From Empool to Destroy All Monsters to Empool… Part 3 (continuing from Part 2)
As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, due to space restrictions, not all content and contributions made it in to our book. In addition to wanting to share all of this extra detail I have to say that Empool, in their own right, are a band that are well worth listening to. Of all of the different parts of research involved in writing the book, Empool were one of the most exciting aspects. Below are further recollections from Empool founding members, and Destroy All Monster members, Ben and Laurence Miller.
Niagara, Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and Cary Loren formed Destroy All Monsters in 1974. In 1976 Mike and Jim left to pursue their respective art careers in earnest, there departures left a hole in the band. Enter, the Miller brothers…
I posed the question to Ben and Laurence, “Destroy All Monsters, better as more experimental than the traditional/ non challenging version?”
Ben: There are some pieces on the 3 CD Box set of early Destroy All Monsters that I find enjoyable and there are songs from the later and more traditional rock vein that I also like. I have no particular preference. To reiterate on this punk rock form of Destroy All Monsters, all art-damaged aspects that either Destroy All Monsters or Empool had, was gone by fall 1977. It was essentially Detroit Rock & Roll with a tongue & cheek punk icing on the cake.
However, Lar and I did write songs for the band. I wrote ‘Destroy A.M.’, ‘Broken Mirrors’, ‘The Tab Machine’ and Lar wrote ‘Soul Devider’ and ‘Taken for Granite’. These are on the 2003 Farfetched records release called ‘BROKEN MIRRORS’ – rehearsals and shows 1977/1978. There are also 16-track studio versions of ‘Broken Mirror’ and ‘Taken for Granite’ from 1977 that have never been released.
They were supposed to go on an E.P. including ‘Meet the Creeper’ and ‘November 22, 1963’. Because Laurence and I had quit the band a few months after this session, the remaining members chose not to include these two songs releasing instead a 2-song 45rpm. On top of that, our guitar and saxophone tracks were mixed way down so they can hardly be heard. It actually would have been better to just cut our tracks out completely. Sonically, it didn’t make sense. I have since contacted David Keeps who owns the tapes with these two unreleased songs, but deal has yet been made.
Laurence: Destroy All Monsters wasn’t particularly experimental when they found us, having just lost two of their key members; Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw. Empool simply brought its “experimental sound” into their songwriting, kind of replacing those two guys. But no, I wouldn’t really say Destroy All Monsters as we knew it was experimental at that point, not really, and I haven’t given the earlier experimental forms of Destroy All Monsters a serious listening to.
Eventually Destroy All Monsters had to get grounded as Ron Asheton & Michael Davis joined the group, and our audience grew. And with that, Ben and I (the only remaining members of Empool who continued with Cary and Niagara) began to back off, away from our more trippy approach to things, losing our array of foot pedals and echo units, eventually come down to earth. I must say though that I did truly enjoy the thick sound and character the band eventually developed in 1978. We had what was termed in our immediate circle of friends & fans as “the monster sound”. But soon, conflicting ideas and personalities developed in the band and it all began to lose its charm and appeal.
NOTE: There are in fact two songs that Destroy All Monsters recorded during our last studio session, fall 1978. Two songs which have never been released to this day; ‘Taken for Granite’ (my song) and ‘Broken Mirrors’ (Ben’s song). It would be really something if those masters could be mixed and pressed for the public to hear, after all these years.
To be perfectly honest though, I would have been happy to have simply remained in the truly experimental mayhem of Empool, going into the studio with those guys instead. Problem was, I had no money and no real sense in navigating the entertainment business world.
More than forty years since they left Destroy All Monsters, I questioned what Ben and Laurence were up to now.
Ben: When I was living in NYC, a lot happened for me. I continued my solo multiphonic prepared guitar performances – no chords or melody, based more on texture and shape. I also incorporate analog tape and transistor radio to the mix. My label, Living Records, has put out several releases include collaborative work with brother Roger, as M2, and percussionist Denman Maroney, as Exophilia. Also while in NYC, I formed Third Border. Our 2nd release “Sun of Water, Sea of Light” was 1 of 48 releases in 2006 that were selected for the Grammies. We didn’t make it there, but the kudos were enough to be thrilled about. Perhaps the most notable group I formed there was The Sensorium Saxophone Orchestra for which I composed and recorded two symphonies. I also recorded with Glenn Branca’s 100 Guitar Ensemble more than once and toured overseas in his quartet The Glenn Branca Ensemble. Very sad to hear of his passing last year. Anne Caron’s book Nox was invented with Robert Currie’s help. A live performance for this work included Maurice Cunningham dancers and myself doing live multiphonic guitar work. Laurie Anderson was fascinated by our final performance in 2012 and asked me to show her how my instrument functioned! Lastly, I performed in France working on various projects with French electronics musician Frank Vigroux. He and I put out three records as the duo Transistor.
As for now in Detroit, Laurence and I have conjured up a couple scenarios. Firstly, Exploded View; a recording project requested by the owner of German psych rock label World in Sound. This band was initiated due to Sproton Layer not being able to record a brand new album for this century. Our album is in its final mix-down phase. 90% of the Songs were written during the time of Sproton Layer 1969-72. Third Man Records has expressed interest. As for Empool, its reinvention came about last year spurred by our recent release on Feeding Tube Records. In the meantime, I am working on a solo album and the formation of a new orchestra made up purely of brass musicians. As with my symphonies for SSO, the composition method I use is based on intervallic sequences. I have just self-published a manuscript regarding this called The Eleven Interval Method as well as my second absurdist fiction novelette called Cody. Long-winded answer, I know!
EMPOOL was surprisingly quick to reassess material from the way back machine as well as introducing fresh material. There is only my brother and I now and we utilize more foot pedals than before. The spirit of EMPOOL is definitely there, though. It has simply changed as a necessity in its evolution. Here is my website www.benmmiller.info
Laurence: We’re both involved with several bands. Speaking for myself, I reinvented myself as a kid’s performer back in 1999, recording a slew of original CD’s, music videos, and community television productions. I recently performed with my fiancé, Elizabeth Royce. We put on a fab Christmas show last December performing a mix of kiddie classics and quirky originals along with our full-band backing tracks – The Play Money Band. You can check all that out at www.misterlaurence.com
I also have something called LAURENCE MILLER and the LOVE MANIACS. Some really good musicians I’m proud to play with. We do a mix of old school R&B covers (think Fats Domino, but heavy duty…) with an eclectic mix of my own originals. You can learn more about that along with everything else I’ve ever done on my website; www.laurencebondmiller.com
- See Laurence Miller & The Love Maniacs HERE.
When Ben moved back from New York in 2014 we began a studio project, EXPLODED VIEW, for a German Psych-Rock label. A collection of original material, most of which was written in our teen years (70-73). I sing and play drums, mostly, while Ben sings and plays guitar. But we also play bass, keyboards, etc along with guest musicians on a few tunes – creating a full band sound. That experience had a few wrenches thrown into the mix, but we’re finishing up the final production as we speak, and are both very very happy with the end results.
My main deal these days however is getting back to Empool with my twin brother. Last year Feeding Tube records released an interesting collection of original recordings from the late 70’s and I also released a CD single of the two quirky tunes Empool recorded in the mid-90’s, a kind of band reunion session. Though we presently do employ backing soundtracks, much as the original band did back when, we do have a far thicker sound today by comparison. We both sing and play electric guitars through a myriad of whacked out fx foot pedals and feedback. Plans are to record a collection of the compositions – some new, some old) this spring, and get it out there on a label ASAP. We’re both really looking forward to that.
Available now as a paperback, worldwide, via Amazon Ron Asheton: The Stooges, Destroy All Monsters & Beyond.
Copyright © 2019 John Wombat & Ruth Moreira