The following is a full length version of an interview with Channels and short article on Dischord Records. Channels can be heard here
Part of this appeared in the Nov/Dec 2006 issue of Flux.
For nearly twenty years Dischord Records has been a bastion of independence and quality in the US hardcore scene. Founded by Ian Mackaye of Fugazi with money left over after the break up of his first band Teen Idles, the label has always remained as intelligent and arty as can be expected from a man who spiked a cover of Wire's seminal "12XU" with the battle cry, "Flex your head!" Dischord has always staying true to their mission to document the Washington DC music scene. With Fugazi on hiatus, Ian Mackaye formed the duo Evens with Amy Farina, and Fugazi bassist Joe Lally has stripped things down even further with a skeletal rhythmic solo album "From There to Here" on which he asks searching questions that his government wouldn't want to try to answer. Soccer Team is another duo, formed by a couple who've both worked for the label. Post-punk futurists French Toast have expanded to a trio for "Ingleside Terrace" but best of all is the hard hitting, politically lyrically erudite and eminently hummable album "Waiting for the Next End of the World" from Channels, a trio fronted by former Jawbox and Burning Airlines guitarist J. Robbins. I asked him why the band is called Channels.
J: I saw the phrase "Meet the Channels" on a satellite TV brochure, and I thought of "Meet the Beatles," but I also thought it was kind of creepy, like the Channels are your new friends. Like the TV "family" in Fahrenheit 451. Seemed like a good name with a number of possible meanings.
Were you thinking of channels of communication?
J: Yes, and as in channelling your aggression, channelling an influence or a spirit, and channels as in "going through the proper channels," i.e. beaurocracy.
Is that a new World Trade Centre growing from a sunflower on the cover of the album?
J: According to Peter (the artist), it's an industrial park.
The first line of the first song, "To the New Mandarins" - "It's tricky to relax when bracing for impact" - summons up the image of a plane crashing into the Pentagon. Was this what inspired it?
J: It's more a response to the "threat index" overload of the past couple of years, where the government keeps saying there's imminent danger, so be vigilant - but at the same time relax, go on about your normal business and "get back at the terrorists" with continued leisure and happy consumption.
"I don't know where the truth begins."Have you read the book "9.11 Revealed - Challenging the facts behind the War on Terror" by Ian Henshall and Rowland Morgan? It throws up some interesting questions. Your lyrics seem to tie in with the general theme of various deceptions that are bound to arise when the stooge son of a former director of the CIA cheats his way into the presidency.
J: I haven't read it but let's say nothing would surprise me where Bush, Cheney & Co. are concerned.
Do you think that it is a little odd that the plane crashed into the newly heavily reinforced section of the Pentagon?Would you agree that its also strange that the terrorists who claim they want to do maximum damage to the USA didn't notice that they could've caused much more destruction by crashing a nearby nuclear reactor?Isn't it also a little odd that Donald Rumsfeld claimed that the black box recorder on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon had nothing of interest on it?
J: Don't you think all that stuff is a little hinky? Once you are exposed to a little bit of history - things like Operation Northwoods or the Tuskeegee Experiments, or the pilgrims' gift of smallpox infected blankets to the Native Americans for example - how can you not be at least sceptical? Meanwhile Bush can barely complete a coherent sentence; only an idiot is prepared to swallow his rhetoric whole.
By coincidence the last record I listened to before playing your album was the recent remastered reissue of Siouxsie and the Banshees "Kaleidoscope" which is a band you all claim to have been a big influence. Which Banshees album is your favourite?
Do you have a favourite Banshees song?
J: One song? No way! Top 5: Stargazer, Peek-a-boo, Mirage, Landsend, honorary mention to the Creatures' Mad-Eyed Screamer.
Another band you were all influenced by is XTC and you seem to have referenced this in some of the song lyrics. On "Chivaree" you sing, "Drum on the clocks and strum on the wires," and the third XTC album is "Drums and Wires." On "Hug the Floor" you sing, "For an hour you were standing ten feet over me" and there is an XTC song called "Ten Feet Tall." Were you aware of these connections?
J: Probably subliminal, but not intentional. Well, maybe the drums and wires one is straight-up homage.
What is your favourite XTC album?
J: Black Sea, Drums and Wires, English Settlement, Apple Venus vol. 1
What is your favourite XTC song?
J: River of Orchids, Green Man, Paper and Iron, Blue Overall, Fly on the Wall, Respectable Street, Senses Working Overtime, There is No Language in Our Lungs... I mean, it might be easier to name the few XTC songs we don't like. If I had to name a favorite band, they might well be it.
Who or what is "Chivaree"?
J: It's a Southern US corruption of "charivari" - a drunken serenade to newlyweds.
Why is the song "Helen Mirren" titled thus?
J: It's our classiest, strangest, sexiest song. We LOVE Helen Mirren.
This song has the lyric, "At Camber Sands I watched the sea retreating."Have you been to Camber Sands? When?
J: All Tomorrow's Parties in 99.
"Mercury," the last song on the album, has a much calmer atmosphere than the rest of the album and was written by Peter Grey Mansinne. Who is he?
J: He's an old friend who wrote an (unreleased) album's worth of songs I produced in the '90s. I played guitar in his band Seraphim, which never played a show. He's a great songwriter, and a he's good friend, who never really got his stuff out in front of people.
Has Peter Quinn, who designed the album cover, done any other art for album sleeves?
J: He was the singer in Candy Machine, and Ink, and he did all their art work. He has a band now called Low Moda who are great. He does a lot of different art and music stuff here in Baltimore. Web design, print design, he teaches at Maryland Institute College of Art ... a very inspiring guy. He also published a compilation art book called "Friends and Friends of Friends." His website is proj7.com.
You thank Mission of Burma. Have you played gigs with them?
J: One show, in 2005. They are another candidate for "favorite band ever."
Were they a big influence?
Have you heard their latest album "The Obliterati"?Its as good as anything they've done before, if not better!
The theme of apocalypse also looms large in the music of Killing Joke. The drumming on "To the New Mandarins" also reminds me of the drumming on their song "Adorations." Were they an influence?
J: Undeniable, especially the guitar playing of Geordie Walker is a huge influence on my playing in Channels.
The other band mentioned as being an influence on all three of you is the Jesus Lizard. Do you have a favourite Jesus Lizard album?
Did you play any gigs with them?
J: No, but David Yow had a cameo as a drooling mental patient in a Jawbox video.
What are the other former members of Jawbox up to these days?
J: Bill Barbot runs a design company, Kim Coletta is a primary school librarian, they are married and have a kid. Zach Barocas lives in Minneapolis, makes poetry and video, and plays drums in three bands.
Obviously there is good reason for Channels not to tour at present, with having a baby to care for, but do you think you might be into touring at a later date?
J: It would be nice to think we could eventually, but it's not a high priority unless we had a chance to go somewhere really compelling or we could tour with a band we really liked.
Do you have any advice for bands thinking of signing to a major label?
J: If you really want to be a rock star, it's the only way to do it. But you should really really be driven, really aimed at that goal. Otherwise, be prepared for a brief, occasionally very enjoyable time, with lots of headaches and some serious disappointments. High highs and low lows, and probably not a triumphant feeling at the end. I wouldn't do it again if I had the chance, particularly if I was already supporting myself with my band on an indie. But then again I never wanted to be a rock star.