Breathing Lessons

From Pineal Ventana


The most interesting reaction we get is when people don't say anything, but just quietly wait for us to go away. I think a lot of people in this town think we're doing this for attention and they've just been waiting for us to go away ever since," says Mitchell Foy, percussionist/vocalist and obvious ringleader of Atlanta's most indefinable band, Pineal Ventana.

Since PV's inception four years ago, the six-member experimental outfit has carved a niche for themselves as one of Atlanta's most notorious bands, simultaneously repelling and attracting audiences through studio releases and live presentations. In keeping with the band's self-proclaimed motto, "Stagnancy Is Revolting," PV has made a tradition out of exploring a heady array of musical territory -- music that has always exposed the listener, willing or not, to a darker side of the human psyche.

Disinclined to confine themselves to just the musical, PV's drive to create has always forced its way into both their theatrical -- at times caustic -- performances and strangely packaged releases, giving the audience a visual counterpart to their mind-altering sounds. As a result, the band has been met with mixed reaction at home and on tour. Last month they did the only sensible thing a band in this position could do -- they recorded another record. The eerily titled Breathe As You Might was released last month on the Ichiban subsidiary, Altered Records.

"Longevity has always been a big aspect of the whole thing," says Foy, whose dedication to his band and music seems to reflect the feelings of his five fellow members: vocalist Clara Clamp, guitarists Kim Chee and Jason LaFarge, saxophonist Shane Pringle and bassist John Whitaker, all of whom speak enthusiastically of their continued efforts. "The bands I admire the most are the ones that keep rolling and continue to challenge themselves. A lot of bands give up after the first big hurdle, but we can't do that."

One big hurdle Foy could be referring to is the band's infamous live performance at Dottie's more than three years ago, during which a half-naked Foy and Clamp gave a more intimate demonstration of their appreciation of their own bodily functions (and fluids) than some in the audience were ready to witness. From the band's point of view, the incident was blown out of proportion and people subsequently became more interested in PV's stage antics than in the music itself. But Clamp explains why, in the long run, the hype has worked for and not against them.

"The thing about it is that we did it once and it got a lot of attention. But to me, it just shows the state of people's naive sexuality. That's a sad life if something like that shocks you that much. We've gone out of town and I've heard people say, 'That's the girl that takes her clothes off,' which is just pure stupidity. But those aren't the kind of people that would want to hear us anyway. If they can't get past that, then they definitely won't appreciate our music."

Nonetheless, the band agrees on the importance of that performance element in their live shows. What they don't agree on, when asked, are any of the possible explanations for it: Is it shock value? An artistic statement? Are they acting out some sort of creative or emotional frustration?

None of the above, according to Foy. "As far as what we're doing on stage, we're having fun and we're trying to be creative. We don't have these Kurt Cobain problems, where we're trying to expose ourselves or our [emotional] lives to the world. Nor are we trying to shock people, even though that can sometimes be fun. We never sacrifice anything musically to do something visual. The music will always come first."

This may be the last time Foy has to bother with explanations. Breathe As You Might (a play on the Legendary Pink Dots' "Sing as You May" label) is without a doubt PV's most focused and confident work to date. Labeled everything from goth rock to noise, PV converge their collective influences -- punk, experimental, free form, industrial and, most notably, tribal -- on Breathe to create a truly musical and song-oriented album. Its prominent percussion and bass drive each song toward a climax without drowning out the multilayered effect of the other instruments, and Clamp's vocals, alternating from controlled to unhinged, emotive wails, have reached their prime. But it is the saxophone that is one of the most welcome highlights of Breathe, and that, integrated with both guitars, makes for a strong combination that easily moves from dark, gloomy melodies straight into chaotic improv.

Contributing to PV's satisfaction with their new record is the addition of new bassist Whitaker and guitarist/percussionist/violinist LaFarge -- both of whom, according to Foy, have brought the band out of its infancy into a more solid, intense unit.

"We were initially thinking along the lines of having different people and different instruments come in and out of the fold," he explains. "If we had found someone who played oboe, they could have done that with us for a while. Then Clara mentioned sax, which is how Shane began playing in the band."

"It was just supposed to be a temporary thing at first," Pringle says. "Just one or two songs. Then I just kind of stuck with them."

But Breathe does include the talents of another well-known musician, saxophonist Rob Mallard, formerly of the Gold Sparkle Band, and now of William Carlos Williams. Not only does Mallard guest on one track, he also lends a hand producing -- though that's not what led Clamp to bring him on board.

"The fact that he knows how to play all different instruments and had what I felt was a different ear was the main factor," Clamp explains. "He wasn't just hearing it as some slick producer who wanted a slick recording, and that kept it really creative."

Mallard will be popping up again on yet another Pineal Ventana project, a 20-song/20-band compilation due out on the band's SCUSS record label this fall. Along with William Carlos Williams, the CD will feature other Georgian bands such as Tweezer, Bob, Charlie Parker, Melted Men and Glenn Lizzy, as well as national acts such as New York's God Is My Co-Pilot and Michigan's Morsel. The CD, titled Our Heat, Your Oyster, is expected to be released before the end of the year.

"It was Clara's idea initially," says Foy. "We liked the idea of having a bunch of bands that we liked on one CD. We felt these bands deserved to get heard, and decided this was the thing to do rather than sit around griping about it."

With all this in store, as well as a 13-date tour in the works, it's no surprise that Foy refers to Pineal Ventana as a "hard-working band."

"I think we're going to have to get there and develop our own audience, but more importantly, we need to make music that's interesting and challenging to us. I think everybody's pretty clear that this may never be the kind of thing that's going to be widely embraced unless there's a huge shift in the consumer's musical consciousness. But it has to work for us."

LaFarge is optimistic on both counts. "I liked Clara's analogy recently when she says we aspire to be the El Nino [a Pacific weather phenomenon that affects ocean temperatures and nutrient levels and, consequently, changes precipitation and climate conditions] of music. We want to adversely affect the climate of mainstream music and change the tide. We'll always aspire to be more than what we hear."

Looking Into The Mind of Pineal Ventana

Interview by mikel k

Pineal Ventana formed several years ago out of the ashes of King Kill 33.

They are a wild bunch. Therefore, either you love them and pull closer to them in concert like The Sirens in Oedipus, or you run madly, screaming, holding your ears. Pineal Ventana has a new 12" picture disc out. I nabbed the band as they attempted to leave The Georgia Music Show.
K:First of all, what is a Pineal Ventana and why did you name your band after it?
Mitch (percussionist): The pineal gland is located right about in the center of your head. It's inbetween your eyes and a little bit above the brow section of your head. It's often considered the third eye or seat of the soul. Many people believe that you can develop the pineal gland and through developing it gain sort of a second sight. Ventana is Spanish for window. Why did we name it that? We always had an interest, definitley driving towards some sort of spiritual cohesion with the band, but that is not to say that we reject absurd and dark humor as well. So, while having an interest in spiritualism, that doesn't simultaneously mean that we're mamby-pamby and new-agey.
K: Do you pass the collection basket at your shows?
M: No, but we should, as broke as we are!
K:What type of music does Pineal Ventana create?
M: Elements of punk, tribal,gothic,experimental and industrial in some form or other, but not really being any one of those things.
K:Lyrically, where are you coming from? Do you preach love,hate,revolution, dicipline,evolution?
Clara(lead singer,screamer,wailer): I don't preach love at all.Sex.Violence.(Laughs) Anything that is non-poitical. I hate politics. I hate girls who sing about political things. I hate feminist things. So it's just whatever I feel like. It's very anti-
K:You played the South by Southwest. Are you looking for a record deal?
M:We wouldn't mind having someone who would give us money to record and so forth, so if that means a record deal, well if the right one comes down the pipe then certainly. That's definitely not what we're into it for.
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow isn't a Porsche and so forth. Whatever it takes to keep the band going and keep the creativity.
K:So this 12" is put out by the band Pineal Ventana?
M:In a manner of speaking. We have a dear friend who has helped finance it. The label is Scuss, which is our own label.
K:Please give us a complete Pineal Ventana discography. M:First, seven inch,"Stagnancy Is Revolting," which we put out ourselves. Second seven inch,"Philosopher's Stone," on Half-Baked Records. We have one song on a four song 7" with other local bands and another four song with Susie Beat and two bands from Athens and that will be on Scuss, as well. There's also a song on The Bright Lights cassette.
K:What is the most memorable thing that has ever happened at a Pineal Ventana gig?
M:Some of the show in which we staged dramatic things on stage have been the most memorable, such as the South by Southwest in which we sort of reprised what we had done at Dottie's a long time ago and subsuequently became a little notorius for. I got a red wagon and filled it with flammable materials and lit it on fire and was I painted from head to toe and was besides that very nude. And I peed on Clara and poured flour over her.
Clara:And I crawled across the floor on all fours dragging the fire. That was fun.
K:What's the least memorable or worst?
C:Night Moves in Johnson City, Tennessee. It was really funny, but it was a very terrible place.
C:A lot of poofy-haired people!

Creative Loafing FEATURE URL=

Girl pees onstage!


If any band on the Atlanta music scene hides unbridled complexes totally uncharted by Freudian psychology, it has to be the uncanny, suffocating sound of Pineal Ventana. Theatrically erotic by reputation, the band achieved initial notoriety for their graphic flyer art, which was witty appropriations of bodily functions left dangling on public bulletin boards and in restaurant foyers much to the dismay of pig-stuffed patrons. More of an attack on iconic glamour in mass advertising than a shock tactic, it was these suggestive corporeal images that created by word of mouth the image of Pineal Ventana as menacing and disruptive.

Most who witnessed their earliest shows wrote the band off as noisy and disorganized. Originally started as a collaborative tape project between King-Kill/33 {DEGREES SYMBOL} vocalist Mitchell Foy and the artist-to-be-known-as Clara Clamp, Foy admits that the actual band named Pineal Ventana didn't take shape until the two guitarists, Kim Chee -- who still plays in the band --and Doug Herring joined.

"I realized we had a band on the day that, while walking home from the market, I rounded a bend in the road of this residential neighborhood and over a neighbor's lawnmower I could hear Clara screaming at the top of her lungs, 'you left a fuckin' stain ...,' the lyrics from a song we'd been practicing called, 'Sour Sheets.' I knew it was time to get a practice space."

Mitch liked the sound and had been toying with calling the band "pineal something" (correctly pronounced like the "pin" in safety pin, followed by a long "e" and the name Al). This obscure term refers to a dormant gland -- believed to be a third eye -- with no scientific use in humans. From Buddhists to paranormal new-agers, the pineal gland is thought to be the gateway to another consciousness. Clamp suggested combining it with the Spanish word for window -- ventana -- in keeping with the voyeuristic quality of a third eye.

Designed and assembled with gestural abstractions, the band's first self-made 7-inch was called Stagnancy Is Revolting, "a catch phrase from our press kit that, rather than using one of the song titles for a name, adds a peculiar speciality to the project," claims Foy. By the time of its release in December 1993, Doug Herring had left to be replaced by Brian Cook on bass, and Travis Kotler on guitar and insta-piano. With titles like "Umbilical" and "Operator," coupled with the story of "a girl with a split mouth" printed inside the sleeve, the consumer's libido was primed even further toward the surgically grotesque.

While most area bands seek stage presence to distinguish themselves from other area bands competing for limited area bookings, Pineal Ventana aimed for repugnance and rumors of the reprehensible. Adding 8-millimeter short films as their backdrop (provided and morbidly coiled by Jim Moran, who says he does "the stuff on overhead that you always wanted to get away with when you were working audio/visual in school"), the band's set started to resemble a fetishist crime scene complete with potty chair films.

"Before I was in this band," admits sax/percussionist Shane Pringle (ex-GoDevils), "I thought it was one of the more reprehensible things I'd ever seen." This preoccupation with bodily fluids and waste has both its fanatics and detractors within the band. "Feces has a distinguished place in human biology," says Foy. "Once it is expunged it becomes something to be left behind where it replenishes the land. One of Clara's and my favorite records is Scatology by Coil, of which the theme is religion and decay -- an homage to shit. It's amazing music." Foy continued the theme by etching in the dead wax of the band's second 7-inch (Philosopher's Stone) the words "golden feces and the subconscious -- they're the same thing," a reference to Carl Jung's theory that gold and shit are polar opposites and the further back you go into the subconsciousness, the lines blur between the two and they become one and the same thing.

A blurring similar to memories of past live Pineal Ventana performances. Once a legend is created, it never diminishes but is embellished with both fact and fiction. Shit happens and the band gets the credit.

The band had played out of town and was traveling back to Atlanta in separate cars. Travis and Kim did not make it back in time to play that night at Dottie's, so Foy called up Herring and Keith Lee (ex- King-Kill and Snatch) and invited them to come down and help make a "whole lotta noise." Clara Clamp and Foy engaged in a performance art piece in which she'd crawl around on all fours, wallow in flour and he'd pee on her! The strange poster photo for Philosopher's Stone was taken at this show.

"The funny thing is that by the end of the year the show had become notorious, and when Kelly Stocks, who books the shows at Dottie's, listed it in Creative Loafing as one of her favorite shows of that year, we put it in our press kit and sent it out to the clubs we were scheduled to play on tour. We get to Wilmington and the club had run an ad with descriptions for each band that was playing that night, and for us all it said was: 'Pineal Ventana -- the girl pees onstage.' I mean, we have no shame and it puts us in a class with Inger Lorre, guaranteeing that the curious will come out to see you, but it is typical of people not to see beyond that sort of thing," says Foy.

While the cover graphics on Living Soil, the band's latest full-length release on Half Baked, continues the flirtation with common objects assuming fetishist dominance, the music on the CD favors a progression past mere noise potential into an almost nacreous pop deconstruction. It's as if the band set out to make three-and-a-half minute songs as a subtle reminder that they still can. There's still enough epic-length arrhythmic Dome-structured tracks to enhance any colon therapy session, but Living Soil stands as evidence that there's more to Pineal Ventana than either Philosopher's Stone or "Alimentary School" (on Quadruple Felony, a 7-inch compilation also on Half Baked) leads you to believe. This isn't just some unpolished, bang-on-a-pie-tin noise band as much as they are a local band willing to challenge the status quo and defy category, which in the case of most cities, would spell the kiss of death.

Foy credits Atlanta with being big enough to support a band like Pineal Ventana, living on the outskirts of what could be called an underground here, allowing the band to carve out a niche and put out records. "We have to set our sights beyond Atlanta, however, which, on the one hand is big enough to sustain bands like us and Bob and this new band, Eight -- who are just three guys with hardly any vocals doing these dark, brooding jam things based around bass and floor tom percussion. But on the other hand, we all have a rough time finding other bands to either complement or that complement us."

Guitarist Chee agrees, adding that "depending on when someone sees us, the band can be completely different. Most of the shows we've done at Dottie's have been improvisational and chaotic, 30 minutes of straight uninterrupted music without song structure, whereas on any other given night when we've playing from a song list, we sound like a different band."

It was that range that Foy hoped the band would bring to the new CD by enlisting a friend who had his own 16-channel board and four-track recorder to come over to their practice space and run microphones all over the place, recording the band for two days and ending up with six cassettes worth of material from which they culled the three non-studio cuts.

"It's so important for this band to be able to do both: to come up with well defined songs, to practice and improve on them and to go in the studio and record them live in one take, as all the studio cuts on Living Soil were recorded, and still maintain the spontaneity of these live practice space tracks. It's that spontaneity that allows us to work off each other without resorting to pure, full-out noise."

Listening to songs like "Uzi Does It" and "Descending Reminder," the jumble of meandering inertia that highlights a live Pineal Ventana set coalesces into fathomable structure that sounds closer to Siouxsie and the Banshees' The Scream than any febrile noise piece, leaving Living Soil as an uncompromising view of late millennial life.

Also recorded, but not included on the CD, were a number of songs purposely withheld for release at a later time, possibly on a 10-inch or cassette, and the band has plans to release a split 7-inch later this year with Beeg Nutra, an Athens band known for their alienated heavy, low-end, Slug-like sound.

It's a risky move for any band to push their audience to the point of examining extremes, it's almost anachronistic folly to assault the audience with unpleasant images, but nerviest of all is suggesting they look in the mirror. When asked what he hopes to accomplish, Foy quotes Tuxedo Moon, saying, "I want to build a new machine, I'm tired of watching everyone else's screen."

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