Making the Perfect Gnaw Album: An Interview with Alan Dubin

New York City-based experimental/noise metal outfit Gnaw are experts in unsettling music that follows few conventions or patterns. Led by the distinctive, tortured vocals of Alan Dubin (ex-Khanate, ex-OLD), Gnaw have completed Cutting Pieces, their new Translation Loss-bound LP. Decibel interrogated Dubin about using non-traditional instruments, developing their sound and making “the perfect Gnaw album.”
Your new album is called Cutting Pieces. Does that title have significance to it?
We had a lot of ideas and were fighting a lot about it, so we decided to rely on the lyrics. The chorus in one of the songs, “Septic,” made a nice, strong title. As you listen to the song it should take on more significance.
This album is the first one that features Dana [Schechter] from Insect Ark.
Jun Mizumachi, the sound designer in Gnaw, he actually moved back to Japan. For our live shows he was our noise guy. We all play samples and effects, but he does a lot of the really intricate noise when we play. He moved back to Japan a year ago and we were trying to figure out what we can do to either fill his shoes or change the live sound a bit. 
Dana’s a good friend and we’ve played a lot with Insect Ark. The band briefly discussed it, Dana’s name came up, and she was totally into it. By that point, the album was already pretty much finished as far as skeletal songs structures, but we sent the songs to Dana and she just went crazy on it. We brought her down to New Orleans last winter for a freezing gig and after that she became a full member. We’re starting to write new stuff and she’ll be in it from the beginning as far as writing. 

You used a pretty wide variety of instruments that fall outside of traditional metal. How do you decide where you’re going to use those instruments that are not traditional but bring the sound in a different direction?
I think that happens when the songs are being created by whoever is doing the framework of the track. For instance, Carter [Thornton] did “Septic.” He also did “Prowled Mary.” He recorded the majority of it in a chain link storage cage in his basement. You can hear some cage percussion in there . .
I think we just all like to experiment and start adding different elements. Whatever we have in our house. It’s fun.
You started Gnaw at the dissolution of Khanate, right?
Not exactly. Khanate was still going, it was probably six months before Khanate broke up, but I’ve been friends with most of these people for a long time and Carter was always asking me to collaborate with him and I just decided to start another project. This is when Khanate was going. Khanate wasn’t doing much, so I was getting a little bored, so I started Gnaw with Carter Thornton. I met him because I’m a video editor and he was making consumer psychology research videos for an advertising agency. 
Eventually asked him and my friend Jamie, who was the original drummer from Burning Witch and also Jun Mizumachi, who was a sound designer where I used to work. We were the core; that was the first version of Gnaw, so it was me, Jamie, Jun and Carter. We started making some songs, they were basically sound files we sent back and forth over the internet, we would just simply mix them ourselves. We brought in Brian Beatrice when we needed a real mixer, he’d won an Emmy for his sound design work and he fit right in as a guitarist as well.
Khanate folded as that was still happening, so when that ended I was not as fucked up as I could’ve been if I didn’t have Gnaw going… That’s when that started. 

On the Gnaw albums, I noticed that while there might be empty space, a lot of it seems like it’s filled in with noise and sound textures. A lot of Khanate music, it seemed like there was some space there while with Gnaw it seems like there’s not a lot of space there. Is that a conscious thing?
It’s not and it hasn’t been a conscious thing to leave a lot of those quiet moments. I do know what you mean and it is a little more filled in. The one thing that’s in the back of my mind- I don’t necessarily completely try to do this- I wanted Gnaw to be different than anything else that I’d done before. I didn’t want it to be compared to previous projects like, for instance, Khanate. I wanted to do something more industrial, even though I hate that word, but something with more metal-bashing and noise than slow doom, but Gnaw just developed into “do whatever the Hell we want without adhering to any genres.”
I think that having the quiet pieces up until now has just been natural. It’s not anything that we’re thinking about, although live we tend to tell each other in between songs “No silence! Make sure there’s some type of fucking noise going on!”
Your vocals are very recognizable. They’ve very depraved and fucked up. How did you develop that?
For this question, we have to go back to the beginnings of when I started to do vocals years ago. When I was a teenager, I was totally into hardcore and thrash metal and really dark, fast stuff. Cryptic Slaughter and Septic Death and early Dark Angel and early Kreator and Bathory. I was into the vocal shredding, the high-end screeching vocals. Me and my friends, we decided to form a band. Being little kids, we wanted to be the fastest, most aggressive, snotty band in the world and I started off playing guitar. It was a band called Vile Stench, and after playing for a few months I realized “I can’t play guitar. I suck.” So I just took it upon myself to switch to vocals and it worked out really well.
I did the high-pitched shrieking vocals, super-fast grindcore, thrashy stuff. This was in the 80’s. Vile Stench ended up not recording, it was going really slow. I was friends with James Plotkin who was doing Regurgitation at the time and he was getting sick of Regurgitation and we formed Old Lady Drivers and I think that’s where my vocals start to progress to weird stuff and experimenting and just going crazy without regards to my vocal chord health.
This is your third album. I’m sure things have changed to some extent since starting Gnaw but how close is this album to the vision you had for the sound for Gnaw?
I think this album completely nails it. To me, there’s no dud moments and it has all the noise and the scariness and the actual musical performance that I did originally envision. When we first started, it was a lot of experimentation. We didn’t know where we were going with it… The first album had some moments that were maybe a little lo-fi for me and looking back on it I would change a couple of songs around. Second album I thought was amazing, it’s a really dark album, I’m proud of it, but this one, to me, is the perfect Gnaw album.
When you make your perfect Gnaw album… where do you go from here? How do you expand, since you said you’re working on new stuff?
I have some ideas in mind, but it’s just gonna happen naturally. Since all five, actually there’s 6 of us now. Jun, he went to Japan but he’s still going to be part of the recording process and making elements. I think since we all have such different backgrounds and we all like to experiment differently it’s going to automatically not sound like anything else. We have some new stuff going and it doesn’t sound really like anything we’ve done before. 
Cutting Pieces will see release on October 27 through Translation Loss.