Crash Course in Science Interview (with Dale, Mallory and Mike Z)

Crash Course in Science Interview (with Dale, Mallory and Mike Z)

A band from Philadelphia, Crash Course in Science went above and beyond what was considered ‘New Wave’ in attitude and sound.

  • A band from Philadelphia, Crash Course in Science went above and beyond what was considered ‘New Wave’ in attitude and sound.

    1. Are you all originally from Philadelphia? What was the music scene like growing up there?

    Dale- I was originally from Lancaster, PA. During school, I listened to a lot of Blues as well as Experimental Electronic music: Tangerine Dream, Eno and a lot of Black Sabbath and Sly & the Family Stone.

    Mallory- I’m from Rockland County, New York. The music scene was so much fun. It’s really true what people say how those were great exciting times.

    Michael- I’m originally from Charleston, West Virginia. When we all met in Philadelphia where music scene was really diverse. We used to go to the Tower Theatre a lot to see bands like Sparks, Roxy Music and Patti Smith.

    2. What music or bands were most inspiring to you growing up? Were you surrounded by music as children? If not music, what inspired you on a daily basis?

    Dale- I grew up with Sly, Hendrix, Blues, and took drum lessons… I was actually surrounded by a lot of people in the Arts in general, mostly Theatre and Painting.

    Mallory- The new rock and roll coming out all the time was inspiring to me. The first record I bought by myself was “The Peppermint Twist”.

    Michael Z- Growing up as a kid I was into The Beatles, the Stones and Sly. I used to listen to pop radio a lot. I was also inspired by animation growing up especially cartoons like “Colonel Bleep”.

    3. How did you first meet one another? Give us a little bit of detail as to the beginning of the group, how you came up with the name, what were the alternatives?

    Dale- We met in art school… most of our first creations together were experiments with tape recorders and toy instruments. There really was a lot of visual inspiration behind our ideas for music. There were other names but not really as second choices, more like names that could be used as alternative themes that we could use as a persona for the band.

    Mallory- Dale and I started playing around with things that were around the house, things that had a resonance to them that had different sounds and tones. We would record them on tape and put some words in and laugh most of the time about it. I introduced Dale to Michael (who had been making tape recordings of sounds and songs for a while). If we hadn’t collaborated on Crash Course we would most likely be working together in some other form of creative expression. There was an early song called “Crash Course in Science” that is where the name came from, it was something that was said off the cuff and it stuck.

    Michael- Mallory and I met the first day of art school. I was introduced to Dale the last week of our senior year. They were in the illustration department and I was studying painting and animation. I had been experimenting with crude tape recorders and sound making devices for a while, writing songs and soundtracks. Working with Mallory and Dale made the whole recording thing into a real band, where we could actually play the songs live. They put a set of songs together and I had written a lot of songs prior to working with them so we had lots of material to choose from the very beginning. Then we began writing new music together.

    4. Who handled the vocal and the electronics? Was there a division of labor?

    Dale- At first we switched instruments during our sets, so each of us had songs we sang, or played drums to or the other instruments. After a while I got to be more the “tech-guy” and Mallory and Michael did more of the singing

    Mallory- Michael and myself do most of the singing and Dale and Michael play most of the instruments. I picked up the third part of playing the instruments.

    Michael- In the beginning we used to switch instruments depending on the song and who wrote it, but things became more streamlined where we each had a few instruments that we would play and would do vocals for certain songs in the set. Each person was responsible for certain sounds in each song.

    5. What is your approach to lyric writing? Dale- Dreams, ideas from imagination and influences ranging from literature, information, personal interests and the news.

    Mallory- There isn’t just one approach that I follow, I don’t think any of us do in the traditional sense. Oh, it could start with anything really, maybe just a momentary thought, word or feeling. It all depends on what you do with it.

    Inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes I make a list of song titles and then elaborate on them one at a time. Sometimes the titles may seem a bit absurd at first because nothing had been edited , but in the act of writing the lyrics I realize that there is something else behind it all.

    6. Please tell us about your first 7” release.  We love the variety of sounds. Were these your very first recordings?

    Dale- Yes these were our first recordings in the studio.

    Mallory- Going into the studio for the first time was like a happy graduation, but we had been working together before we went in.

    Michael- Recording the first record was pretty exiting. That was our first experience with working with John Wicks (who will still work with today).

    7. “Signals From Pier 13” is a wonderful record and still sounds fresh today. What is the story behind this release?

    Dale- Pier 13 was a place near where we rehearsed and where I lived at the time. It was also pictured in photos on the record cover. This location was actually an abandoned coal-loading machine along the Delaware River that seems like it was active during the earlier half of the 20th Century. ?

    Mallory- Pier 13 was torn down a few years ago. Driving around to out-of-the-way places was one of our favorite things to do – kind of like let’s get lost and see what’s there. Pier 13 was a big influence. It was an abandoned pier, huge silent machinery, shapes, shadows, ghosts and debris. We went there often. Daybreak was the best time.

    Michael- The material for the Signals record were songs we had been playing live and rehearsing a lot before we went into the studio, with the exception of “Flying Turns”, which was written right before we went into the. I still have some of the objects that we found at Pier 13. We took a lot of photos there.

    8. “Did you continue to write any music following the release of “Signals”?

    Dale- We wrote huge amounts of music and our first two records are a very small portion of our ongoing body of work.?

    Mallory- Yes , yes, all the time.

    Michael- There are many phases of “Crash Course in Science”. We experimented with different types of instrumentation and wrote a lot of material over the years. We all also wrote and recorded music individually and collaborated with other people from time to time.

    9. “Are there any other un-released tracks from that time period? 

    Dale- Yes, we have an albums worth of material from that time period that was recorded in the studio, currently unreleased.?

    Mallory- There is a long list of stuff.

    Michael- In addition to our unreleased studio recordings we have tapes of most of our rehearsals and live shows. Most of the rehearsal tapes contain some spontaneous material that I would love to see released at some point. We still talk about some of those tapes.

    10. Were you aiming to write any pop hits, and did you enjoy any radio airplay?

    Dale- We experimented with a couple cover tunes just as part of our explorations and had a lot of airplay on new wave oriented radio shows.

    Mallory- Having a “pop hit” would have certainly been the icing on the cake although we really didn’t follow any trends that were popular at the time. We were lucky enough to have some airplay since the beginning, mostly on college and alternative stations and on TV, especially “The Uncle Floyd Show” that showcased new groups.

    Michael- We weren’t really aiming to have a pop hit but if one of our songs was to become one I think we would have embraced it and probably cracked up about it too.

    11. What images do you think your music conveys? Did you play this up during live shows?

    Dale- If you look at the imagery on our records and flyers and listen to the sounds you should be able to interpret your own answer to this question.

    Mallory- Hard to say, maybe a heightened sense of awareness- I like to dance to it.

    Michael- With music as well as visual art I like to leave enough room so things can be interpreted in different ways.

    12. Did you ever play with Experimental Products or Bunnydrums?

    Dale- We were friends with all those guys but never actually toured at the same time. We would go to each others gigs and used to jam with members of the other bands from time to time.

    13. Tell us about bands you may have played with from the era.

    Dale- We opened for Phillip Glass and were scheduled to play with Joy Division and Sparks but circumstances changed things.

    Mallory- The homemade instruments were sometimes unpredictable in a live setting. When we opened for Phillip Glass one of our instruments was picking up the FM radio station nearby and in between songs you could here Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and “Roundabout” by Yes. As we would start to play a song, the radio would be drowned out by our instruments. It was perceived as a planned part. of the show! We grew to embrace the happy accident.

    14. The Phily punk/new wave scene seemed like it was very alive between 78-82, please tell us some stories! And Mike, when and why did you move to NY?

    Michael- The Philly club scene was great back in those days, all the punk and new wave bands used to play at “The Hot Club”. There were many crazy nights there. I moved to New York in 1979 to work on animated films. I would go to Philadelphia often after Crash Course formed to rehearse.

    15. What equipment did you use for your live shows?

    Dale- For our live performance we used our home made synthesizers which were the basis for the things we recorded in the studio. So, although we have always used mostly electronic instruments and drum machines, we never entirely relied on sequencing as the basis for how the live music was played. Most of the songs use a percussive rhythm with keyboards and sounds played live along with the rhythm. We always felt a strong connection to Throbbing Gristle although we would consider ourselves as working in our own parallel universe rather than being influenced by them. 

    Mallory- Our equipment was a bit different from the norm. Although it kept changing from time to time, it had a basis. We constructed our own synthesizers putting them into readymade boxes with just dials and switches on them, we then treated them in different ways to achieve our sounds.

    Michael- Our equipment consisted of mostly homemade instruments that Dale masterminded. These instruments have a logic all their own.

    16. As a band, did you place emphasis more on the performance aspect of the live show, or was it simply about the crazy synth sounds?

    Michael- The performance aspect of the show is equally important to us as the music.

    17. Do you remember where and when you bought your first synths?

    Dale- We bought our first stuff at the toy store and supplemented with electronic components from Radio Shack. Later we would buy stuff at the music stores. I bought the TR808 & TB303 when they first came out in the early eighties… before that we used cheap, lesser know drum machines and I learned a lot by tearing these items apart and modifying them…

    Michael- First it was toy stores, but I did eventually buy a Moog on 48th Street in NYC.

    18. Do any of the songs give you a particular satisfaction?

    Dale- We are really happy about the kind of grooves that express our sensibilities such as “Cardboard Lamb” and “Flying Turns”, but even more so in later tracks that have yet to be released.

    Michael- The songs from “Signals” that Dale mentioned as well as “Crashing Song”. I am glad that we recorded an instrumental from that time period. We always included at least one instrumental in our sets, and I’m glad that we recorded that one in the studio.

    19. Can we expect any reissues of your back catalogue? 

    Michael- We are working on a few things currently. We have begun mixing some of our previously unreleased tracks from 80’s with John Wicks. We hope to have some things out soon.

    20. Crash Course in Science’s music was ahead of its time and seems ripe for rediscovery. Do you feel an affinity with today’s generation of listeners?

    Dale- We find the audiences that shown appreciation these days to be more appreciative than the audiences back in the eighties…people seem to “get” us more and more these days…. Mallory- It’s easy to find an affinity with any generation of listeners. The most common denomination of being able to relate to a thing on different levels with anyone who expresses an interest, like a good conversation.

    21. We understand you are working on some current projects.  What are your plans or ambitions for the next couple years? What about KMZ, what was this project all about and what came of it?

    Michael- We are working towards finishing our previously unreleased album and getting it released. We are hoping to have a couple of singles out first. As far as KMZ goes., I met Ken Montgomery when Crash Course was playing at an electronic music festival in Philadelphia called FOPPEM. Since we both lived in New York and had common interests we became friends and started to collaborate on music. We played shows at the Pyramid Club in NY , in Philadelphia and in Germany. We would do theatrical things with props and costumes and our performances and the sets usually had a theme like “Men in Training or “Baseball Night”. Ken and I still collaborate on music occasionally.

    22. We noticed a live listing from last year. Have you played any recent shows? We would love to see you live!

    Michael- We’ve had a couple offers to play recently. Once we finish what were working on in the studio we want to put a live set together. We did not play live last year however.

    23. Do tell us what your typical day consists of! And your favorite films if you have any? Do you guys watch tv, if so what and if no, why not?

    Dale- I watch lots of TV but its really more a guilty pleasure than anything else…

    Mallory- After working up and deciphering the tone of the day I write or read, ride my bike and go for a walk. Then I go back and do artwork for some clients I have then I’ll go out with friends or watch movies on TV. I like the early silent films (not the corny ones) but the more introspective examples like Chaplin. I feel very close to the German expressionist era, as well as the surrealist films of Dali, Cocteau, Maya Deran. Those ultra-glamorous, dreamlike extravaganzas of the thirties. Hitchcock is a genius, John Waters too. I just saw Paul Morrisey’s “Blood for Dracula” I nearly died laughing.

    Michael- I work as a designer at an animation studio during the day and go to the gym and work on my personal artwork and music at night. I also have an appreciation of the German Expressionist and Surrealist films that Mallory mentioned and as far as TV goes, I like “South Park”.

    24. How you think technology has affected music creation these days and do you welcome the changes? What do you listen to these days?

    Dale- I listen to a lot of the things within the current genres, but also have continual exposure to new music because I live in a community of very diverse and creative musicians… everything ranging from house (friends like King Britt and Justin Paul) and live World Music from friends like Big Tree and Leana Song.. I also share a house with MG from Experimental Products. (Note- Dale moved out Fall 2005)

    Mallory- Technology, in my opinion, becomes either your master, your slave, or a tool to help you with your endeavors. It would be very hard not to acknowledge it these days. Since I do listen to many different categories of music, I think it may be best to tell you what I don’t like, let’s see… Oh, marching bands , barbershop quartets.

    Michael- There are many ways of working musically now, the more the better. No matter what the technology , an artist or musician is bringing their own vision to the table. I listen to many different kinds of music through the course of a normal day, from techno to Florence Foster Jenkins.

    *Bonus Question for Michael—is your backround czech / polish? Just curious because of your last name.

    Michael- My last name is Ukrainian. However my grandfather was born in Poland.

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