C. Samual, production chief of the three-headed Detroit electro-beast Tamion 12 Inch, isn't very impressed with the current state of his hometown's live music scene. "People have been sticking light bulbs up their asshole and squeezing them for years," he says from his Detroit home. "People have removed their testicles in front of large audiences. G.G. Allin defecated on people, and now he's dead. So is there really anything shocking about some guy in some lousy garage band screaming and cutting his chest and doing stupid Iggy Pop things now?"
Those kind of over-the-top antics might be passé, but much like a stand-up comedian singling you out in the crowd, there's still nothing quite as unnerving as an intimidating, wild-eyed singer leaping from the stage, thrashing on the ground, and getting right in your face and howling when all you wanted to do was stand in the back, sip your vodka tonic, and bob your head to some beats.
Such a scene is possible, nay probable, when Tamion vocalist B. Kerry hits a stage. Though the trio has only played a handful of shows outside the Motor City, the unpredictable frontwoman's reputation for confrontation is quickly becoming the stuff of legend.
"It's not something we intentionally set out to do," insists Samual, who shares instrumental duties with bassist/programmer K. Michael. "We're all nice people, and if people are sympathetic to our cause, then that's how we react to it. And if people are hostile, well . . . "
He chuckles ominously. "Basically, Kerry gets into the audience, and there's no barrier to where she thinks she can perform from and how she will do it," he says. "Like even if the microphone is constantly feeding back because she's standing right in front of a monitor, it doesn't matter at all to her. She wants to go where she wants to go and do whatever she wants to do. But I think it's really important to what she's about, and why we work together and why what we do is special. Because it's really, really real, sometimes too real for me. And, yeah, there's a lot of tension involved sometimes. It just depends on Kerry and if she's feeling happy or sad. I dunno — 'confrontational' might be too narrow a way to explain it, it's just about being completely in the moment and whatever happens, happens."
Don't look to the musical side of the trio for much relief, however — despite a foundation of vintage synths, drum machines, processors, and sequencers, Tamion isn't exactly putting the "disco" in "discomfort." Rather, it does very abrasive, twitchy, melodically averse, minimal-yet-intense, punk rock things with its gear. Sometimes you can actually dance to it, other times you can feel your synapses melting to it. It's an especially compelling unease, though, akin to Detroit compadre and tour mate Adult., yet even more harsh and disjointed.
Tamion 12 Inch had been kicking around Detroit for a few years in various incarnations--always with Samual and Kerry at its core — when Adult.'s (and the founders of the Ersatz Audio record label) Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus helped it break out of city limits by putting its early single "Thin Boys Murdered" on the label's widely distributed 2002 compilation album Misery Loves Company. Soon after Tamion signed to Ersatz, and when Samual submitted five first-take rough demos for its February 2003 debut EP, All Black, Eyes Closed to the Excess of Disaster, Miller and Kuperus liked the rawness of them so much they released them as they were.
While he's proud of that initial effort, Samual says the group is trying a different approach for its upcoming full-length album. "The way we did the EP, they weren't created as live songs first," he says. "It was more like they were 'assembled,' on my computer at home. It was hard to get any sort of vibe going because there we were, sitting in this attic, it was really cold, [and] there's two people kind of staring at the singer while she's trying to do what she does. I think she was feeling inhibited whereas she's completely uninhibited in the live situation. But since then we've written a whole bunch of new songs and have been playing them live for over a year. And this time I've recorded all the basic tracks at home, but then we're gonna go into the studio after this tour and play live over those backing tracks, then maybe get rid of the backing stuff, just to try to capture that same energy as the shows.
"Doing it all with computers is cheap and DIY and everything, but I'm just not into it anymore," Samual continues. "It's probably why 200 records are released every day, and 199 of them you don't wanna listen to. And we're striving for something that doesn't sound like it comes from one particular style, where you can say, 'Oh, it's this kind of music.'"
Because its music makes few concessions to any prevailing scene, underground or mainstream, no one in Tamion 12 Inch harbors any illusions of big money or a Rolling Stone cover coming their way, much less being able to quit their day jobs. "I dunno, I guess I like the idea of the whole thing evolving into something bigger someday," Samual says. "Kerry's been doing this for so long that she's interested in finally getting something out of it, maybe. But we have no concept of making a living off it at this point. It's weird. I know people who say, 'If I don't make it as a musician by this specific time, I'm gonna switch to this,' and that's ridiculous to me. I can't understand how someone can think that way about what they're doing. It's what I've been doing for so long, making up bands and making up songs without any formal training. It's not really important that I go out and make a big career out of it."
Still, Samual can't resist a jab at Tamion 12 Inch's commercial situation and musical reputation. "I think we're gonna call the new album Let's Suffer." Michael Alan Goldberg writes for City Paper, where the original version of this feature appeared. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org