Q&A: Machine Girl

By Kiah Easton, Staff Writer
[Photo Courtesy of Machine Girl]

After only a week off from their mini-tour in Mexico, Machine Girl is back on the road promoting their most ambitious album yet. The Ugly Art combines elements of several genres including house, breakbeat and punk, creating a futuristic, apocalyptic, ear-rupturing experience. After seeing the duo twice over the span of 48 hours, I have lost significant auditory range and enjoyed every second. I was lucky enough to hang out with the group after their show in Athens, Ohio and ask them a few questions about their art.

Read More: Album Review: Machine Girl – The Ugly Art

What was it like recording drums live for an entire Machine Girl Project?

Sean Kelly: It was a grueling amount of work, it was rigorous.

How much do you have to practice, outside of playing almost every day?

Sean Kelly: Yeah, I have to practice every day; it’s like exercising. That’s what it became for me this year. I’ve been playing since I was a little kid, and everyone always told me, “you have to practice every day,” and I was like, “fuck you, no I don’t,” but a couple years ago I was like “shit!” You have to play for two hours a day–that’s the only way you’re ever going to be able to actually sound good. It’s actually really stupid and annoying.

Especially for this genre, I feel like your drums are and have to be so precise in order to sound good.

Sean Kelly: It’s messier than people think. Programmed drums are still going through the amps, so if I’m off a little bit, it’s still going to appear as if I’m perfect, which is pretty sick. Sometimes if I get too tired, I start to play behind the beat a little bit, but with the programmed drums, most people don’t pick up on it. Real drummers would know.

How do you compose together? Does Machine Girl write the song on Ableton, and then you both practice it together?

Sean Kelly: Yeah, it depends. That was a big chunk of The Ugly Art. He (Matt Stephenson a.k.a. Machine Girl) sent me around 30 loops in February, and I would pick the ones I felt like I could go crazy on, and we would do that over and over and over, slowly building it up. After that, he would take it from there and make it a good song.

Would he send you tracks with programmed drums already in them?

Sean Kelly: Very very little – mostly just a structure of the drums, an idea of what he wanted. He didn’t want to produce the whole thing. He didn’t want to program all the ornamentation within the drums. Fills and stuff like that would have just felt like Ableton breakcore shit.

What about the structure of the songs? How much did you collaborate together?

Sean Kelly: Not really, only some songs. The second track (“A Song Called Clive Barker”) we did together, and I guess “Fuck Puppet,” just a few of them really. It’s way faster for him to just do it. I’ll often listen to it, and be like, “maybe we should take out this part or add this.” It’s still like he’s Machine Girl, and I’m kinda just adding to it if you know what I mean. This album was more like the both of us though. It would be like every morning we’d be making breakfast, talking about doing this kind of thing or this type of groove. Sometimes I’ll just describe something that I like, and he’ll go and make it. It’s just so much fucking easier. We actually read a lot about Meshuggah this year. Meshuggah, like, passes the laptop around when they make shit. We want to do that, but we’re still figuring it out because we don’t want to make the music stupid. We know what the music is supposed to sound like, so we still have to make sure it’s the best cyberpunk album. We weren’t really experimenting at all.

*Changes directions to speak with Machine Girl*

How do you usually go about finding samples, especially the vocal samples you use in transitions like the one in this album: “All my loved ones flashed before my eyes sickos.”

Machine Girl: A lot of it’s either YouTube, seriously. I sample so much shit from YouTube. I’ll often watch a movie or a TV show and hear something that I think is a good sample. Specifically that sample you brought up, that’s from Wonder Showzen.

Sean Kelly: They’re like a huge inspiration for us.

Machine Girl: Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel are like the two best shows ever. What separates Xavier: Renegade Angel from other Adult Swim shows is that that show comes across as weird random shit, but it has the deepest plot. The people that made it put as much effort into as like the people that made Breaking Bad or something. To me it is the best surreal artwork ever made, I’m serious.

Speaking of surreal artwork, can you describe why you guys went from Orange Milk to Kitty on Fire?

Machine Girl: I’ll be honest, there’s not really a story to it. It’s just that we finished the last album, and the guys at Kitty on Fire were like, “we’ll do a vinyl release for you if you put out with us,” and I was like, “definitely.” I totally 100 percent am still planning on releasing more stuff on Orange Milk. Keith (owner of Orange Milk) is one of my favorite people, and I had told him this would happen at some point, so there’s not like any bad blood or anything. I still love them, and they’ve done a lot for me.

Did Keith Rankin do the artwork for Gemini? What about for …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR…

Machine Girl: Keith did Gemini, but I did that […BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR…]

I love the video game aesthetic in your art. What about the video for “Bitten Twice?”

Machine Girl: I did that.

That’s awesome, did you also do the hour-long video for MRK90 Mix Volume 1?

Machine Girl: Yeah, I did that.

What software do you use for video editing?

Machine Girl: I use Premiere and After Effects. Editing videos was my day job in New York.

Where did you get all the footage for MRK90 Mix Volume 1? A lot of it is video game footage, right?

Machine Girl: Yeah, all of that is from YouTube.

Sean Kelly: There’s also some footage that was shot on tour. That’s kind of the best part.

Machine Girl: Yeah, there’s one point at the end that I feel like, if you watched the whole hour-long video, you might think it’s me, but it’s not. It’s actually like a friend of mine that lives in Denver, and they did this performance where they were also in a dress, and they were dancing around and going like crazy. And I like, inverted the footage and then used an effect to make the colors interact in an interesting way.

Your vocals are always distorted so much that it’s often hard to hear the lyrics. How much effort do you put into the lyrics versus the actual sound of your voice?

Machine Girl: I do spend a lot of time on lyrics, and I’d like to–in the future–get the lyrics and the sound of my voice to a point where I don’t want to distort it. I put a lot of effort into the lyrics on this latest album, and I put the lyrics out, so they should be on Genius.

I’ve been to three of your shows and haven’t heard any from Gemini, one of my favorite albums. Why don’t you play it more often?

Sean Kelly: I wanna play Gemini. He doesn’t like it.

Machine Girl: Yeah, I don’t like it. I know people think it’s a good record, but it wasn’t what I was going for. After WLFGRL, I had a really clear idea for Gemini, and it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to. I also was in a weird headspace. I sort of lost it with music. I was really inside my head, lost in the sauce. Some shitty stuff was going on in my life.

Sean Kelly: Yeah, it’s the sophomore slump. Everybody has a sophomore slump, and a lot of the time they’re actually good.

Machine Girl: I feel like it’s taken me through Gemini and …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR… to fully get out of the slump. The Ugly Art feels like what I meant to make, and I’m happy about that.

I definitely think it’s your best album.

Machine Girl: We definitely agree.

Catch Machine Girl headlining Lobsterfest 2019 on April 27 at The Union.

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