FOREWORD: Avant-pop New York-originated combo, Enon, came together after the tragic death of Brainiac leader, Timmy Taylor. That’s when Taylor’s ex-band mate, John Schmersal, left Ohio for the Big Apple to start a band with ex-Skeleton Key members Rick Lee and Steve Calhoun (who left early on). After Enon’s convincing ’99 debut, Believo!, was recorded, Calhoun left to be replaced by Blonde Redhead bassist, Toko Yasuda. ‘02s High Society and ‘03s Hocus Pocus went unheard, but I doubt they top ‘07s pleasurable straight-ahead pop rocker, Grass Geyser … Carbon Clouds. I interviewed the experimental trio during ’99. This article originally appeared in Aquarin Weekly.
Making Brooklyn their adopted hometown, former Brainiac guitarist John Schmersal and Let’s Crash drummer Matt Schultz (both from Ohio) hooked up with ex-Blonde Redhead/ The Lapse bassist Toko Yasuda (originally from Japan) and Skeleton Key drummer/ Butter08 guitarist Rick Lee (An Arkansas native) to create mind-expanding avant-rock. Taking their moniker from what Schmersal claims to be an “intergalactic manufacturer of kitchen appliances,” or quite possibly, “none spelled backwards,”
Enon’s radically skewed, unconventional sound utilizes all types of gadgetry (digital samplers, MIDI equipment, 3-millimeter video players) to corrupt disjointed rhythms, blustery treble, buzzing radio frequencies, and amp distortion on the impressive debut, Believo!
Schmersal goes into a Prince-like falsetto on rumbling opener, “Rubber Car,” which packs a bass synthesizer drone reminiscent of John Entwistle’s “Boris The Spider” or some unspecific crusty Melvins track. For “Get The Letter Out,” psychedelic Beatles-esque harmonies get buried beneath a muted Archers Of Loaf-ish canopy. A sci-fi ‘push the button’ vocal loop forecasts nuclear holocaust on the murky “Matters Gray,” while over-modulated guitar rises above Schmersal’s muzzled groans on “Conjugate The Verbs.” And Barkmarket mastermind, David Sardy, adds his production wizardry to Believo! As well.
Under the name John Stuart Mill, Schmersal recently released the interestingly lo-fi set, Forget Everything, an informal, narcotic, lyrically opaque mindwarp not too far removed from Syd Barrett or Nick Drake’s acoustically obtuse ‘70s works. Perhaps these compelling, seemingly unfinished remnants were created to exorcise the demons that haunted him after Brainiac partner Tim Taylor died in an auto crash a few years back.
Many Enon tracks seem to subvert melodies and harmonies in exchange for a thickened rhythmic pulse and heavy treble boom.
JOHN: Basically, everything is of equal importance. The melodies are there. It’s more like the music has other sound textures, but you don’t know where they’re coming from. I like to think my melodies are catchy and hold people’s attention. The rest of the sounds are difficult to place.
Matt, how’d you originally get involved in music?
MATT: My parents grew up in the late ‘60s.My father turned me on to Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone. Then, he got into punk and introduced me to the Clash. On my own I got into Ornette Coleman. I could hear the lamest music on the radio and take something from it. We grew up in a good time when hip-hop was heard in grade school.
Rick, how’d you become so proficient on guitar? When I originally met you as a member of Skeleton Key, you amazed me by efficiently banging trash containers, tin cans, a red toy wagon, and other percussive junk onstage.
RICK: I didn’t do music until I was seventeen. I thought I had to take this Algebra II course, but when I found out I didn’t have to, I took guitar classes instead. I always dreamt about playing music. I loved Kiss. I learned “Smoke On The Water” like everyone else.”
Toko, you’ve been involved with innovative band, Blonde Redhead, as well as the lesser-known The Lapse. How’d you get involved with such heavy hitters?
TOKO: I graduated from high school in Japan, and I wasn’t doing anything, so I moved here. I grew up playing classical piano. Then, I got into punk music. I just met people in the city, became friends, and joined bands.
The twisted “Conjugate The Verbs” may be the most impressive track on the album. But its muzzled vocals are difficult to comprehend. How’d that track come about?
JOHN: When I was in grade school, some teacher was obsessed with conjugating. But it taught me nothing about anything. So it’s about doing things you don’t have to do. As for the vocals, I don’t like it when they are ‘super’ on top of the music. But I’m not from the school that believes they should be buried like an emo guy. I’m not afraid of the lyrics being heard, but I don’t think it’s necessary to print lyrics on the record. It’s the rhythm of the words that matters. But the melody should have a hook.
Do Enon’s arrangements usually come from improvisational ideas?
JOHN: For “Conjugate The Verbs,” all I had was the melody. I built around that. I worked the melody through. “Come Into,” with its ‘you’re evil and you know it too’ lyric is the most pop like music I could possibly make.
How was Believo! Enhanced by David Sardy’s production?
JOHN: He had the stigma of being a metal producer. But he has done Soulwax with string arrangements. He’s the head guy at See Thru Records and he works with no metal bands now. Our songs have lots of layers. Half the basic traks were recorded live and some were from demos. There’s a lot of lower, darker sounds mixed together with some bright stuff. Drum tracks are actually sampled loops we played along with or sequenced sounds behind. It’s a well-captured, fucked-up sound he put down.
What does the near future hold for Enon?
MATT: The songs we’re working on now don’t sound like our other ones. They’re built on pieces of things coming from everybody. Before I go home to Ohio tomorrow, I’m gonna put down some drum tracks. Before you know it, the band will put it together and when I come back to New York, it’s going to be a song.