BY LESS LEE MOORE
(Photo by Gretchen Lanham)
Chris Corner has been making music as IAMX since 2004, a musical project with electronic and rock influences that also incorporates elaborate, theatrical live performances. Corner has recently unleashed another musical persona in the form of Unfall (German for “accident”), which he refers to as “heady dance music.”
Corner had already been producing remixes for others as well as for his own work through the Unfall moniker, but now he’s transformed that project into a new series of instrumental and abstract albums that focus on his work with modular synthesizers. The first was released digitally on September 22, with a physical release planned for October.
We chatted with Corner about Unfall, his inspirations, directing Gary Numan videos, and the parameters of fear.
“IAMX has always been a psychological terror journey.”
Halloween is just around the corner and this album seems like it would be a great soundtrack for a spooky dance party. Some of the track titles on Unfall are quite evocative (first single “Little Deaths” along with “Tick Tick Tick,” “Hysteria,” and “The Disease to Please”). Did the titles come before the songs themselves? If not, what inspired the titles?
IAMX has always been a psychological terror journey. I’m a human behavior junkie and along with this search for purity and truth, there’s an endless well of darkness in us. The war, the power, the sex. That’s what drives my desire to create, to reflect myself and the world in a visceral, open way, with all the grimy hypocrisy and evil and all the extraordinary beauty and turn-ons. These titles came when the tracks revealed themselves to me. Their characters yearned for these names.
Is it intimidating or scary to release something without singing, when so much of your musical persona is associated with your powerful, unique vocal style?
No, it’s a fucking relief, actually. IAMX songwriting can be an awful struggle, technically and emotionally. There’s so much more responsibility and baggage that comes iwth a vocal message and “normal“ song structure. For years, I’ve wanted to just get lost in a self-indulgent tech world. It’s a huge part of my production process anyway, but without vocals my energy becomes more playful. It’s actually much more fun making instrumental music and it gives me a well-earned break from the endless loop of my own voice inside and outside my head.
Speaking of fear, several years ago you were very candid about your struggles with mental health, particularly chronic insomnia. As someone who has struggled with insomnia since childhood, I applaud your candor. How do these struggles inform some of the tracks on this album?
I really left most of that turmoil with the previous album Metanoia. That’s where those feelings belong. It’s a huge privilege to have a vessel through which to vent. Given the squirming chaos of the artistic mind, the art itself must always have some therapeutic consequence. With Metanoia, it was basically a cognitive behavioral therapy journey. With Unfall, it’s the rhythms that get me. It’s a tribal connection getting lost in heady dance music: the music as a drug to transform and free the body and mind. And the geeky elegance and intricacies of electronic music can be very calming. It’s overthinking but with a positive edge.
Despite being an electronica album – something many people associate with a sterile, otherworldly sonic palette – there are a lot of organic, almost terrestrial sounds on this album. How did you achieve that balance?
I love anything that is good. I don’t care if it’s organic, electronic, cool, or embarrassing. I’m interested in obscuring sound, making alien and indescribably sounds, but using the power and warmth of the analog palette. People that say electronic music is sterile are lazy. If it’s a dog banging on a dustbin and it sounds good it’s worth something. There’s plenty of cold, meaningless, sterile, organic music. In fact, in this cynical, meaningless, piecemeal, awkward, entitled pop culture we witness, there is endless banality. Leftfield and obscure is the last sanctuary of good music.
Jane Wiedlin (of The Go-Go’s) provides some seriously creepy vocals on “The Disease to Please.” How did this collaboration come to fruition?
We had social media interaction over the years and we really connected over mental health issues. She was a big supporter of IAMX. I wanted some very sweet, innocent-sounding vocals to twist and sonically bastardize and she seemed perfect, particularly with her history with The Go-Go’s. She threw some lines into her phone and sent them. I loved the lyrics.
You recently directed Gary Numan’s video for “My Name is Ruin.” How is the creative process for filmmaking similar to the process for making music?
There’s a technical similarity and a sheer “will to see it through” similarity, as well as a control freak similarity. I adore video. There’s so much scope that music and visual together can achieve. I’ve always painted with sound and had strong images in my head when I made music, so moving into video was natural. I shoot and edit, so it is a slog. There’s more that can go wrong because you are dealing with schedules and unpredictable issues like weather, light, and humans, but it’s rewarding on a different level than music.
There is a new IAMX album scheduled for early next year. What can you tell us about it? Did you work on that simultaneously with the Unfall album? Do these albums share any specific attributes?
Unfall was a way to get all the tech out of my system. Now as I write I find myself turning to a very symphonic sound. I’m tailoring a subtle softness that I’ve touched on before but never totally seen through. The beats are moving to the background with the vocal, strings, guitars, and pianos to the front. But the organics I treat again in an otherworldly way, with lots of reverb and filters and a muted, brooding spine of electronic underpinning it all. That’s where I am right now.
Unfall was released digitally and on CD on September 22 through Caroline/Universal.
Limited edition vinyl will be available on October 20.