EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – COMBICHRIST
Our man Calum Robson has been keeping a close eye on the band’s progress and here he catches up with Andy LePlegua.
rushonrock: Why did you choose the name Combichrist for the band and what does it mean to you?
Andy LaPlegua: I think the name is more a question of what did it mean, because now – it’s become the band name. Combichrist was a character that I created – I wrote the lyrics and the music based on that character. Over the years it became less and less that character and more and more ‘me’ writing. But right now it’s a name more than anything else – just a band name that seems to kind of step away from writing about that character.
rushonrock: So who was this character?
ALP: The character was all-fiction. I used to do a punk rock, hardcore fanzine in the early 90’s and I had this character in there that was a kind of punk rock messiah. He was part bad and part good depending on how drunk he was! It was a just a comic strip – something that was light-hearted and funny. I put a specific character to build around the music because I never like to take myself 100% too seriously. It was just a great character to write for because you could get away with writing about anything – I could make it as funny as I wanted or I could make it as serious as I wanted or as violent as I wanted, and it never had to be about me.
rushonrock: Nowadays, on the live stage what do you want to give people?
ALP: Everything. As much as we can. I think there’s clearly a lot of bands who might put too much into production or put too much focus on just the music, but I think a show should be unique to the CD. It shouldn’t be just the band and the production or the music that you hear on the CD, it should be something different. We bring a lot of our background that we’re not bringing into the recordings – we bring it into the live shows with a lot of punk rock, hardcore and metal influences. That stuff we bring to the live show that we don’t necessarily put on CD. I think it’s always important to keep it interesting and to have a high energy show – if you’re going to make high energy music or any kind of music that has any emotions attached to it then it important to go all the way out on stage.
rushonrock: Do you feel more cautious when you’re in the studio making music as opposed to out there playing it?
ALP: It’s a hard question actually. On stage there is the on and off switch – you go on stage and the on switch is just ‘on’ and you just go till the show is over. It isn’t necessarily ever since I walk on stage that I’m getting into a character or anything like it – it’s an automatic thing. In the studio, I’m 100% me so that’s the difference obviously. I still allow myself to do anything I want to in the studio, it’s just I have to think of things as ‘it’s coming from me and not from the character’ – which is the biggest difference. Or to get myself into the writers character chair and create this character which is different when I go on stage – then I let the character out.
rushonrock: You’ve have a number of ongoing projects – is that something that you feel represents different sides to your character?
ALP: For sure – I think a lot of the projects over the years came off as working with one thing and [thinking] “what if we did it this way?” Well, it doesn’t really belong and then I attempted to jump off to something new. I feel right now there’s Combichrist and there’s Scandinavian Cock – my punk rock, rock n’ roll band – that is probably the band that is closest to where it all started for me. Everything else except Combichrist and Scandinavian Cock is kind of ‘on ice’. We do live shows now and then but we don’t really do anything in the studio – the live shows of the other projects are more or less whenever it feels right and whenever it comes together right. The right time and the right place.
rushonrock: Is the free-rolling rock n’ roll punk something you’ve always had in your blood alongside the industrial music?
ALP: Yeah, most of the material that we actually have or most of the material that has been written before is material that I wrote in a night with some editing and re-writing. A lot of it came from my earlier days which is also gets close to my origin of playing music. I always brought some of that attitude and some of the influences with me into electronica. I always tried keep it separated – I didn’t feel like there was a point in doing what I was doing unless I could separate it. I still allow myself to be influenced by it without letting it take hold.
rushonrock: Looking at genre terms what about EBM and industrial electronica – do you feel that it represents the heart of the sound?
ALP: If people feel like naming it that, I guess. There’s so many different terms that have been set off over the years and still – it’s ‘are you doing EBM? Or are you doing industrial? Or are you a metal band? Or are you an electronica band?’ It’s the biggest cliché in the world to say I don’t know what to call it, but it’s really a mix of all of them and rock n’ roll because I do listen to all the different types and I’m inspired by all of these genres. It’s really hard for me to place it because I’m all over the place and an album can have different sounds from the different genres too. Ten or 15-years ago it was a lot easier to set the terms within this genre of music because there was less sub-groups but now, even in drum n’ bass there’s like 50 different sub-groups and for me – I don’t know what is what.
rushonrock: Aggrotech is yet another sub-division of electro-industrial. What do you think of it as a term for the band?
ALP: No matter how much I hate the term aggrotech, it’s actually a very simplified and kind of correct term to put on these bands because it is aggressive, technological music – it definitely is. But it’s such a loose term too because all it says is it’s aggressive and technological – it doesn’t really go further than that!
rushonrock: It might sound slightly crazy but the energy that Combichrist gave off at the Legends, Newcastle gig last year had a very strange, futuristic, underground atmosphere to it.
ALP: I think that’s a pretty good observation too, because a lot of our inspiration is definitely not only music. It definitely has that underground feel to it so it’s not a total crazy observation.
rushonrock: So how will Scandinavian Cock impact the time-frame? Are you concentrating on that over the coming months?
ALP: It’s relaxed because I think it’s not something that I would ever try to force because it’s so straight-up. I do all the writing but we are five people in a rock n’ roll band that come together twice a week when I’m not on tour – so we just play rock n’ roll the good old fashioned way. It’s not something that I can rush on my own because you’re dependent on the four other people so whenever it’s ready to take on the road, we’ll take it on the road. Until then we’ll have to see what happens. With Combichrist it’s a little different because I’m 100% control of everything in the studio and I do all the writing and all of the production. That I can actually put in the work and feel like dependent on everybody else.
rushonrock: Is its focus more on enjoying music with a laid back, unpretentious atmosphere then?
ALP: It keeps me objective to Combichrist – because it’s s much from my roots so it also takes that urge away to make Combichrist into a total rock band. It keeps me in check – it’s something that I missed doing – instead of bringing it too much into Combichrist. It’s been like an outlet and we do have a lot of fun. It’s stress free because we prefer to do the smaller bar shows and it’s to be a rock n’ roll band, to go up on stage and just swing it. Combichrist is a lot more pressure because there’s a bigger shows, there’s big production and a lot of people involved. You travel across the world and play – so there’s definitely more pressure but it’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I still love what I am doing. It’s definitely releasing some steam when I play with Scandinavian Cock.
rushonrock: You made the move from Norway to the US seven-years ago now. How did that impact you as an artist?
ALP: I’m on tour so often that I’m just as much in Europe than I am here. It really didn’t make that much of a change as a musician or touring-wise. But as a person there’s definitely a difference living here and living in Europe. As for what I do on a personal level and my personal interests, there’s definitely a bigger scene over here and much more opportunities. I’m very much into hot-rods and motorcycling. There’s a bigger scene over here.
rushonrock: Is that something that has interested you for some time then?
ALP: Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why I even moved here in the first place!
rushonrock: What is it about hot rods that makes you tick?
ALP: I don’t know. Everything that I can remember growing up, I was just always fascinated by hot rods and that culture and the whole rockabilly scene. It was really something that approached me from early on and it was always something that I wanted to do. It was hard [because] as you know, European roads are not exactly the best for this and on top of it’s not too big either.
rushonrock: In terms of what was coming out of Norway at the time in the 90’s, black metal was a dominant force for its good reasons and bad. Was that something that ever appealed to you?
ALP: I was in the middle of that whole thing when it blew up, because the music I would say was the alternative music scene, especially at the time, but it was not that crazily different as they would think. You had people doing industrial, you had people doing hardcore punk rock or doing the black metal stuff. It was a very closed underground scene and everybody knew everybody. I was involved in different projects – I was involved in a lot of the black metal sides of things and I was playing with a lot of the black metal people in these bands. I was stuck in the middle of the whole thing when it blew up and there was only a couple of individuals that was just kids who were out of their minds and did something and it gives a weird spin to the sides of the whole thing – they permanently marked it. There’s really not that big of a difference between the kind of people in that scene and the people in other scenes. There was a lot of music geeks who just liked to create an image for themselves.
rushonrock: Would you agree that it got too fanatical?
ALP: I think it’s rather the fans. I think the bands were more creating the image for the band. I think it’s more the fans that see it that way. It’s the same thing with Combichrist too. I think there’s a lot more people who think that we are a little bit different as people than we actually are. Right now I’m in the studio but most days I’ll be at my car shop and I’ll be working on my car. They wouldn’t expect that when they look at Combichrist – they’ll think that I’m out drinking, doing drugs and some crazy stuff. Sometimes you have to separate between character and do what you like.
rushonrock: Is there ever a case where you’ll look to the fans for inspiration on songs or perhaps gauge what you can or can’t write?
ALP: I prefer not to write what people expect me to write and I’d rather write what I feel is right to write about. There’s people who like a lot of the same thing. I think you hit a nerve by being honest. If you try to write something specifically for the crowd, then I think it’s just going to sit in that particular time-period. To write things from the heart – not only the lyrics but also the music – is something that I want to do rather than what is expected of me. I feel like I’m rather a step ahead than a step behind all the time.
rushonrock: When it comes to writing the more aggressively-natured songs like F**k That S**t, do you ever worry about misconceptions of a potentially fanatic audience?
ALP: I would never really ask Wes Craven (horror director and writer) ‘what do you think people think of you because you’re making a horror movie like Freddy Krueger? Do you think that people make you think like Freddy Krueger? It’s just in his mind and it’s something that he writes. A lot of the stuff that I write – I wouldn’t say everything, some of it is personal too – a lot of the stuff is basically like a movie. It’s a story – it can be funny, it can be outrageous, it can be brutal, it can be anything. Different short stories pan out and it doesn’t necessarily have a title of what I believe or what I think. I’ve gotten responses that what I’m doing is sexist. But why sexist? I’ve never said anything bad about women – but just because it’s sexual [he’s blamed] – but for all they know I could be singing about a man. I never stated anything sexual – people are so touchy. Some people just follow everything and they don’t even think what it is – they think ‘this is funny, this is cool’ or whatever. Some people take it for entertainment and take it for what it is and that’s fine. Some people are very touchy and have to complain about everything. For me it’s horrible because you should have the opportunity to play with your mind and not take it too seriously. The words are only as powerful as you make it.
rushonrock: Do you think there’s a tendency to over-analyse?
ALP: Yeah, not only that but I think humans in general are very good at creating fear for themselves and creating negativity out of nothing. A very good example is the Swastika. Obviously we’ve never used it in that way, but it’s a good example because it’s not from the Germans and it has existed for thousands of years and it stood for something positive. But after they used it, we’ve been sitting there saying ‘this is a bad symbol because of what happened’ – it’s going to be a bad symbol. You put a Swastika on every milk carton in the world, it’s going to take months before you’ve forgotten what it means. Things only mean what you want them to mean, and that goes for everything. If you want it to mean something negative, it’s going to be something negative.
rushonrock: Do you think we have the power in our minds to unlock this, change our perceptions and perhaps open our minds to other possibilities behind a charade of negativity?
ALP: One of my main things in the beginning was not to provoke but rather to take the effect of words away from what people originally think about it. If you say ‘fuck or shit’ often enough you take away the bad part of it and it’s just going to be another word. I try to take away the censorship from it because there really is nothing else than words.
rushonrock: Would you say you believe in mind over matter and does that relate to any form of spirituality in yourself?
ALP: I would love to say I’m a spiritual person, except I don’t believe in spirits. [laughs] But it’s quite accurate in the mind of what other people consider spiritual – I would say yes, I am spiritual. I am always very concerned about people around me and I’m always concerned about how to live my life in a good way, but at the same time living my life for my own sake. No one is truly selfless. Every selfless action has some selfish reason. Even a selfless action because you just helped somebody – that’s still not selfless – it’s to make yourself feel better. Nothing is truly selfless and getting into being spiritual and getting into the big picture – yes, I do believe in the big picture but at the same time I believe in individuality.
rushonrock: Would you say you have a certain misanthropic tone on humanity very generally?
ALP: I believe in persons and personalities, but I have no hope, nothing positive to say about humanity as one. There is people that don’t do positive things and there is people who do things for themselves and for others. But humanity is just the cattle – they follow the other cow. If we’re allowed to do something then we just do it, if we can get away with it, then we do it and there’s nothing good about that. People will talk about good and evil, yes, there is good and there is evil, not necessarily in the Bible sense. Humans are the only things that do things on purpose from badness. Not even the most gruesome animal is doing it because they’re evil – it’s part of nature. Humans are the only ones that will do things because they are satisfied to hurt other people. Humanity is a lost cause in my eyes, but I still believe in individuality so maybe that will set up the right course one day.
rushonrock: The song God Wrapped In Plastic – it’s influenced by (90’s American drama) Twin Peaks right? Are you a big fan?
ALP: I’m a huge David Lynch fan and lately of Jennifer Lynch’s work. She is as brilliant as her dad. I was really inspired by that back then but I honestly can’t remember what I thought when I did it! But it was inspired by it.
rushonrock: If Lynch asked for a soundtrack you’d jump at the opportunity?
ALP: Without any doubt, for sure.
rushonrock: Will there be plans for a UK tour next year too?
ALP: We will be there in not too long I hope. Take care, and we’ll see you over there!
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.