Recently we reviewed the full length album, Isolated And Alone by Schkeuditzer Kreuz, which is a journey in some ways, into the mind of the man behind SK, Kieren Hills. How did this power house record come into being and what makes Hills tick? Read on and find out……..
Welcome to the weird side Kieren Hills. You started off in the punk scene. What drew you to this music?
I first got into punk some point in the 80s when I was a teenager, starting with some of the more standard, commercial bands like the Clash/Sex Pistols etc and then delving deeper form there. All the time I was looking for music that sounded “more” – angrier, louder, more real, more intense. I didn’t want to hear anything nice but at the same time didn’t know what I wanted. I lived in town in New Zealand where the access to such things were kind of limited. I am not exactly sure what the first “industrial” song I heard was but it may well have been AFFCO by The Skeptics. A song that is musically intense but also had a pretty full-on video that was played about once on TV and then was banned. It resonated with me quite strongly and I loved the driving rhythm of it and the noise and the heart behind it. From there I started looking out for more industrial stuff as well as punk stuff. I didn’t see the two as separate really. They were different ways of expressing anger through sonic violence and aural assault and they both worked for me. Punk had always been (to me) more about energy than talent – not that you can’t have talent but if your music was more about showcasing your abilities than getting out your frustrations then it seemed to miss the point for me. And that feeling seemed to flow in the industrial stuff I was hearing – it was a raw release of energy, not the showing off of chops. So, most of the early industrial bands I saw – Cell, Invisible Dead, Children’s Television Workshop etc were slightly older (than me) punks who had just gone in a slightly different direction – away from guitars and more towards performance and making their own stuff.
Congratulations on not only the new SK album but also the new Dark Horse album as well. You always seem to be involved in a project, so how many are you currently a part of and will the gothic/post punk Death Church also be recording again?
Thanks! Right now I am mainly doing SK and Dark Horse. Darkhorse has been around for somewhere over a decade and I have been in it for 7 years or so. In normal times we play a lot, tour a lot, and release a record every couple of years. These times are not normal, so we are a bit stuck. Normally we would be overseas this year. SK is a full-time thing. I work on it almost every day. I will run through my songs at least once a day and when I am developing a set for tour that gets upped to twice a day. I also make the music videos, compose the art, write the songs, do all the booking and communication and all the other stuff that a band needs to do, and it takes a lot of time. I am not complaining here – it is just true that if you do a solo thing that wants to release and play a lot, it takes a heap of work. I have recently started jamming with a couple of friends with an intention towards Japanese metal/punk kind of stuff. It remains to be seen how much time I can put into that though. Once Dark Horse really kicks off again and SK is in full flight it might not leave a lot of down time.
As for Death Church – it is definitely dead. We never wanted to do anything with different members, or any kind of lineup change so with a guitarist in NZ, a singer in melbourne and a drummer doing her own thing, it is definitely over. It was a fun ride though.
Is Industrial music something you have always been interested in or has it been a music that you have found yourself being draw to?
As mentioned before – I saw industrial as an extension of punk. Most of the people I met who were doing it when I was young were punks who were a generation or two older than me who had gone that direction via the likes of Butthole Surfers, Big Black etc and the Neubauten, Laibach etc side of stuff kind of came to them and me later even if they were working on similar ideas. Obviously, there was no internet then to find music on and those European experimental records just didn’t turn up in NZ very often. But I always loved what I heard when people were getting percussive and experimental with their sound. My first attempt at actually starting an industrial band was with Glenn Maltby and a couple other friends in the 90s. It was never going to work though. Already the ideas of what industrial was had diverged sufficiently that we didn’t have as much common ground – from Insurge to ministry to NIN, Consolidated or whatever, industrial was entering into popular music and was getting more refined and more defined. And that has continued to where industrial can mean anything from a person beating a piece of sheet metal to club music with slightly harsher/more attacking drum tones than what you might hear at a mainstream nightclub.
Something I was pondering the other day – Punk is a noun. And it gets a bunch of adjectives attached to it: crust, hardcore, pop etc.
Industrial is really an adjective which gets attached to various nouns – dance, metal, hip hop, goth etc
This may seem like a pretty wanky thing to spend time pondering but the reality of it shows in the way that people react. People who like punk will often check out anything that comes under that heading. People who like one kind of industrial often have no time at all for other types of industrial. So, whereas punk community pages (for example) often have hundreds of comments and reactions to every post. Industrial pages usually have nothing at all. Because it is not a community, but just a description of different factions of other communities.
You lived in Germany for a time and that is where you got the name Schkeuditzer Kreuz. Can you tell us what is the Schkeuditzer Kreuz and why you decided on this as a project name?
If you are driving from Berlin, south, on Autobahn 9 and want to turn onto the 14 to go Leipzig, the intersection where you would do this is Schkeuditzer Kreuz – literally the kreuz (cross) near the town of Schkeuditz. I was making that trip once (in the opposite direction) and I drunkenly said to my friend who I was in the back of the car with that I would call a band that one day. So I did. It is also the oldest autobahn cross in Europe but that is pretty irrelevant. Before I called it that, I did make sure there wasn’t any particularly fucked history attached to it. I did not want to call my rather silly band after a place which had war atrocities associated with it or anything like that. But no. It doesn’t. It is just an intersection. Every now and then I will run into some random German who is somewhat perplexed as to why I would name my band after an intersection, and I never have a satisfactory answer for them. They usually buy a record from me anyway.
There was a lot of Laibach influence on the first EP with the more pronounced pomp but Isolated And Alone feels a little more raw. Does it feel that way for you and was part of the frustration being in lockdown for periods of time due to covid?
In between the Give Me Nothing EP and the LP I did the D-Beat Raw Synth Punk EP and I think some of the attitude I took into that one came across into the LP. There is more noise, more anger, more distortion and more layers of synth and samples. The Give Me Nothing EP is relatively sparse in comparison, I think. Even the songs that I used on both have changed in that way. I have no idea if my next recording will continue that way or not. I have two new songs in my set now that are not on any records and not only do they not really fit in with either sound, they are not even that similar to each other. I think when I find a bit more time to sit and write I will find a direction to head in next. Give Me Nothing was interesting for me – I was learning the machines I was using and working out how I wanted to express myself with them. I still have a lot to learn but I think I have developed a bit of a workflow. Each song on the GMN EP was written in a completely different way from the others as I tried new things. I hope not to get too settled though. There are a million things I don’t know about making noise and I want to try all of them.
Did you find writing and recording the album easy or was it a labour of love?
Musically, it is not so much easy as natural. I have always written songs in my head along to the sounds I hear around me – that could be the sound of musical instruments but could also be the pumping of the coffee machine, the sound of a train I am sitting on, the slight misalignment in the wheels of my car, the cracking of the machines in a factory I used to work at or the beep beep beep of a laser level. I would write riffs in my head to them. But now I also created the beats based on them. Some songs start with something that is actually musical – a synth line or whatever, but more often than not it is with a percussive pattern which I will put noise or voice samples to, to give it direction. Sometimes this is something traditionally musical – for example on Traitor I had a melody I had recorded on my phone of the painfully loud music played from the Tannoy in the street outside of a funeral in Siem Reap in Cambodia. It is piercing and confronting and played so that everyone in the neighborhood knows the funeral is happening. I had recorded this years ago and then looped it and based the whole speed and layout of the song on that loop. Other times it might be downloaded field recordings that other people have made – from factories, in the street, in conversation…. recently I found some recordings from the deck of a North Sea oil rig and wrote a song around them. From there I will follow up with synth lines – bass, melody (sort of melody anyway), drone etc. For each synth part I will create the sound from scratch. I use an analog synth, so I start with that single wave sound and develop it until I have what I want using both the inbuilt stuff on the synth and the array of distortion pedals I use. In the end – the hard bit is the vocals. I don’t think of myself as a singer. I struggle with my lyrical output. But I have worked out a way to at least write words I can live with and then I vocalise them. I think this is probably the weakest part of my sound but I am coming to terms with it.
The most punk thing in the world is to be found to be subversive by a Communist country, however it must have been galling to have your original pressing of Isolated and Alone confiscated by the Chinese government.
Fuck but this was so weird. I had the records pressed through a broker in Melbourne who uses a pressing plant in China. So we went through the process – sent them my master and they cut it to their stamper plates and sent me the test presses. I was happy enough with them and asked them to continue (all standard up to this point) and then a couple weeks later I got a phone call – the factory had pressed my records and boxed them up to send but before they were sent, they were inspected by some official or another who decided that due to content they were not suitable for export. So they destroyed the lot. Everything. I have heard words like “subversive content” and similar but who really knows? They didn’t like it so I couldn’t have it. So we started again from scratch. New plates, new tests, new records. In the end I am just happy to have them in my hands.
Punk and industrial seem to have, for the most part become the social conscience of the music scene. How do you think this came about and does it resonate with you?
The politics of punk is what got me in there and kept me there. And industrial for me has the same feel. I don’t mean big P politics necessarily – just some kind of social conscience and attitude. Angry music without a conscience is just a temper tantrum and doesn’t hold my attention for long. This is not to say that every song must be a specific political doctrine. There are definitely SK songs that are quite personal but they are still aware of how the personal crosses over to the political.
The proceeds of the album sales are going to a charity that helps and support young Trans people. Tell us about this and what other causes you find yourself drawn to.
Yeah, all digital proceeds go to Transcend. Transcend is run by a wonderful woman named Beck in Melbourne who has been helping young trans people for many years now. I have met her personally a few times at various events but known of her for longer. She and her family are a large part of the reason for some of the trans positive law reform of the last few years. Trans people, and particularly trans youth, are often left out of any conversation on the rights of the population so I figured I would do my small amount to help. I have been involved in various causes over the years both through my music and through my actions – refugee assistance, trans support, anti-racism work, pro-choice advocacy. Mostly stuff where my big mouth and (where necessary) big body can help back up people whose voice is being ignored.
What music formed your formative years and by progression, who do you find now inspires you?
First band I really got into was The Clash. And I still love them now. Although some of my feeling for them has changed – when I first heard them, they seemed quite shouty and punk or whatever. What I really appreciate about them though, and how their influence has stuck with me over the years was their willingness to try different things and go in different musical directions and to create new sounds. From there I went through the normal run of punk bands that one does – Sex Pistols, Exploited, Siouxsie, SLF etc until one day in about 1987 when I was in hospital for an extended visit and one night nurse turned up with a tape he had made for me from a punk radio show – this opened my eyes to so much amazing music – Subhumans, Conflict, and Crass for a start but also bands like Puke from Sweden and then further down into European hardcore. I guess that was a pretty life changing moment for a 15 year old. Now days I feel I am getting inspired by something new every day. All the time I am coming across so much amazing music being made by people from around the world. From grindcore like Self Deconstruction (Japan) to evil doomy sludgy stuff like Religious Observance or Whitehorse (Melbourne) to dark curst bands like Ego (Germany) or black metal like Black Kirin and Zuriaake from China to weirdness out of the States like Hustler or whatever. Pretty much not a day goes past where someone doesn’t go “hey Kieren – check this!” and there is always something incredible attached. There is so much amazing music being created right now and most of it is available directly from the bands on their Bandcamp.
You have tour dates established for the East Coast of Australia, so what will be the plans for SK after the tour? Will there be another album and/or were there rumblings about touring overseas at some point?
So, yeah, after the tour… I am not sure. I really want to go and play in Europe. I have toured there with various hardcore bands I have been in, but I would very much like to take SK over there. Of course, that depends on what happens with the virus though. If it starts to settle, I will start looking at booking shows there. I am trying not to put too much mental energy into that yet though. Likewise, I was going to go to NZ but that is out for now. I want to add more to my Australian travels. I haven’t been to Tasmania or W.A with SK yet so will get that happening. My next recording I am not sure what I will do with that. Maybe a split with someone inappropriate. Maybe an ill advised single. I don’t really know. But I will keep going and keep creating stuff until it becomes too much like work and then I will stop. Can’t see that happening in a hurry though.
Thank you so very much for your time and looking forward to the latest tour!
Thanks for the interview. See you soon!