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There's a phenomenal book out recently called Demonic Males by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson that talks about interactions in gorilla groups. They talk about how young males will enter groups that are being protected by a silverback and kill the young babies. They do this to demonstrate that the current silverback--the reigning male--cannot protect the children of the female from outside aggressors. In turn, the females leave that silverback and go off with this male and start a new family.

It's a level of masochism and sadism that is untrammeled in so many ways that still has some resonance in our psyches. The male demonstrates that he is strong and you cling to that because there is some protection in that strength even though you are getting hit by the overflow of that.

Percy: There is an aspect of cruelty that you have to observe, and not judge. When I wrote "Succubus" I wanted the vocal to be ominous and detached at the same time. Because you're watching that. Sometimes you hear stuff like that and it is so over the top that you can't take it seriously. But when you go to certain levels of depravity and evil, there is a detachment there. The Devil is never jumping up and down with glee when he pokes his pins in you. It is just what he does. You could be washing the car or playing catch. It don't matter. He's poking pins in your soul.

That's the only song that you really treated the vocals on.

Percy: Yeah, I treated all the vocals interestingly enough. Like Victoria Lloyd's backup vocals on "Everywhere," there is a really sharp flange on her voice. It's not treated like Skinny Puppy vocals. The vocal on "Succubus" is radically treated. It's almost cliché. But I wanted it to be like that.

"Succubus" wasn't on my list to discuss because it did veer so difficulty from the rest.

Percy: It was the aberration in the group.

Very markedly so.

[ demonic males ]

Percy: It wasn't even supposed to on the record. It was supposed to be a hip-hop track for Bill Laswell's Intanorumori hip-hop project [to be released under the Material moniker]. But what I did with the vocals was so dark and over the top that Bill was like: "Just doesn't work with this project. Just use it on your record."

The last track of Incidental Seductions: "Float."

Percy: "Float" is just really almost like a psychedelic reverie.

When I first heard that Vernon Reid--guitarist from Living Colour--was going to be on the album, I was curious to hear the sounds that he would bring to the project. And then to listen to the whole album and wonder: "Was he unmiked?" And then you get to "Float" and it is almost like Vernon gets loose. Vernon finally said, "I want out, man. Give me a track!"

Percy: I knew a lot of people would have that reaction about Vernon and Trey's contributions to the album. I used them in a different way then they usually get used. A lot of their playing is really ambient and I treated a lot of their stuff even after it went in. But "Float" just needed to be a psychedelic rock song. I wanted the chorus to be like jungle and that's why there's about a 30 or 40 BPM shift when you get to the choruses. And Charles [Hayward] goes wild. He's a machine, man. He just gets faster and faster and faster. He proves on that track--in my opinion--why he is one of the best rock drummers on the planet.

He was amazing to watch.

Percy: That guy is so underrated. Most drummers just can't wipe his butt. He's really amazing and, on top of that, an incredible human being.

Yeah, "Float" is just a psychedelic reverie, that's all. It's just images I had. I was at work one day, tired, bored, and I just wrote this. "Towards the outer edge of sky/A painful blue." It's like a mushroom trip without the mushrooms.

(laughing) It's not meant to be looked at too closely.

Percy: (laughing) No, it really isn't. There's not much to it.

The rest of the album is this wonderful soothing creature that sneaks under you and then you get hit by "Float" and wonder: "What? Did I just drop?"

Percy: Yeah, you get slammed by "Float." I wanted it to be like that. If you're falling asleep, now you're going to wake up. That's got a pretty heavily processed vocal, too. It's got that really sharp flange on it. I wanted to get the vocal sound to have a light touch of that android's voice in Alien.


Percy: Yeah, a little bit of that "rrr." That thing he does. That was just it. We just wanted to have a jam on there. I wanted to have this jungle drum thing on there.

I have another quote for you. "...and then he intoxicates them with such a potion that they are plunged into ecstasy and oblivion."

[ vernon reid, trey gunn and percy howard ]

Percy: Hey, that's Hassan-I-Sabbah from Hashisheen. That was great fun reading those readings. That was a great project. It should have gotten a lot more recognition than it did.

Did they just send you stuff and say: "Read it. Send it back."

Percy: Yeah, Bill just sent me these readings and said, "Go into a digital studio and put these on a DAT." That's what I did. I just went and read them. It was just great reading them because the writings are so good. That's a mesmerizing project. When you listen to it from beginning to end, it's just so fascinating. The thing that was exciting to me was that I had done some reading about this individual and the Assassins previous to that. That was a real turn-on to do that. That and it was cool to be on a project with some people that I really admired like William Burroughs and Patti Smith. "Wow. I'm going to be on a record with Patti Smith." A little starry-eyed thing.

They've done three of those projects now.

Percy: Right. The Paul Bowles' Baptism of Solitude and the Chakra. All on the Meta label...

The distracting thing--for me--was that I knew most of the source music on Chakra and couldn't stop thinking: "Wait. I've got this somewhere." But Hashisheen was all new.

Percy: It was well conceived and all the writings are really, really fine. I didn't have much creativity involved in it other than making sure that the readings weren't over the top. I didn't want to get too dramatic with the readings. Kind of stay restrained. Especially with the ones he gave me.

"Everywhere." It is the only song on Incidental Seductions that you didn't write the lyrics.

Percy: There's a spoken word artist--a poet--who lives in Seattle named Kali LaVey. She admired my work and we just hooked up and started writing back and forth through the Internet. She sent me some of her stuff and "Everywhere" just wiped me out. Just really hit me. That's a beautiful lyric. I told her that I would really like to use it because it is shimmering beauty. It's a love song that is really transcendent. It has such an immense open-heartedness--and it is over the top--but it is so warm and so transcendent and so transparent that it isn't corny. That is a feat of writing. I knew it was something that would translate well to melody. As soon as I read it, Bam! There was the melody in my head. I knew what the song should be. I didn't want a live bass on it. I wanted it to be really shimmering. So all of the bass tones are from a keyboard synth and it just hangs there. Yeah, she's very talented and I think people are going to hear about her a lot more.

It's one of those instances when you see some infinitesimal detail about someone and it becomes everything. It just overwhelms you.

Percy: Yeah, and to put that in words. It's a great lyric for a love song. It was just a matter of pulling that one together.

And then you brought her in for "Thirst." [Incidental Seductions]

[ hashisheen ]

Percy: She was in San Francisco one weekend and we able to get into a studio and track the stuff for "Thirst." She's got a great reading voice. She has a very studied and methodical way of reading things. And I really liked that. I don't know if you've heard much of Nicole Blackman.

My first guess when I heard the song was that it was Nicole.

Percy: I don't like too much of Nicole's writing. Her stuff is a little bit too hip and too purposefully dark for my taste. But her voice! Just the sound of it. Her voice is amazing. I mean, it is a really amazing voice. And very sonorous. And Kali has some of that quality too. I want to use her in the future on some other stuff.

Dead Inside [the Golden Palominos album that Nicole Blackman does spoken word for] just kills you. There are individual lines that strike you so hard that the rest of the song just doesn't matter.

Percy: When she settles down--and this is just my opinion--she'll really see just how good she is. There's a record called Myths of the World that she does a track on.

She does a track called "Cassandra."

Percy: Now that, that is a fine piece of writing. And she doesn't do much of that. She does more of the hip, downtown visceral kind of stuff. Man, the girl can write. And she should allow herself to exist outside the pale of "hip" every now and then. And just write. Just write from the heart. I know Nicole. It's just one of those vulnerability things. But she is good.

On "Thirst" you take a much more secondary role, doing the backup vocals.

Percy: All I wanted was to vocalize against that and not get in the way of the spoken word. You know "Thirst" and "Succubus" are a dyad. There's a cross-fade from "Thirst" into "Succubus." I wanted "Thirst" to be her telling you, man. She's telling you what she is. She's telling you what she does. "I know the thirst and can pacify the need for embraced limb-locked fury." And then after that, I tell you, "She's fucked me up." It's just this little story. She comes forward, writhing and twisting, sweating and glistening. And then I come forward and say, "Yeah, she dogged me."

It's like the voice of the Devil.

Percy: That's it. (laughs) So I just wanted to be back there in the background. Keeping the vocalization discrete and improvising with the piano. There's a great pianist that plays on that track. Leonard La Rue. He lives here in Sacramento and is just a freak, just a freak on the piano. Really amazing. I just wanted to improvise with what he was doing.

[ percy appeared with patti smith on hashisheen ]

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