First, The Story
A joint release between CaDaoCao Productions & PorkBoNes Records, this is one for the history books.
The year was 1995. I was sitting in the back of a classroom in the Southwest Texas State University Music Building. The class was Music Theory I and it was the first class of my first semester. I was a good three or four years older than pretty much everyone in the class and was already feeling out of place. Well... maybe not as much as the guy who had just walked in, barefooted, carrying a briefcase, and wearing a three-piece suit from the local thrift store. Anyhow, as I sat there waiting for class to start, I began to accept the notion that it appeared I had but two paths to a music theory friend or ally. The first one would require me to willingly embrace nicknames like Pops, Mr. Crawford, or just The Old Guy. On the other hand, I could always try leaving my shoes and socks at home. Given the amount of time and money I’d spent over the years amassing a collection of Dr. Martens, I started practicing my pending introductions. “Hello, my name is Clark, but everyone calls me Codger.” As I did, in walked a guy my age, wearing a Crump Plumbing baseball cap and sat down next to me. His name was Brent Fariss.
A few months later, we were hanging out at my apartment when, out of nowhere, he sort of casually remarked, “Man... I can’t wait until Halloween 1999... it’s gonna be insane!” After what most would describe as an awkward silence, I took the bait and replied, “Really... Why?” With complete sincerity, he said, “Because that's when my gangsta rap album, Bigga Than Deth, hits the streets.” It was at that very moment I knew we would be friends for life. I had no idea at the time, but that exchange caused a spark... that ignited a flame... that generated a concept album which was realized with perfectionist tendencies and left at least one death in its wake… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Halloween 1999 came and went and the album never materialized. Then, sometime in the spring of 2000, mr. Harten’s people contacted angel reyezzz’s people and offered production services to help get the Bigga Than Deth project off the ground. For the scant few readers who are not already aware, mr. Harten was my electronic music pseudonym and angel reyezzz was one of Brent’s multiple personalities, a 13 year-old girl who appeared whenever the situation called for something incredibly inappropriate. Anyhow, angel agreed and the two started work on the project the following week at The Harten Center for Underprivileged Sounds. For the most part, all of the programming (synths and drums) was handled by mr. Harten and all of the live instruments were handled by reyezzz. Several months later... Bigga was done.
Clocking in at just over 36 minutes, and with most of the tracks transitioning seamlessly into one another, the album is meant to be experienced as a complete work.
The opening track, “Overture,” was crafted to meet the dramatic intro requirement of every good gangsta rap album. Since virtually all rap videos at the time featured helicopters, we used Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Helicopter String Quartet" as the foundation of this track. As the turbines power up, a simple loop extracted from a recording of Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" enters and builds before being absorbed by a wall of distortion and cutting out into...
“Apropapo,” was based on a word Brent made up... a verbal mashup of "props" and "proper." He had a tendency to repeat it over and over again which would annoy his now ex-wife and this obnoxious repetition became the basis of the track. While most of the tracks were worked out before we started recording them, this one was largely realized in the studio as we bounced ideas off one another. The breakdown that occurs in the middle section was constructed by layering elements of a field recording we made during a quick trip to the grocery store one evening while taking a break from recording. The melody that enters when everything kicks back in was borrowed from the last track on the album, "Pop Song (Coda)" and was one of several recurring melodic lines woven throughout the album. In many ways, "Apropapo" was simply an extension of the intro to the album.
The title track, ”Bigga Than Deth,” featured the mad MC skillz of both Harten and reyezzz. Possibly influenced by Cyclob's "Rewind," Brent was keen on the idea of using a vocoder on our voices to make them sound robotic. The majority of the lyrics for this track were assembled using a version of William Burroughs' cut-up technique where we took snippets of lines from various works by Geto Boys, Ice-T, LL Cool J, NWA, etc. and stitched them together.
Listen up... you're doomed you punk little bitch
God damn... man, my balls be itchin'
To fuck you up beyond belief
And when I raise my 9 there's no relief
As a swarm of pain consumes your ass
You will swear you were crushed by Mama Cass
But know that this weight comin' down ain't fat
It's the fury and the sting from my Tec-9 gat
I'm a killer, and a thug, and a playa too
You better step down bitch lest I fuck with you
Keep messin' with me and soon you'll find
Stupid punk can't fuck with a mastermind
And even if you catch me off my guard
When you hit me bitch, you better hit real hard
Don't think I'm gone with my dyin' breath
You better watch your ass 'cause I'm Bigga Than Deth
Don't call it a comeback... I've been here for years
Rockin' it steady risin' above my peers
The first time that you step out of line
My finger's already attached to my 9
Yeah, I know you're a skeptic
But I ain't kissin' no God damn ass to be accepted
And if you're waitin' on that to happen, sucka
You'll be a waitin' mutha fucka
Listen fool, I'm not a playin'
Don't try to front... go against my grain
Bigga Than Deth that's the truth I'm layin'
I'll throw more than your momma from train
Come at me... you'll be layin' in a blood pool
I'm Supreme you know you'll lose
Because Diana Ross be comin' out your ass, fool...
And have you singin' the blues
The repetitive arpeggios in the chorus were a nod to one of our favorite composers at the time, Philip Glass and something Brent had worked out on his dad's Roland Juno-60 before the sessions even began. The psuedo turntable scratching was courtesy of my Korg MS20 which had great filters for such a thing. Also worth noting... this track featured the first of several instances of Anne Ramsey yelling, "Owen!" sampled from Throw Momma from the Train.
“Fuck Tha Millennium” was reyezzz’s way of letting the world know that she didn’t give a shit about anything, not even the millennium. The line, "The millennium never beat Geronimo Aguirre in a race" was a reference to Brent besting the fastest kid in grade school... proof positive that he was better than the millennium, hands down! This line was performed by Owen, the robot persona we created for handling all vocoded vocals. We had agreed to let our friend, Afshar, bust a rhyme entitled “Y2Gay” during the middle section of this track. However, after half a dozen attempts at getting him to come over and track it, all we got were excuses. reyezzz finally got fed up and wrote a little rap busting Afshar’s balls and threatening his life. For me, this is the highlight of the album as it's where the comedy and the the earnest production completely come together. The "Go Aftron, Go Aftron, Go" chant referenced the first time my brother, Grant, met Afshar. We were at a party and it was pretty loud. When he introduced himself... Grant thought he said his name was Aftron. After recording this section, we drove by Afshar’s house and gunned him down in his front yard. The track eventually dissolves into a house party that hopefully contains something to offend anyone and everyone. Some of the highlights are Bill's bottomless pit of crazy sex stories from his days working at Trudy's, the announcement that Afshar got shot, the drunk idiot who keeps making loud entrances, Brent's flubbed attempt at being a dope MC, Owen dropping by, and the guy repeatedly slapping his ass.
“Smoove Soul 2000” was a mr. Harten remix of Brent’s “Smooth Soul Singer” track which he wrote for his now ex-wife. The original was a pisstake on the super schmaltzy R&B ballad. I took the Rhodes line from the original and added a heaping helping of the Amen Break and some R2D2 freestyling courtesy of my Korg MS20. The original plan for this track was that it would serve as a break in the album and then we'd return to more of the gangsta rap stuff. However, that was not to be. Instead, we chose to take a dive into complete eclecticism and we never came back up for air.
The decision to include a seriously unusual cover of the Pixies’ “Debaser” (which was conceived entirely by reyezzz) was critical to how the album ended up getting fleshed out and sequenced as this was the exact point where any preconceived notions we had going into the project got tossed out. It became less about making actual gansta rap tracks and more about the "fuck all" attitude present in so many of those albums. The cover was constructed using a bass sample from a Christian Fennesz recording, a glass bottle preset from Brent's Alesis Quadrasynth, and a handful of samples from the original track all bathed in amplitude modulation. Other than adding the disco whoop whoops and the Owen vocals, everything in this track was handled by Brent.
“Prison Rulezzz” referred to the art of “anything goes” fighting and something Brent would do any time he felt like threatening me. He'd take his keys out of his pocket, jingle them at me, and then make some remark about handling things with "prison rules." The implication being that I was gonna get stabbed with his keys. Anyhow, one afternoon, several years before we started working on Bigga Than Deth, I made a short distorted acid house loop with Propellerhead's Rebirth, saved it out as a wave file on a 3.5" floppy, wrote "For Brent" on the label, and then left it on his doorstep. The loop turned up during the Bigga sessions and ended up being the backbone of this track, first as it originally was, then pitched down an octave for a dark ambient dub feel. The "We're gonna fuck you up!" that kicks off the track and resurfaces throughout was indicative of the type of message Brent would frequently leave on his friend, John Ertel's, answering machine in retaliation for several crank calls Ertel had done. Also, Brent's keys can be heard jingling at several points during the track.
It's also worth mentioning that "Prison Rulezzz" ended up being the central track on Hardcore America, the Bigga That Death remix project. When tracks were given out for that project, Brent instantly called dibs on remixing “Prison Rulezzz,” which was one of the shorter tracks on the album. The long and evovling remix brought together 4 of his constant, yet disparate, obsessions: abstract electronic music, over-the-top redneck truck commercials, dub basslines, and earnest pop songs (à la Journey). The final result is a crazy work, which starts off really weird then ends up going in tons of different directions. Also worth noting is the pure delight that came from finding a sample of a woman singing what sounds like “old school” in a Luigi Nono opera. This sample is heard throughout the dub sections of the remix. As awesome a find as that was, the true highlight comes at the end of the remix, when all the elements are combined and the “We’re gonna fuck you up...” part is mixed with both the “Hardcore America” mock truck commercial and the dub elements to create something of a pop masterpiece. Jason Russell, an old friend of ours, who just happens to be a great singer and drummer, was enlisted to sing the soulful parts of this remix, as well as help with the “La La La Las” heard near the end. The hope is that by the 9:25 mark of this remix, the listener has a moment of “How the fuck did we get here?!?!” And it all came from an inside joke in the form of a tiny loop on a 3.5” floppy disk. This, and all the remixes, can be heard near the end of this page.
“Bigga Than Deth (Reprise)” was supposed to be nothing more than a death metal version of “Bigga Than Deth” and while we weren't sure how we'd get there, it was something that was planned from the very beginning of the project. Brent played me Morbid Angel's Covenant album for a reference of how he wanted the production to sound and we started laying down the tracks. Things got interesting when Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia came out and Brent realized Supertramp's "Goodbye Stranger" would fit over the "Bigga Than Deth" progression. After many hours in sonic surgery, we ended up with what is almost certainly the only mix of death metal and Supertramp in existence. Oddly, the two work really well together. The eerie voices are from a French free jazz CD Brent had acquired during the sessions and we snuck a few more "Owen!" samples into the mix for good measure.
The closing track, “Pop Song (Coda),” was not only a love song, but more importantly, an apology to Brent’s now ex-wife for the entire album. It was always known that the album would end this way. In fact, in many ways the entire album was a build up to the apology. The noise and distortion that fill the space between “Bigga Than Deth (Reprise)” and this track were taken from John Zorn's Mystic Fugu Orchestra and the strings in the beginning section were sampled from Kronos Quartet Performs Alfred Schnittke. As mentioned earlier, the vocal melody for "Pop Song (Coda)" was hinted at in the final section of "Apropapo." In the end, the simple beauty of the vocal gets swallowed by a wall of feedback and digital glitches before cutting to a loop sampled from "Let's Go Away For A While" off The Beach Boys Pet Sounds album.
Brent here… The Hardcore America remix album was a great way to expand this project to our close friends, Bill Thompson, Nathan Wood, Afshar Kharat, and Steve Hall. All did a great job in remixing their tracks… from the drone/noise assaults from Afshar and Steve covering both “Bigga than Deth” and "Bigga Than Deth (Reprise)," to Nathan’s wacky cut-up style deconstructing of “Fuck tha Millennium,” to Bill’s use of abstraction and meta referencing about the creation of his remix which created a moving ending to the whole disc. It's funny to me that Clark and I ended up being responsible for the more poppy tracks on the album, though in totally different ways. The bass counterpoint Clark used on Apropapo is wonderful and fits perfectly with the drum programming and vocals. My remix, “Prison Rulezzz (Hardcore America Old School Dub),” was discussed earlier (see “Prison Rulezzz”). Hardcore America also marked the end of the collaboration between angel reyezzz and mr. Harten. This was made clear on the intro of the album. A hilarious parody of creative conflict with disastrous results. I had a great time creating this skit with Clark and Bill. With Bill’s totally legit English accent (possibly a sign of things to come since he moved to the UK a few years later), and the great sound design done by Clark to create a totally realistic environment... Harten was laid to rest and the angel reyezzz alias disappeared without a trace (though she occasionally popped up in pranks/threats usually done on via email). angel finally returned almost 10 years later to form Waco Girls, a conceptual noise group / Flipper tribute band featuring reyezzz with new collaborators Nikki Henley and Alexxxis Konner, the only two people in the world that would tolerate her temper and shenanigans.
But what I find most interesting is how this remix project launched a different way of thinking for Clark, Bill, and me, as musicians. The listening party for Hardcore America happened on Halloween 2000 at my house. At the party, both Brent and Bill Thompson did sound installations in unused rooms of the house. Everyone was really excited by the idea of having music performed in houses in an intense listening environment. Because of this, we soon decided this was a great way to present our music, and music we loved, rather than have them performed in clubs. Shortly after the release of Hardcore America, Clark, Bill and I formed ThomFariCraw: A Modern Music Initiative and began booking The Loft Series concerts, which took place in the central Austin loft Bill lived in at the time. The Loft Series always featured two live performances, as well as a sound installation that was played before and after the performances. Through this series we met several friends and collaborators and it changed the way all three of us did music from this point forward.
Fuck Tha Millennium (Repeat Intercourse Mix) - Otto Hive
Bigga Than Deth Reprise (Stillborn Deathstork Remix) - Puzzlegutz
Prison Rulezzz (Hardcore America Old School Dub) - GBF feat. Jason Scott Russell
Bigga Than Deth (Birthday Mix) - Alix Kid In Miracle World
Apropapo (The Proper Edit) - Kilroy
Pop Song (Pop Remix #3) - Professor Lo-Fi
If you made it this far
I'm so sorry.