Josh Lay Interview
Still a bit of an unsung hero in noise and experimental circles Josh Lay is a Kentucky based artist whose work spans the edges of industrial, avant garde, drone, noise, noise rock, and now even black metal. Currently creating noise under his own name, he is also one-half of Swamp Horse and was a member of the now defunct Cadavar in Drag noise rock band. He continues to produce a varied spectra of sounds as well as release records on his D.I.Y. label Husk Records. He has collaborated with such artists as Mattias Gustafson and Nicholas Szczepanik and has shown to be a prolific solo artist with over 25 full-length recordings since 2003. He has been kind enough to answer a few questions we had for him.
Tell us who is the everyday Josh Lay. Where do you live? What do you do for your job? Are you married, kids, how old are you?
I am a guy with mundane day job at a place in Lexington Kentucky making tools for wood carvers/hobbyists. It pays the bills,and it’s not the worst job I’ve ever worked. I still live in Nicholasville Kentucky where I met Jason of Cadaver in Drag in High School,as well as Trevor,and Robert of Hair Police, and Mikey T of Warmer Milks. Something in the water in those days. I am 30 years old and I am still with Sarah,my amazing wife of 6 years .We have no plans of ever having kids,but are way too into our two crazy Boston Terriers named Zeke and Zoe.
Right off the bat it sounds like noise has played a role in your life, mentioning friends from high school with projects. Please tell us who is the “artist” Josh Lay? What projects do you play in, label, a short introduction to your artistic activities and if the everyday Josh Lay influences the artist?
I have always dabbled in various experimental activities as far as music goes. I like a lot of styles/genres and I never like to do a project that’s going to be totally one sided. And most all of these are influenced by every day life. Working shitty manual labor jobs etc. Even my new one man Black Metal project Glass Coffin, is a bit angular and experimental at times as far as Black Metal goes. I played drums and electronics in Cadaver in Drag for quite a few years for this same reason. There were no restrictions, and the style constantly changed depending on where we were in our lives. These days I’m also involved in doing solo Noise/Death-Industrial recordings under my own name as well as a Metal/Drone/Experimental project called Swamp Horse with long time friend Morgan Rankin. I also run a small Record label that mainly focuses on cassettes and vinyl mostly called Husk Records.
Can you expand a bit more on how a “shitty manual labor job” can influence your work? Interesting that you now have a black metal project could you tell us more about it? Why now? And what relationship – if any – does black metal have to do with noise/industrial?
I come from a family of Roofers,and construction workers. So when I was growing up my dad would take me to work with him in the summer when I was out of school. A mix of the insanely hot summer days and hard manual labor served as a quick life lesson on how hard it can be to carve out a living. I worked on and off with my dad until he passed away in 2004, then I found myself working in shitty factories around Nicholasville, Ky. The cold machinery, dead landscape, and dealing with small town assholes re-assured my loathing I already had for most humans. So I felt that carrying that attitude over into a full blown Black Metal project was pretty natural. I have been a huge Black metal fan since I was about 14, so I think it’s always been an underlying tone in even my earlier Noise stuff.
For your solo death industrial project, why did you end up using your own name rather then a pseudonym?
I tend to use the sounds as a voice for where I am mentally and emotionally at the time I recorded it. It serves as a loosely translated audio diary almost. Some albums are more personal than others. And some material works as an act of pure artistic escapism with no strings attached. Either way, it is always highly personal so I thought it would just be logical to use my own name instead of a pseudonym.
Please tell us about your label Husk Records. You’ve produced a number of releases with different formats, but they are all limited. Why do you choose limited releases? How is the artwork and format chosen for each release? What are your methods of creating the visual aspects of releases and how are your artists chosen?
I’ve operated Husk Records for about 10 years now with Morgan Rankin, my long time friend and collaborator on several music and art projects. We will be breaking the 100 release mark this year! We mainly just release what we like, which could be anything from Death Industrial, Power Electronics, Noise, Black Metal, to Spoken Word etc. We do not exclude any genres as long as we enjoy it. In the early days the label served just to put out our own material, with no real interest from anyone but a small handful of friends in Lexington Ky. We had no computers, no internet access, and did all of our own tape sleeves by hand drawing them, and taking them to closest copier. Things have changed a bit, but we still like to keep the releases as personal and intimate to each artist as possible. Hand numbered small tape editions,with art provided by the artist usually. Although I am always happy to help if they so choose. The style is the same as it has always been, cut and paste, spray paint etc.
When was the date of the first release? How do you feel the noise scene has changed from the inception of Husk Records to today, and how has the label reacted to those changes?
The first Husk release was in 2002. I have noticed a change in the overall attitude of the scene as well as the people making the music (or lack there of). Things in general have taken a turn toward more technology, nicer gear, and and less personality or attitude in the jams. I remember the glory days of seeing awesome bands like Hair Police, or The U.S.A. is a Monster tear the Club Seal (Irene Moon’s house/venue) to the ground with insane high volume shows that were very interactive with the crowd. These days things are just a lot less intense all around. No real heroes anymore. Thank god for the small pockets of awesome that still exists in bands like BLOODYMINDED etc. As far as Husk Records, we have never been concerned with keeping up with whatever trend is popular at the time. We release what we like,that’s it.
As for “heroes” what bands/project have been most influential to you as an artist and why? I assume Club Seal was located in your local area then?
I was a Metal dude before I was ever hip to the Experimental/Noise stuff as I’m sure a lot of Experimental artists and listeners were. And I still love certain Metal music,but when you want to explore beyond the red tape you find the appeal of the structured (sometimes) chaos of Experimental music. As far as influences, I would not even know where to start. I can’t put a finger on ONE group, but I remember appreciating the attitude and attack of certain bands like Slayer, Exclaim, Hellnation, and Cannibal Corpse as a teen, and I still love those bands to this day. Later I was exposed to more Experimental and challenging music by some who have become friends and contemporaries. Club Seal was an amazing house/gig spot haven for touring bands here in Lexington, Ky. I think that spot started the momentum for the other house venues to come like the Frowny Bear,and a few others to do something here in Kentucky. Bands actually had a place to play, support of like minded individuals, a place to sleep, and whatever dollars folks could throw their way.
Do you play any traditional instruments (i.e. guitar, bass, drums, violin, saxophone, etc.)? What do you think is the role of traditional instrumentation in noise/industrial if there is any?
I have played drums since I was 15-16 years old, so they were more or less my first outlet for making songs. Jason Schuler and I started Cadaver in Drag (in some form or another) about 10 years ago give or take. We had jammed in a few Metal bands together, and wanted to keep pushing things further,and into a more extreme direction. Later that became just Jason on distorted bass, and me on drums. Then things mutated into a bizarre Krautrock/Noise hybrid with scummy lyrics. Through all the changes in the band and sound, I always enjoyed being the rythmic pulse of the chaos. And in the Glass Coffin Black Metal project, I write everything, play the guitar, drums, and do the vocals. I feel that anything that makes a sound can be used as a weapon for whatever you are trying to do with your art. There should be no restrictions. I would love to see more Noise artists include traditional instruments.
Living in an era with information overload and post-modernism where so much has already been done before how do you feel about continuing to produce new and original works? Do you feel you have something new and profound to bring to the world, or are you merely crawling along blindly trying to grasp for something tangible? Two extreme examples, but relevant nonetheless.
I feel like what I do as far as the Noise/Electronic material is highly personal, and for me first. It’s always nice when others enjoy your work as well, but my goal was never to change the world, or make it better in any way. I like to think I have my own sound and style, and it’s always good whenever you can find your own voice in a sea of hundreds of projects out there.
Can you tell us one of the more “out there” experiences you’ve had doing noise, whether it’s been touring live, recording, running the label, or even as a spectator at a show?
Yeah, I can recall a couple of crazy instances. One pretty funny story from when my band Cadaver in Drag was on tour with Hive Mind, Charlie Draheim and Moth Drukula a few years ago, and we were playing in city that stopped selling booze at something like 5:00 pm. We roll into town at like, 4:30 or something. And in a mad scramble to obtain last minute booze we more or less abduct this dude and tell him we’ll buy him a 6 pack if he can guide to the closest store. So we are speeding around in a unfamiliar town with this dude we just kind of grabbed off the street. We also had a few super violent shows that stand out. One in particular we were playing and the audience was getting really violent and worked up, and at one point this big dude throws another guy through a wall during our set. He actually made a cartoon style human shaped hole in the wall, ha. The club owner didn’t find it as amusing as we did.
Having toured in the past what did you get out of it? Can you see yourself touring a lot more in the future?
It’s a pretty amazing experience, and something that stays with you forever. Being from a small town, it was really incredible the first time I went to places like Chicago and New York. Really cool to see the kind of turn out and support you get for shows in the bigger cities as well. As far as future touring, I am pretty content to live the quiet life and record at home. I have played countless shows with old bands but only actually played two solo shows. I prefer to keep the solo stuff on a record only basis. Maybe a show once every few years.
What is the most important aspect of your artistic life right now, is it your projects, your label, playing live?
I don’t really play out live, so the main focus has been my projects and my label lately. I try to strike a healthy balance between the two. I’m having a lot of fun pushing myself into new territory with my Noise records and with Glass Coffin.
Are there any projects or artists you’re currently keeping an eye on? Who is really peaking your interest artistically that is operating at this time?
I have really enjoyed watching the evolution of Regosphere (Andrew Quitter) from the fine Dumpsterscore Home Recordings label. His early work was awesome, but I feel that he has really started to do next level stuff these days with his new movie soundtracks he’s doing. Really impressive stuff. There are always way too many old favorites to even mention such as PBK who has been making influential Noise/Experimental music for around 20 years or so and still going strong. I was fortunate enough to do a collaboration recording with him that should be out soon on Syndrome Records from the U.K. very soon.The list goes on and on.
Where do you hope your artistic activities will take you?
As far as possible. I want to continue to create and destroy as long as I am able to via art, sound, or otherwise.
What do you think about the future of noise/experimental music? How can it move forward from it’s current state? Does it need to move forward?
That’s kind of hard to say. Just when you think things have fizzled out or become totally stale, someone new comes along and pushes things a bit more than before. That being said, I think the future of Noise is alive and well. There will always be a new generation of weirdo kids working out their demons with effects pedals in swampy basements. As far as how I think we can progress the scene further, I really have no suggestions other than making music/sounds that are honest to the artist. Everything else will fall into place.
What are future projects and plans for Josh Lay and Husk Records?
I have several projects in the works. I have a new Glass Coffin full length CD/artbook coming out soon on Crucial Blast/Blaze called “Remnants of a Cold Dead World”, the cassette version will be released by Satan’s Din recordings. Black Goat Records is doing a CD re-issue of the first Glass Coffin full length and the “Laying Waste to the Kingdom of Light” ep on one disc with new original artwork by me. As far as JL stuff I have a cassette called “Factory Death” I recorded several years ago finally coming out soon on the Heavy Psych label, and the new PBK collaboration CD will be out soon on Syndrome Records. Husk is currently working on new cassettes from Clew of Theseus and aTombstalker/Coffin Dust split. Also have a new Swamp Horse 7″ being recorded as we speak.