Lately, life has gone digital. The boom of the bass could be your own stressed heartbeat. It's into that mire of overcrowding, social isolation and sexual confusion that industrial hopes to tap. Just as the blues provide escape by setting life's woes to a cathartic howl, industrial puts the over-oiled machine of capitalism right in your face, daring you to make it through the day it simulates in musical miniature. Catharsis arrives as the chug-a-lug of a decaying, enslaving nation is subverted into the rhythm and release of dance.
Biff Butler brings it all home. "I was actually born in St. Louis," he says in the sort of crisp (if thick) British accent you can be sure never asked someone where he or she went to high school. "But I've been in England all my life."
Biff is the offspring of Black Sabbath bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler, who lives in St. Louis. Exploring the ever-shifting realm of industrial, Butler is following his father into the music industry, but he's turning the tables by playing industrial music. Or is he? "Industrial these days," Butler says contemplatively. "It seems so broad. All four of us are into different types of music. We aren't part of a scene. Obviously we're not part of the metal scene that's doing OzzFest. It's not as though we set out to be an industrial project. We just make music, and that's how it turns out, really. It is very everything."
Butler is referring to his band -- or, more accurately, project -- called Apartment 26. He's anxious to be judged on his own merits rather than have people weigh his achievements against those of Dad. Talk to anybody whose hair was down to his ass in the Nixon era, and he'll tell you that you can't get much more heavy than Black Sabbath. (Just try finding someone of that generation who didn't practice his air-guitar chords to the heavy crunch of "Paranoid." )
Despite its very different musical approach, Apartment 26 may just be the natural extension of Black Sabbath's skull-fracturing metal. But don't expect Son of Sabbath. Butler has "tried to play the bass -- failed; tried to play the guitar -- failed. I like working with the keyboard. That's about as much as I can do." And it's more than enough, it turns out. With its uncompromising, yet accessible, din of melodictronica, Apartment 26 has been garnering more buzz than a pawn-shop customer button. Butler, in true DJ/industrial style, prefers to drop the last name from his moniker (you can call him Biff), mainly because he wants to break away from the preconceptions of being his father's son but conceivably also because it sounds like a sportscaster's name -- or a spoof of a Clark Gable persona. (Biff himself makes fun of his name.)
Apartment 26's five-song EP, Within, which will be available at their highly anticipated OzzFest performance, doesn't make the industrial-sized mistake of encouraging alienation while depicting it. By contrast, Apartment 26 draws you in like an intellectual party. "Basically, we try to write very stream-of-consciousness music, lyricwise and vocalwise," says Butler. When told that some of his chanting refrains have proven unshakable, he responds, "I like a catchy chorus, but the thought of someone walking around singing a catchy chorus (in our music) strikes me as sort of a bit weird, because I really intend it to be very stream-of-consciousness. I think Doug Firley may have brought that out of me."
Butler is referring to Gravity Kills' Doug Firley, who produced the EP for Apartment 26. Along with a similar vision, Apartment 26 shares a manager with the down-to-earth St. Louis industrialists (Biff's mom, Gloria). Butler hooked up with his friend Firley in St. Louis during Mardi Gras. One presumes the drunken cacophony of the masses proved the perfect inspiration for an industrial jam session. "We went in to do some digital editing," recalls Butler. Before he knew it, they were laying down a road-worthy demo.
He sounds slightly tour-mented, but the thrill of the rock & roll chase shines through. One thing he's found: "For me, touring America, I notice that a lot of America is pretty much the same. Each mall has the same shops." That astute observation could be a metaphor for rock & roll.
"When we play a show in England," says Butler, "we don't use a drummer. We use basically all the programmed stuff we used on the CD. We just take it to a studio and put it into a sequencer." A small segment of Apartment 26's audience, invariably, is there to see Geezer's son. But, mainly, "it's kids who just, I don't know, maybe heard that there's an electronic-rock band playing, and they'll check it out from that." And what can they expect? "The energy level is higher live," says Butler, "whereas in the studio it's more textured. Live, we get all the moshers who, you know, just beat each other up, the crowd-surfers who are there just to have a good time. There are even people who are like at a rave -- doing a bit of a rave dance. We have the front-row people doing their thing. Basically, all kinds of people -- because people these days, they can't really find their one scene. They'll listen to Fear Factory and whatever else, but then they go to a techno-rave thing the next week. I suppose we're a band that brings all of those elements into one thing." He laughs.
"And I suppose it's sort of confusing -- you don't know whether to dance or what to do, exactly." Butler's metal tastes extend to Metallica (the new Black Sabbath in tone and approach) but, mainly, "I'm big into the drum & bass scene. And I always go back to my old Depeche Mode records." Butler admits to liking some Oasis stuff, for instance, but mostly (and predictably) he's a fan of electronica -- a genre in which he includes artists ranging from Prodigy to Everything But the Girl. Does Butler believe that electronica, dependent on its cultish appeal for sustenance, can go mainstream? "I suppose a song like 'Guilty,' by Gravity Kills, or perhaps Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer,' might be as big as you can get." He pauses. "I wouldn't say that we'd be able to sort of match those." But Butler quickly adds that Apartment 26 has some new material that might sound extra-good on the dance floor.
"I was listening to the stuff the other guys were writing," he raves, "and I was blown away -- especially being around all these musicians on this tour, and seeing great music being done all the time." He pauses, dazed and enthused. "It's kind of inspiring, actually."
Apartment 26 performs at OzzFest, at Riverport Amphitheatre, on Wednesday, July 7.