When we recorded “Signals form Pier Thirteen” it wasn’t conceived to be a dance record, it was more about creating a vivid snapshot of what Crash Course in Science was at that moment.
Can you introduce CCIS to the younger generation that isn’t always familiar with the band?
Crash Course in Science is a musical group formed by art students Dale Feliciello, Mallory Yago and Michael Zodorozny in 1979. Inspired by punk rock and performance art the group was formed as way for the members to express their ideas. Initially using toy instruments and drums out of necessity the sound evolved when the group began building and altering their own synthesizers and drum machines creating a “do it yourself” electro sound.
When you began making music, what were your musical sources of inspiration?
We all have various individual influences. Some of our inspirations were:
experimental electronic music, punk, blue’s, Eno. Iggy, Black Sabbath, Sly and the Family Stone, Sparks and 60’s pop radio.
CCIS in its turn had a great influence on lots of electro and minimal wave bands. However, the output of the band (one single and one EP) was very small. How do you explain that a band with only 7 officially released song had such a great impact and was such an important influence for other bands?
Although there were only to two official releases initially by the band there were many phases of Crash Course in Science that are documented by unreleased recordings.
We experimented with different types of instrumentation and wrote a lot of material over the years that we would perform in our live shows. We also wrote, collaborated and performed with other artists.
For us, when we were recording our first records, we were trying to create something that we ourselves would enjoy listening to. We were not trying to fit into a defined genre.
We tried to evoke something within ourselves that could be projected the same way when you make a drawing or painting.
When we recorded “Signals form Pier Thirteen” it wasn’t conceived to be a dance record, it was more about creating a vivid snapshot of what Crash Course in Science was at that moment. We weren’t sure what the reaction would be but it’s a true representation of us at the time.
The inspiration for “Signals from Pier Thirteen” was a real place. There was an abandoned pier that was located along the Delaware River in Philadelphia called Pier Thirteen not far from where we rehearsed. It seemed to have been active around the first half of the 20th Century. All the images used on the cover of the record were either photographs of the pier or were of objects that we found there. Pier Thirteen was a big influence for us and we went there often. Huge silent machinery stood abandoned with shapes, shadows and debris. Daybreak was a favourite time to go there.
As far as being an influence for other bands is concerned, when ones artwork or music remains valid to an audience and stands the test of time it can give the creators a sense of fulfilment. We are humbled that other bands site us as an influence and look to us for inspiration.
Why did you chose the rather strange name of Crash Course In Science for the band? Where did it refer to?
There is an early, unreleased song that was written with the title “Crash Course in Science”. That is where the name came from. It was something that was said ‘off the cuff’ and it stuck. Looking back at the way the band evolved it’s a perfect title for the project. As we began building our own instruments more and more things needed to be figured out and resolved so it literally was, and still is, a Crash Course in Science!
Can you tell us a little bit more about the instruments you used? What’s the story behind the use of toy instruments?
When we were first starting out we used toy instruments and real drums because that was what we had available to use. Soon after we began to experiment with various types of tape recorders in conjunction with the instruments and worked to heighten the variety of sounds. Eventually Dale began building several synthesizers from scratch. Each instrument was encased in different coloured box. Each instrument just had knobs and switches on it and assigned a name corresponding to the colour. The instruments: the grey, the blue, the orange, the white etc… all have their own vocabulary of sounds.
Can you tell a little bit more about the two most famous songs of CCIS: “Cardboard Lamb” and “Flying Turns”, which became real underground hits?
Mallory wrote the lyrics to “Cardboard Lamb” and we were all intrigued by it.
It’s a song that we all looked forward to playing whether it was during a rehearsal or a live performance. It’s a bit of a mystery even to us, one day it was just there.
There is a toy from Dales childhood, a small lamb on wheels that appeared in the video for “Cardboard Lamb”, which may have triggered the idea. The song’s inspiration is very much from a childhood dream state.
“Flying Turns” was written the night before we went into the studio. We wanted to capture something in the moment conception. It wasn’t really rehearsed beforehand but the parts were roughed out and set up to happen in the studio. I had a vision of the song in my mind the night before and it kind of manifested itself during the recording process.
“Kitchen Motors” is also an intriguing song. Can you discuss it a little bit? What kitchen equipment did you use for the song “Kitchen Motors”? What is the motor sound that we hear? It’s sounds like a kitchen mixer...
The song “Kitchen Motors” was written as a homage to all the mechanical devices that exist in a kitchen. It’s a retro statement about the predicament of the housewife’s struggle with these devices. The sound was meant to the sound of a blender but it’s actually the sound of a drill.
Can you tell us something about the 3-Lp Box that will be released one of these days? Was it compiled by the band or was there any participation by the band in the realization of this compilation?
The box set, containing 3LP’s and one 7” single was released this past October 2009 through Vinyl on Demand in Germany. The band was very much involved in the making of the box set compiling and designing the entire release.
The box set is comprised of a repressing of our 7 inch single “Cakes in the Home” along with bonus tracks from that period. A repressing of “Signals from Pier Thirteen” along with 8 unreleased demo tracks from that period. An album containing recordings of two live performances from 1980 and 1981 including CCIS opening for the Philip Glass ensemble in Philadelphia. The third LP “Near Marineland” contains completed mixes of previously unreleased studio material, along with some remixes we made ourselves of this material, arranged and produced by CCIS and John Wicks, CCIS's original producer.
The band members designed all the artwork used for the box set. This artwork includes the design of the box itself, inner and outer sleeve designs and custom label designs.
The most recent release by CCIS was “Signals From Pier Thirteen” in 1981. What did happen to the band afterwards? Did CCIS split up? Why was their never an album or another release by the band until now?
About a year after we recorded “Signals for Pier Thirteen” we recorded the material for the “Near Marineland” album. It remained unmixed and unreleased at that time. Crash Course in Science didn’t break up but we were all active with other projects in addition to CCIS. It was just over the past few years that we became aware of the impact we had.
Dale and Mallory did solo performances and had side band projects called “Green Ghost” and “The Flaming Bango Bangos” with Pete Baker from The Stickmen. Michael also did solo performances, formed the band “KMZ” with Ken Montgomery and was a member of the performance art group “Disturbed Form Theatre”, with dancer/ collaborator Greg Reeves, primarily scoring soundtracks and designing slide projections. We always knew that the “Near Marineland” album would be released someday and we are very happy that is it’s finally out.
Do you have any plans for the near future? Maybe a new album?
Yes, we all have continued to make art and write songs and record on our own and together and we have been in discussions about recording material for a new album. We are all visual artists as well. We have also discussed the idea of having a gallery show of our artwork together.
What can we expect from the concert at the BIMfest in Antwerp?
You can expect the first ever Crash Course in Science concert in Europe. There will be a visual element and a sound element and a performance element. We are looking forward to the performance and hope our fans are too.
Do you have a last message for our readers? Why should they come and see the CCIS concert at the BIMfest in Antwerp, Belgium?
We’d like to thank all the fans in Belgium for all of their support and interest in the project over the years. It was meant a lot to us that our music has been appreciated there. I hope your readers do come to see the CCIS concert in Antwerp because it will be something to see and hear.