Black Mayonnaise Interview

To those who know, Mike Duncan is an underground monolith. Having created the lunar drug-sludge leviathan known as Black Mayonnaise all the way back in 1991, Mike has now spent the better part of the last two decades crafting music that is not just heavy in sound, but heavy in weight.

Taking the lifeless, cold feelings of early Godflesh and infusing it with a twisted, unholy psychedelic murk, Duncan ended up making boombox tapes that rivaled most any subterranean heavies going at the time. "At that point I was just a kid extremely into music having some fun, taking elements of bands that I really liked and making something of my own out of those influences", says Duncan, looking back on the genesis of it all. "Back in 1991 I never had any aspirations whatsoever with this… purely just creating for creation’s sake with no intended direction whatsoever. At that time I had absolutely no idea what direction any aspect of my life would go. It’s been quite interesting."

Actually, anyone who has heard a fair amount of the Black Mayonnaise would have to say that "interesting" is quite an understatement. But any musician can relate to writing interesting songs, only to have a lack of proper equipment short-circuit the true sound and spirit of the project. So did these early recordings satisfy the creator? "The answer to that would be yes for the most part. In the early days I didn’t possess any synthesizers, but in 1992 that was the one element I felt was lacking to complete the sound I was looking for, which I eventually took care of" Duncan explains. "Production is the main area that I’m always focused on improving, but at the same time I’m not interested in taking it to the point where it becomes sterile. I like the rough edges, some dirt and imperfections in the sound. When I listen to older metal albums there just seems to be this element that is so alive with the dirty over-driven guitar tones and less than crystal clear sound reproduction… it feels energetic and new. That’s one of the reasons I record at home as opposed to a studio, I can have total control over my sound. "

While control over the sound is one thing, the name Black Mayonnaise implies that controlled substances may be a critical element for truly hearing all that the music has to offer. "I definitely think there are people out there sufficiently sensitive enough to have some interesting experiences, especially while listening through headphones. There aren’t any specific intentions to induce any sort of altered state though, but one of my modes of creating is trying to access a more fluid and intuitive state (which isn’t always easy) so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a person accessing some altered state of consciousness through my sounds. Other times I seem to come up with the different elements of a song while immersed completely in mundane “beta-state” consciousness, then when the track is finished and the parts assembled the result turns out to be something completely unexpected." But having said all that, a little dabbling can never hurt, right? "Certainly, I’m looking to create something with a sense of something other than the normal every day world that we go about on autopilot as we go to our jobs, do errands, etc… Listening to music while under the influence of various substances seems to be a constant theme as far as intense formative experiences that bring back fond memories go, so I’m always taking those who use such enhancements into consideration when I create. I neither encourage or discourage the responsible use of substances to enhance our perceptions and experiences, but I always enjoy hearing of people’s experiences while listening to my music under those conditions."

But while creating heady jams for a small portion of the underground had made some ripples, the beast seemed to just disappear only a few years later. "There never was a “decision” to stop recording, it just basically lost priority", says Duncan, recalling the project's inactivity. "There were a couple of things that were supposed to come out but never made it that far. Late in 1993 I started working a full time job, then in I started going to tech school to learn electronics while working 40 hours a week at the same time. All of a sudden I was much more busy than I had previously been. Then in late summer 1994 my folks moved out of state and I decided to stay in Akron so I also started supporting myself that year. Understandably, with all of this new responsibility with a full work day and classes on top of that, as soon as the weekends hit I was ready to go out and party."

Of course, we all love the party, but like any artist, the will to create never goes away, right? "Recording was always in the back of my mind, but whenever there was a little spare time left over I just wasn’t in the mood. So there never was an end, but an unintentional hiatus. During that time I always made sure to answer letters that arrived in my mailbox, and then when everyone got on the internet I answered the emails and continued to sell tapes. Another thing that happened was getting burned out in the early 90’s when the whole scene was done through snail mail… I got tired of writing letters all of the time and spending all of that money on postage. I wanted to do other things instead of sitting around writing letters even though I felt bad about losing touch with a lot of people. But I made sure that on some level people would know that I had not disappeared, that I was still out there somewhere. I recorded a few new tracks in between 1995-2000 but that was it other than some appearances on various compilations. The one thing that finally kicked me out of that lull was when Craig from Emperor Jones asked me if I would record an album for his label. That happened sometime around 2001. It took me between two and three years after the initial offer to finally get that ball rolling, but I finally got myself in gear."

And get in gear was exactly what BM did, releasing the mammoth TTSSATTSR in 2004. I asked Duncan if the release and comeback had anything to do with the explosion of doom and drone that had happened since he had been gone. "After taking a few moments to think about this question, I realize that it didn’t have much of an effect at all as far as having a significant motivational factor inspiring me to record, even though I happen to like that style of music a lot."

No surprise answer there, as the sound Duncan creates has always sounded like a solitary device that could most effectively be made in a vacuum, or at the very least, inspired by other genres of music. "During the period around 2002-2004 I was listening to many different styles of music. Roxy Music and The Cramps were two bands at the very top of my list of favorites back then. I wonder if anyone is wiping coffee off of their computer monitor right now… ha ha. Lots of older metal albums too like Kill Em All, Morbid Tales, and the ever classic Repulsion album Horrified" exclaims Duncan, showing the true roots of many a metalhead who grew up in those influential times. "I didn’t really have many drone/doom albums in my collection around the very early 2000’s aside from bands who had already been around for a long time such as Saint Vitus and Black Sabbath. My getting into slower repetitive music came about from songs such as “Pulp” by Godflesh and “Time To Melt” by Lard. When I first got the “Power of Lard” ep I couldn’t believe that those guys had made this absolutely huge song clocking in at over 30 minutes with very few changes. I used to like to listen to “Time To Melt” in headphones before falling asleep."

Ahh yes, nodding off to repetitive music is a favorite pastime for many a music fan, but I wouldn't recommend trying it while listening to Black Mayo's masterwork, Unseen Collaborator, an intense statement that cohesively presents Duncan's project in all of its hideous glory.

"The work for this one really began around January 2008 after getting back from playing some shows in Texas. I had met James from Resipiscent in New York City in May 2007 and he asked me about doing an album. Just like the other works, this one came together in a way that was completely different than the picture I was trying to form in my mind, and I don’t even remember what that original vision was. I had spent a lot of time trying to create synth patches but I didn’t like anything that was really happening. The agreed upon deadline for recording completion was approaching so I finally gave up trying to use the synthesizers and found that I liked the results from just adding some pick slides/scratches. The Flaming Lips song was covered because it played a part in lifting me up whenever I started to feel super whacked out from spending so much time trying to put all of this together and get the sound dialed in, so I thought it fitting to pay it tribute. I had always wanted to do a version of the Flipper song, so I put that in as well but honestly I feel that I did a very weak job on that one. I don’t know, it just sounded kind of boring to me after listening to the completed album."

While I disagree with that last statement, I decide to move on to the title of the album itself. "I knew what that title was to be after opening Robert Anton Wilson’s Prometheus Rising to a random page, the page that had the quote I used in the liner notes. So from there it began to take a personal significance to me that you really can’t put together from listening to the album or reading the titles, aside from using the quote. It became about the idea of how your surroundings can influence your beliefs which influence your perception, which influences reality as you see it. Such as the attitudes of the people you associate with rubbing off on you. Taking this knowledge and using it to surround yourself with elements that would enable you to move forward/evolve."

Not one to revert back to the inactivity that once slowed him down, Duncan recently released another top-notch record, in the form of Dissipative Structure. Luckily for all of us, it looks as though there is much heaviness to come.

"It’s difficult to tell just how regularly future releases will be coming out because I try to keep to a strict personal policy of not label shopping… for all of the Black Mayonnaise releases the label was the one to approach me first. I kind of like it that way because I’m not too into the idea of being one demo among a sea of unsolicited submissions to be sifted through or just plain tossed in the garbage bin, I don’t want to be pestering or bothering people. When a label approaches me I can know that they have an actual interest in my work and believe in it enough to invest their own money to put something out. There is a chance that you will be seeing me on a more regular basis, I’m already working on a split cassette with Quttinirpaaq to be released on RCP Tapes (with the intention of having it reissued on vinyl later on), and there are a couple more past commitments I’ve made with d.i.y. labels where I intend to fulfill my promise."

In the end, Duncan speaks like a man who has been there, done that, and knows exactly what is to come. " I enjoy the sound I have going, the only areas of “advancement” I’m really interested in revolve around heaviness and weirdness. I enjoy my own music and am not ashamed to say that I listen to my own work often… in the end all I’m really doing is making the music I want to hear."


Anonymous said...

Been waiting ,great post!!!

Anonymous said...

Great to hear the thots of black mayonnaise, totally genuine dude. Gotta pick up his newest.