Published on May 17th, 2006 | by The Beige Baron0
Tomahawk: Mit Gas Interview
— By Melanie Sheridan
Studded with twittering birdsong, a shuddering bass string vibrates static, reverberating under a howling siren-wail. It’s an unsettling collation of the natural and the mechanical.
Then the cracking snare begins, the acidic guitar lines, the cavernous wailing. And the growling.
“I don’t think there’s anybody else who sounds like us,” says Duane Denison. He’s not kidding. For those who know it, the sound is unmistakably Tomahawk.
“I think that’s a good way to start the album,” Duane continues, referring to Birdsong, the opening track on Tomahawk’s second album, Mit Gas, and the sound hopelessly rendered above, in words. “It almost sounds prehistoric to me at the very beginning, almost like these dinosaurs are stomping around these birds, and then they all sort of take off.” Yeah, if Terminator 3 was set in the Jurassic era!
Tomahawk is recognisably rock but in the same way that the Sphinx is recognisably rock, although it looks like something else altogether. It’s explosive, guttural, intense, comical, delirious and schizophrenic. It can funky, funny and lunatic one second, and threaten to shred your inner ear the next. All in a day’s work, really. Especially when you consider that one of Duane’s partners in crime is Mike Patton. From singing Spanish like a reverent Latin chant to tongue-twisting his vocal chords into psychotic shapes in order to spit out something that could scalp you, Mike is the madman Midas of music, turning everything his voice touches into something else again.
Beyond admitting to still being an underground phenomenon (while opening for Tool recently, that band’s fans pelted Tomahawk with various hard, sharp nasties as a show of their– um, affection), Duane can only say that Tomahawk has “kind of got a group identity now. We don’t really fit in anywhere and that’s fine,” he adds. “We don’t need to.” He sounds positive that ‘Tomahawk’ is all the adjective they require. He’s not wrong.
Mit Gas isn’t a huge shift in terrain from the band’s self titled debut of 2001. It’s more like a detailed, weirder exploration of previous turf. Has Duane – the acknowledged chieftain honcho of this band – let Mike’s reigns slacken, giving the man room to spook-out more? He won’t say, noting instead that he thinks they’ve gotten better since the first album.
“We know each other better and we’ve played together more,” he says simply. “I think we’re in a very good position right now. I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think I am. I think we’ve come a pretty long way in a short amount of time. And I want to see it keep organically growing, which I think it will for a while.”
Thematically, Mit Gas might be some kind of approximate sound of Ragnarok – the Teutonic apocalypse – traversing from the primeval Birdsong to the war at the end of the world, documented in Aktion F1413 and dominated by robotic soldiers and white noise. Along the way we get Rape This Day, You Can’t Win, Mayday, Desastre Natural (natural disaster) and When The Stars Begin To Fall. It’s all very– well, apocalyptic.
“You’re reading a lot into it,” Duane laughs, before explaining that the title – rather than being some mythical Germanic prophecy – means nothing more than fizzy.
“Literally, it means ‘with gas’. When you go to Germany you get bottles of carbonated water, and it says on it that it’s still water with gas: mit gas. It just sounds funny, and we’ve all noticed it over the years. But it’s one of those things that it can also be misinterpreted any number of ways.”
Well, apart from the implication, perhaps, that the world will explode in a big ball of gas, it could be misconstrued to mean flatulence, which, honestly, I wouldn’t put past Mike…
“No!” Duane says, sounding slightly upset. “But it could be indigestion, or petrol. And apparently in Germany if you say you’re ‘mit gas’ it can also mean that you’re drunk or on drugs. But really it came from the bottles of carbonated water.”
Still, I maintain there’s something end-of-the-world-like about the militaristic, mechanical nature of the climatic song, Aktion F1413. An explosive “lazy southern sort of thing”, it features a robot voice reading from a military training manual like a metaphor for modern warfare, where soldiers – who’ve always had to become dehumanised in order to become killing machines – now fight mechanical wars, without the blood and guts of killing. Might that be a socio-political comment on our times? “No, that wasn’t about the war necessarily, but it’s funny how it worked out. This terrorist thing has been hanging over our heads for a couple of years now, ever since 9-11, though the whole Middle Eastern thing has been dominating US foreign policy for 20 years. So it’s nothing new. But as it worked out that’s just kind of how things were right when the album was coming out. We couldn’t have planned it!”
From modern warfare to modern song writing, Duane theorises that Tomahawk is thoroughly now in the way they work, partly due to the fact that all four members – John Stanier of Helmet and Kevin Rutmanis of The Melvins round out the band – live in different cities.
“When I was in The Jesus Lizard all I ever had was a guitar and a tape recorder. Now I can record full songs and send it through the Internet. So I think that the way we do things reflects a more modern way of doing it. It’d be nice to think I could just sit around an opium den all day, and have pet llamas running around, but it’s not quite like that!”
Fantasy llamas and modern warfare aside, does Duane have any particular hopes for Mit Gas? “Everyone should do their part to help avoid a global recession, so everyone should work hard, then go out and spend money on this Tomahawk album and come to our shows, buy each other drinks and buy us drinks too. And that will help everybody.”
Mit Gas is out now on Ipecac through Shock.
— Melanie Sheridan