Mass Appeal Madness: An Interview with NrIII
Black metal is an icy, atonal howl that eschews the brotherly moshpit tendencies of so much other heavy music, openly wallowing instead in depression, isolation, and outright nihilism. It is also the most interesting substrain of metal in that, for all the rigid aesthetic and sonic parameters of pioneers like Hellhammer and Immortal, it most easily melds with other seemingly disparate musical forms, producing some truly fascinating hybrids. Which is a fancy way of saying that it ain’t all corpse paint and church burning. Black metal has variously assimilated punk (Dodsferd), shoegazing (Xasthur), avant-garde classical (Gnaw Their Tongues), folk (Enslaved), hippie tropes (Wolves In The Throne Room), and even trip hop (Lurker of Chalice). One of the most interesting offshoots that I’ve encountered recently is local (!!!) act NRIII. NRIII (pronounced “NR3″) is a nasty mix of off-center power electronics (think Whitehouse, NON) and black metal’s damaged scream. Essentially the solo project of one Ryan Reno, with the assistance of Robert Pitts, NRII has a proper cd out now, Solus Patior, and demands your immediate attention.
Synco: How and when did NRIII get its start?
NRIII: NRIII was officially formed in the early spring of 2010. Robert Pitts, my guitarist, and I had come up with an idea to make a very snarky swipe at consumerism by creating a performance art band with a variety of elaborate ideas, such as charging a $100 cover at shows, and singing only about the importance of wealth over everything else. The original music we were making for the project was harsh power electronics, not dissimilar to Whitehouse.
The idea started to progress from there however, as we decided to turn the project into a functional band. We joined together with drummer Jason Irvin, who I have worked on and off again for a long time, and got to work writing our first batch of songs. The extreme capitalism idea maintained, but the music transformed into more of a blackened crust, high-end assault. Heavy drumming, distorted 2-chord tremolo, and sardonic rants screeched out in an homage to such vocalists as Doc Dart from the Crucifucks.
This was the live version of the band, and we played a variety of shows during the Summer, Fall, and Winter of 2010, which usually ended with us trashing the stage, equipment, mirrors, and just about anything else we could get our hands on.
Schedule conflicts kept us from working on new material, however, which led to the band breaking apart. That is when the current version of NRIII truly began. I write and record most songs myself with Robert adding parts here and there when available.
Synco: What are some of the other projects that you’ve been involved in? You’ve been making music for a long time now….
NRIII: I started my first band in the late ‘90s. It was just another shitty, snotty high school punk band. In 1998, however, I began a project that lasted the better part of the next decade named Whimsical Fetus. The original band consisted of nine members that functioned like a collective. We worked in different combinations to chase any musical muse that fluttered by. The band continued to gain and lose members over the first few years until it finally settled with the core of myself, Jason Irvin, and JaMile Jackson.
The three of us tried to turn every performance into something otherworldly and primitive. An exorcism of the aggravations and urges of both the band and the audience. Genesis P-Orridge has likened Throbbing Gristle performances to a religious experience and that is what we were truly trying to evoke when we played.
The amount of shows we played over the years was relatively limited, mostly due to our personal rule of never playing a show unless someone else invited us. Additionally, at the beginning of the last decade, noise/avant/experimental music wasn’t nearly as acceptable as it has become over the last few years, which meant that we didn’t make friends with clubs (especially sound engineers.)
As Whimsical Fetus wound down, I began performing under a variety of different aliases as well as a number of projects with Robert Pitts, usually working the in realm of electronic music.
Synco: People might not be aware of this, but Jacksonville has a fairly dedicated experimental, improvisational music community…
NRIII: Over the last few years, the Jacksonville experimental scene has become much more vocal and organized. A lot of it has to do with the International Noise Conference held every year down in Miami. That festival has helped infuse a number of scenes throughout Florida, including St. Pete., Orlando, Gainesville, Tallahassee, and even Jacksonville. While our city has always had a huge group of free thinkers, experimenters, and performance artists, we’ve had a problem of solidifying and working together. This has made us a later bloomer in creating our scene, compared to some of the other cities, but it has also made our scene one of the most diverse and welcoming.
I did my part in helping spur the scene by putting on weekly shows in Five Points under the Jacksonville Art & Noise Society (J.A.N.S.) banner, which was an organization I had tried to put together a number of times since 2001-2002. I feel it helped, as well as shows that were held down in Saint Augustine curated by Travis Johnson– the man behind the Ilse Music label– which put a lot of people in the same room together. These shows were presented more like a community get-together and left most pretensions at the door. J.A.N.S. eventually came to a conclusion, but a number of other local experimental musicians have come together to put on great shows on a regular basis, including Keaton Orsborn, who hosted shows at nullspace, and the guys at Invermere House in Orange Park.
Synco: Tell me about the new NRIII CD you’ve released. It’s your project’s first foray into compact disc?
NRIII: The new NRIII album is Solus Patior, which is Latin for “I Suffer Alone.” It is our first full-length, and compact disc. Our first two albums released were cassette demos on Primal Vomit Records, which features a variety of great local black metal acts, such as IVES and Vomikaust as well as crossover acts like Talk Sick Earth and Ill-Tolerance.
In noise music and, to a certain extent black metal, there is an attitude against compact discs that I never fully understood myself. I imagine it has to do with the ease of availability, which ruins the elitism that a huge section of these musicians built their entire image upon. But I’ve always felt that if you have a message to get out to the world, you should never limit yourself. In this case, compact disc allowed me the best opportunity to reach the largest audience possible.
Synco: Is there a black metal influence running through NRIII’s music? The songs also seem somewhat more structured (and don’t take that as a slur) than some of your other musical endeavors.
NRIII: I 100% classify NRIII as a black metal band with noise influences, more than the other way around. I think there are a lot of bands that have helped increase the vocabulary of black metal to expand it much beyond the Darkthrone/Bathory/Mayhem blueprint. From as early as ABRUPTUM in the early ‘90s to more current acts– like Gnaw Their Tongues, Wold, Dead Reptile Shrine, or Black Vomit– the mysticism of black metal has broken free of almost any chains that the idea of genre has shackled to it.
As far as the structured writing for NRIII. After it became a solo project, and especially for the new album, I approached it with the same mentality that Scott Walker did when he worked on his album The Drift. While recording his album, Scott mentioned that he didn’t feel he was writing songs, as much as creating blocks of sounds. And then he would move and adjust these blocks of sound to create an atmosphere that brought you directly into his world. When listening to that album, and hopefully when listening to Solus Patior, the recording engulfs you in its darkness and doesn’t let go until the very end.
I spent the better part of a decade playing improvised music and while I do love it, you get to the point where it is time to grow as an artist. I’d hate to think that I am making the same type of music using the same instruments and the same mentality for 10, 20, 30 years straight. You have to challenge yourself to move past what you are comfortable with. To accept every failure and grow. I think that is the true difference between a musician and an artist. A musician might find that one style or instrument that they excel at and work with it until the end times. An artist is never content and is always welcoming and demanding change.
NRIII: The germ of the idea that became Solus Patior isn’t very interesting, actually. After recording $, which was the first album I made after the band-version of NRIII broke up, I realized that I wasn’t going to ever be able to play any of those songs live by myself. The songs have so many thick layers of guitars on them that they would only loose their power in a live setting.
With the new album, I wanted to make something that I might actually be able to play live; even if it was just me performing it. The first thing I did when approaching the songs was to strip away the guitars and work solely with electronic equipment. There is a lot of broken electronics, drum machines, synths, keyboards, and processed sounds that make the album. If I could make a sound with something, I grabbed it and tried to see if it would fit the particular song I was working on. There are sounds on that album that include the rains from the hurricane that came our way last summer as well as a metal fan. I wanted to set a mood and make an atmosphere that is unlike anything else. Where you aren’t sure where the sounds and noises are coming from and everything sounds alien.
Synco: NRIII seems a more personal project. What are you trying to communicate through this set of songs?
NRIII: Lyrically and musically, I feel that this is the first album to truly realize my goal for NRIII. It is looking at the depression, anger, and evil that is inherent in our communities, in our shackled capitalistic lives. I feel that modern life is a very soulless and mechanical existence. We are slaves to jobs, advertisers, televisions, men, women, governments, communities, and scenes. And there isn’t a way to solve any of it. Taking a stand against our current oppressors is futile, because we’d gladly replace them the second we had the chance. People are selfish, cold, and horribly predictable. You can find the same behind-the-scenes mechanics working in almost any group of people. This record was made to be claustrophobic. To represent the panic, depression, fear, and pain that we all carry inside ourselves and attempt to hide, bury, or in some cases, revel and celebrate.
When we played live shows, I would usually alter lyrics and begin ranting at the audience with whatever was on my mind. At the time it was to be antagonistic. We were welcoming confrontation. What I realized while looking out at the audience was that they were paralyzed. Maybe because they agreed with me. Maybe because they happily accepted their place. They were an audience. They watched the rock-n-roll show. They clapped during the breaks in songs. They waited for the band they came to see. They went home. It doesn’t matter if someone cut them down; because he had a microphone, it was part of the show.
These interactions really brought home a lot of ideas that had been running through my head for most of my adult life. I was always waiting for that moment when everyone became lucid. When people started to see just how simple life really is, but how difficult we’ve made it in the name of progress. The world isn’t a cold and cruel place; the world is a simple blank canvas that runs on some of the most rudimentary set of rules that even amoebas are capable of maneuvering their way through it. Humans are cold and cruel, if for no other reason because of our urge to conform, follow rules, and be accepted at any cost. The group might be different, it might be concertgoers at a local metal show, it might be in an executive board meeting, but the thought processes are the same. But people don’t wake up to this fact. And even if they are conscious of it, they conform to it all the same.
With this album I tried to make music and lyrics that expressed the sadness and confusion inside of all of us. We are letting other people feed off of us and take our humanity. Maybe by enclosing people in the sounds of their anguish they will wake up and start the long process of freeing themselves.
Synco: Where can we get your music? Physical (yay!) and virtual (boo!)….
NRIII: The first two tapes were limited pressed, which has made them hard to find. Ebay usually has copies of “$” cropping up here and there and if you search you might find a distro with the self-titled release. The PVR demos were reissued last year as a Professional CD-R and is available, along with Solus Patior by visiting www.neondoom.com/nriii You can also purchase either of the CD releases as digital downloads from Amazon.com.