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xmag.com : October 2001:Rorschach Test

You can't say Rorschach Test frontman James Baker is a man of few words. To interview him is to perhaps know him--and pretty darned fast. He tells you a lot in a half-hour.

But that won't be a surprise to fans of this crunching, crushing Goth/Industrial wonder. Behind that coarse, primal scream of a voice lies a flood of lyrics as loud and as powerful as the band's sinister guitars and frenetically rumbling rhythm section. And behind Baker's lyrics is a guy whose life fuels the guttural techno-wizardry with all the piss and vinegar of a fire-and-brimstone preacher. In fact, he was an ordained minister for a while, an experience which jarred his soul so badly he now calls organized religion "corrupt." The result is a fiery sound and style that evokes Ministry and others in the Goth/Industrial world, but one where hope and honesty rule, rather than the oppressive, heroin-laden self-pity of many in that genre.

Baker's music is like an impressionistic smack in the head, a means to relay the strength of his lyrical convictions. And those lyrics have as much to do with hope as they do with simply pointing out what pisses him off, in an almost editorial fashion. There's another major difference between him and others in that genre as well. Although Rorschach Test has released three albums on major labels, those experiences have soured Baker so, that he now hocks his wares via the Internet.

Rorschach Test began in 1990 in Colorado. At the time, Baker said it was him, another member and a sequencer.

"I passed by a flyer on a telephone pole that advertised a band called Ministry," Baker said. "I was intrigued. I went and saw them, and that was the first time I saw sequencing integrated with a live set. I was blown away."

By 1992, the band had moved to Seattle. In '98, Baker moved to Vancouver, Washington, to get away from what he called some "unhealthy habits" and other things that inspired the song "A Toast" on their latest, Peace Minus One.

And today, 11 years and 42 members later, the band is still roaring.

But if you ask Baker about the genesis of Rorschach Test, he'll give you the longer and meatier version of the story.

"I'd rather keep it tight and small than become a sonic prostitute
and be on MTV."
 

Exotic: Tell me about the beginning of the band.

Baker: I was raised in an extremely right-wing Christian family. This Protestant denomination was so separatist that it was not only wrong to associate with other non-believers but it was wrong to be associated with other

Christians who didn't believe as we did. I was like the boy in the plastic bubble. I knew nothing outside of the church.

At a very young age, a senior pastor, for some reason, earmarked me as having the call of the pastor. They did the traditional laying on of the hands and everything. I had my whole life mapped. I knew what I was going to do: I was going to grow up and study to be a minister. And I was actually ordained as a minister. Unfortunately, in seminary school I took things further than studying the books that had so greatly influenced modern Christianity. I was able to see these gaping holes in the theology taught to and swallowed by the masses without any thought whatsoever, simply because they trusted the people behind the pulpit. In good conscience I started questioning all these things. And all these deacons, elders and men of God who'd gone before me and read these books couldn't answer my questions; so I was thrown out.

Exotic: And what made you put together the band after all that?

Baker: A huge part of growing up in the church community was music. It's a large tradition in congregationalism. And I always loved the music, the harmonies and the big pipe organs. That probably influenced my affection for keyboards. Then when I was thrown out, I latched on to those with similar experiences: outcasts, those who felt like the dregs of society...the unclean thing. I bonded with these people. But the other talent I'd acquired growing up in a church setting eventually resulted in the production of music.

Exotic: That's quite a jump from the religion thing to this Goth/Industrial thing.

Baker: It's not really a new story. It's a very natural thing to happen. If you've been thrown out of one thing, you go to the extreme opposite.

Exotic: Is it an expression of anger as well?

Baker: It's a catharsis, anger...definitely. I'm very angry at organized religion. The only thing worse is the music industry. That's the only thing more
corrupt.

Exotic: I read that the previous album was pretty autobiographical. And I take it this one is as well? There's a line in "Fornicator" about the filth on the street looking more beautiful. It sounds like what you were talking about, going to the extreme opposite.

Baker: Yeah. "Fornicator" is about being thrown out of the church. The line is, "Every time I see the filth on the street/It begins to look more beautiful
to me."

Exotic: Then there's "A Toast," which uses those lines from beer commercials and is really pretty amusing.

Baker: It's a parody about those dedicated to the bar scene, and the illusion that when you're tossed night after night, drunk, that the people you hang out with are your great friends--when they're in fact not. If there's an emergency or a crisis in your life, where are those people? Particularly in Seattle, I'd see a lot of people move there, get caught up in various bar scenes and then they'd be in line at the needle exchange. I'd see the progression.

Exotic: And what's different about you is that there is some sense of hope. It's not like others in this genre, like Gary Numan, who's now got a stick up his ass. And you are sort of just telling it, almost factually, almost like reporting, but in song.

Baker: Before any positive change can happen you have to point out the negative in an honest way.

Exotic: Now this album is released on a national label as well?

Baker: It's on Emagine Entertainment. That was another disastrous record deal. It's not only my mission in life to create music but to change the music industry itself. I feel like in this day and age that for a musician to be tied to ridiculous distribution deals, management deals, they're getting raped continually for their talent and never seeing a dime for the toil and pain they put into their art. You can learn some computer skills, get into the Internet community, and there's no reason you can't put out your own records that way.

Exotic: Is that how you're doing it now?

Baker: Yes. The way the math works out is that if I sell 20,000 copies of a record myself, I'll make as much as if I'd sold 2 million on a major label.

Exotic: And how are you getting this advertised and out to the buying public?

Baker: That's where I've got some advantage. I've been on six labels in the past: Mercury, Slip Disk, Island records, and the list goes on. And that did give me a lot of good exposure. There's already a fan base. I'd rather keep it tight and small than become a sonic prostitute and be on MTV.

I'd never want to participate in that. I'd rather play small halls, keeping it intimate, than behind a barricade, playing to thousands of people who probably have no clue what I'm talking about.

 

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