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Preston Maddox has been noisily and sublimely slicing listeners’ brains and eardrums as the frontman of nightmare dream-rock band Bloody Knives for several years, with the band recently dropping its mammothly morbid, sonically unfathomable, yet monstrously mesmerizing album I Will Cut Out Your Heart For This on Saint Marie Records. Maddox is back in the spotlight with a new music project named S T F U, a collaboration with Dean Garcia of influential 1990s alternative duo Curve and dream-pop/ambient duo SPC ECO. Maddox and Garcia are currently prepping for the July 29th release of S T F U’s debut album What We Want. In this interview, Maddox digs into S T F U’s slow-burning, dystopian sound and vision, what it was like working with Garcia, and his future musical endeavors.
Hiya Preston! Wow, this is so wonderful to have the opportunity to catch up with you about your new music project S T F U, as well as your brilliant, nightmare-rock (in the dreamiest way!) band Bloody Knives. For starters, how did you hook up with Dean Garcia for S T F U? Has there been a long-standing mutual musical admiration?
PRESTON: Dean and I had worked together before on various tracks, but we had not had a chance to work on a project together for a while. It wasn’t until a few more years passed by that we had the opportunity, but when we did, everything came together very quickly and easily. Dean found out about me from Bloody Knives. I’ve always been a Curve fan, so the opportunity to make music with him was obviously appealing.
I’m a big fan of Garcia’s work ever since his days in Curve, and of course I’m a bloody big fan of your band Bloody Knives. So, for me, S T F U is a match made in musical heaven and a true pleasure. Is the new S T F U album What You Want a one-off or do you expect to get together again and create more delicious sonic friction?
PRESTON: This record will not be a one-off. We both want to do another one. With both of us being so busy I imagine it’ll be a while, so I do hope that people can spend some quality time with this one. However, I don’t think that it’s going to take two or three years to get around to doing the next one like it did for this.
Did you actually physically meet up to create the album or were you Snapchatting – No, sorry – I mean, sending files to each other online? Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right either… Anyway, I’m just asking, since you reside in Austin, Texas and Garcia’s located in England.
PRESTON: It wasn’t Snapchat as much as it was WeTransfer. We have never actually met in person, but neither of us likes to work in the studio with other musicians, so the situation is rather ideal. Dean does not need me staring over his shoulder while he works and vice versa. Most of the time when bands go into the studio together there’s a bunch of time spent partying and being bros and whatever and neither one of us is into that, so that works to our favor.
Is it possible that S T F U satisfies you in some way that you can’t get out of Bloody Knives?
PRESTON: My desire for this project didn’t come from a lack of anything, but rather wanting to create. I’ve always wanted to both work in a band as only the singer and also to do dance music and trip- hop, and being able to make that music with a person whose music I was listening to when I was first getting into music like that is ideal.
So, ummm, how many bass players did it take to make this album? And, more importantly, what other instruments were pressed into service and who, ahhh, serviced them?
PRESTON: We put up rather elaborate individual song credits and instrumentation on the S T F U Bandcamp site because there were so many instruments on each track and it was near-impossible to tell who was playing what or what was being played at all. There were keys, samples, guitars, bass, bass keys, ambient washes, noises, gurgles, buzzes, whatever, all being used. I think we are both of the school that there is never too much bass. I’ve often been asked if there was some grand struggle about who would play bass. It cracks me up that people anticipate that there would’ve been some sort of conflict with us arguing over who gets to play bass, but there wasn’t anything like that. I think I played a lot of basslines on keys and Dean played all the electric bass.
I want to call the S T F U sound “electronic/industrial/ambient/nightmare dream-pop”, but I don’t know if that overs all the bases. The 11 tracks on the album are all infused with a saturated, yet dispersed, hazy, drifting, looming vibe with many songs sliding slinkily along with trip-hop tempos (“A Thousand Cuts” and “Trickery”) and some zipping by with EDM energy (“Do It Now” and “Deeper”). Is that descriptive tag acceptable to you and, if not, how would you describe S T F U’s style?
PRESTON: I think that descriptive tag is perfect, especially the nightmare dream-pop. I think we could just roll with that.
I’m getting a heavy Massive Attack flashback on “Trickery”. Were you trying to channel that act for that specific tune?
PRESTON: I love Massive Attack and we’ve gotten that comparison a few times, but that’s not where either of us was coming from on this song. I think Dean was trying to channel some sort of 60s psychedelia and I was hearing the song in more of a French cabaret/goth lounge style. The record that people seem to compare this to is Mezzanine and while I like the record and I get that comparison, it’s not really my favorite by them. 100th Window was by far my favorite Massive Attack album. I used to sing along to “Everywhen” and “Smalltime Shot Away” all the time. I love the transparent density of that record; it’s unreal.
What connection do you and Garcia share as far as musical influences go?
PRESTON: More than anything else we both share enjoyment of a wide variety of music and I think that is key to the ease of working together. Whenever one of us gives the other one a song, we know at least in a general sense where they’re coming from with that, so continuing on with an idea that makes sense is easy.
Is there an overarching lyrical theme to the album? Would it be ‘modern malaise’, maybe? You touch upon topics of isolation (“Secrets”), disconnection (“I can’t hear you / staring through you… walking into the darkness.” on “Deeper”), compulsion (“We can’t stop / It’s what we want.” from “What We Want”), and promises and lies (“Do It Now”).
PRESTON: Well, those are all of my favorite things now, aren’t they! There is no overarching lyrical theme aside from what you mentioned; that is already an overarching lyrical theme for me. “Do It Now” is about a club kid hanging out, waiting for someone to show up with drugs so they can go out. “Slow” is about an actual drug addict having a moment of clarity. “Promise” is about a manipulative, sleazy shithead and the way they get what they want. Each song has an individual personality and I try to figure out what it is trying to say and help it become that. Any general theme between all the songs would be entirely unintentional, and the themes of the songs are usually only loosely intentional as well.
Do you have to be in a certain mood or put yourself in a specific mindset when you record your light to shaded, psych(e)-steeped, narcotic vocals?
PRESTON: Nah, not really. It’s not real to me. I’m telling stories, not sharing myself with music. I don’t have to light candles, or do a séance, or release my pet bat, or whatever. I usually just hit record on the machine and keep singing the vocal until it sounds good.
Your stunningly excoriating, propulsive, overwhelmingly nihilistic, yet rivetingly beautiful Bloody Knives album I Will Cut Your Heart Out For This, dropped this past April. Are you still basking in the afterglow of that album’s release?
PRESTON: It seems like forever ago, but I think that is because of how unusually long the entire process took. The response has been really good and much bigger than our previous releases, in part because it took so long and people were interested due to our absence, but also it’s an authentic and real-sounding record. That part of it is very satisfying for me because it’s elusive to achieve, especially considering the way we recorded it.
What is up next for you – as part of S T F U, Bloody Knives, or maybe other secret projects that are in the works?
PRESTON: The next thing for me is playing bass with UK punk stalwarts Conflict on their upcoming tour. Learning their music has been awesome; can’t wait for the shows. Reaching that level of intensity and then sharing that with the crowd that comes to see the band is going to be unique. Bloody Knives’ next record is about halfway done, but we are taking our sweet time on this too. It’s going to be a while before we put it out, even though Wyatt Parkins (owner of Saint Marie Records) and I have talked about us doing a limited run vinyl release over the summer or fall. Bloody Knives is touring in September and playing Cold Waves fest in Chicago. The lineup is insane and anyone who likes industrial music should go to it. As for S T F U, I’ve already got the beginning of a track and some other things accumulated and I’m letting that come together in its own way. Every band deserves its own focus, so I am the type who does one thing at a time, mostly, with art, so that I can immerse myself fully. It works for me better that way, so when the time comes for that, I know the process will be fast and I have to be ready for it. I’m down for whatever S T F U brings to me. That’s cool; I can roll with it. We shall see what happens.
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