THE GAUNTLET • STEPHEN BIER [POGO]
I went down to Faultline Productions to do an interview with Desillusion as they were in the process of recording their next album. Standing there in the production room was Stephen Bier (most know him as Pogo of Marilyn Manson) as he listened to playback of Jessie Orr's amazing bass playing. He is now producing for bands such as Desillusion and writing some new material of his own.
As all of you diehard fans must already know the infamous lawsuit between him and Marilyn Manson is finally over. I had the honor and privelege of sitting down with Stephen and asking him a few questions about what has been going on with him lately.
Let's talk about some of the things you have going on. How long have you been producing?
"The last three years, plus we always did our own production somewhat on the Manson records. We would bring producers in, but the band was always there to act as co-producers even though we didn't give ourselves credit as that."
What or who are some of the projects that you have been working on recently?
"Mostly I have been working on my lawsuits unfortunately." [laughs]
In the last three years you've worked on...
"I've been doing stuff primarily with Brian [Faultline Productions] and we are getting together with several other individuals that we like. I don't know if I should bring up their names, but guys from Gang Of Four, trying to get them to work with us because we want to get back to that sound. There are all of these great musicians who are not doing anything right now, not that they are not doing anything, but they are not getting the recognition they should get."
Is producing something you want to continue to do in the future?
"Absolutely, it's one of those things that is actually kind of fun because it helps you in your musical endeavors to be able to step outside, work on somebody else's stuff and come up with creative ideas. Sometimes you don't want to do it with your own songs because they're too precious the way you wrote them. It's good to be able to step back from your own stuff and review it as a more objective producer, instead of as a songwriter."
So you don't have your own studio?
"I work primarily at Brian's studio, but I also have a little studio at my house and here at Toddy's studio Dead Zone."
If someone wanted to hire you as a producer, how would they get in touch with you?
"The best way to get in touch with me would be through Morgan Scott at Faultline Music Group LLC. That would be the best way because I am management free right now and I plan to be that way for a while."
Now that you are no longer with Marilyn Manson, are you starting another band or are you going to do a solo thing? What are your plans?
"Actually, we are working on a project. I can't reveal the name because I haven't got it fully copyrighted and the corporation is not done on it yet. It is going to be more about the music than the front person. That is part of the reason why we are looking at classic musicians that we would love to have come in and sing on stuff."
A collaborative type of thing?
"Absolutely, I want to make good music and there are tons of people out there that I love and would love to work with. Brian and Morgan have made some really good connections with some of my favorite English musicians. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to work with them and do some stuff that is not so North American-centric. We want to bring some Portuguese, German, Russian and different European singers in as well as English ones."
So you are writing new music then?
"I'm writing new music all the time. It's one of those things you do because it is enjoyable. How much of it gets used and how much of it gets boiled down into songs remains to be seen, but Brian and I have a large back catalog and we are going through it and trying to reinterpret it. We are trying to come up with the best stuff that we can and we are trying to get the right people to play the right parts. It's about getting back into music first and then worrying about the vocal stuff later."
When can we expect to hear it?
"I'm hoping very soon, the problem right now is my house is getting foreclosed. I'm on the boat with a whole bunch of other Americans on that one. That and tax season so it will probably be after that some point in time. We have a couple songs that are completely done except for vocals and drum over tracking. We want to bring in different people and try some different stuff to see what their input would be and how we can change it. That's the fun part of music, you want to have some experimentation, you don't want to be stuck in a pattern and you want to bring someone in from a different style. You want to bring in the death metal guy, a new wave person and a techno person. You all get in a room and the ideas fly around. You would be surprised what kind of fun comes out of it."
You are a keyboardist, but you can play several other instruments as well.
"I don't play any of them well. [laughs]
I'm laughing and it's like everyone's a drummer, but very few are good. I play keyboards because it's pushing buttons. I went to school to be an engineer. I wanted to be a drummer, but I have no foot work. I can press buttons on time though."
I did some snooping on you and you went to college for six years.
"Yeah I did, I was originally going to be an aerospace engineer and then the space shuttle blew up so no one could get a job. They fired all of the aerospace engineers from Rockwell. That was my goal in life because I grew up in Florida and so the space program is all around you. I saw the Apollo 17 launches, the space shuttle launches and I was just so psyched. I wanted to do that and then it blew up. There was no work so I switched to industrial engineering and got my degree in that. I worked at that and realized that I hate that shit. [laughs]
The only good thing that came out of it is I think I'm the only person in industrial music with a degree in industrial engineering. It gives me street credit with the industrial engineers."
I read that you got offered a job at NASA.
"No, I applied for a job at NASA, but it wasn't the job that I wanted. The band was still in South Florida and I was mostly working on the band. I didn't want to move and stop doing the band. Once the band started, that became the main focus of everything in my life. You have to be that way. That's the weird thing for me; Marilyn Manson was my first and only band so it's difficult for me to know any other way. I had a bet with my parents after I got out of college. They were like 'Why are you quitting your job? Why are you going to join a band that doesn't pay you, when you don't even know how to play? And samples are so expensive at $9.50 a piece?'
I told them I will make a bet with you 'If in five years we don't make it, I'll go back to what I was doing.'
Luckily, we got signed in three years and then within five years we released Sweet Dreams and all the other stuff, so we made it. I told my dad 'Aha!'"
Have you ever thought about leaving the music industry to pursue something else?
"The thing is that music is a joy; it's something that's fun to do. That's why it's called playing music, it's not called working music. I like the creativity and I thought that would be in engineering because to me that is where art and science come together. With music you have the chance to do that, you have the creative input plus there's the whole technical end of it, especially with industrial. You have the timing, the tunings and it's one of those things that is really just fun. You should do something that you enjoy for life.
For me, the engineering is a fall back thing, like an insurance policy, but now it's funny that they won't hire me even though I have good grades in engineering because I don't do Windows Vista. It's like 'I'm sorry, the last I ran Windows was 1998, and I've run Mac since then.'
Something like that is kind of silly because America is always bitching that there is not enough people trained in engineering, math and science. I'm totally trained in it and I can't get a job because I don't know one new program. It's like well in two weeks I guarantee I can learn this new version of Windows. They don't want to do that, plus they see that you are a musician and HR people go Google you. They see pictures of me getting nine kinds of fucked up back stage." [laughs]
That is absolutely true, they do Google you. That is probably why I don't have a job. [laughs]
"I went to this one job interview and it looked real serious and I was like 'Alright, I'm going to get this job doing engineering again and work my way up to draftsman or whatever.'
I came in there and the HR woman just wanted me to sign something for her kid because she had Googled me and she knew who I was. I signed it anyways, but I signed it 'Your Mom's an Asshole.'" [laughs]
That was not cool of her. Now, the fun part of your job is that you get to see the world. You have done some extensive touring in your career. What are some of your favourite places to play live?
"Japan has the best audiences. They are super kind and they are really good. Great audiences are all over the world, I don't want to be prejudice and make people mad. The Northern Italian audience is good, like in Milan, Torino and the English are always really good. The Scottish are very intense."
You never hear of bands playing in Scotland
"Scotland is the scariest place I've ever been in my life. They beat up people that have the wrong English/Scottish accent. You know when you watch Braveheart and they are throwing rocks at people's heads?"
"They are still that same way. It's a compliment. You wonder how this little island in Great Britain with England, Wales and Scotland can conquer the world. Go meet those people! They are piss and vinegar."
I read that you speak fluent German.
"No I don't, I had German in high school and I use it sometimes. I know some Jutish that Germans and Austrians use so I spoke German and Jutish. I haven't really used it very much. I learned some Japanese and right now I'm trying to learn Laotian. It's very difficult."
You are also interested in Numerology.
"Yeah, I did a lot of the numerology and cabalistic stuff on Antichrist Superstar. I have always had an interest in alchemy and all those esoteric things. I brought that into the band and I kind of had some fun with it. It's always kind of fun and it's not to be deprecating toward it because we were doing it in a serious way. We were trying to represent on Antichrist that there is an apocalypse, but it's not at one time. Everyone has there own apocalypse when they die so there is always an apocalypse going on for someone. An apocalypse is an internal thing to you, just like your birth and death. The world existed before you were born and it doesn't exist after you're gone, so technically it's the beginning and end of the world. I also liked the cool, crazy writing on the Ozzy album, so I have to admit it is fun to just use the Hebrew alphabet anyways."
How long had you been with Manson?
"I've been with Manson since 1989. I've been with one band. I was there before there was actually any band. He took me out to shows after I graduated from college in 1988. We went to see this band that he really liked. I would sit around and watch these shows and go 'These guys suck, we can do better than this.'
In Gainesville, Florida, being a college town, there are a lot of really good live bands. College towns always have a lot of great live bands, but they break up as soon as everybody graduates. The thing is, in South Florida there was this rock community that was so dated and piss-poor lame. They were living out bad hair rock fantasies from the 80's and shit still. Manson and I were like 'We can do better than this.'
We started out that way just trying to be a live band and put on good shows. We were always known as a live ensemble entertainer more than a musician. I always made the analogy that to call us musicians is like calling a stripper a ballerina. I'm not saying they are not both dancers and I'm not saying that they are not both fun to watch. I'm just saying one is more of an entertainer and one is much more of a professional dancer. So, being in Marilyn Manson, we are strippers. We are not ballerinas, it's not Rush."
When did you leave the band?
"Technically, it was in 2007."
Did you want to talk about why you left?
"You see, with the court thing, I'm not sure what we can talk about because there is still a debate whether I left or I was fired because technically I was a partner. He tried to say I was an employee and he tried to fire me. You can't do that with a partner, so that's what these three years of lawsuits that have been going on about."
Well there are stories out there and I think people have formed their own opinions.
"They have the right to do that. I'm not going to change because of this and I'm not going to disparage Manson. I wish him the best, but I think he got too far away from the music to be honest. He wanted to do more acting, painting and all that other stuff. I think he kind of forgot, like Lunchbox, I want to be a rock star. You can't serve two masters. Every musician wants to be an actor anyways and every actor wants to be a musician. It's the classic Hollywood double-take. Yeah, it's just one of those things. I can't get inside his brain, but I think he got a little too surrounded by yes-men and people who were trying to present him in a Hollywood way and trying to get him away from the music. In a weird way, because we came from Florida, we were outside this whole entertainment scene where everybody just like sucks your ass."
Yeah, especially if they want something.
"Don't they always?"
Well, now you have a new beginning.
"To me, it's a new beginning, and it's also a continuation because I'm still doing the music that I like to do. It's actually more freeing now because I'm not limited by anything. We just have fun in the studio and we can sit around and experiment. We don't have to worry about running up a huge record budget because you're at a fancy record plant or Conway. That's what's good about having a smaller studio is that you can have some fun with experimentation and try stuff out. Music should never be formulaic and the only way to keep it from that way is to bring serendipity as one of the main elements."
I wish you the best of luck.
"Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that."
I wanted to thank you very much for the interview.
"No problem, no worries, it was fun."