Meaningless Chants is out now.
Earlier this year Minneapolis’ Deleter brought their 21st Century Mission of Burma flecked post punk back with their latest EP Meaningless Chants. A vigorous and enraged assault, it is a formidable addition to their ever impressive discography. Propulsive bass lines, busy drums, angular riffing, and Knol Tate’s idiosyncratic vocals all combine to create something truly full of life and dripping with meaning.
We had a chance to sit down with Knol Tate to discuss the EP and the inspiration behind each track on the record.
Order Meaningless Chants on Bandcamp.
Hello. My name is Knol Tate. I’m the lyricist, vocalist, a guitarist and recording engineer for Deleter. I was asked to do a track by track breakdown of our newest EP called Meaningless Chants. I cannot speak for everyone in the band but am able to speak to the lyrics, some of the concepts of the songs as well as production of the recording, as I wrote the lyrics, helped write the music and engineered/mixed the recording.
Often Deleter writes songs together as a group at rehearsal and I conceive of some of the lyrics or least rhythmic patterns or melody ideas as we demo the songs while writing. I will come up with lyrics based on poems I had previously written or get a feel early in the process while the songs are still in infancy. With this batch of songs I thought I would try something new and improvise and sketch out lyrics and vocal parts after the music was completely tracked for the record. This turned out to be a more difficult process than I thought it would be. I spent almost a month working on my vocals for this thing, which is way too long for my taste. What came naturally was a lot of repetitive lines, which in retrospect was influenced by the title of the EP. The title we had conceived a few months before the recording while reflecting on some of the three word or syllable chants that seem to always be in vogue at protests or rallies. I’ve always thought it to be a rather boring way to get a point across.
We tracked all the instrumentals live, together, in the same room with minimal separation but a whole lot of microphones for choices in mixing later on. I believe there was no more than 3 takes per song except maybe Do You Really Trust This Study took a few more than 3. I will go a little more into detail later on.
The cover artwork for the EP was done by our friend and amazing artist and band guy Jim Blaha of The Blind Shake. There is a nifty lyric insert in the cassette version with a drawing for every song juxtaposed with hand-written lyrics by your truely by another good friend Derek Van Gieson of the bands Witch Watch and Murder Shoes. Derek has had art books published by Fantagraphics and comics published by Uncivilized Books.
Anyway, on to the songs…
This was the first song we had written for the batch. Like most Deleter songs it came from a bit of a jam (I hate that term) we had at rehearsal. I believe our bass guitar player Travis and drummer Josh just started playing the main verse part and our guitar player Jordan and I thought it was fun. It has that sort of Motown or James Brown old R&B rhythm section feel to it. We just added some wonky guitars over it and it was done. The bridge always feels very The Ventures In Space to me. There’s a nifty little high vocal part during the bridge that adds to that feeling.
As Americans were in the middle of a political campaign last summer I was struggling to come up with lyrics. A lot of the content here and throughout the album have a pretty political and paranoid lean to them. We sacrifice a lot as citizens for the political process in a democracy. We are asked to trust what we cannot know is true or false. We are asked to give money and time and resources to candidates we mostly don’t fully believe in or trust. We are disappointed when an election doesn’t go our way and sometimes become angry when things don’t go our way. Rightly so. Yet we do it again the next time ’round. People always say things like “it’s not a perfect system but it’s what we’ve got” or “democracy is the worst system… except all the other ones” and we shrug our shoulders and agree. I don’t agree. I personally think it would be nice to have actual investment without so many middle-men in participation of democracy. Direct democracy. Citizens in the States could be voting on many issues we do not need an elected representative for. I won’t rant any more but I believe this was my way of thinking when I blurted out “we supplement our daily air with injections of stately fear”.
I try not to write many songs about personal relationships or deep seeded emotional scarring but I guess sometimes I don’t try that hard. When I do succumb I try to keep the poem or lyric as vague and abstract as I can while still sounding nice to my ear and look nice on the page and a sort of subconscious reminder. Of course Motivations is one of those songs. I really don’t remember much line to line what this song meant to me at the time but I was about a year out of coping with the end of a horrible romantic relationship at the time and though I had come mostly to terms with the situation I think perhaps I was (and am) working out some of the more abstract emotions on the matter. Phew. It seems by the bluntness, anger and a sense of giving up in the lines that would be the case. Chanty chanty chorus.
This song stared with my guitar line as you hear it at the top of the song. That little pick up rhythm at the top of the line reminds me of Mission Of Burma’s Ballad Of Johnny Burma. In fact, I can almost guarantee we were listening to the album VS. right before rehearsal. In the recording we counted the song off like normal with four drumstick clicks and Josh started the beat on the one. I added that first snare it in post because I thought it added some excitement like it does just before the final verse. It’s cheating, I know. It’s a pretty straight forward song structure of verse, chorus verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, verse so we thought it would be fun to make the bridge kind of nuts. We worked on it for much longer than we normally work out parts. We wanted it to be a controlled chaos and Travis came up with the idea of using that crazy synthesizer pedal on his bass for that part. He only plays two notes but I feel it adds an ominous quality to the chaos. Looms over the top of all that mess the rest of us are making and locks it together.
3. Do You Really Trust This Study?
The lyrics to this song were completely improvised on microphone in three or four run throughs. Hence all the lines repeating. However there is one line of the lyric I lifted from a song by Marvin Gaye called Save The Children. I was listening to his album What’s Going On earlier in the morning and it must have just resonated with me in the moment. It’s a rather political album and I think perhaps that motif reflected on this song. It’s basically about who to believe. Long before the term “alternative facts” was coined by one our current leader’s most conniving, lying, fact spinning until dizzy spokes-people we all know how politicians and the like try to tell us one thing while dangling something pretty in the other hand. It’s as old as Orwell himself.
After writing the music we immediately thought it sounded like Television on 45. Mostly because of the guitar play back and forth. I’ve always felt there is a little R&B influence as well with the repetitive baseline and call and response vocals. The response vocals were put there to fill up space I hadn’t covered in my main vocal as well as a stylistic choice. The ending of the song was specifically written to break up the monotony and bring a little chaos into a rather A part/B part song. There is only one musical overdubbed part (besides a tambourine at the end) in the song during the second verse with the little stabby, higher register guitar parts. That started as a little joke by Jordan that somehow fit into the little R&B feel that was becoming apparent.
4. Head Removed From Helmet
Rather dystopian. Violent. I won’t lie when I say the lyrics to this song came from a rather disturbing and paranoid pre US election daydream about what plots are hidden to us by powers that be and how we can stop them from plotting against us. I think the conclusion (in the lyric at least) was violence. Assassination. I honestly don’t think violence is something that should ever be resorted to, even if as a last resort but sometimes when are at your last resort the thought has to at least cross your mind. We are animals after all. What was that old New York City anarchist group called? Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers? The name was menacing but the actions rather benign. Sometimes self-destructive. At least that’s how I see this song.
The music, like I’ve said, as most of the songs on this record, was written and recorded before the lyrics had been written. We try to have one mellower song per record session and this was the one. I believe it started with a simple chord structure and that creepy little lead that Jordan plays before and after the lyric and we went from there. I insisted we put reverb on the bumpy bass line as a nod to the opening track Practice Makes Perfect off of Wires second record. Bass reverb is cool. Jordan had purchased some kind of vintage synthesizer just before recording and this was the only track we used it on. He sold it soon after. Our friend Faith, who is a trained vocalist, sang on almost every song, had a hard time moving down all four of the half step movements with her harmony on the bridge. It was pretty funny how frustrated she was at the time. Sometimes training can’t prepare you for singing on a song written by people that have no idea what they are doing musically. Okay, only I have no idea what I’m doing musically.
5. Psychic Psychologist
As we always try to have at least mellow song we also like to have a fast one on every release. This is of course the fast one. Probably equally inspired by Black Flag as it is Blur (they seem to always have a punkish song per album) as well as a very on purpose Mark E Smith of The Fall vocal delivery. I’m pretty sure we wrote it in almost the same time as the running time of the song. Not much thought out into it. I would wager we probably put the most thought into the quick stop after the bridge before the outro. There is actually quite a few guitar overdubs on this song to thicken the sound. The basic tones were pretty clean but needed a few layers to get it were we wanted them.
The phrase or idea of a psychic psychologist or psychic anarchist came to me while reading some older X-Men comics, funny enough. Professor X being the psychologist while Jean Grey being the anarchist. I don’t even remember if Charles Xavier was a psychologist in the comics but seems close enough an idea. Of course Grey, The powerful telepath, becomes possessed by a cosmic creature called the Phoenix Force, loses control and goes on to destroyed half the galaxy or some nonsense. Like mentioned in the previous paragraph there was also quite a Mark E Smith inspiration for the lyrics style as well as the vocals. I suppose put simply; the song is about control of ones own thoughts and actions/reactions and lose of control of these things. This is the only song Faith didn’t sing on. Travis does a pretty good background yelp though.
6. Start To Watch
This song may have started as a bit of a riff on something The Who would have written in the late 60s. Big dumb powers chords that feel really good to play. I think the down-picking of chorus, in a very Ramones style, was a reaction to the openness of the verse. There’s quite a lot of guitar doubling in this song, as oppose to most the record. Like Psychic Psychologist the guitars are rather clean and we needed to thicken the tone. Using layers instead of distortion. We also put a organ under the whole song that you can feel more than hear, though it’s a lot more audible during the last chorus. It’s a boring old A/B A/B A/B/C structure with the old exploding dynamic bridge and a really funny Robert Fripp kind of guitar “solo” by Jordan. The last chorus is actually a key change. Exciting!
The lyrics were written by putting a rough mix of the instrumental on a loop as I sat on control room couch with a notebook on my lap and a pen balancing on my nose. This may have been the last one to have a lyric and vocals. At this point all the songs had a vocal down, with mostly repeating patterns, add nausea, so I’m pretty sure the “start to watch, man” line that is the chorus came from a place of paranoia as well as a bit of a mantra to myself to watch what I was doing. I believe the bulk of the verses are more about what we sacrifice for society. This time from the perspective of perhaps a spy or intelligence officer/worker bee. Maybe with a added lesson that the closer you look at the job the more absurd and ridiculous it is. What they would be asked to do for good of country and society at large. We are asked to trust and believe in our institutions yet our institutions don’t trust and believe in us. No wonder so many spies leak.
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