This week, the Voice sat down with some of the many iconoclastic musicians from across the country that extreme musician Weasel Walter has corralled across the nation under his visionary label ugEXPLODE.
In Cellular Chaos, six-string-wielding Walter and co-conspirator Marc Edwards converge with bassist Ceci Moss (also of noise-freak duo Medved) and vocalist Admiral Grey for sonic no wave mayhem and rock and roll histrionics.
Below, Grey and Moss’s musings on meeting Walter, bonding with audiences and the appropriate attire for getting physical live in concert.
Admiral, did Weasel find you or you find him?
Admiral Grey: Well, we were somewhat in parallel worlds. I’d been in the Brooklyn underground scene for ten years and doing different projects. But because I change my name a lot, I’m not too traceable. When I joined this project, I hadn’t been in a heavy band for a while, but now Cellular Chaos will play a show and I will run into someone I went on tour with years ago, so it’s funny. I was just doing the projects I am working on now.
What are some of your other projects?
Grey: My old, heavy band was called Drayton Sawyer Gang, and we were also post-punk/no wave. I played bass in that. We put out a few albums and toured a few times. The other guys from that band are now the band bbigpigg along with Eugene from the band Print. I had a solo melodic project called Duck and Swallow; I played a lot but I never released an album because I couldn’t hit a sweet spot with the recordings and I wanted to move on. I then had a band called Glass Lamborghini. We played out a lot and we released an EP about a year ago. I also have a solo project called I Feel Awesome and a recording project called Ecstatics, and that’s like avant-pop. But, anyway!
So how did you ultimately cross paths with Weasel and Cellular Chaos?
Grey: I was missing heavy music and Kate Henderson (aka Thermos Unigarde, who played drums in Glass Lamborghini and performs as the project Snaykhunt had started the Ladies Of Experimental Music NYC (LOXM) page on Facebook, that she curates shows through. In the beginning, people would just find the page and members could add whoever they wanted—and not exclusively ladies. So, Weasel ended up joining that group and posted about needing a vocalist. I had never been just a vocalist before. I always kind of looked down it… I don’t know… because I’ve been a musician since I was little and it was sorta like “Whatever, David Lee Roth.” But I was psyched on [Cellular Chaos’s] music.
Had you heard of Weasel before?
Grey: No. We were just in totally different spheres, different scenes. We have a million friends in common but for some reason had never heard of each other.
Grey: No. Marc is a New Yorker and Weasel and Ceci were in California… I’ve lived In New York for a long time but it’s just like whole other world of people. The scene is too huge [here].
So you weren’t familiar with ugEXPLODE or Flying Luttenbachers?
Grey: I vaguely heard of Flying Luttenbachers—just different worlds, totally. But now we think it’s weird. I’m playing now with people my old heavy band played with but also I was out of the kind of no wave scene for a while because I was doing more melodic [projects]. Glass Lamborghini was no wave but we were just in a different world. The scene is so huge. But we do know a lot of people in common and now I play shows and it’s like “Hey!” like a reunion.
Where does your live presence come from? It’s somewhat Lydia Lunch-ian.
Grey: I think it just comes from everything. I listen to so much music, every genre. [No wave] was part of my musical education growing up. It was a big step for me to just do vocals but I had secretly been kind of thinking about it and was like “What would it be like to just do awesome vocals and not be behind an instrument all the time and really connect to the audience and use my body?” I was actually a trained vocalist when I was a kid and did opera. So when Weasel put up a post that was like “What the fuck? Why can’t we find a cool vocalist?” My initial thought was probably “Well, your music probably sucks” [laughing]. But this band is amazing and reminded me a bit of my old band, Drayton Sawyer Gang.
Was it weird then entering into Cellular Chaos at first because “Weasel is Weasel,” then there’s Ceci Moss [bass] and Marc Edwards, who is this elder statesman drummer with a storied history, playing with Cecil Taylor and David S. Ware… ?
Grey: … It was perfect, it was great.
I don’t want to say Marc is older but…
Grey: Yeah [laughing]. I was immediately like, “Yes!” He’s just a fantastic drummer. I was just so excited. Marc was probably the most exciting thing about the band. When I first went to jam with them, I was just like “Fuck, yeah” because I had heard the recordings and basically Weasel had put up that post and I was like “Let’s jam, hippie.” But I had a feeling it was kismet because [doing vocals again] had just crossed my mind and then I saw that [post].
Was it immediate you were in the band?
Grey: Yeah, we just clicked. Weasel and I get along really well and enjoy a lot of the same things and [we are] both lifelong musicians that have an appreciation of a lot of the same things and so we were fast friends. It was very easy. I then just banged out a bunch of songs to the music.
Where does that energy you have live come from?
Grey: [Laughing] My deep, deep, dark subconscious. I also do experimental theater and I write. So I sorta get to exercise my id in ways that I only ever did at 4 in the morning upon poor, unsuspecting strangers and getting into trouble [laughing]. I think all the getting into trouble I’ve ever done is now focused somewhere. All the horrible addictions and exploits that start to get old once you’re not 17 anymore [laughing]. It’s better to focus into performance.
You also sport rather flashy attire in the live setting also.
Grey: [Laughing]. I have to be athletic—very important.
So you have to wear something comfortable?
Grey: Well, yeah. I have to wear something athletic. I have kneepads now but they never seem to stay on because I was getting these really gnarly bruises.
Yes, you and the band are very physical.
Grey: It has to be a 3-D band. Everybody is very physical in that band, actually. It’s all intuitive.
You guys also don’t play on a stage, if there is one. You play on the floor directly on a par with the audience. Is that the Cellular Chaos shtick?
Grey: We’re always afraid of shtick, because we are really coming from a pure place—nothing is ever calculated. I did train as a dancer when I was younger and I always felt trapped behind my instrument a little, singing and playing. So I was looking to exorcise that energy and connect to the audience in that way with something really visceral. But it was so intuitive the way the four of us came together and the way they accepted and invited me in and it was an immediate family. It wasn’t like “We’re a band and you’re joining.” It was never like that at all. We always try to change things up so that nothing becomes like “Go see this band because they always do this!”
How do you change things up?
Grey: We never play the same set list and we try to put a different arc of songs in each show.
How did the Roxy Music cover come about? That seems so un-Weasel-like.
Grey: But it’s soooo Weasel, actually, it’s very him because he’s like secretly rock and roll all the way—which I didn’t think I was. But Weasel is like an enabler [laughing], he brings out this secret, huge rock and roll. I guess because it’s really easy to be critical of rock and roll or get tired of it. We both like very specific, only the most excelling rock and roll. He brought that [“Remake, Remodel”] up, I think, one day. We’re like “Sure. Why not?” Now, we also do a cover of “Waves of Fear” by Lou Reed. It’s a really random Lou Reed song.
Live in concert, you and the band really get into the audience’s faces. Do you pay attention to their reactions?
Grey: I always think I am being so polite, which—I could be so much more in people’s faces but I more just want to connect. Sometimes, people are uncomfortable when you look them in the eye when you are performing. But I just can’t not… it depends on the song. Sometimes, I feel like “I’m talking about something and I really want to share this and express this to you.” But other times I feel like “This song occupies a different space” and so then it’s not appropriate to be looking in people’s eyes because I am in this other world that the song occupies because some of the songs are written in real world while some of them are more fantastical. I don’t really read the audience very much because I feel like we’re in this bubble that’s moving through the audience.
Do you see validity to a female musician movement on Weasel’s label and you and Ceci are part of it?
Grey: Not all women, but a lot of women don’t think of themselves as a female artist; they are just an artist. There’s this Joseph Heller book Good as Gold and the main character is Jewish and he says something like “If you ever forget that you’re Jewish, a gentile will always remind you” [laughing]. I feel that [female artists] are kinda like that. It’s no one’s malice, but people are like, “So how does it feel to be a female artist?” and you’re like “I don’t know. I’m an artist. Whatever. I get my period. [Laughing]. I know Weasel is like that too—he doesn’t think of it in those terms at all. I know these are just people he’s into.
Ceci Moss: I don’t want to speak for Weasel but I think he puts out what he really likes so I don’t really think he’s consciously trying to put out music by women. But it’s cool that he’s supporting women in music.
Ceci, so how did you get to know Weasel originally?
Moss: I’m from the Bay area originally so I knew him out there. I’ve known Weasel for about ten years and we were at the same places, going to shows and stuff like that. I followed [ugEXPLODE] and I’d seen the Flying Luttenbachers a bunch of times in the Bay Area. When Weasel first moved to the Bay area in 2003-02, he became friends with my old roommate, Paul Costuros, and used to be in a band with him [XBXRX]. They were inseparable at the time. Paul played in a ton of other bands too—Death Sentence Panda, Total Shutdown and Murder Murder. I was roommates with Paul and Weasel was at the house all the time and that’s when I became better friends with Weasel. But I knew Weasel from around and I saw him play with the Flying Luttenbachers. I knew of him and met him but didn’t become friends with him until him and Paul became really tight.
You were in an early incarnation of Cellular Chaos, before Admiral Grey joined?
Moss: Yeah. So I joined the band a few years ago, whenever Weasel moved here. He only had moved here and was [here] a couple of weeks. Our first practice was really funny because we had a show the same week. Our first show was with Kevin Shea and we wrote like nine songs in an hour and a half then we played those nine songs like a week later. So that was the first incarnation of Cellular Chaos but he Weasel had a band called Cellular Chaos in the Bay Area, too. But I haven’t played bass—I was in this noise band ten years ago while I was living in the Bay area. But I hadn’t touched my bass since then so I had to learn bass again because it had been such a long time. So that was the funny thing about that first show: I literally hadn’t picked up my bass in forever. But over the course of the band, I’ve gotten a lot better!
When did you start playing bass?
Moss: I started playing bass when I was 12 or 13. I played in bands in middle school and high school and that noise band was my band in high school. When I went to college, I stopped playing music, for the most part.
How did Marc Edwards come into the picture?
Moss: Well, Kevin would be touring all the time and we wanted to have weekly practices and develop it. Weasel was already playing with Marc and so he ended up inviting him. Marc joined the band, we played some of those nine songs we wrote for a while and wrote some new songs. But we really, really wanted vocals. I’d been singing vocals since the beginning but the thing it’s hard for me to play bass and sing at the same time and then try to entertain. It’s hard to concentrate on those two things.
While you’re rolling on the floor?
Moss: I can still roll on the floor if the part of the song is really simple and I don’t have to focus on playing bass as much. There’s some songs that I have to focus on what I’m doing. We really wanted a lead singer and we tried out a bunch of people. We also wanted another girl in the band. It took us a while until we found Admiral Grey and she’s perfect and she'[s awesome and with her presence in the band, I feel like we gotten ten times better when she joined.
Were you sold on Admiral Grey immediately?
Moss: Yes. Totally. It was funny because Weasel was talking to her at the end and he was like, “This girl is the person we want.” She totally gets it and has a really great sensibility, stage presence and a voice. She’s done experimental theater so I think she feels really comfortable being in front of people. Admiral has also gone to theater school and has spent a lot of time thinking about performance and I think it’s pretty evident what she does that she’s schooled—even her vocal training. The other thing too we are trying to integrate is Admiral studied trumpet. We’re working on her [to play the trumpet] in Cellular Chaos and we’re hoping she can start bringing that in, which would be awesome. She’s a really good trumpet player, but we just haven’t found the right opportunity [yet]. But I think our band and trumpet would be really interesting.
Cellular Chaos play Zebulon on Thursday with Mick Barr/Tim Dahl/Kevin Shea and Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys.