The quivering ball of pastel-coloured chaos that is FIRE-TOOLZ is still unknown to most throughout the music world. But their new debut LP, Even The Files Won't Touch You, shines as an unrelenting achievement in mixed-media composition, genre nihilism, eclectic blatant disregard for international license and copyright law and, finally, a stunningly intensive labour of love in the world of experimental electronic music.
Angel Marcloid is playing on a level all her own, producing an immense amount of musical works of various styles and sounds for many years now. FIRE-TOOLZ is one of the newest incarnations of Marcloid’s creative endeavours, which is arguably her most impressive and groundbreaking to date.
What are some of the other reactions/responses you've experienced? Are they mostly positive?
The response has actually been overwhelmingly positive. Surprisingly so. I thought from the beginning that this shit was gonna be too personal and, simultaneously, too ridiculous to actually move anyone but myself. I've been making noise music with misused computer programs, circuit-bent guitar pedals and actual junk for years-and-years now. I'm used to my work being an acquired taste by individuals spread out around the world.
I was thinking of releasing this album only in a digital format. I assumed making a hefty armful of home-dubbed tapes, as per usual, would be pointless. But because I had sold and given out about 60 COPKILLER (the precursor to this project) tapes to friends and label supporters, the word sort of got out about this new beat-oriented absurdity I was working on. Omar (Gonzalez), from Depravity Label, and his girlfriend, would always tell me I love that soccer ball tape. After Omar had that tape on his person for a while, he approached me about doing another COPKILLER release.
I had already begun working on new music using the FIRE-TOOLZ moniker, and had actually already chosen an album title for it. That album title just happened to be poking fun at his band, RECTAL HYGIENICS, latest album at the time. So I broke all of that news to him, and it didn't deter his offer at all. I even sent him new material, so that he could hear it was more on the electro-industrial side of things, and he just got more excited.
If you're familiar with Depravity's catalog, FIRE-TOOLZ music and visual aesthetic is the sorest thumb possible. I don't even think his label's fanbase gives a rat's fuck about FIRE-TOOLZ. There's probably 50 people out there Omar has traded with so far, that have to stare at that ugly blue and bright orange j-card with green letters in Decapitated's logo font on their tape shelf and would rather just toss it into the litter box.
This other killer Chicago label who constantly puts out such high quality experimental music, Hausu Mountain, has also asked me to pump out another 40 minutes for them. So my mind just keeps getting blown by how people are reacting to this stuff. FIRE-TOOLZ has definitely taken off more quickly than most other things I've done in the creative world. For all of this, I am so thankful! It's fantastic to be able to follow through with every silly idea you jot down in your notebook at work and have people want to send you money for it. I didn't see it coming at all.
Was Even The Files Won't Touch You smaller initially or just an experiment that grew into something more expansive naturally?
The album itself was something I started to assemble when I wanted to take what I had already been doing with COPKILLER and make it just a little more cohesive, conceptual, well-produced, thought-provoking and packed full of little goodies. I also wanted to re-learn mixing and mastering from the ground up; take some online classes on digital audio workstations. Around this same time, things in my personal life were really intense and trying. Like most artists, one way we treat turmoil is to drive the inevitable burning energy into something creative.
Did the integration of vaporwave concepts come later or was in an integral part of its initial concept?
The integration of sampling was something I decided on just after I finished the basics of the first FIRE-TOOLZ song I ever wrote (In-House Detox). The next song I took on (Tongue-Lash) features a sample of the Gracie Films jingle that can be heard at the end of each Simpsons episode. it was thrown in totally on a whim, but as I worked on the song, I wrote a pretty elaborate piece of music that was built off of that sample. I had been making vaporwave at the time as MindSpring Memories, but I never ended up going for vaporwave on the album. I can see that I was riding the border in a lot of spots though.
However, you're gonna hear vaporwave ALL OVER the next release! Nearly every song. But to me it doesn't sound unnatural at all. It actually sounds like FIRE-TOOLZ has been demanding vaporwave breaks all this time, and I finally listened to myself.
Is the album strictly personal or is there any socio/political messages in there?
I find it confusing and difficult to take enough steps back to be able to write about things that I am not, at the time, directly in the middle of. It's something I've learned about my writing process. The driving force creating all of my material is my current state. I write when I am amidst a story that is still panning out. My writing is very observant, intuitive and reflective. When things pass, even if they left me quite a different person, they tend to vanish from my writing. So if a message is political, social or anything else, it's coming from a point of view that I've been emotionally effected by it.
On Even The Files Won't Touch You, most of the songs have no message beyond the stories of my conditions and experiences. I had others contribute vocally, but their words were mostly written by me, about me or about them from my point of view. But because I am almost finished the next album, I keep feeling like I want to talk about it! So I will.
Yes, it will be very personal again. But this time the subject matter is a bit more broad. ETFWTY had a lot of reflections on other people and their actions; while this new album does speak a lot to myself rather than from myself. A lot of self-therapy. A lot of letting myself explore personal dispositions that I avoided writing about before; it didn't feel natural at the time. A lot of recognising the shameful, violent, vengeful feelings I have toward those who've hurt me and others.
A lot of recognising the humanity in those shameful feelings. I talk a lot about various experiences of living as a transgender girl in a crowded city like Chicago, presenting femme-as-fuck and hardly ever passing. There are also plenty of love songs; songs about polyamory. There are even songs about the same shit most of the songs on ETFWTY are about. You may as well call the last track '...even the files won't touch you: epilogue' (laughs).
What does a live FIRE-TOOLZ show look like or what would you like it to be for the future?
So far, it hasn't looked like anything besides me with a mic behind a laptop and like seven pedals, with a projector screen behind me showing a silly video I've spent hours-and-hours in my bedroom putting together. I'm currently incorporating outboard synths right now, but that is a temporary thing. When I have the resources to clean out my laptop and get it a little more road-ready, I will be able to perform using the actual synth patches in the songs.
I'm also in the process of getting together visual pieces. Something beyond a single video. Things with a narrative purpose, but not without aesthetic compliment (or clash?). Looking into lighting, props, other performers...we will see. FIRE-TOOLZ always was and will always be more conceptual than it lets on. Conceptual to the point of absurdity; so these kinds of things will likely never stop being built upon. It all just takes energy, creativity, time and money I guess.
What drove you from doing your previous experimental/noise or songwriting projects to finding a root in electronic production and wanting to sing over it?
I haven't totally stopped making other music. I would say I'm focussed in on a few things, with FIRE-TOOLZ being the main priority right now. I just finished a new tape for the coming back of my label, and it's made mostly from processed cheap keyboards, vinyl, tape loops, guitar and some half-broken electronics of sorts.
I also work on vaporwave music regularly, and have recently been excited about these increasingly experimental and abstract mallsoft/vaporwave tracks I've been putting together from old taped commercials, no-name smooth jazz and muzak. But you aren't wrong to assume that my priorities have shifted.
I have such deep roots in electronic music. I wasn't even out of elementary school before I was obsessed with Orbital, Nine Inch Nails, Prodigy, The Orb, Stabbing Westward, KMFDM and whatever trance compilation CDs I could find.
I was trying to make remixes on basic audio editors that came with operating systems. I had just never gotten around to programming music until right before I moved to Chicago from Baltimore. I never messed with MIDI in all my years of using keyboards and drum machines. I always thought about it, but was more interested on a junkier route that demanded more experimentation. I don't know if that makes sense...it does to me (laughs). But it wasn't until I got my first mac that came with GarageBand that I ever dove into drum samples and synth plugins. I was late to the producing game, and the venture was far overdue!
Is there anything conceptual behind the imagery you use, or is it just for an aesthetic?
As random as it might appear, pretty much every visual element in any piece of FIRE-TOOLZ art is very conceptual. Part of my creative process is scanning my immediate consciousness for details about the topic that would otherwise be regarded as mundane or insignificant.
These details that seem to stand out to me, a lot of times end up being interpreted and manifested visually. Sometimes the visual elements are a blatant, matter-of-fact reference. Others stem from a decryption only my mind will understand. A lot of those chosen elements end up being realised as connection points between different aspects of the big picture.
It's just a web that weaves as I write. It's a mess; always. The music, the visuals, the words - it is all a big conceptual mess that writes itself. FIRE-TOOLZ is not as much music made from ideas, but more so music made by obeying the flowing nature of my creative consciousness when a computer/phone/notepad is in my lap.
So every soccer ball, alien head, pot leaf, file folder, dripping liquid, smouldering footwear, for example, is either directly/literally or cryptically/absurdly a reference. Same can be said for almost every sample used. Every cat meow, every drum beat played by hitting pens on a coffee table, every field recording of a conversation I recorded where someone says something that loosely relates to the lyrical concept...like I said, it's a mess.
Do you get a sense of nostalgia from your music or does it feel like something totally new for you?
I think that nostalgia plays a prominent role in the music and the art. That shouldn't be hard to believe though, because nostalgia is often the foundation of many artists work. But I focus a bit obsessively on it. The joy is really in using it to portray current ideas and experiences.
How much DIY hardware vs software went onto this release?
There are slabs of audio that were recorded with field recorders or phones. They are heard mostly as loops, textures and transitions. i occasionally sample other artists, movies, jingles, etc. I've also used an external drum machine, guitar and some circuit-bent electronics. But, yeah, it's cliche laptop music. I've made plenty of it in coffee shops.
Did you get to improvise a decent portion of the record or is it more meticulous in composition and initial arrangement?
I look at it all as totally improvised; in the sense that 99 per cent of the ideas I get while creating a track get tried and often kept. But when they are kept, they get tweaked to the tiniest detail. They get mixed, processed and built off of. They allude to ideas for what goes before or after them, because adding that initial part changed the way the song flowed. What you hear is a massively edited, perfected and broken-in opus of streams of consciousness.
The only song that was largely improvised on the instrumental end was Diet-Blood. The harsh drum and feedback sounds were recorded with a circuit-bent Alesis SR-16 drum machine, playing in a feedback loop grouped with several pedals I had modified. After it was recorded, I learned the song and arranged the vocals and samples around it. The original recording is from 2008 or something.
The lyrics are written prior, usually in bouts of my brain puking on my lunch break or something. The vocal performance is very loosely planned and is usually rehearsed as it's recorded. Sometimes the vocals come from recordings of me just flipping out and improvising into the voice recorder app on my phone while driving a vehicle. In tracks like Yellow Croc-Fire and Yeast-Fire, you can hear how abstractly the rhythm of the words plays out. That's because I've just taken the audio file from my phone and collaged the desired pieces into place. Then I have to learn the shit, so I can actually perform it.
Did you coming out as transgender effect your writing or inspiration process at all?
Me coming out as transgender amidst writing this album signed me up for a different kind of pedestal to yell from. It was like the trans-community handed me a mic and they all were standing there, staring at me blankly, waiting for me to say some angry shit.
It did provide a new perspective on the songs I had already written, which was to be reflected in the songs I had yet to write. But I also felt like I had nothing to say, even though I was (and am) a girl.
I didn't figure this out until just then, after 30 years of feeling weird. It has complicated the writing process by adding another layer I couldn't ignore, even if I wanted to, but I felt like I was taking a responsibility I hadn't earned yet.
It added a new charge to the sexual and romantic components that I hadn't had much time to explore yet. The way I express myself sexually in the music seems to have become more explicit, more unapologetic and more matter-of-fact now that I am totally comfortable and in-touch with my gender ID. On the album, it's there, but it didn't feel as good then as it does now.
How far do you want to push FIRE-TOOLZ for the future?
I want to keep going with this as long as it feels good. I'm excited to improve my live show and write songs indefinitely. I'm sure life will throw me a curve ball at some point, but hopefully not before I get more touring in and more albums out. I'm going to work on a cover EP finally. I haven't decided on the tracks yet, but I've got a good list going. What do you want to hear?
FIRE-TOOLZ Even The Files Won't Touch You is available now via Bandcamp here.
Strange Fires is an eclectic, visually-oriented music blog. Written and curated by Colorado-based musician, writer and artist Doran Robischon for the past six years, this source draws from a mix of contrasting genres in the name of fluid exploration.