Heartworm Interview

If you dig deep enough into the electronic underground, you'll find some way out there music being made. Heartworm is an incredibly expressive musician who combines lo-tech mayhem with futuristic post-modern rave aesthetics, shredding speakers with waves of distorted rhythms and effects that defy musical notation. The following Better Propaganda exclusive interview was conducted in a condemned warehouse nestled alongside corroded freeway clover leafs at the industrial wasteland on the Southern tip of San Francisco. We sit in his studio, a metal walled open room full of variously deconstructed machines, electronics and other debris. Layers of thick graffiti are covering many of the walls in the warehouse; we speak over the nearby rumble and din of a huge soundsystem playing drum and bass, sound effects and avant garde soundscapes. The sun has just set and it feels very early.

Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Heartworm.

Better Propaganda: So if you had to define Heartworm to someone that didn't know what it was, what would you say?

Heartworm: The idea of Heartworm- when I first started writing solo music- was to make the nastiest, hardest things I possibly could. Fortunately, the name wasn't taken. I found... just the very concept of the parasite and it burrows into your heart, also had a lot of different connotations to me that I could expand on for HOURS, but, in general, it was just sort of one of the grosser and more mentally unsettling things that I came across as something to call myself as an artist, and I think it accurately defines direction that my music has taken, with it being really disturbing and unsettling, and generally dark and emotional as well. It has those connotations, or whatever. Fifty cent words, that's what I was thinking when I came up with it, lots of fifty cent words.

BP: Are you always Heartworm, are you always in character, or is there like a Superman/Clark Kent side to you, how does that work?

H: Well, Heartworm was supposed to be a super villain, that was the whole thing.

BP: Super villain.

H: And right after I started doing Heartworm stuff, I moved to New York, because no good super villain can be based in North Florida, so... (laughter) I moved to New York to like, you know, start like gaining like henchmen and whatever there. I consider myself generally the Heartworm, although there are a lot of different GUISES, a lot of different projects basically, all of which are musically taking sort of a different personality as well. I think over time, I've definitely become more comfortable with both the music and the persona of Heartworm.

BP: Does Heartworm fit all of your projects, or are there things that you do that don't fit into that?

H: There are things that don't fit into that. In New York, for awhile, I was doing different things, and, for awhile, decided to call myself by different names, but generally, whether I'm DJing ambient, or like doing live PAs of the hardest, nastiest shit I can, it always seemed to fit. After awhile too, when you start to play a few gigs, people are like "oh, who's this guy" as opposed to "Heartworm, I've seen that before," so that was kind of the decision to continue with that on.

BP: Some of your music is just so, so out there. It sounds like you're just putting these electronics through their very last scraps of life, I mean, you're toturing these things to death. You use some circuit bent gear, and I don't even want to get into explaining what kind of instrumentation you use, but you're not playing a piano or a tenor saxophone. What kind of things do you look for in instrumentation?

H: Um, well, I came up playing guitar and bass and drums in bands, and um, when I started doing electronics... I do a lot of sampling, like of me playing, or sampling of piano notes to sequence or whatever. Generally it's a lot of software and post-production. Maybe even nowadays, even just a tiny bit of sequencing to put like a loop in, but I generally try to stray away from repetitive beats in any way, shape or form, so it ends up being a lot of cut and paste software stuff. Live is a different matter. For instrumentation, there's a lot of sampling from WHATEVER source I can, a lot of percussion, and stuff like that.

BP: Typically, when I've seen you perform, you would have a laptop and a small amount of effects, maybe a mixing board, is that a typical set up for you?


After touring last year, I toured through Canada, and came here to San Francisco, and my laptop died the night after the last show in Vancouver, and I haven't had a laptop. It's kind of a bummer, because I have my harddrive right here, with two years' worth of material on it that I haven't been able to access, but, also it's forced me to A: do collaborative work a lot more, which I enjoy immensely, and B: to like sort of re-organize my live set. I'd been doing the laptop/Kaos pad/delay box for two years, and now, when I play, I have- like you said- a bunch of circuit bent stuff. Source isn't really important to me, like, I'll run my source, my final tracks, when I'm playing live, because I write songs, not like sections, so the laptop doesn't matter. I'll play a CD, and you have the track, and then mangle it, you know, with all the effects, and with a sampler, mixing things in or whatever. Yeah, I've been thinking about picking up a new laptop (laughter) but I'm sort of trying to like, you know, not do that, so...

BP: There seems to be a new confluence of really out there noise running through the electronic underground, which has been sort of only happening in the last several years. Do you think this is like a permanent direction, or a diversion, I mean, you're on the vanguard of this, where do you see it going?

H: The vanguard? Um, I think, as a general whole, things are getting more abrasive. Even in pop music, hip hop is getting starker and darker and whatever, and to me, hip hop at this point is really the only thing in popular music that, you know, musically is worthwhile, so it's kind of like a barometer. But for electronics, it does seem to be getting harder and harsher and weirder. Which is more of what it's about for me. I mean, hard and nasty is always going to be there for me, but like weird is more, you know, where I'm going. I think that people are ready for it, people are ready for it to not be the same fucking 4/4 kick drum, or the same damn jungle ALL NIGHT LONG. Whoever puts on the first record sets the tempo for the whole night because you've got to mix into it. Well you know, my songs will have fifteen different time signatures in a two minute track, you know. The whole point is that it makes you actually listen to it. And that's where the whole like Warp Records and all that was coming from in the first place, but, you know...

BP: I still don't think, you know, with all these things that you're saying, that people would really understand how intensely busy, hectic and distorted your music is, I mean, Warp Records can really sound like some cute little acid house if you think about it, and you're literally like KILLING your gear when you're playing. I mean, isn't it more than what you're talking about?

H: Yeah, well, and it's the attitude to it too... My attitude towards it is, like when I go up to play, or when I write something, generally, if it makes me laugh, and it's the most ridiculous thing ever, then that's fine, you know. And I try not to completely punish my audience, but I usually find that they're laughing just as hard as I am, and that, I don't know. Melody is a good thing too.

BP: I wouldn't characterize your work as being melodic...

H: Aww dude, you obviously haven't been hearing the right tracks (laughter).

BP: There's definitely this sense that you're on the edge of this new thing, and you love this kind of absurd comic humor. What should people be looking for in the next several years from new electronic music, in general?

H: I think it's going to darker and harder and weirder. It's gone like that since the like advent of people using electronics, people incorporating things other than- you know- rock and roll instrumentation into their music. The second people started doing electro-acoustic, the second Kraftwerk picked up a fucking drum machine, it got weirder and people were all like "what the hell?" And it just keeps progressing and progressing. And now, with the technology we have, its so much easier to even do that, you know, so I think it's allowing a lot of really really really weird talented people to finally do what they really want to do. I see it getting more and more disturbing.

BP: How has the internet been a tool for you in getting your music out to an audience?

H: Alright, well the internet is, the inter "web", is instrumental simply just for the fact I can get all the software and samples and whatever I want without- I don't know if it's legal for me to say that, but- without paying for it. And that's the spirit of the whole damn thing. The spirit of the whole thing is is like, when I was playing in bands, I put my own guitars together out of things I pulled out of the trash. You know, like here, I put together computers out of computers I pulled out of the trash, and get illegal software, and then write what I want to write with it, and then distribute it freely through the internet. I'm not concerned about selling records, I'm not concerned about anything like that, I just want people to hear it. If you put things on the net, there's people the world over that can listen to it. If you put things out on a record label, then God only knows how many copies or what's gonna happen with that.

Yeah, instrumental. You know, building a small group of people to talk about each other, building like a network all over the world to, you know, talk about music that you like. The music I make is pretty much how I am, so of course, anyone that's into it is going to pass it along, and same with me. That's what the internet is, it's communication and it's simple. That's what the RIAA misses, it's not too hard to realize that people are going to do that, because that's just communication with each other, and once you give people that power, then they're gonna be like "hey, I like this, now you like it, you know, or I hope you like it."

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