An Interview with Zeke McNeil
William “Zeke” McNeil is the vocalist for the Detroit-based goth/industrial band, Lab Animals. Richard Newman and Greg Peterson make up the instrumental section of the band. Their latest album, Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars , came out in July 1999. Their tour began on the thirteenth of November.
Where did you get the title Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars ?
The guitar player came up with it. It’s hooked up with conspiracy theorists and it’s starting to be a very popular phrase. There’s been publications, releases, newsletters, and other things published under that title, which I really didn’t know of. We had sort of a loose concept coming into the CD about a lot of things that were going on in the news, and seemed to be prevalent in the last year or so, and it just seemed like a good working title.
Are there any specific instances from the news that you had in mind, or was it more of a general concept?
Pretty much in general. There were a lot of cloak and dagger things and a lot of paramilitary operations and things of that nature.
The cover of your new album has a fetus holding a scalpel and sitting in a hand with a slit wrist. Who did the cover art for your album, and what does it symbolize?
It was done by a local artist here in Detroit named Tim Caldwell. I guess it kind of symbolizes, and I’m kind of speaking for the artist here, that we’re manipulated by our parents or authority and made to think and do according to their wishes. So it’s something like the child fighting back or the child trying to express itself. You know, cutting the hand that feeds it.
Is Tim Caldwell an acquaintance of yours?
Yeah. He’s a pretty well published artist. He’s done a lot of things for a couple of different books. He did our Disposal cover and this cover. Tim’s helped us out with some other stage props and things of that nature.
Which track on this album are you most proud of?
I can’t really pick out one. This goes for any type of creative process. Each one seems to represent something different, and when you go through the creative process, and I imagine listening, too, one day you like this song, the next day you like that song. It’s real easy to be critical and say, “Well, I should have remixed this or brought a guitar up or brought a keyboard up,” and be critical of it, but I kind of like the way it all flows anyway, so I can’t really say that one stands out.
Do any of the songs refer to specific experiences, or are they all more philosophical?
Yeah, I guess every time you write about something you draw from personal experience or try to put in personal perspective. A couple of the tracks are more utopian in nature, like “Worlds in Collision,” where you’re looking at something objectively and saying, “I wish I could change this,” or “People should open their eyes and see things for what they really are instead of being duped by the media or instead of having their own preconceived ideas,” but I guess a lot of it’s personal experience.
Track 10 is called “Caliban.” What does that mean?
That working title came from the guitar player, as well. The way that song, and a lot of other songs, worked out is members of the band would have a working title and work out a little bit of the music and I would write the lyrics. So the lyrics are not really related to the title, but the title has to do with a Greek god that somehow lost his mind and went against the other gods and kind of got thrown out of Mount Olympus. He gets kicked out of the mountain where all the other guys hang out.
Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars has been called your debut album, but on your discography, you list Disposal as an album released in 1995.
That was just released in Europe, and it came out in the States, a little bit. A lot of people have found it and have written me e-mails and things critiquing it and saying they like it, but I haven’t really seen many copies at all.
How do you feel Lab Animals has changed since ’95?
I guess we’ve become a little bit more business happy, which is kind of a good and a bad thing. We’ve sort of awakened to how the music business works, especially here in America. It’s not always art for art’s sake or music for music’s sake. I guess we’re not as naive. As far as the sound, we’re working with some better technology and things of that nature. It makes things a lot easier and we can utilize the studio and studio time a lot better, but our ideas and approach really haven’t changed.
After completing the album, do you feel like your style is set, or do you see the band moving in any particular direction?
Yeah, its like dialectics: you’re always changing and you’re always trying different stuff. We have some new tracks that we’ve laid down for the next CD and those kind of sound different from each other. One is more keyboard oriented and the others a little more guitar oriented. We’ve got about four songs in the can for the next CD, and they’re quite different from each other, but as far as having a conscious direction, we’re not really doing anything like that. We want it to sound this way or that, so we just go with each particular song.
How long did it take you to make this album?
About eight months. We had to cut a little bit, so it’s like I was saying about critiquing each song. You kind of start tweaking this or that and then you’re not really satisfied, but sometimes you’re gonna have to just cut it and draw the line and say, “These are the songs.” There’s a track that’s not listed on the American CD that kind of fell in during the mastering process. We had approximately twenty songs that we tried to boil it down to, but some of the older songs didn’t find their way onto the new CD. That’s why it took a little bit longer to try to make up our minds, but it was kind of a smooth process. Like I said, we’re getting around in the studio pretty well. You just have to make up your mind about how you want the CD to go.
You have some songs on the soundtrack from the film Xtinet . Are those from Disposal ?
Yeah. It was kind of a weird film. I don’t know how much distribution it got. It was a real low budget flash type of movie and its kind of cool cause instead playing fifteen or twenty seconds of a song like Hollywood does, they played the whole tune through this particular club sequence, and it kind of spilled into other scenes. It was kind of funny, because I guess they thought the song was great so it continued even when there’s dialogue. It might just be ’cause it’s our song, but I thought it came out really cool. If you see that movie anywhere, pick it up, ’cause it’s kind of a real interesting and dark film.
Why did you leave the first record label you were with?
The CD was put out a while ago, and Offbeat is now defunct, but we were moving in a particular direction, and they were moving in a particular direction and we wanted a lot of support. I think it was just a miscommunication. I’m still friends with a lot of people that worked at the label.
Do you plan to stay with Digital Dimension Entertainment, or change to another label for your next album?
Digital Dimension is treating us really well, so hopefully we’ll have another American release next year if all goes according to plan. We plan to stay with Digital Dimension and put out a new CD in the spring.
What happened during the four years between Disposal and Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars ?
After we did Disposal , we were planning this European thing. We went over and did a promotional tour and put out a couple videos. One of the videos was just released this spring on a compilation with Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly and Project Pitchfork, unbeknownst to me, and I thought it was pretty cool. But getting back to your question, we started to gear up for our European thing and we got into this video and did two videos. Then Shock Therapy was asked to do a couple songs for this film, and helped Itchy do the soundtrack to this film. So we kind of got sidetracked by work for films and other experimental stuff with different mediums and trying to put together a soundtrack for a video game. When we all got back together we decided it was time to make music again as Lab Animals.
Did the video game soundtrack come through?
No. It’s one of those big corporate things. The game was about a pizza delivery guy that goes to houses, but you can put different stuff in the pizzas, like monsters, and you go and create havoc in your neighborhood. You get points for how many people you take care of or knock out. This company wanted to put a little money in it, but then they ran out and lost interest in the project.
What’s involved in the visual aspects of your concerts?
We have a backdrop that we use and we’re working on some computer generated stuff. It’s kind of hard because we don’t want to retread what a lot of bands have done and certainly a lot of bands have used visual mediums, so we’re trying to use different computer graphics to convey different things as well as typical strobe lights and different lighting effects. We’re working on different stage lighting and different props. Basically trying to do things that other bands haven’t done, but there’s been a lot of years of bands trying to achieve different performances rather than just standing up with instruments. We try to keep the show real energy driven and as exciting as possible for the audience as well as ourselves.
How would you sum up the philosophy of your band for your fans?
It’s just the philosophy of “always keep your eyes open.” There are always two sides to every story and I’m just very suspicious of the media; I’m suspicious of what the TV and the newspapers dish out to us. I think there’s a lot of manipulation and I think there are a lot of special interest groups that predicate their particular ideology on society and on people in general and basically this is a small world and people are people. You have to look at the whole picture and not necessarily particular views that are dished out by any type of medium, whether they come from a reliable source or not. That’s something that we try to look at musically, too. We approach subjects that we think other people should be aware of and cognizant of and not necessarily looking at relationships. Each song is a really serious song to us and all the words are serious words. Not to stand on a soap box or anything.