HTRK, pronounced “Hate Rock,” a band name that takes a vowel-less and thusly opaque acronym for their dark dream project, uncovers more of their damaged sexual sensibilities and ideas of surviving modern musicianship. Where as 2009’s Marry Me Tonight was the band’s tongue-in-cheek assertion of a pop album Work (work, work) is a devastating statement of lust and despair. Upon its initial release, Work (work, work) received mostly mixed reviews. This year’s album is wonderfully cavernous but dense and confrontational with death head-on. On the sophomore full-length the vestibules are not well lit and any sign of emotional or even sonic release or rescue seems far off, unlikely even inside their thick psycho-sexual purgatory illustrated with vintage 808 beats.

So imagine the XX only made music like their stand alone track “Fantasy,” ambient but huge in its bass-heavy design. Imagine Cold Cave stopped their career with the brutal, largely unsung debut Cremations (see tracks “Roman Skirts” and “E Dreams”). This is the dire headspace of Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang of HTRK on Work (work, work).

Spectrum Culture proudly presents the HTRK interview, completed upstairs at San Francisco’s Public Works earlier this year during their tour with Tropic of Cancer.

I know you guys had a late night last night. I was telling Nigel that I was really excited to do this interview and I couldn’t sleep because I was really excited to do this.

JS: So we’re even. We haven’t slept for a couple of days.

How long have you been on the road for?

NY: Since the 4th [of September]. We played in Seattle, we played in Portland…

JS: I don’t know what day it is today, is it Wednesday?

NY: It’s Wednesday today, yeah, yeah, yeah. Not so long.

JS: Only a week, yeah.

So you’re starting on the West Coast and then making your way to the East.

NY: Yeah we’re flying from L.A. to New York.

JS: We’ve never played here before.

I feel that expectations are inevitable. Did you have any conscious expectations? What was it like facing them once you got here? How are you feeling?

JS: You mean being in America?

Yes, America, but just the tour and what’s happening to you. What’s happening to HTRK.

JS: That’s a really long…. Yeah.

NY: We had very positive expectations because the tour was booked really easily.

JS: Yeah, booking the tour was really easy, more so maybe than any other country. Certainly more than the U.K. and Europe. Some of the U.S. seems to be embracing what we’re doing and…

NY: …and it’s been a long time coming.

JS: It seems like right now in the moment America seems to be the place where our sound makes sense.

NY: It’s probably just absence makes the heart grow fonder. Think people here just have something in their imaginations about us.

JS: The U.S. might have romanticized us a bit. I think that we might be a little bit more mysterious to the U.S. because we deal with the kind of assets of mystery.

NY: This is probably going to be our first and last tour.

You started out in Australia where you were making music and then you found yourselves in Berlin?

JS: We’re all from Melbourne. The three of us. We all moved to Berlin together and then London.

Can you talk a bit about London versus Berlin?

JS: They’re polar opposites, really. When you’re visiting London you spend your life savings but when you live there it’s really cheap. Super cheap, cheaper than Berlin, dare I say.

How’s that?

NY: There’s markers.

JS: I don’t know. Yeah. Probably because people are getting wasted in Berlin. And then in London you’re having broccoli pasta and then going to bed (all laugh). I can live far more cheaply in London than in anywhere in the world.

So then maybe that has to do more with your savvy than the city itself.

JS: No, no God no, I’m not savvy. It’s got to do with probably 1% savvy and 99% desperation. London doesn’t change. What I like about it is that it’s not a progressive city. I wouldn’t say it’s backward but it doesn’t change too much and therefore the prices don’t change too much. In Melbourne, the cost of living has doubled in five years. London’s probably gone up 20%. Yet when you’ve lived there for five years you can be like a little rat and find out how to get the cheapest tomato. You could probably live off Ridley Road Market for 20 pounds a year. Something like that.

NY: We’re in East London too so it’s like almost a different city.

How about it giving way to recording or just practicing?

JY: We used to practice the hard way for a very long time. We used to go to rehearsal studios and pay 45 quid for three hours per night, three nights a week. We just didn’t know what we were doing.

NS: Yeah. We didn’t have the capital to set up our own room. We eventually got a permanent space in Berlin but Berlin wasn’t so productive, perhaps.

JY: I don’t think that anyone who lives in Berlin can actually be productive.

Why do you say that?

NY: It’s a slacker city. It will win you.

JS: It’s kind of like… in Berlin everything goes, so nothing goes. It’s like you’ve got all the time in the world to do one thing and you don’t do it.

No shit?

JS: It’s especially bad for personalities who leave it for the last minute. I think people who are of the other personality types, the ones who do things everyday, wouldn’t even think about moving to Berlin. It seems like it attracts the P type personality.

The P type?

JS: Yeah I think it’s the P type.

Like P for “procrastination”?

J: No, it actually means something else which I don’t know. But I do know I have been diagnosed officially as having this personality that leaves things for the last minute and I could see that there were a lot of me in Berlin. And so when you don’t have the last minute you just get it done. In London you do have that last minute. You really do. And so you do it. In Berlin you’ve got five years to do a painting. And even then it sucks. But I would say though that Germans are pretty disciplined too. Germans are disciplined, you just don’t socialize with them because they’re busy working. They’re kind of in Prenzlauer Berg and all of the tourists go to Kruezberg and you’re kind of with Palestinians, Americans and you’re just doing things at the last minute.

Last minute.

JS: At the last minute and not well.

When I was doing last minute research for this interview, there was this image of HTRK spelled out with a photograph of a vagina.

JS: Mmm hmm, yeah.

And that’s when I decided I was really intimidated to do this interview.

JS: Really? That was meant to be comforting. It’s not meant to be intimidating.

Who wrote the lyrics for “Eat Yr Heart?”

JS: I did. I write all the lyrics for the songs.

For “Eat Yr Heart,” one of the biggest moments on the album, I feel like it’s about one of those things where maybe you’ve just been with somebody and then you’re not, within an instant – physically. And then they’re gone and you’re alone. Even though nothing has gone wrong on the surface, something is very wrong and they leave and I feel the track translates that kind of thing in a way that’s so transporting.

JS: That’s interesting. Yeah, yeah I feel that everything you said, like I can relate to.

NY: It’s a nice description.

JS: Yeah. It really is. It’s perfect. Well listen, like, um, to go off on a tangent, we’ve been getting a lot of shit for this album, if I can be honest. So it’s refreshing… “refreshing” is a terrible word but… it’s really… I don’t know… important? That you get it. Because a lot of people aren’t getting it. They’re feeling like we’re being cold and perhaps self-indulgent and I think we’re actually doing this for everyone. And they’re not feeling it. I don’t know if they’re not feeling it because they’re scared or because we’re shit. It makes me feel good that you get it.

I was shocked with the Pitchfork review. I was kind of appalled. I felt that he missed the whole thing. Stepping into this I didn’t really want to talk about Sean. I’m much more interested in what’s going on now. A lot of critical reviews drawn up of Work (work, work) seem to attempt to interpret what you were trying to do with your second album in the wake of Sean rather than investigate the subtleties and nuances of HTRK independent of Sean.

JS: I think part of it too is the title, Work (work, work). People think we’re being cryptic but we’re not. The title Work (work, work) is a real reference to the work that was put into HTRK and a reference to how hard it is being in a band. When you’re in a band, you’re not just in a band, you’re in a relationship and then you have a day job too. You’re not making any money and it really is work and so losing someone along the way and going forward I thought surely was some kind of triumph within the human condition, to do that and that we should be rewarded rather than just fucking slammed.

NY: Yes. Some compassion at least.

JS: I never wanted compassion from anyone until I read the Pitchfork review.

NY: Yeah. It felt like a moral judgment against suicide. In an antiquated way, it felt like a moral judgment and that it was a crime.

JS: Yes or that we should have given up or stopped.

I think besides Sean’s suicide people seem to be preoccupied with HTRK’s recurring appeal to sexual themes and psycho-sexual situations. A lot of the critical reception for Work (work, work) I think also focused on sexuality in this very immediate way.

JS: What sexuality? Where? I wish that they would. They haven’t picked up on it at all.

I think that it’s always interesting when bands or artists or movements in America are missed or misunderstood the first time around. It’s almost like here, it’s a prerequisite to be hated or misunderstood first before you have some sort of success. It’s almost as though in order to be great you have to be rejected somewhere down the line. So maybe this is just an American thing.

JS: It’s not just happening in America. It’s happening everywhere. Even though the subject matter might be about sex, on a deeper level it’s about death and I don’t think anyone wants to deal with that. And maybe they shouldn’t. I kind of don’t blame them.

N:Y We don’t ask people to deal with stuff when you’re listening to this record. You don’t have to think when you’re listening to it. People have over-thought it a bit and overreacted to it. I don’t know if it was the Pitchfork review or another review but someone said that it was decorative. There have been other words used like that but they were negatively framed. Instead of the word “decorative,” if they had used the word “ambient.” The record isn’t meant to enforce itself. It’s not meant to push you or even challenge you. It’s just meant to be there if you want to enjoy it.

Or not.

NY: Right. Or have a mixture of enjoyment and distaste. But not to view it as following witch house sounds or anything like that.

There’s something so carnal about Work (work, work) though despite that. There are some very upfront things said about the body, about the human carnivore. For instance, the cadence of the album itself is I think something so daring where you have “Work that Body” and “Body Double” right up against each other. I thought that was such a bold thing to do in terms of how the record is laid out. You also have “Skinny” in there too. You didn’t have to arrange the tracks this way but you did any way. Can you just talk about what that means and how you see it?

JS: The whole album is about the body. It’s not really about sex. It’s actually about decay. It’s about tiredness. It’s about aging. It’s about laziness. It’s about lust. It’s about all the things that happen to the body that you think only happen to the mind but they’re happening to the body as well, more so because if you don’t have a body then you don’t have a mind. So the whole album, it’s called Work (work, work) but it’s really about working the body and it’s also about how you work the body to make ends meet. We wouldn’t work the body so hard if we didn’t have to go to work. And it turns out I don’t believe in work. The nine to five system that we’ve got going on is killing us. We could probably live until we’re 150 if we didn’t have to do this nine to five thing. You especially feel it if you want to be a musician because you have to have a day job because you can’t make money being a musician. That’s only one part of the story. The other part of the story is observing myself, Sean and Nigel trying to make ends meet, trying to keep relationships and trying to make music. It’s also saying that music in general is suffering in a quality way because of the work that you have to do to make money to pay rent. There’s all these kind of talks where people say that only the passionate and only the real musicians will survive but I don’t think we’re going to see another James Brown in our time because there’s absolutely no way you can be James Brown on Ableton.

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