too."
Thirteen years later, the album remains potent for its participants. "I [just] listened to Furnace Re:dux and it took me back," Spybey says. "I think Furnace was a great album, it was an ensemble recording and it broke new ground. In terms of my career, working with Download was obviously a great opportunity. For me, a band is a band. It has a collective identity. No member should be regarded as being more or less important. Download was a collective at the time of making Furnace and, to a certain extent, I can't look back on the past without thinking of the fact that eleven years have elapsed since I left and a lot has happened. But, and this is a big but, at that time, as a unit, we had something very special. Furnace documents that time and place-that anonymous office building overlooking other anonymous buildings and the briefest of a mountain view with whirring seaplanes and devilish flies. When we were recording one night there was an earthquake in Vancouver and we didn't feel it. I'm really proud of Furnace and will always feel a strong connection to all of the guys."
"It's funny," Western muses, "[listening now] I feel it's a much better album than I thought. Maybe enough time has passed that I don't hold onto those bad memories anymore. I'm able to listen to it objectively and it sounds like music from another planet. That is, I think, a good thing. When Furnace came out I found it exhausting to listen to. Now it plays like a very strong experimental music album. I think I like it a lot more now than I did then. It is amazing what objectivity and time can do to one's perception of music. It's definitely the sound of a band, and I like that. It's also sad to listen to, because so many years have passed and Download never really went back to being a band after those tours. And once Skinny Puppy reformed we were never going to tour as Download again and that was sad to me too. I think Download was [and] is a very special project that is very, very true to itself. There has never been anything compromising about the sound of Download. I will always be proud of that."
Asked to describe what he thinks of Furnace on occasion of its reissue thirteen years after its original release, Key says only, "Tragedy and beauty. A great place of dreams."
- Corey Goldberg [September 12th, 2008]
Grateful thanks to cEvin Key, Melissa, Simon Paul, Remission, Mark Spybey, and Phil Western for their contributions.
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