The artist, Dave McAnally, is better known for his Ministry/Rob Zombie inspired act, The Derision Cult but this Chicago based musician also has a far more synth based project called .SYS Machine. .SYS Machine is the darker, quieter sibling, with a far more reflective soul. December saw the release of Graceful Isolation, which features five tracks and eight remixes, all created in a collaborative manner. We spoke to Dave about these collaborations, inspirations and how life is changing.
Welcome down the hole of weirdness that is Onyx, Dave McAnally of .SYS Machine.
December 2021 saw the release of Graceful Isolation and this title came out of the fact none of your collaborators ever met up in the same room. How did you pull it all together?
With everyone having to work remotely- whether its music or in other work life- it’s probably easier now than its ever been to work remotely. For me, it was just a matter of making a list of people I’d like to work with and then with Kim and Gabe from Microwaved (who does a remix on here) we added to that list and I started reaching out! I’d say 80% of the people who I reached out to where into it and wanted to get involved. The other 20% was either just schedules were too tough to work or they were tied up with other things. So it was actually a pretty easy process to line up.
You brought some heavy talent on the album in the form of Kimberly Kornmeier of Bow Ever Down doing the vocals on three of the tracks as well as getting the likes of Assemblage 23, Spankthenun, The Joy Thieves, Miss Suicide et al to do some rather wicked remixes. How did you lure them all onto the project?
Kim came about because she’d done vocals on my buddy Gabe’s track Save Me earlier this year and I was really impressed and it just so happened I had some instrumental tracks I’d been tinkering on that I thought her style and approach would be really interesting for. She was immediately on board and she’s really great to work with (she collaborates with a ton of artists so she knows how to deliver and mold what she does to the tracks).
I knew I wanted to do remixes, but one thing led to another talking with Kim and Gabe, and we thought of people who would bring some cool flavors to the tracks and then I just started hitting folks up. Sys Machine isn’t a big name or anything on the scene so I wasn’t really sure what would happen as far as interest. Nevertheless, Assemblage 23 and The Joy Thieves jumped on straight away which was awesome. Once that happened the ball just kept rolling. Not a whole lot of luring was involved! I suspect with people unable to play shows last year, bandwidth was freed up which helped.
The Derision Cult is your original project that you have been releasing music under since 2014 and 2021 saw you drop the album Charlatans Inc. in September before Graceful Isolation. Was it your intention to stay busy or did it all evolve naturally?
It was a total natural thing for me! For a long time, I’ve always had a few projects going at once, and these two are my big ones. I work a lot slower than it probably seems on the surface. I’m one of those people that’ll start an idea, leave it alone for a month or two, and come back to it and maybe it’ll get finished. The Derision Cult tracks were marinating over the course of a year and a half and while I was working on that I was also doing things that ultimately became Graceful Isolation. By last summer, I was really excited about both and didn’t want to just sit on them for the sake of spacing out releases so I just kept on moving along.
I think my output will slow down going forward as I really found myself enjoying working with people vs. being a lone wolf. I’m happy to slow my roll and make time for other people to get involved and put more work into each release. But there’s always various things I’ve got cooking. I’ve got about 30 blues and acoustic jams I’ve amassed over the past 6 months that I would typically release as Jefferson Dust that are in various stages of completion that I’m always working on. Someday maybe 10 of those will be worth sharing with the public! Same is true for other projects.
.SYS Machine is very different to the far more guitar driven The Derision Cult. What prompted you to pursue this more electronic sound?
Sys Machine has sort of been where all my science experiments go. I started putting things out under that moniker that were essentially toying with new synths, drum loops or whatever. All instrumental and not really songs in as much as they were soundscapes. In a way, it’s really just me exploring getting better with programming and all things electronic. Once Kim got involved, for me at least, Sys Machine stopped being a bunch of science experiments and started to congeal into something that felt a little more meaningful. So that’s where it stands now.
Derision Cult was and is an entirely different thing. I’m a thrash guitar guy deep down. Those riffs are part of my DNA going back 30+ years. So when I started that project, I had a very deliberate idea of what I wanted it to be and sound like and I’ve been evolving on that theme ever since.
You have spoken about how you were a heavy drinker for 25 years, then decided to give the habit up. Has that been hard to do and how has this changed your perspective on life, the music you create and the music scene?
ya know it really wasn’t! And that kind of surprised me at how easy it was to just walk away from the booze. I just took stock of my life and health and what path I was on and made a decision. I think the key is actually TELLING people you’re going to stop. Like once I told my wife and friends then it was real. I’m really happy I did it. I feel better, I find myself less stressed out and I have more energy and time for things I care about– including music. It was really just the right time for me to leave that behind. I saw an interview with Billy Connolly where he was saying you can be wild and crazy in your 20’s and 30’s and it’s a lot of fun. But once you get into your 40’s it starts to be a little pathetic carrying on like you’re in a frat house. I believe that to be true. the other thing was pandemic.
I run my own businesses and I work out of my house so it’s not like I have a job to go to or anything. Boredom sets in and you’ll be sitting there like “fuck it, I’m not hurtin’ anybody!” and next thing you know, you’ve gone through a fifth of whiskey just watching TV or whatever. Once that started happening, I could feel my health starting to slide. I have had friends over the years who’ve died from things like liver failure and heart attacks and all that so I knew where this path would lead. I read that Alan Karr book about quitting drinking and that was pretty much that. Quitting drinking has definitely helped me live more in the moment. I find myself with a lot more time since my weekend mornings are free, I’m motivated to go hard all day long cos that “it’s 5 o’clock somwhere!” mindset is gone.
As far as music and art, I think it’s a lot easier to be realistic and objective. When you’re drinking or stoned or whatever, you can think everything you’ve done is the greatest thing ever. Not so much when you’re stone sober. As far as the scene, the thing that really surprised me is how little drinking really is part of people’s lives. I never really noticed that before. It might just be more evidence of how hard living I was compared to everyone else ha. That isn’t to say they don’t drink, but especially with artists I collaborate with, it just doesn’t seem like it’s as big of a deal to them as it might have been for me. By the way, I don’t mean any of this to come off as a “Drinking and Drugs don’t work kids!” type of rant – cos they do! It’s fun getting hammered and wasted. I had a great time living that life and don’t regret that period for what it was. But I’m definitely happier and more productive with where I’m at.
What bands were the gateway drug into industrial music for you?
Heh, well I’m kind of weird like that. Psalm 69 came out around the same time Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction, Metallica’s Black Album, White Zombie La Sexorcisto and Anthrax Sound of White Noise were coming out so it just fit right in with what I was into at the time. I didn’t really think of it as a new genre or door to open. Of all things, I happened to be a big David Bowie fan back then too and I thought Tin Machine- or more specifically their guitar player Reeves Gabrels was a badass.
I knew of Bowie’s other gunslingers. I’d read that Adrian Belew was doing things with Trent Reznor and NIN so that got me curious– like “hey maybe these synth people can rock too!”. That was sort of my moment of truth. This was maybe 93 or so right before Downward Spiral came out – then later on Bowie and NIN went on tour together and it was like the universe all made sense! I was living in Iowa at the time and Chicago isnt’ too far so I got wind of what was all going on with Wax Trax and I’ve been into it ever since. So I guess you could say Tin Machine-Era David Bowie was my gateway drug haha.
Whose music do you enjoy now or blows your mind into thinking ‘I wish I had written that!’?
I listen to a ton of things across a lot of genres. When I’m just hanging around, especially this time of year, I’m more blues and Americana. I think the new James McMurtry album is amazing– his turn of phrase and how he crafts stories in his lyrics always blows my mind. I don’t necessarily endeavor to write like him, but those storyteller songwriters are a master class in how to take a listener on a journey. The Reverend Peyton’s new album Dance Songs For Hard Times is absolutely excellent. My daughter really likes the Rev so we’re playing that around the house a lot.
Closer to home genre-wise, this probably sounds cliche, but I really like the fusion of blues and industrial on the new Rob Zombie. The Joy Thieves Album American Parasite is great- lot of energy on there and I have that on quite a bit. I’m digging the new Ministry album too! Love Jello showing up on tracks and I’m not sure if this is a popular opinion, but I think Al’s take on Search and Destroy was awesome. There’s some “Boy I wish I thought of that” riffs on there.
What is in store for you in the future with .SYS Machine and The Derision Cult, plus will there be more collaborations?
Yeah man! I’m actually working on the next Derision Cult now. Sean Payne from Cyanotic and Conformco is producing and already I feel like it’s a giant leap forward just working with him and handing the reigns over. I really love the sci-fi/robotic feel to what he does and I’d love to fuse that with what I do. Very early stages but I’ve got some guests in mind for tracks. I can’t say who yet, but there’s one that if it comes together, it’ll be a total full-circle thing cos it’s such a blast from the past and a huge influence on me personally. So that’ll be my focus for awhile bringing that to life.
On the Sys Machine front I literally have nothing in the tank at the moment. I’d definitely like to work with Kim again and she’s up for it. She’s got her own album and projects and maybe in the next year we’ll be able to share music. But I’m really happy with how Graceful Isolation came together so I’d definitely like to continue down that path!
Thank you so much for your time!