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E.T. Habit interview with Alex Nova

Echoing through the tubes of a maddening howl is the psychedelic screech of E.T. Habit.  You could use a million adjectives to describe them but one thing’s for sure, they don’t fit in any predefined little boxes or labels these guys are way to buys blazing their own trails and making their own music.  Disjointed but cohesive enough not to be avant-garde or degrade into utter noise haunting vocals drifting up from the back of the din before disappearing into another burst of sound and energy.  E.T. Habit doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but their own and after releases on Skrot Up and Hozac they’ve self-release their debut album Panthers On The Roof proving that they aren’t going anywhere and will continue to push the bounds of traditional and psychedelic songwriting for some time to come.  I had the pleasure of catching up with seminal member Alex Nova and talking about where E.T. Habit has been and where they’re hoping to go from here…

What’s the band’s lineup?  Is this your original lineup or have you gone through some changes since the band started? 

Right now the band lineup is William Hafer, myself, Drew Ryan and Jason Ogawa.  William and I have been constants since E.T. Habit’s inception and Drew has been on board as our bassist for awhile as well.  He replaced Jason Sublette who replaced Troy Canady.  Also, the album you are set to review featured another founding member in Christmas Woods who sang, played percussion and concocted some keyboard motifs for us.  It really feels like a big family at this point. 

Are any of you in any other bands?  Have you released any material with any other bands?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes, our days seem ever surrounded with music, music at every turn and you’ll have to excuse any comparisons I draw to answer your question.  Right now, William plays in a band called New Rose Alliance and works on a solo project.  William is a pretty notable and progressive cat and before working in E.T. Habit, built quite the reputation as the drummer for Detroit’s Human Eye.  Drew Ryan also sits in on bass for J. Fernandez and they have a sort of early Floyd meets a Beach Boys thing from what I can tell.  Jason Ogawa has a group called Tarnation and they have a sort of Throbbing Gristle meets Sun Ra meets Swans thing happening.  I just saw them play to a bunch of real young kids and their parents, out there moments.  As for myself, I’ve set up a kind of dogleg path with a lot of bleed and side projects.  I’m compelled to not really go into it actually.  Recently, I released a couple albums that are in production with Onyx System that will be coming out on Batshit records sister label.  That group is on a hiatus of sorts so that I can lend some more energy to a solo album I’m working on called Alex Nova’s Le Bizzarerrie.

When and how were you first exposed to music? 

Probably in the womb somewhere, humming, whistling, and singing, kinesthetic vibrations of the flesh.  Before that, who knows?

When did you first decide that you wanted to start writing and making your own music?

Probably shortly after taking up cigarettes…  No, really, I have no idea.

How did you all meet and when was that?

Ha, to answer this question requires too much demystification.  There’s lots of branch.  If I were to say it quickly, I met William through Christmas, Drew through the net initially, and Jason, well, I’m still not sure how I met Jason…

Where is the band currently located?

Currently we all reside here in Chicago.  I live in Humboldt Park, Drew and Jason live in Logan Square at the cusp of Humboldt Park and William lives on the South Side near Hyde Park somewhere.

How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at now?

Interesting and not so interesting.  Busy.  A lot of creativity and a lot of inspiration floating around for those open to receiving it.

Are you very involved with the local scene?

I’d say my involvement is mostly through musical contribution, psychic fatigue and intuition about a time and a place to put the outsider.  I’m not one to get lost in a scene really, there’s too much music to make.

Has it played a large role in the sound, history or evolution of E.T. Habit?

Trends in music really have no role in the sound of our music.  We really do play for ourselves in a truthful way.  Musically I think we sound like no one else right now and we are doing our own thing, an inspired pursuit.

What led you to start E.T. Habit?  When was that?

First of all, the will to get weird, to make challenging music.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I started E.T. Habit, in a lot of ways it started itself in a natural and mischievous sort of way.

What does the name E.T. Habit mean or refer to?

Extra Terrestrial Habit.  I love how it has evolved into the name it is today, I love how space towers from without and within.  It refers to our place in the universe.  It refers to our relationship with the mysteries of nature.

I absolutely hate to label or classify music.  How would you describe E.T. Habit’s sound to our readers who haven’t heard you yet?

I understand.  It’s hard to classify music but nothing is more delightful than talking about or experiencing music with those you feel a good connection with.  That said, I cut myself some slack and even have fun classifying and re-classifying even if it feels a little odd at times.  The most I could say to answer that though is that E.T. Habit likes to confound expectations, will use distance and likes to keep it snake, for ourselves and for others.

There are some extremely interesting influences that I can hear in your music and a lot of them I think you only pick up once you’ve listened to the music a few times and really absorb it so I’m curious to hear who some of your major musical influences are?  What about as the band as a whole rather than individually?

Hard to answer without knowing what song or album you are referring to.  I will say this; while we are musicians our influences go well beyond music.

Do you all enjoy recording?  Some people can get over the pressures of being in a studio and as a musician I think we all love the end result, but being the in the studio can be extremely nerve wracking.  How is it in the studio for you all?

Each time is a little different.  We’re working on an album now.  We just converted our practice space into a studio and did it ourselves.  We went in at midnight and just went crazy till 7:30 A.M.  We laid down a strong spine, a live picture of our true playing to fill in with minimal rub later.  In a lot of ways recording can be unforgiving, so I think we all are into going at it with patient steadiness.  Take time, take in the fairies.

Do you do a lot of preparatory work before you go into the studio and get everything sounding the way you want beforehand or do you go into the studio and play things more organically and off the cuff letting things evolve and change where they need to?

Both.  We prepare but stay loose.  In so far as we would record songs, there is preparation leading up to the moment of capture.  Extracts are more spontaneous.  Literally us trying to extract or improvise a moment to dilly dally in or reckon with.

In 2011 you had your debut release, the self-titled cassette tape.  Can you tell us what it was like recording your first album?  What are your memories of those session(s)?  Where was it recorded?  When was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Actually, our first recording was our first show which was a recorded for a radio show on WFMU.  It was gutsy and turned out great!  The tape you are mentioning was on the Skrot Up label I believe and is more of a compilation of various recordings both from the radio show I just mentioned and from us just hitting record in the practice space with a little post-production.

Who put that out?  Was it limited?  Is that still in print?

Yeah, it was limited to fifty copies.  It was an independent tape release by Skrot Up out of Denmark.  You can download it online from Skrot Up’s website but the tapes are long out of print.

You followed up the self-titled tape with the Venomous single on Hozac records last year (2012).  There aren’t a lot of labels out there that I pay close attention to every band they choose to release; Hozac is one of those labels.  How did you get hooked up with them?  How was it working with Hozac?

Christmas was in talks with Todd Novak over at Hozac for that single.  Seemed pretty effortless.  Hozac is hip and busy with some good writers and a long history with shows and what not.  They’ve been real supportive to us.

Can you talk about the recording of the material for that Venomous single?  What it much different than the recording done for the self-titled cassette release?

That was Drew Ryan’s recording debut with us.  He’s really the muscle behind much of our recordings in so far as he engineers and has a shared intuitive vision with the group.  I think it’s a nice reflection of that moment in time with the band.

Now I know that Venomous: Tongue’s Descent single is limited as pretty much all of Hozac’s 7”s are limited edition affairs.  How many copies is Venomous: Tongue’s Descent limited to?  Is it still in print?

There should be some copies floating around, not sure how many total.  We have a handful left.

On the heels of the Hozac single in November of 2012 you choose to form your own record label, E.T. Habit Records and self-release your debut album, Panthers On The Roof in an edition of 300 hand-numbered copies.  How was the recording of Panthers On The Roof handled?  When was it recorded?  Where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

We recorded Panthers On The Roof with the William Hafer, Alex Nova, Christmas Woods and Drew Ryan lineup.  This was Drew’s second big recording pursuit with us.  Drew likes to record to 8-track tape.  Again, we recorded this one at our practice space.

What does the title Panthers On The Roof mean?

Christmas and I were trying to creep each other out during a night of partying.  I told him there were panthers on the roof…  What would that sound like?  It must have stuck because he proposed it as the album title midway through recording.  

Since this was your first full-length album on vinyl did you approach the recording or songwriting in any special way?  Was recording this album much different than the single or earlier cassette?

Nope, Drew Ryan really stepped up.

What brought about the decision to start your own label as opposed to trying to work with someone else?
Our band was in transition.  We we’re setting out to sea with a different lineup, I think that was part of it.  It felt like it might be hard or too time consuming to get someone to put it out with that sort of uncertainty looming over our heads.  I’m glad we self-released it.  There’s something special and individual about a private press.  Downfall is the lack of circulation, and it feels like an archival piece, albeit a very special one. 

Do you plan to release your own music exclusively through your own record label from this point on or do you plan on working with labels as well as releasing your own material in the future?

Probably a combination of both.

Has E.T. Habit released any music that we haven’t talked about yet?

We are wrapping up a second LP that I am very excited about and can’t wait to unleash.  If Panthers On The Roof was book one, this is its accompaniment as book two.

Are there any plans for any other releases this year?  Maybe a single or any plans for a follow-up full-length?

We are real close to mastering our second long player.

Where’s the best place for our US readers to get copies of E.T. Habit’s music?

This link, E.T. Habit Records:

With the insane international postage rate increases this past year what about our international and overseas readers?

I know you had your first release from a band that wasn’t your own on the label not too long ago, what was that release?  How has E.T. Habit Records been working out for you all?

I actually was in that group.  I think your referring to Onyx System.  So far the label is good and modest.  Because we all partake in music outside this group it’s a nice way to self-release semi-related projects.  We’re going to do a limited run of one time bass player Jason Sublette’s solo project Xunholm in the near future.

Does E.T. Habit have any plans or goals that they are trying to accomplish in 2013?

Right now they are to release our second LP and continue to create and explore music.  It would be nice to tour the album once it is released.

Where’s the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news like album releases and upcoming shows from E.T. Habit?

Somewhere on the computer probably, type in E.T. Habit.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?

No plans as of yet, but plans to plan if that makes sense.

You have played with some really amazing bands including some of my favorites.  Who are some of your personal favorites that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Recently we played with a group called Chatoyant.  They were great, very talented musicians.  Who else?  I always enjoyed sharing a bill with Jamie Easter’s incarnations.  E.T. Habit did a slew of shows with the now defunct Druid Perfume.  Hmmm, there are a lot, too many to name at this point. 

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows that you’d like to share with our readers? 

Yes, but not for sharing in mass.  Maybe at a campfire in the stars for the curious hearts somewhere someday.

In your dreams who are you on tour with?

Gong, Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels, maybe a wine tour in the sky with Kevin Ayers.

I am a nut when it comes to physical music.  Having something to hold in your hands, artwork to look at, liner notes to read.  It all makes for a more complete listening experience and gives me a small glimpse in to the mind of the artists who made it in my opinion.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?
Indeed, it can be a beautiful thing. 

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us about it?

I have a tasteful little collection of records.  I learn a lot from them.  They get my whiskers going.

With all of the different options available to artists these days I’m always curious why musicians choose the mediums that they do and which mediums artists prefer.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your material?  What about when you are buying music?

I like vinyl, CDs, tapes…  Vinyl is probably the most ritualistic.

Like I said before, I love my records, tapes, CDs and even some reels. I still haven’t been sold on 8-tracks ha-ha!  But the convenience of digital music is undeniable.  It’s amazing to be able to take my entire music collection on the go with me wherever I want.  It also seems like digital music is leveling the playing field and giving independent bands that are willing to work hard and promote themselves, a much greater chance of being heard by people all over the world.  At the same time it’s gutting the infrastructure of the music industry as we know it.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

I think it’s personal.  I’ve recorded digitally, with tape, with a bleak little microphone in an invisible mouse hole, you name it.  I think it’s a great time to explore and find what style and medium you are comfortable with.  The strength of a recording for me is in the song itself and ideas therein.  It’s far more subtle for me.

I try to keep up with as much music and I can.  I spend enough of my time looking for new and good music at this point I shudder to think about it, so I always make sure to ask musicians this questions when I talk to them; who I should be listening to from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of before?

I would dig up some Druid Perfume records.  I got a Gary Wrong album recently and that’s fresh and dangerous.  Human Eye is passionate and creative.  Mac Blackout is the same.  Locals and Moonrises have kind of been haunting my skull.  Ilth Zongz, Spinning Clocks, Odd Clouds, Moonhairy, Chatoyant, Paradise Hoax.
What about nationally and internationally?

Hard to say here in frogtown.  I know Richard Pinhas of Heldon is staying busy and Eric of ADN’ Ckrystall is gigging and circulating his work.  I’d love to get E.T. Habit to France.

Thanks so much for doing the interview, is there anything that I missed or that you’d just like to talk about? 

Nope, thanks for reaching out.

(2011)  E.T. Habit – E.T. Habit – digital, Cassette Tape – Skrot Up Records (Limited to ??? copies)
(2012)  E.T. Habit – Venomous b/w Starside Devastation – 7” – Hozac Records (Limited to 475 copies on black wax and a Gold Edition with alternate cover Limited to 200 copies)
(2012)  E.T. Habit – Panthers On The Roof – digital, 12” – Self-Released (Limited to 300 hand-numbered copies)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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