Forked Tongue, October 13, 2000
PO BOX 29774, LONDON, NW3 1FN, UK
DANIEL: Some background. When and how did you give form to ZIA?
ELAINE: I tried to form ZIA in 1991 but ended up joining D.D.T. instead (hardcore- agro-industrial-electronic). In 1992 the members of D.D.T. (Lisa Sirois and Noel McKenna) plus one member of "You Shriek" were my first line-up and we played at the Rathskellar in Boston. Since then ZIA has gone through eighteen band members and three record labels.
DANIEL: How long have you been making music for?
ELAINE: I've been playing piano since age 6, and I started actually making music when I was14. I started classical piano lessons in 1st grade, and practiced diligently until Junior High. When my teacher's students got to be that age, she suggested that we either train to be concert pianists with her, or quit lessons. I was not in any frame of mind to become a concert pianist, so I moved on, and eventually started writing my own piano pieces, and that somehow developed into songwriting. When I was around 14 I got my first synthesizer, a Roland JX3P, and fantasized about being Billy Idol's keyboardist. I played in a string of bands for the next few years. The first was a cover band. It was actually an 80's cover band, but that was only because it WAS the 80's. Then a few punk bands. I played the bass parts on my synths and tried to add other noises. It seems, in retrospect, that I was trying to make industrial music but certainly didn't know it at the time. It wasn't until after I moved to Boston and was well into finishing my bachelor's degree when I actually heard electronic industrial music and got the idea to form ZIA.
DANIEL: When did you develop your passion for the cosmos?
ELAINE: In 1992 or so, when I discovered the internet, I subscribed to a bunch of newsgroups that I was interested in. They were newsgroups about Longevity, Space Exploration, Extropianism, Cryogenics, Cryptography, and Biotechnology. I sat back and looked at this list of mailing lists, thinking I must be quite odd to have subscribed to such a strange combination of interests. It all seemed to fit together in a twisted sort of way. But then, more importantly, in 1994 I subscribed to a space-related mailing, and one after another, Rick Tumlinson (president of the Space Frontier Foundation, then and now) sent these messages about how we need to venture out into space and not fear technology, etc. It was beyond inspiring. My passion for the cosmos only grew "onward and outward" from there. I have recently had the opportunity to thank Mr. Tumlinson for inspiring me several years ago, when I was invited to sing at the main banquet for the Lunar Development Conference in Cesars Palace, Las Vegas in July 2000. I explained to the banquet guests, including Rick Tumlinson, that he was the first person to truly spark my passion for the cosmos. I am also singing for the Space Frontier Foundation's annual conference later this month in LA. It is a great honor to bring my music into the heart of the pro-space movement, through his conferences now, as he was the source of my inspiration.
DANIEL: You seem to give the cosmos a more factual/technological edge rather than sci-fi, have you studied astronomy?
ELAINE: I never studied astronomy, but have read quite a few books, and have a deep interest in the subject. I actually considered, at one point, going back to school for a degree in astronomy and rethinking my whole career path. At the time, in 1996, our second record label had gone out of business, and I had lost two band members. It was such a low point for the band, and at the same time I had just gotten elected as president of the Boston Chapter of the National Space Society. Not only was I feeling insecure about my music career, but I was also a little insecure about being president of a space society with my limited knowledge of the cosmos. I spoke with a few astronomers about my possible career change, and they expressed how hard it was to make a living as an astronomer. Chances are, astronomers will become college professors, in which case, I may as well teach electronic music. Also, as a space enthusiast, they felt the best thing I could do is to write more inspiring pro-space music and reach out to the public with my art and enthusiasm. So, I took that advice to heart.
Although I am a big fan of science fiction, the reasons for my passion for the cosmos are very much based in reality. We really do live in a seemingly endless cosmos, even more vast than our imaginations. The cosmos contains dimensions we don't even understand. Looking backward into time, the universe merges into a singularity that existed as pure energy, before space and time came into play. All of this seems like the stuff of science fiction. In fact, the more we learn about the universe we were born from and exist in, the more unreal it all seems. On the other hand, as time goes by, more and more science fiction inventions have become a reality. If everything continues this way, we will have spacecraft we have only dreamed of, and will be traveling through space and time in a miraculously warped fashion. That is all for our far flung future, however. On a daily basis, I prefer to expend my energy finding out how we can accomplish some more realistic goals, like settling Mars and commercializing the Moon.
DANIEL: What sci-fi do you actually like?
ELAINE: Oh, I like all kinds of science fiction movies. Some of my more recent favorites are Fifth Element and Stargate. My all time favorite is Planet 9 From Outer Space. Haha! It kills me every time. I saw 2001 when I was in elementary school and thought it was so slow...now that I am older and can appreciate it, I've watched it many times. One movie that had the opposite effect was Close Encounters. I saw it when I was little, and it was so exciting and it totally freaked me out. Now when I watch it, it seems so slow moving. It's like...get on with it! Bring on the aliens already! I can't forget to mention Bladerunner. I've actually only seen the director's cut, believe it or not. And then there's Liquid Sky. Big influence.
DANIEL: Any writers in particular?
ELAINE: I like David Brin because he always has super beautiful intelligent women spaceship commanders. Our song "Sol" on the "ZIAv1.5" CD was written about his book Sundiver. And "Pagan Goddess" off the same CD was about his book "EARTH". Daisy, the old lady who is wreaking havoc over the internet, is the Pagan Goddess.
DANIEL: A noticeable aspect of your music is the absence of guitars. What direction is the new material going in? How will having a new band member affect the songwriting?
ELAINE: I started ZIA with a vision. We would play only microtonal music on non-standard electronic instruments. I wanted the music to be accessible enough to fit into the local music scene and to play with the best of the local bands, but at the same time it needed to push the boundaries. Just like feet and inches and ounces and pounds are arbitrary measurements (we all know the metric system works just as well, and better), the twelve tone equal tempered tuning (that standard tuning of Western instruments such as pianos and guitars) makes perfect sense, but is arbitrary. It is like settling for only one flavor of ice cream. Different microtunings and macrotuning sound to me like they have different "flavors". A 19 tone equal temperament sounds more "tense", and a 10 tone equal temperament sounds more open and fluid. Different tunings certainly have different sounds, and can even evoke different feelings. But they can be used to write popular music just as well, once our ears become accustomed to their sound. They just sound a little strange at first since we are not used to them. In fact, we have been bombarded with music written in the twelve tone tuning system since before we emerged from our mothers' wombs.
Now, I feel it is okay to settle on feet and inches, even though it is a confusing system of measurement - because it is simply for that - measurement. But for music, which is an ART, it is a scary thing to have a standard tuning, and to teach music as if there were only one possible tuning system. The lock we have on our tuning system is analogous to teaching painters that they can only use three colors, without ever mixing them. And, being the purist that I was at the time, I felt that I should take the message all the way, and not use any instruments that represented the twelve tone tuning, if even only visually. Keyboards and guitars fall in this category, and thus banned from the ZIA live show. In some of the earlier shows, Lisa Sirois did use a CZ-101 and an Arp keyboards to play blips and bleeps, but guitars were certainly banned altogether. Guitars were never considered unless they had microtonally placed frets and were electronicized. That is something we never ran into, so guitars have never been included as part of the ZIA instrumentation.
After losing several band members simply because they were not allowed to play their instruments of choice, I became a little more relaxed about what I would let the band members play. Gia, who was in ZIA in the late nineties, played her flute on a few of the songs, and these songs had to be written in a 12 one tuning so that the pitches of her flute would fit the music. Liz Lysinger joined ZIA in 1998. An established pianist through and through, Liz has always chosen to play a keyboard. Liz's role in ZIA reminds me of my role when I was in D.D.T. (1991 - 1995). There are a lot of similarities. Liz, unlike any other previous ZIA members, has written a few songs for ZIA (although, unlike me in D.D.T. she actually sings lead on some of them). Just as I did in D.D.T., Liz plays microtonal tunings on a 12 tone keyboard while also banging on circuit boards with sticks. I used to actually stick colored tape on my keyboard in D.D.T. to keep track of what keys to play, even though I was a trained classical pianist, when the pitches you hear are different than the pitches you normally associate with the piano keys, it plays a real trick on your psyche. (Liz some how pulls it off without the guide tape.)
The band members always influence the music, if only because we choose which songs to play, together, and I also feed off of their input when I write new stuff. Lately, Liz and Hae Young have expressed an interest in playing some of the older original ZIA songs, as well as writing newer music in a similar style, and I am easily influenced by my band members in that regard. Since I've been in graduate school (for music technology), Liz has taken over and written a few ZIA songs, that sound to me like the older ZIA style with a new, happier twist.
DANIEL: There is a heavy 80's electro-pop element to our music.
ELAINE: Yes, I was in a few bands in the 80's and it never really wore off.
DANIEL: What artists are you most drawn to?
ELAINE: In a live situation, people who are extremely entertaining. Not necessarily shocking, but entertaining. I like to listen to music with interesting timbres and interesting harmonic movement. The notes they play are just as important to me as the sound, unlike most electronic musicians. Lately, the music I do listen to at home is usually bedtime music, when I have nothing to do except try to go to sleep. During the day I am either trying to write and/or record my own music, or Liz's music, or I am typing something on the computer and have a hard time concentrating with music on. I used to be able to concentrate with a bulldozer plowing through my house, but not anymore. I'm older and life is more complicated. When you get older you really do start to appreciate relaxing music. No more Noise Unit or Skinny Puppy, unless it's a live show or if I'm driving. I still like "driving" driving music.
DANIEL: What 90's music do you like? Any current bands?
ELAINE: Besides the obvious instrumental electronica and various styles of techno (some of which I like and some I don't), I especially enjoy listening to other female artists such as Bjork, Garbage, Ruby, Lunar Plexus, etc. As far as men with sexy voices, backed by music, grand like the cosmos, Radiohead takes the lead, and I really enjoyed Mankind Liberation Front while they lasted.
DANIEL: Are you part of a scene?
ELAINE: Um, no. The only scene I feel a part of is the space activist scene. There was once an "industrial electronic" scene in the early nineties in Boston, and a "new wave" scene in the 80's that I felt part of. I never was part of the "rave" scene, and I am at a loss for a music scene at this point.
DANIEL: What do you think of Hansel und Gretyl?
ELAINE: I just met Gretyl at the Korova Milk Bar in Manhattan. She was very cool, and extremely interested in space stuff. She was hanging out with En Esch of KMFDM. Since we moved here we've befriended EnEsch (we met him at our record label's parties) and his friend Trixie of Crystal Method. Very nice people, all of them. I actually met EnEsch in 1994, when ZIA was supposed to warm up for them in Boston. They cancelled all of the warm up acts (besides Sister Machine Gun) in the middle of their tour because they had too much equipment and were taking up the entire stage, but they were so kind as to lets have a merchandise booth to make up for the money we had spent promoting the show. Anyway, now we're all in New York, and all kind of struggling to get our music out there. EnEsch works on music 24/7 and we can't wait to hear his new stuff. Hansel und Gretyl are auditioning drummers now and that's the only thing holding them back from playing live again. It's been a while for them. She was so friendly when I met her, and seemed really pumped up to play live again.
DANIEL: How did the disgraceful end of Fifth Colvmn affect ZIA? Did you loose money and time? Were/are you in touch with other Fifth Colvmn artists?
ELAINE: ZIA lost time and momentum, more than money when Fifth Colvmn went out of business, as we did when the same thing happened to our first label, Young American. When a record label goes out of business suddenly, right after releasing an album and "halfway" distributing it, a band has to do a lot of housecleaning and filling in the gaps before moving on. Luckily Young American was nice enough to give us the remaining SHEM CD's, and it wasn't too long before we were on Fifth Colvmn. And even more luckily, our lawyer had an inside scoop early enough to warn us not to sign anything with Fifth Colvmn. We were on the label for two years without signing anything. That's how disorganized they really were. They didn't even give us an update on our last year's worth of royalties, but they had given us money for our following album, so we just called it even. They did give us a little over a hundred SHEMS that were left in the office, and the rest have been distributed (with no royalties paid to us even though we own the rights to the CD) through Amazon, and every other e-music vendor imaginable. We've finally straightened it all out, but it took endless phone calls and research to figure out exactly what warehouse the CD's were in and who was responsible. Our third time around now, getting out of our soon-to-be-deal with Gig Records, for several reasons (although they are a great label for the bands who chose to stay with them, they seemed to put the electronic bands on the back burner) we are not anxious at all to jump onto a new label. We are trying it out on our own for a while, and it's actually more dynamic and very empowering, making all of the decisions and strategies for ourselves.
DANIEL: Space is obviously very important to you. Do you have a particular opinion to share with "Forqued Tongue" readers about what role the cosmos will play in humanity's future?
ELAINE: Humans have been creatures of exploration since time immemorial, and because it is in our blood, we will continue the tradition. The struggle is just as much in convincing governments and taxpayers that it is worth the cost, but there are no lack of volunteers when the time comes to go. There are still plenty of wannabe explorers with the sense of adventure and spirit that it will take. To continue our nation's tradition as a world leader we need the space frontier as a new national challenge. NASA will spend the "humans in space" budget as it does now, circling the Earth endlessly unless the precious budget is redirected towards Mars. Mars is the planet next door to Earth, with the same land area as Earth, and the same 24 hour day/night cycle that plants enjoy. It is well understood nowadays that it is quite possible for humans to live on Mars, and there are detailed plans on how to get there with a modest budget. By now it seems there should have been a Lunar Base for quite some time, but to a 25 year old American the "Greatest Moment in Human History" is ancient history, and the dream of settling the Moon seems all but forgotten. The people who are driven to push the human race and other Earthbound life outward into space maybe few and far between, but the power of their spirit is so strong it will prevail, I believe - I hope - and we will someday be creatures of the cosmos.
DANIEL: Do you believe extra-terrestrials have any interest in the Earth?
ELAINE: If they know about the Earth, I'm sure they have an interest in it. If this is the case, and they are here, I believe they must exist on such a different level than we do, that we simply cannot see them most of the time. Perhaps they simply cloak themselves, or perhaps they can exist in a different dimension altogether and slip in and out of our reality. By this point there are so many books and tales of alien contact, that it is simply too hard to weed through to ever get to the truth. I usually prefer to not even think about this, and certainly not to get into extended conversations, because it just doesn't lead to any solid conclusions. However, I have run in the pro-space circles for a while now and have had at least one prominent and well-known pro-spacer tell me in detail about encounters he has had. I trust his eyes, and up until I've known this person, I completely and utterly refused to waste my time contemplating alien visitation on Earth at all.
DANIEL: I think ZIA have enormous commercial potential. How far do you aim to take it?
ELAINE: To the stars! I am being serious here. One of our goals is to have ZIA played in space, or better yet, to perform in space. I know that when live entertainers get to go into space for the sake of entertainment, we will truly be on our way to becoming a spacefaring civilization.
DANIEL: How will you go about making ZIA a success?
ELAINE: It is very hard to speculate. Things keep changing. We will never be the classic success story, but we are doing strange things that will surely get us a lot of notoriety. For instance, the three of us wrote the music for the promo video of the first ever commercial Moon mission to launch a camera to orbit the moon in 2001. The company is called Transorbital, and they plan on selling the pictures of the Moon commercially. There are other companies planning moon missions as well and it is truly amazing. We are talking to these and other space-related companies about doing their video music as well. Also, the more I sing my space-lounge music at pro-space conventions, the more I become known as "Elaine of ZIA", and that helps get the word out as well. Right now we are starting a campaign to win Radio Shack over as our next sponsor. That would be fabulous, not only because Radio Shack is our favorite store but because Radio Shack is sponsoring LunaCorp for their upcoming Moon mission.
DANIEL: What is success for you?
ELAINE: Getting humans into space. If and when ZIA's music gets played in space, that will be one degree of success. But when we're invited to play in space ourselves, that will be true success. Like I said, once civilians are going into space for the sake of entertainment alone, we know we are truly on our way to becoming a spacefaring civilization.
DANIEL: ZIA means "aunt" in Italian. Why did you choose this name for your band?
ELAINE: Well, I certainly didn't choose the name ZIA because it means Aunt in Italian! It also is a Navaho Indian sun symbol - the New Mexico state sign, and it looks to me like a landing pad. I chose it for those reasons. I didn't even know it meant Aunt in Italian until I moved to the East coast.
DANIEL: Does the "MULLEN" in your name mean you have gotten married?
ELAINE: If I was ever married, I am not anymore!
DANIEL: How much do you tour? Will you ever come to Europe?
ELAINE: We don't tour much. We did two 2 1/2 week tours to support our SHEM EP, a year apart. Tours take time and money that we don't enough of, living in New York City! We do short stints to nearby cities such as Philadelphia, DC and Boston. We would love to come to Europe if we had some sort of sponsorship.
DANIEL: Do you have any secrets to share with us?
ELAINE: I have secrets that would blow your mind. But they must remain secret for the time being.