Interview with Fire-Toolz (Angel, More Like Cybergoddess)

I avoid the cliquery of the noise “scene”. The artists who don’t deserve credit get it, and the ones who truly deserve it are strangely overlooked. It’s a bizarre reality, at least in my opinion. Superficial “edginess” perhaps, or just a general lack of understanding what’s truly good. I’ve said it so many times. Noise is deceptive, it makes people think they can be a musician any time they want if they just smash some things, dress inappropriately by so-called cultural standards, or act annoying to “confront”. Like Wikipedia, which gives so many of us Facebook keyboard warriors a false sense of infinite knowledge, noise often gives a false sense of infinite creativity. If only things could be better. Enter perhaps my favorite musician in the field, the criminally overlooked Angel Marcloid, whose newest manifestation, Fire-Toolz, is exactly what I hope to find in 99% of the noise promos I receive, but rarely do. Listen, people, give this girl some real attention for once! Anyway, big thanks to her for this awesome interview, tons of great insight into her work and how she’s gotten to where she is.

Deaf Sparrow – Always my typical opener, how did you get started in music in general? I always like to see where musicians are coming from. Were you just playing around for fun long ago, or perhaps trained in any instruments before you started working in noise?

Fire-Toolz – Uh oh. Every time I answer this question I feel like I say different things. I was hitting shit with sticks and wooden spoons at a really young age. The way I feel about music now is how I felt then. Then, the feeling was so abstract, and I was too young to be mindful of my own feelings. I knew that I felt things none of my peers did with music. It was so hallucinatory, so audibly complex, so intensely emotional. My mind just totally sucked up music in its definitive spiritual and emotional entirety as soon and as much as it could at any and every point. I don’t ever remember thinking “I want to start playing music.” I feel like in the womb I formed as a MIDI keytar synced with a pissed-on-by-a-cat JP8000 spray-painted in iridescent glitter to where most of the keys stick. I heard a lot of muffled prog rock prior to being born. It leaked into me and just made me who I am. My parents weren’t musicians so I did what I had to do as my consciousness expanded. They were happy to facilitate my apparent passion in the ways they thought best. I wouldn’t be where I am today (intentionally short-circuiting guitar pedals for the sake of art) if it wasn’t for their believing in my abilities. A million prog, punk, nu metal and emo bands later, the dreams of being Avril Lavigne’s bass player came and went.

I was at the mall (on the upper level of Nordstrom, if you have to ask) with my girlfriend when my dad called to tell me that I was offered a plane ride and a hotel in Canada to try out. Her then guitarist, Evan Taubenfeld, knew me from the local music scene in my hometown and I believe he was involved in getting me up there. So I got to this warehouse rehearsal and studio space and played the hits with her band. Avril didn’t sing along, but she did watch me from behind soundproof glass in a room above me. I was dressed like I was in Texas Is The Reason that day so I’m pretty sure that’s the sole reason why I didn’t make it into the band. Full-timing the far more experimental endeavor years later was just part of a natural opening of the heart and mind. I was going to say ‘progression’ instead of ‘opening,’ but my path keeps widening, so really its like growth and depth rather than a ladder. If anything I’m going down the musical ladder real fast. From learning how to play drums along to old Dream Theater songs, to intentionally clipping mixers by plugging them into themselves is definitely falling off the ladder.

DS – Okay, wow… Usually when I ask that question I get the typical “I listened to Metallica, I don’t know, I don’t really remember.” Not only did you live in the 90s, you were the 90s. I’ll probably never get a story like that ever again. Amazing. So I know you’ve been in several different projects, most notably Pregnant Spore, but like me I wouldn’t doubt you did things that no one knows about. What was your first musical project if not that? First noise project if it was something else before?

FT – When I got my first drum set at 6 (?) years old, my dad told me I was going to be the drummer of a band called FAULT-LINE. He drew this logo with a big-haired stick figure playing a drum set with like 7 kick drums and a fault line coming out from underneath. Around 9 I was playing drums with my friend Andrew, a guitarist a few years older than me. We called ourselves Eye Forgot. I don’t know if that was my dad’s idea again or if we had picked a name he would’ve thought of. We started out writing progressive hard rock songs I guess. Inspired by uh… Metallica (pre-Load of course), Candlebox, Rush… you know, dad stuff. I was into dad rock before any of my friends were, so let that be known. We were eventually writing overly complex prog metal with a really good bass player of Andrew’s. My dad also helped me make a tape around then. I played drums, bass (guitar with a pitch shifter), and two guitar parts for a full album of original songs. It was recorded onto a Vestax 4-track cassette recorder, and my dad made like 50 copies to give to friends and family. It was under the moniker Elysium, which I had chosen because I was fascinated with Greek Mythology and did nothing but read the lyrics in my parents’ Rush LPs.

The tape isn’t anything special. I mean it’s extremely embarrassing. My drumming was satisfactory at the time, but I wasn’t nearly good with stringed instruments. The tape is basically me showing off on the drums with mediocre composition and melodic contribution. I wanted Pantera guitar tone back then. Two tracks of sloppy guitar playing through harmonic orgies upon harmonic orgies of distortion is basically what it’s like to be in Guitar Center with two customers inside it. No one likes that. Actually it’s not that bad at all. Everything I just said was a huge exaggeration. I think there is a song on there called “Ska Punk Girl” or something. So yea it’s pretty cool for pre-teen rock n’ roll.

Fast forward a million years to the mid-2000s when I began playing in a number of “more experimental” bands. One of which was “Sawhorse.” (You may deduct 5 scene points for not checking the Ebullition catalog before agreeing to that name). It was a really beautiful thing. We had written one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever been involved in, but we never got to properly record it. It was about 30-40 minutes in length. A good 4 or 5 sections, carefully timed build-ups and breakdowns… it was such hard work. The chemistry in that band was really wonky at times, but we did put out a cool EP. Hopefully I will get it ripped and uploaded soon. In 2008 or 2009, the now defunct label Afternoons Modeling (when Julia LaDense was running it) released a small edition of some solo guitar work I recorded on a single condenser mic in my cold garage one summer. Shimmery watery twinkly chords wandering in and out of washy noise territory. Lots of looping. You could call that my first “noise release.” I was also in a band called Age Sixteen. We played a lot of heart-stringy dissonant chords really fast and yelled about aspects of our individual experiences. Mostly in basements, covered in sweat. Oh and I played bass in this band called Morning For The Masses in the 00s as well. It was kinda like a space-rock version of Deftones/Glassjaw/early Jimmy Eat World? My first time in Chicago was trying out for Victory Records with that band. I call these flirtations I’ve had with the big-time “The Avril Phenomenon.”

DS – Victory, huh? Pretty impressive. I’ve worked with Tony a bit and always liked him. So clearly you were involved in the scene in Baltimore, was it your hometown? The first time I met you in person was at Barclay House, I believe. I think that was under the Pregnant Spore moniker, but either way tell everyone about your experiences in music there.

FT – I grew up outside of Baltimore, and my debut into any kind of music scene started in Annapolis. But when I was old enough to drive, and as my generation’s Annapolis scene started to change, Baltimore became my associated city. I had attended a good amount of shows at Barclay House, but the night we met, I was actually performing there for the first time. It’s kind of funny, because I’ve played in more than two handfuls of punk bands, and my debut in that basement was kneeling on the floor making screeching feedback and screaming just a few years before I moved away. There was this really fucking odd period in Baltimore where I was hanging onto the punk scene by a strand of dental floss from an unopened container that my grand father kept in his sock draw for over 30 years and never used. I just did not belong anymore. Right after my bands Age Sixteen and Surf Nazis On Ecstasy broke up, I hit a point where my Baltimore fell apart. It was actually growing rapidly, but I faded out. I was playing noise pieces to no one because all of the people that came to see the bands after me were outside confused. It’s funny, because when I moved to Chicago in 2012, this new noise & electronic music scene bred of a slightly younger generation was brewing. Jacob Seaton (C10, played in Sawhorse and many other bands with me) and his brother Sean were starting to do noise and black metal. When I went back to Baltimore to visit a year later, I got to see a little of what was happening. But now it’s just a regular thing anymore. There’s a lot of good shoegaze and post-punk happening there now, too. My sister is involved with a lot of that now. I’m not really sure what’s up with the older noise scene there these days, but I never had a place in it. I played a show with Fossils, Diagram A, and Bill Nace at The Bank once, but thats it. I’ve found great solidarity here in Chicago’s weird art and music world. I picked up here where I left off in Baltimore.

I am living in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. I’ve been here for a few years, and in Chicago over 4. After a really tragic break-up, I was going to move back to MD. But fuuuuck that, I’ve got 3 to 4 cats and cheap rent so I decided to just stay here and write FT songs about everything instead.

DS – Let’s move on now to Rainbow Bridge, your label. How did it originally start? What was the first project you took on? I know you’re kind of deciding now whether or not you want to keep it going, so people will likely want to know about the label in general, especially history that isn’t out there already. I always liked the hands-on approach to creativity, like your cassettes covered in paint. Anyway, chat some about the label.

FT – Rainbow Bridge was inspired by my frankly concerning obsession with taking on way more shit than I have time for. I’ve wanted to release music for artists since I knew that was something that was done. I inherited a boombox containing a CD player and a tape deck from a friend, so I burned the masters onto a CD and used it to dub one tape at a time for the first handful of releases. I had a stack of tape decks, but didn’t bother putting them to use at first because I thought dubbing one at a time would make me feel as if what I was doing was intimate and genuine. I eventually built this nutty Frankenstein’d double-stack of decks being fed audio from a CD player routed through multiple distribution amps. This is sitting in my bedroom, directly in front of the bed. It taunts me and begs me to make use of them again, but I’m too busy on my laptop making FIRE-TOOLZ songs and remixing smooth jazz songs.

I think I started the label for the reason most people start one. They love music and they want to help artists. They also probably want to put some of their own ideas and creativity into it, so that it’s more than just a logo at the corner of the j-cards. Running a label is fun. It is quite a lot of work, but it’s so enjoyable. The way it made me feel as it existed and operated was exhilarating. It was something I formed myself, with my own money, using my own time, and I nurtured it in my own way as it grew. The first tape I ever released was a split with Jay Schleidt’s SNMA, under the moniker “Inappropriate King Live.” I still use this moniker here and there, because it’s a catch-all moniker for any sound collage work I assemble on a computer rather than live with tapes and loopers and such. As soon as I launched the label online, people were already purchasing from and trading with me.

I haven’t done much with Rainbow Bridge in the past few years. Life just sort of politely suggested I push it aside at one point. It became too difficult dealing with a hard break-up, looking for a new place to live, looking for jobs, and coming out as trans all at the same time. I am just now starting to breathe life into the label again. Getting my shipping game back on point so I don’t get kicked off Discogs. It’s not exactly that time is freeing up at the moment, but I’m reprioritizing. I’m ceasing to whine about how I miss running the label because I don’t have time. I’ve transformed that energy into making time, because it’s important to me. I’ve touched base with a lot of artists that have technically been waiting 2 years for me to release their material, and they all seem to be on board still. I’m excited to see how the sound and aesthetic of the label shifts. In the meantime I’ve put quite a lot of time and thought into my net label Swamp Circle. I’m approaching the 100th release since it’s inception a few years ago. I have a lot of fun running it and designing all of the album covers.

DS – So your current project is Fire-Toolz, which is easily the best work you’ve done, in my opinion, and proof again you’re one of the most underrated musicians in the underground currently. How did that one start and what was your goal with it in comparison to earlier work? Even feel free to discuss where the name came from, I always like knowing the story behind that.

FT – The name comes from an ancient program written for AOL called Firetoolz. It was created by the late hacker Ryan D. Johnson. He was known for very strange behavior and there is little about him online. I chose the name with positive intentions, partially to honor his work. I was really into that shit as a youngin and I thrive on the aesthetics of that stuff. I remember when someone hacked my old Gateway 2000 and changed all my system file’s names to “FUCKYOU.whatever” and I was so fascinated. I think it was this one closet hacker that lived near me whom I kept pissing off, or perhaps this notorious hacker that I kicked out of a band I was in. He was later arrested for fucking with his high school’s network or something. I almost named this project “Netscape Navigator” but Fire-Toolz is way better.

It’s silly how organic FT is in the sense that I literally had no ideas or intentions besides wanting to make noisy beat-oriented music with vocals using computer programs instead of hardware and broken stuff. It began with me toying with drum samples, software synths, my own field recordings, and my own voice. My lyrics were complaints about the City Of Chicago, cops, health insurance, and what you might call my then-untreated, undetected bipolar disorder. I was hurting too much to approach this music in any kind of intellectual way. So I just sort of shat things out. I would hit record, play a synth line, loop it, and just keep it. I would try to make it sound more fucked up by processing it, but I thought the pseudo-nihilistic approach added a pleasurable tinge to the music. Even the original name was pseudo-nihilistic. Back then it was called Copkiller. I’m no fan of cops, but that name was not me. My friend Wyatt Howland (Skin Graft, Dead Peasant Insurance) named it after I worked on the first few songs. I had a highdea one night and texted him saying I would keep whatever name he thought of. So I did, for one and a half releases. It exists now as FIRE-TOOLZ, and it has a clearer focus. It’s blurry drunken stumbling nature ran its course. Now I’m in there knee deep in Visual Basic making all the code shiny and perfect.

DS – I immediately noticed a much clearer aesthetic with FT than things prior, and I love this 90s trash hacker Lisa Frank toxic waste approach, so to speak. Looking at previous work I feel like one can see your ideas coalescing over time and finally finding their true form in the past two years. Your collections of 90s trash, neon clothing, items that look like they came from a diseased quarter machine at KMart, the feeling of it all is just awesome, and fits the sound perfectly. How do you see FT in comparison to where you were say five or ten years ago? A natural progression as I see it or just a new direction?

FT – Everything is clearer with FIRE-TOOLZ™. Ten years ago I was holding a new Highway 1 Fender Strat in front of a pedal chain long enough to decimate its tone completely. I was into playing weird enough stuff at that point to facilitate the prediction that I would end up in some way like I did. I don’t really try to control my creative path too much. It does most of the driving. I make little decisions here and there but it works it’s own magic. I just decided to start messing with nasty beats and vocals one day, and it changed my life. Almost everything I produce started with an idea I didn’t think about very much before trying. It’s really neat tracing big deal things in your life back to the seeds that were planted.

DS – What’s the process in the creation of your music? Does it start with sampling or do you write primary melodies first and then build on it? You’ve already touched on some of these things a bit, but perhaps you have some more details?

FT – Boring answer I know…all of the above! Lately I’ve been creating one-off tracks of source material. Synth jams, manipulated field recordings, beats, whatever. Once that collection builds up, I throw some of those things onto the canvas start trying to make something happen. I’ve been building a lot of mis-matched drum banks to challenge myself and stir things up. Old 60s snares with ridiculously deep EDM kicks and chip tune hi-hats, or something. Not that specifically. That would actually suck I think. Some songs have come together by taking separate ideas and combining them by writing new transitions. Part 1 of song A, part 3 of song B, part 2 of song C. There are times I will write a part, and the ideas will flow so quickly that I just build off of it in turbo speed from one step to another.

DS – Before FT I saw you two times live, I think, once as Pregnant Spore. Barclay, as mentioned earlier, and then in Richmond for the Cheap Fest. FT seems way more complex by comparison, what’s a live show like now since there’s obviously more work in the music itself? I’ve seen live shots of you since you started it, but I wasn’t sure if you go the noise assault route for live or something else? It’s difficult, in my opinion, to play this kind of stuff live without some sort of show because usually the music is already finished and there’s this “button pusher” stigma to doing it live. The usual “oh where are the instruments?” opinion of the commoner.

FT – You saw me as Pregnant Spore at Barclay. You may have seen me under my birth name at Cheap Fest, but that is because at one point I decided to put the childish Pregnant Spore moniker to rest. And then I continued to use it here and there because it was confusing to everyone. A “live electronics” performance or recording under my name or any variation of my name (i.e. J. Marcloid) is always same thing as Pregnant Spore. Different words, same kind of musique concrete/electro-acoustic/electronic stuff. It doesn’t make sense but as long as it’s on Discogs correctly, we can just use that for reference.

At the moment, FT live exists as solely an A/V experience. I use my laptop for backing tracks, and I use hardware to manipulate live vocals and perform various parts. There is video work I’ve made that is projected when I play, and it syncs up with the entire set, second by second. I am intentionally not the main focus of the performance. If anything, I share the focus with the video work.

DS – That sounds awesome. And how has your live schedule been going so far? Any plans of touring? How has FT been taken thus far? How about in comparison to your previous work?

FT – I’ve done a small amount of touring as FIRE-TOOLZ, but it’s very challenging being able to afford the time off work, the transportation, and everything else that comes with weird music and DIY touring skills. I am always looking out for opportunities to make something happen. I know it will, but at the moment there are no solid plans.

It’s been received surprisingly well among my peers, and some reviews and exposure is finally coming in.Even though I invited all my Facebook friends to the FT page, FT is more regarded as either an account on Tumblr that reblogs webpunk images, or that stupid fucking thing with the ‘z’ that I keep tagging in my posts. I really haven’t had much time to establish a name for FT. It’s only really existed for a year in the public eye. I’m actually doing everything myself except for releasing the physical media. Well, my friend is working on a Twitter bot for me. It’s just gonna harass people online with bits of my lyrics. Twitter will shut it down in a week. Something to write a new song about. FT will wreak cyber-havoc, just you wait. I haven’t yet heard anyone go off about how terrible FT is, though! Surely the new album will bring forth some real honesty in the presses! *purple smiling devil emoji*

Drip Mental is more focused on danceable beats than the last album. It probably has a few more catchy parts. it’s also not as harsh as often. I would say it’s more complex with better songwriting and more attention to detail. It has lot more integration of vaporwave as well as midi-style sampling and instrumentation. I think I know what I’m doing as a producer a hell of a lot more. It’s darker and lighter depending on what aspects of it you’re looking at. much of the lyrics explore joy, self-confidence, polyamory and consensual sex. It also further explores deep-seeded pain and self-loathing born of trauma and abuse both on and from my end. It touches on the frightening rage I feel toward those who oppress any kind of marginalized group, as well compassion and understanding toward them. It’s a fuckin mess. especially since I tend to change points of view and even subjects mid-song. I would say both albums are both chapters of the same book. Documentations.

DS – Thanks so much. I think that covers it all, excellent work and thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Really looking forward to the new one, already pre-ordered it, and whatever you do in the future. Stick with this one for sure! Any final words?

FT – Two things. First, Doug and Max from Hausu Mountain are some of the most fantastic people in the milky way. I love them more than I love pastries which is extremely fucked up to say. But it’s true. Go listen to MrDougDoug and Mukqs and Good Willsmith. And lastly, fucking #RESIST.


Interview Conducted by Stanley Stepanic