Lee M. Bartow (Theologian) interviewed

By: Chris D. Posted in: featured, interviews On: Friday, July 11th, 2014

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** The original interview with Theologian’s Lee M. Bartow is featured in our stupendously awesome, but-not-so-metal “noise issue” (HERE). So moved by Bartow’s answers to our questions, we felt compelled to post the entire transcript while, as the saying goes, the iron is hot. Bartow’s not one to joy around and his music–self-admitted as “industrial music–shares this attribute. Then again, expecting jovial industrial music is almost like listening to those old Skrew albums again, which we’re wont not to do at this stage of our miserable lives.

What’s to be expected with the deluxe version of Some Things Have to Be Endured?
Lee M. Bartow: The vinyl edition will be packaged in a gatefold jacket with new artwork which differs from the CD edition, pressed on blood-red wax.

How much of Gretchen Heinel inspired the notion to re-release your music?
Lee M. Bartow: To be clear, this is not a re-release, Some Things Have to Be Endured was always planned as both a CD and vinyl release (and digital). We’re just following through with those plans. We did plan from the beginning to have different artwork on the LP, but it was going to be from a different photographer with whom I’m no longer associated.

Maybe one didn’t inform the other, however, and the option presented itself. Can you talk about how Heinel’s work fit in with yours?
Lee M. Bartow: Gretchen and I began communicating after she shot photos of a show that Theologian played in August 2013 at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. My friend Derek Rush had put the show together as part of his monthly Morbid Monday event, and he’d forwarded her photos of our performance to me. I took one look at her website, and I knew that we had to work together. We have a very compatible aesthetic, and while I wouldn’t say that her work directly inspires what I’m doing sonically, she certainly has had a tremendously positive influence on me in our personal lives together, and she has been inspired enough by Theologian to do photo and video shoots specifically for the project. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have her in my life.

Where do you put Theologian musically? Some call it noise. Some call it art. Some call it otherworldly. Some call it all three.
Lee M. Bartow: As far as I’m concerned, genre-wise, Theologian is an industrial music project. There’s obviously a large pool of influences when it comes to that word, but I have no aversion to it whatsoever, and I have essentially dedicated my life to industrial music.

What did James Plotkin bring to the table?
Lee M. Bartow: Each format has its own requirements when it comes to particular frequencies inherent in the specific medium, and unlike myself, Plotkin has a very good knowledge of the sonic palette necessary when mastering for either. All I know is that he made the album sound fuller and richer than it did when I finished it. I had a very hard time mixing the final version. I think I burned myself out on Some Things Have to Be Endured to the point that I really began to doubt my ability to do a proper mix. I’m really only now coming back from that feeling, although on certain newer pieces I’m still struggling.

What is music to you?
Lee M. Bartow: Music is life. Without it, there would be nothing for me in the world. It’s the essential component to the way I experience reality, and I can’t imagine who I would be otherwise.

Is music even relevant in this day and age? So much stuff competes for our attention.
Lee M. Bartow: Music is absolutely relevant, at least to those of us who sweat and toil with essentially little to no reward or wider recognition. One thing I find irritating is the complaint that there is no “good new music”, which seems like such a cop-out, when the Internet allows us access to things that we never might have discovered otherwise. I find five new artists/bands a day, if I’m paying attention. It also makes it easier for artists who might otherwise never have gained an audience to find one. Yes, there is the unfortunate side effect of a lack of quality control. For every amazing act, there are probably one hundred shit ones, but of course that is all subjective, someone could easily say what I do is shit. I’m sure lots of people do. There’s certainly a lot of more popular stuff out there that’s less deserving of all the attention it receives than some other folks who’ve been around longer, and are doing it better. When the reality of that sort of “scene politics” gets to myself and to my peers, I just say we’ve just gotta keep doing what we do. Sometimes, “success” is a matter of timing, and sometimes it’s a matter of having thousands of dollars and a massive PR machine behind you. I’ve seen lots of artists, labels, publications, venues, promoters, DJs, etc., come and go, and I’m still here doing my thing.

Your song titles are evocative. “Gore-Stained Ramparts” is pretty revealing, but “Like Love, Only Real” is more striking. How and where do song titles come up?
Lee M. Bartow: Titles and lyrics in general, obviously come from the experience of being alive. If not either from a literary or cinematic source, it’s directly generated from the unquiet mind. When I was younger and angrier, I had a seemingly endless stream of words spilling from my skull. It doesn’t come as quickly or easily now, but that also lends a larger significance to what I do imagine. Conceptually, Theologian is largely informed by a single specific source, Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, and the first Hellraiser film in particular (the origin of the album’s title, as well as the line, “Like Love, Only Real”) have served as a bible of sorts. The Faustian themes contained in that story; the notion of desperation, sexual obsession, the depths to which a person will sink in order to achieve the approval/love/attention of another person… these are central ideas for the project to explore. There’s also a developing arc where I have begun to openly express my disdain for Christianity/religious fundamentalism/fanaticism, which will make itself more apparent in forthcoming releases.

If you were to cover a metal song from any era by any band which song would it be? Personally, I’d love to hear you do a take on Seance’s “Angelmeat (Pt. 2)”, which would be a sort of inverse cover, considering Seance took parts of In Slaughter Natives’ “Angel Tears”.
Lee M. Bartow: Theologian has done a few covers by this point; most notable is the collaboration with Bain Wolfkind on Heathen Harvest’s SamhainWorks II sampler, which is a cover of Samhain’s “Human Pony Girl”. Bain and I recently did a cover of Joy Division’s “Candidate” for Cvlt Nation’s tribute to Unknown Pleasures. As far as a metal cover? I’m not sure… maybe something from “Number of the Beast”?

What’s next for Theologian?
Lee M. Bartow: There are more gigs coming together in the coming months. There’s a cassette called Parasitism is Life coming soon from Haute Magie, and another vinyl release called A Means by which to Break the Surface of the Real (another Hellraiser nod) on my buddy Rick’s label Nothing Under the Sun, via his shop in Connecticut, Redscroll Records. Malignant Records will be releasing the CD edition of Hubrizine, Theologian’s collaboration with Finnish power electronics gods STROM.ec (which was previously released on cassette by my own label Annihilvs), as well as a massive 20-track double CD called Pain of the Saints. Along with these, there are many other collaborations coming from Annihilvs, which in general has a pretty large batch of releases planned for this year. I also organize live events in New York and on the east coast, and I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.

** Theologian’s Some Things Have to Be Endured is out now on vinyl and CD on Crucial Blast. Formats can be obtained HERE if you feel like Friday is annihilation day, ’cause we do.