They come from New York, but they create their own world.
Here's a band that wants to welcome you to their own horrorshow carnival, a Disneyland of dayglo doom. They're the band that Babes In Toyland would be if they'd been force-fed Atari Teenage Riot from an early age, along with plenty of Tartrazine. They play themed shows in appropriate costumes (request a theme and they'll conjure up the show). They're an after-dark riot in a toyshop, they're maraudering electro-punk buccaneers. They are Hate In The Box.
With due regard to statutory health and safety procedures, let's stand well back and take the lid off the box. The band's vocalist, lyricist and conceptualist Rainbow Blight reveals what's inside...
I dare say Hate In The Box will be a new band to many of us, so let's start in the traditional manner with a few introductions. Who's in the box? Who does which bits of the sound and vision?
Optimus Crime, being the mad scientist he is, leads the band through the composition of sinister and twisted synthetic spookiness, writing the songs on guitar, bass, keyboards and programming the drums.
Later the drums get twisted and reinterpreted live by our rock 'em sock 'em little tomboy of a drummer, Holly Horror. On our new album, Under the Ice, Teddy Kreuger's heavier playing style slashes its way through the tracks, so we've got even more bouncy dynamics going on. As always the living doll, Rainbow Blight, comes out to play when it comes to translating dreams and memories into words and melodies, writing and singing all the vocals.
Now that we've introduced the people, let's big-up the band. Give us an instant description of Hate In The Box racket in 25 words or less...
in the Box is nightmares and dreams bleeding through a rocky reality
too narrow to confine it.
I haven't played Hate in The Box to my mum, but if I did I know exactly what she'd say. She would heave a sigh of resignation and remark, 'Why can't these bands give themselves nice names?'
So now I'll ask the 'mum question' - why is it Hate In The Box? Why not Love In The Box? For me, the name conjures up an image of an evil toy: a jack-in-the-box with something nasty lurking under the gaudily painted lid. But that's just my take on it. What's yours?
Your description isn't too far off. The first shirt I ever designed was a scissor wielding jack-in-the-box! But why should it be "love" in the box? When you look in dark places, are you really expecting to find anything but shadows and the creatures that feed on it there? We look in dark places for things to inspire us to live, and create to share that experience.
mentioned the band's 'overall aesthetic', and I think it's probably
true to say that the first thing anyone notices about Hate in The Box
is that...you've got one.
We don't just turn up and play because we are trying to present what we ourselves would want to see on stage, a spectacle of color, violence, energy... ROCK! If an artist can't make the effort to be more outlandish and other-worldy than their audience, they shouldn't be up on stage.
As far as theatrics, we love costumes and themes and use them to bring an air of imagination to an evening. At the same time, we're not putting on a play so we keep our focus on sharing the songs with audience in our signature rock style.
I'm guessing here, but I'd be willing to bet you see yourselves as performers first and rock musicians second - is that fair comment?
are most definitely performers first. If we have the choice between
a masterpiece that only a few people can understand and a childishly
simple melody that's impossible to keep from bouncing to, it's pretty
obvious which we'd pick.
If someone called up and asked for an Alice In Wonderland meets the Pirate Zombies show, could you do it? What would we see on stage at that one?
we have done ALL of those themes we could definitely pull it off! What
would we see - besides the possibility of Alice fighting zombies with
gang of pirate bunnies at her side on stage? Since we have the best
fans of any band we've ever met, we can easily imagine a crowd of fuzzy
bunny cuties mixing it up with zombies and perhaps some hooligans from
the Isle of Arrrrrgyle!
But here comes a paradox. I've got your two CD releases in front of me at the moment, and they've both got bizarre and cool cover designs (in the case of the new album, 'Under The Ice', it's so cool it's frozen). But the one thing I don't see is a photo of the band. That's a bit of a contradiction, isn't it? You're a very visual band, you've created a striking image, and there are plenty of band photos on the web, so it's not like you're camera shy. But on the CDs themselves - none. So...why no band photo?
I think part of it is that the album making process is so arduous that in the final phases we've often ended up with one or two less musicians then we started with! The exception is our very first album Broken Toys (now out of print and only available as a digital release on our website) which did feature a band photo. When it comes to album art I like the idea of being drawn into the world and the stories the artist has created, something that matches the very personal and sometimes fanciful themes that weave themselves throughout the songs.
Talking of album artwork, it's interesting to compare the earlier album Razor Blade Fairy Tales, which features a scene from what looks like a steampunk version of Second Life, with the new one, Under The Ice - which shows someone drowning under ice, a much grimmer image. The song 'Under The Ice' itself seems to be a metaphor for the death of childhood. So is this album where Hate In The Box leave their crazed nursery, with its toys and fancies, and take on the big bad outside world?
Our art tends to mirror our lives, so it's inevitable that it changes with us. The Razorblade Fairytales art is actually my interpretation of the Little Match Girl story by Hans Christian Anderson. In that story the main character dies in the snow as well, so the two albums have more in common than it seems at first glance.
You're absolutely right that the song Under the Ice is about the death of childhood. I don't think of the album as leaving the nursery as much as it is about waking up and the nursery has transformed, the toys are alive and coming after you, and what kind of makeshift weapons can you create to protect yourself!
Both albums feature what you might call the band's signature sound, a kind of stroppy, assertive, horrorshow-Devo. And, curiously, the lead instrument doesn't seem to be guitar. There's guitar in there, but it's the keyboards that always pull things forward. What made you put keyboards, not guitar, right at the front of the band's sound?
Keyboards were always a huge part of our sound since Crime and I originally started this band. He actually started off playing bass, not keyboard, which makes for an unusual approach to playing. Instead of just being an atmospheric touch, our keyboards are the spooky rhythmic underpinning of all our songs. Coming from a rock background, he's not all about bleeps and bloops, so once he found two or three sounds that he enjoyed, he stuck with them and that's also a big part of why there's much more spooky punky playfulness to our songs.
The band has a very electronic sound overall, although in a way that's a misleading thing to say. Mention 'electronic' and everyone immediately thinks of the clinical precision of Kraftwerk. The Hate In The Box racket is splendidly fuzzy and messy and always contains plenty of punk rock juice. Was it a deliberate decision to make things mostly electronic? Are the punk rock electronics all part of the aesthetic?
Some of it was definitely because we didn't have this or that musician available and we just refused to let that stop us from completing our musical creations. Our first demo is an even stranger combination of distorted electronics ranging from frankenspliced toy keyboards to uber distorted beats.
Since it often feels like we're just creating with whatever's around, I like to think of it as the electro-rockin' equivalent of a robot go-go made out of junk yard mannequin parts and barbed wire.
As a New York band, do you think that NYC itself is an influence on what you do? Do you feel you have anything in common with other bands that have come out of NYC? Is there a quality of 'New York-ness' that comes out in bands' music?
NYC does have some influence (although Holly is always quick to remind people that she's from Detroit!). New York is an exciting, difficult and unique place to live. The constant fast pace and grind can lend a certain grittiness and creativity to its artists. In New York if you can stand up for what you believe, you can be anything. So I think there's more of a willingness to get into strange territory with your style, lyrics and sound.
Personally there are a lot of great New York bands that have influenced me in ways that may not be obvious in our music like White Zombie, Rasputina and Hanzel und Gretel.
Are you part of any 'scene' in New York - are there any bands around right now that you think of as kindred spirits? I'm thinking here of The Rabies, who are much more of a straightforward horror-punk outfit than Hate In The Box (blood and gore, rather than evil toys) but they might be a good band to have on the bill with you at a gig. Or do you feel more like you're out on your own limb?
We're more like welcome strangers in different scenes than really a part of anything. We don't really limit ourselves, so some people think we're too rock for an industrial party, too goth for an industrial party and too industrial for a rock party. But everyone loves a fun time so we've played all those kinds of parties!
concerts, we've played with everything from prog death metalheads HUNG,
to hard rock heavyweights The Saints of Pain to industrial artists like
Hanzel und Gretyl and Das Ich. I like playing mixed events because we
often get the chance to surprise the unwary with the crazed abandonment
of our performances.
And finally...the traditional 'Wot now?' question. What's next for Hate In The Box?
have been playing a ton of shows in the Northeast USA in support of
our new album, sharpening up for our inevitable whirlwind across the
Hate In The Box:
Photo credits from the top:
Band photo by Leda Resurreccion. Rainbow Blight by Michele Santomauro. Optimus Crime by Joseph Marconi. Teddy Krueger by Efrain Gonzalez. Live shot by Izzy Peskowitz.