Southern California's Secret Society of the Sonic Six creates disco for the damned. Slinky industrial grooves weave through spooky synth haze as vocalist Astar Ivanka's coo beckons listeners deeper into the sonic abyss. Their videos are scenes from some sinister, Lynchian netherworld, where unsuspecting marks tend to meet a gruesome end.
The duo will return to Tacoma for its second performance at the New Frontier Lounge on April 5. And we caught up with multi-instrumentalist Chadwick W.D. to learn more about his band's foreboding aesthetic.
TW: So, you guys like alliteration? What’s the name all about?
Chadwick: It’s just a play on words. There’s a synth model that Moog made ... called the Sonic Six. That’s where the name came from. It was a particular model I really dug.
TW: I’ve checked out some of your videos. (Find clips for “Blame and Blood,” “Por Fin” and “Tracers” on YouTube.) People tend to get murdered in them. Are you trying to tell us something? Should Tacomans be scared of you guys?
Chadwick: We’re just big fans of horror, especially the Italian Giallo stuff (grisly crime thrillers.) The “Por Fin” video is just an homage to those films.
TW: When and where did this band form?
Chadwick: In the late ‘90s, Rufo (Noriega) - who is the old bass player - and I ... started to book our music together. And the dot-com boom up in the Bay Area just pretty much forced us out. We came back down to Southern California because we couldn’t afford to live there.
TW: You’re based in Los Angeles these days, right?
Chadwick: Yeah. So we came down here in 2001 and started to get more serious about it. In late 2002, 2003 we started to gig out with our experiments, and it just went from there.
TW: You draw from really disparate traditions. It seems like you’ve got everything from industrial influences to maybe a little jazz. How did your sound gel?
Chadwick: A lot of early industrial (influenced us), like Portion Control and Throbbing Gristle and all that kind of stuff. I definitely got into that through having been exposed, going to clubs back in the day and everything else. That kind of led me to get into drum machines and simple synthesizers.
From that point, I got much more into the early modular, ‘60s synth stuff. And we do listen to a lot of jazz around the house. That always permeates everything. ... We try to synthesize all of those elements into our own odd little world.
TW: On your site there’s sort of a mini manifesto where you say the band exists “to destroy all soul-killing elements plaguing music today.” Can you elaborate?
Chadwick: I think that a lot of that comes from being in L.A. because it’s the industry town, whether you’re talking about films or music. You’re just surrounded by so much emulative bull... that it’s rather maddening because there are great, creative people here doing really cool stuff that get little or no voice because of that.
I think that we strive to make this music for its own sake. We’re very D.I.Y. We always have been. Small, upstart labels have put out some of our stuff, and we’ve put out a lot of our own stuff. That’s always interested me more than what most of the people in my town are striving for, which is to make it big. Or you’ve got this “American Idol” mentality that’s been applied to so much music. It’s really devastated most mainstream music, whether you’re talking about production style or singing style. It’s become so homogenized.
TW: I don’t know if you’re a fan of comedian David Cross. But he has this funny bit about the “parade of delusion” in Los Angeles.
Chadwick: (Laughs) Absolutely, there’s so many people posing for pictures that no one’s taking. It’s just ridiculous in that regard. There’s so many wonderful people doing cool (stuff.) But, unfortunately, these stereotypes are just constantly reinforced, and the level of delusion is unbelievable.
TW: Initially, I thought there might be a tongue-in-cheek element to what you do. But in your manifesto you also express annoyance at ironic hipsters. So maybe that's not the case.
Chadwick: It’s fine to be a little bit playful about what you’re doing. It’s another thing to hide behind irony so you’re afraid to actually make any statements or go out on a limb and possibly fall on your face. I think a lot of irony is lazy art. … The world has plenty of that going on. We try to stay far away from that. But you can go the other way. Pretentiousness is duller than anything.
TW: You’ve got a retro thing going on, between some of your musical reference points and your style. In all the videos you have that kind of 1940s look going on.
Chadwick: We enjoy the old styles. They’re stark, very efficient. They’re dramatic. That aspect is along the lines of our music. We compose fairly minimally. We try to use the starkness and the dramatic elements (of fashion.) We feel that they blend quite well. However, a lot of people don’t get that at first. They see someone dressed in something retro, and they think you’re gonna be doing some kind of swing music.
TW: Like you’re Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
Chadwick: We’re certainly not about recreating some previous time. We just like to take those elements and mix them with what we’re doing and sort of create our own space entirely.
TW: I’m thinking of the videos again as I ask this. What did happen to the bassist?
Chadwick: Uhhh, I don’t know if we should talk about that. (Laughs) He went on to do his own thing. … He spends a lot of his time working on an L.A. group doing Gregorian chant. But he does most of the printing for all of our releases. He does letterpress stuff down in Compton, and he wanted to focus on that. So we just decided to keep going, doing our thing, and he’s doing his.