Interview: Brooklyn Noise Legend J.G. Thirlwell Talks Reviving Steriod Maximus’s Ectopia for Celebrate Brooklyn


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Brooklynite J.G. Thirlwell is one of the unlikely highlights of this year’s Celebrate Brooklyn series. The industrial living legend and genre-hopping nu-composition hero is lugging his manic 20-piece band to Prospect Park for a run-through of the brilliant Steroid Maximus album Ectopia. (He’s also promised to add a few selections from his spasmodic soundtrack to TV’s The Venture Brothers.) After spending the ’80s as noise-clang pioneer Foetus, Thirlwell spent his second decade in the music industry under the occasional guise of Steroid Maximus, an outlet for wildly diverse instrumental music that crossed the lines of big band jazz, blaxploitation soundtracks, exotica, spy flicks and dissonant noisescapes. The wide-screen adventure Ectopia, released on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label in 2002, ultimately led to Thirwell arranging its compositions for brass-and-string ensembles in L.A., France and Austria. At long last, it will get its New York debut. We called up Thirlwell to ask what took so damn long.

How did you hook up with Celebrate Brooklyn?

We’ve been communicating somewhat about this project for a couple of years. Last year Kronos Quartet played Celebrate Brooklyn and played one of my pieces, so that probably planted another seed. Steven Bernstein who is my musical director for this Steroid Maximus project has also played there several times and given them a few nudges.

How come this took so long to come to New York?

It’s kind of expensive to do. It’s a large ensemble. Even though everything is scored, you’re still asking musicians to put in pretty long rehearsals. Then you gotta think of things like tympanis and orchestral chimes and marimba and vibraphone. There’s a lot of instruments to get together and then find a place that holds 20 people to rehearse in. If you just look at the logistics of rehearsing, it’s expensive. It’s not something you just turn up and do at The Stone. Because there wouldn’t be any room for the audience.

How have the rehearsals been going?

We’re starting tomorrow. Some of the individual musicians have their parts and have been running their charts. Hopefully I’ll just stand up there, go “1-2-3-4,” everyone starts at the same time, and magic happens!

You’ve done this in three different cities, how were those shows?

Each time we do it there is a difference dictated by where you’re at culturally. In L.A. the musicians were amazing. It was tough. It seemed to have a flavor of L.A. in it as compared to France, where the musicians had a lighter touch. The string section in France were out of the classical world, whereas the string players in L.A. had played on Earth, Wind And Fire records. They really got the “disco string” thing on the one point where that happens. The musicians we have now draw from a lot of different avenues, but I’m sure their flavor will be imparted to this music to a certain extent. The one in the New York is the largest ensemble. I’ve added and extra trombone and a trumpet. I really felt the need for a greater brass section. A couple years ago Terry Bozzio rearranged the opening theme of The Venture Brothers for this Buddy Rich tribute night, so the Buddy Rich Big Band is playing my material. Hearing the size of that brass section playing my stuff just led me to realize I had to add more brass to Steroid Maximus.

What can you tell us about the Steroid Maximus song, “Seventy Cops”?

It’s called “Seventy Cops” because it reminds me of a ’70s cop show. I was in a big arc of composing at the time. At the same time I did Ectopia, I did the Foetus album Flow and immediately after that was the first Manorexia album. So it was a big outpouring of material… Ectopia really hearkens to the crime/spy axis of things on some of the tracks, and chase music. Steroid Maximus really planted seeds for a lot of the stylings I do on the Venture Brothers soundtrack.

Those guys were big fans right?

I think Chris [McCulloch] the director heard the earlier Steroid stuff and it really struck a chord with him as what he imagined to be married to the Venture Brothers. I think he hadn’t even finished writing the pilot yet. Then he sat down with the Steroid Maximus record and finished writing it.

Have you seen the Venture Brothers project open up a new audience for you?

I can’t say I’ve seen the fruits of it yet. We’ll see what happens Friday night.

What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?

I do particularly like the falafel at Pita Pan on 7th Ave. They roll it up in that durum bread. It’s really good.

Download: [audio-1]

J.G. Thirlwell’s Steroid Maximus plays a free show the Prospect Park Bandshell on Friday, June 18 with Dr. Lonnie Smith.

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