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Gloriously wretched, hoarse-throated bloody rasp bawls and fractured clusterfucked guitar squalor careen head on with drums and synth-triggering pedal demolition in XADDAX, a Bushwickian noise-rock monster whose members—ax grinder Nick Sakes and traps basher Chrissy Rossettie—happen to be happy-as-pigs-in-shit newlyweds making skuzz-assed music together.
Sakes hauled to Brooklyn three years ago, after stints in Minneapolis art-math punkazoid purveyors Dazzling Killman, the beloved Colossamite, and Sicbay. Rossettie previously held it down for obscure no wave goons My Name is Rar-Rar in Chicago. Back in the naughts, their bands shared a bill; years later, “the miracle of Facebook” (as Sakes puts it) prompted their union and birthed XADDAX. Their “baby” is Counterclockwork, XADDAX’s ear-bleeding, stellar debut; its loud-as-hell riffs, screams and scattershot synth salvos (triggered by Rossettie) are dementedly catchy.
Sound of the City met up with the happy couple at a coffee joint in the South Slope to talk about Bushwick, connecting on Facebook and their practice methods.
Do you use your iPhone for songwriting purposes?
Sakes: Yes, iPhone practice… we must videotape parts now. In fact, today, we were going to attempt to come up with new parts and the only way we can remember things now is to videotape them. Recording isn’t good enough; now its videotape and organize them on my computer, somehow.
Rossettie: But you never label them.
Sakes: Well, I need to start. It’s so complicated.
It sounds like you guys are really high-tech.
Sakes: Well, it’s unorganized image files of the new box of cassettes of practice tapes.
When did both of you move to Brooklyn?
Rossettie: I’ve been here for eight years.
Sakes: I moved here from Minneapolis to live with her three years ago—almost to the day. I’ve lived here for three years. September 24th is my official move-here date. I think it was like this week that I moved most of my stuff…
Rossettie: … part of your stuff… drove out…
Sakes: … part of my stuff, drove out in my 1983 Olds Delta 88 with no power steering. That was one hell of a ride.
Is that car what you guys use on tour?
Sakes: We currently have no vehicle.
Rossettie: We actually haven’t toured the States yet. We just did Europe…
Sakes: We just toured Europe for a couple of weeks.
So you toured Europe before the States?
Does it usually work the other way around?
Rossettie: Yeah… usually.
Sakes: It was sort of our honeymoon, too. We got married on June 30. We’re a married, couple band.
Do you think being a married couple in a band may be a curse? It’s not something you worry about?
Rossettie: I think it brings us closer together…
Sakes: … it does. It’s our baby. Our band. But actually touring Europe was kind of [better] money-wise, since we don’t have a vehicle. It would have taken us renting a vehicle here and it’s kind of making a little bit better money over there…
Rossettie: We just had better experiences [there]; they just treat you better.
Sakes: We actually get guarantees they are good for and you get fed.
They don’t feed you at Death by Audio?
Rossettie: No, they don’t make us pasta meals, hors d’oeuvres and stuff. Death by Audio is the best place to play in the city. They are the nicest, they take care of you, they don’t rip you off and they’re just really good. There’s so many places that suck. We play there a lot.
It seems like you play Death by Audio often.
Rossettie: I know, it’s always there. We have to pay for a cab to get there and a cab to get back and so many of the other places we’ve played, they don’t pay you or it’s just not worth it. But we just found Death by Audio is just a better experience. We’ve had good shows at Cake Shop.
Sakes: Union Pool was a really good show. I’d like to play there again.
Tonight’s bill has a great lineup.
Sakes: It’s become just so easy. I could email Edan or if somebody asked us it’s usually per show there, it just kind of how it works.
How did you two meet?
Sakes: Oh, well… my band played with her band about ten years ago in Chicago…
Rossettie: I was a fan of Dazzling Killmen back in college.
Chrissy, you were in My Name is Rar-Rar?
Sakes: Yup and we played together. My band Sicbay, at the time, played a show in Chicago.
Rossettie: We played but it was really just like a passing thing and then I came across him other times over the years like when I was touring in Minneapolis.
Sakes: It wasn’t until the miracle of Facebook. [to Rossettie] I didn’t recognize you. I was like “Who is this person who has all these similar Chicago friends?” and I needed to ask who you were. So that was that.
How long after that Sicbay/My Name is Rar-Rar gig did you become a couple?
Rossettie: Oh, gosh. That show was 2000, then three and a half years ago we started emailing on Facebook. I friended him because it was like “Oh, it’s Nick Sakes.” Just a vague acquaintance, but I liked his music. But then I was thinking “I just really have a crush on him. His posts are so witty!” [laughing]
So you owe your band and relationship to Facebook?
Sakes: To Zuckerberg. We need to thank him on the record.
When did the idea for XADDAX happen?
Sakes: It was pretty much like “We should have a band” and a month after I moved here, we started playing in our apartment, which is kinda funny. We practice in our apartment. She plays electronic drums through the PA. We play pretty much at that conversational volume levels.
Rossettie: We wrote the whole record that way.
Sakes: We practice New York style, in our apartment and take cabs to shows. Only in New York. When we practice and write new stuff, there’s always a transition between her electronic drums and her real physical drums, which is kind of awkward at times.
Do you guys go into a studio space and turn it up?
Sakes: Well, we had a space for a little while and we…
Rossettie: … couldn’t afford it.
Sakes: It’s so expensive. Someday, we hope to have a house with a basement or a room we can practice in. We’ll move out of this place. We’re talking about moving, maybe to New Jersey.
Out of Bushwick?
Rossettie: We pretty much had it with Bushwick. There’s no trees; you leave the house and there’s all these zombie people screaming things. When I first moved there, it didn’t bother me.
Sakes: We’re getting pretty burned on the city. [to Rossettie] It’s maybe me, I think. Maybe my culture shock rubbed off on you. I have a love/hate relationship with New York—I really do. It’s straight up—like some days I love it and some days, it’s just hitting a wall. My favorite time was weekend mornings. If I go to Manhattan on weekend mornings, it’s magic. Any other time, I’m not sure. Not so much magic.
You’ve moved around a bit with your bands, been in a lot of music scenes. How does it compare?
Sakes: Minneapolis and St. Louis. I’m a Midwest guy—Arkansas. Born in St. Louis. Minneapolis has got a good scene. It gets really insular. There’s so much kind of watching each other and band competition in scene just in Minneapolis. I moved there in ’95, after the party. I got there and people were like “You shoulda been here ten years ago.” I got there at the downside of the Minneapolis stuff. I don’t notice that at all in New York. I was joking like “What would the local band at a record store in band look like?” I don’t think there is such a thing [here]. There’s not much of a focus on who the best local band is or like best local band night. It’s New York.
Rossettie: It’s so spread out. In Chicago, if you had a new band you’d be like “Everybody’s gonna be there.” You knew exactly who would be at the show. But here it’s so spread out. [I was born in] Jersey. I was in Chicago for seven or eight years. It’s a great music scene. That’s the one thing I really miss about Chicago. I worked at Touch & Go Records, I worked a little bit at Steve Albini’s studio and there was just so much going on—good bands from the late ’90s.
XADDAX seems to be part of a scene. You play consistently with Weasel Walter and his projects.
Rossettie: The scene [here] is just not as tightly knit; it’s not as potent.
Sakes: We have band buddies—the Child Abuse guys, Weasel and all of his various things, Hank’s band STATS, the VAZ boys…
Rossettie: … PAK.
Sakes: There’s a little scene but there’s not much… we don’t go out much, though.
Only to play gigs?
Sakes: The more we play, the more we go out.
Given your history with Skin Graft, was it a given that the XADDAX record be released by them?
Sakes: It wasn’t really a given. My old band Sicbay didn’t seem to fit in. We were a more standard or punk rock kind of thing. Chrissy was always a fan of the label and I thought “Let’s ask Mark [Fischer, label head] if he’d do this.” So it just worked out. It seemed like we are kind of a Skin Graft-y band—noisy and weird, screamy, angsty. I’m always screaming about something.
Will XADDAX always be a duo?
Sakes: I think so. I think it’ll be a duo. Maybe we’ll get more stuff. More equipment. We already have the sampler pedal.
Rossettie: That’s kind of the third member.
Sakes: We program weird noises into it… not we. Chrissy does that. That’s her doing. It’s all her, her handiwork.
Rossettie: Before Nick moved here, I had a solo thing. I couldn’t find people to play with and I didn’t have a practice space so I just had to do everything myself. I was already programming synth parts and stuff and then when we started playing, it’s like we didn’t know who to get. We thought about other people but then it’s just easier to have [that], otherwise we’d have to fill out the sound. It would have been weird if it was just guitar and drums and nothing else.
Sakes: It’s really a lot easier to have two people in a band: less personalities, less job schedules. It’s more mobile. I was thinking about maybe getting a sampler pedal someday, too. I don’t know. It’s probably gonna be more equipment rather than people. More robots. [to Rossettie] I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.
Sakes: I got a robot in mind.
Rossettie: The problem playing to machines is that they don’t change their pace, so we play with this effect.
Sakes: They’re brutal.
Nick, do you use a lot of pedals?
Sakes: No, but we play with a recorded part that will pop up in the middle of a song and if you’re not on the tempo of the song and you know from behind that all of a sudden like “Oh, shit, there’s that part.” It doesn’t know. It doesn’t know that we’ve altered the tempo of the song so we gotta be right on. If we’re not right on, it can get iffy in the middle of a…
Rossettie: Sometimes, I trigger it a little too late or too early.
What’s your setup?
Rossettie: It’s a Jam Man pedal. I’ve got all my parts on there, and some of it I have to stop and start.
Sakes: We do have that broken robot sound. It’s a sputtering, sparking machine.
Rossettie: It misfires a lot.
Sakes: It misfires a lot. But it gets the job done.
Was that the sound that came out when you guys first started playing?
Rossettie: I wouldn’t say it was necessarily intentional, but yeah, we just play the way we play and the combination comes out sounds like that.
Was XADDAX the natural progression from your previous bands?
Rossettie: It’s like Frankenstein—sewing these parts together.
Sakes: I kinda write riffs. I just try to write riffs and then bring it. I think that’s how bands work. I guess some bands write complete songs. I have been in other bands in the past where other people would write and compose the complete songs and say “Here’s what you do and here’s what you do” which is great. I have no problem with that. But this band is more of a… we collaborate. I usually write stuff alone and record it on my iPhone and video record it, which is what I’m gonna do tonight. I’m gonna try to write some new stuff.
How do you video record yourself?
Sakes: I prop it up…
Rossettie: It’s important for him to see what his hands are doing, or else he forgets. [laughs]
Sakes: I still am not what you call a musician. I don’t consider myself a musician. I still don’t really know the notes on the neck of the guitar. I don’t know if like “This is an A augmented minor.” It just sounds like I know what I’m talking about. I don’t know if there is such a thing as an A augmented minor.
It sounds good.
Sakes: Sounds good, though. It’s the dots. I make up chords. We work on songs together and that’s what I like. I like doing that, more than the composer-y side.
Chrissy, you add some vocals.
Rossettie: The vocals for me are an afterthought. I come up with my drum parts then I come up with synth parts, which take a long time and the backing vocals, I just add… stuff. [laughing] I just yelp in the background.
Sakes: [to Rossettie] I got some more vocals. You should become more involved with the vocals.
Rossettie: [to Sakes] On the next record?
Rossettie: Logically, I think that’s a good idea. I had to [sing] in
Iyaxia and I really don’t like it. It’s not something that comes natural to me; I have to force it, especially when I’m playing drums. It’s kinda hard.
Sakes: Karen Carpenter.
I assume you two have similar musical tastes.
Sakes: We bonded over a lot of bands. Ruins, Flying Luttenbachers…
Rossettie: … all the Skin Graft stuff, Touch & Go stuff.
Nick, have you known Weasel for a long time?
Sakes: I have. I’ve known Weasel for twenty years. He lives about five blocks from us right now, which is kind of funny, like how certain people, even geographically have kind of been around. In our neighborhood, this is funny—Jeff, who plays in VAZ and Hammerhead, also lives two blocks from us and I’ve known him for twenty years. Rob Lowe from 90 Day Men, and I think he plays in OM, he lives about three blocks from us and I’ve known him for probably twenty years…
Rossettie: … and the weirdest thing, too, is I knew all these people in Chicago and the fact that [to Sakes] you knew them is so bizarre.
Sakes: It’s a weird, busy family or something.
Rossettie: It’s a small world. And you want to leave that for Jersey?
Sakes: We just want to get a dog. That ain’t no place to raise a dog. Bushwick is no place for a French bulldog, dammit.
XADDAX play Death by Audio tonight with Microwaves, Cellular Chaos, G. Lucas Crane / Greg Fox Duo and Radio Shock.