July 2, 2019 Interview – Andy LaPlegua of Combichrist
Industrial Metal titans Combichrist have not had a bad run. Synonymous with the band is Norwegian-born vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Andy LaPlegua, who, in 2003, found himself inspired to explore a darker, more aggressive sound. What was then a side project for the founder of both Icon of Coil and Panzer AG has grown and flourished into its own beast. Over the past sixteen years, LaPlegua has released nine full-length studio albums under the Combichrist banner, ranging from 2003’s epic The Joy of Gunz to 2016’s killer This Is Where Death Begins to the brand spanking new One Fire.
An intriguing blend of the past and present, 2019’s One Fire represents all the very best facets of Combichrist’s career, thus far, capped off with a Dead Kennedys cover (“California Über Alles”). Curious to pick the brain of the band’s talented frontman about the inspiration behind some of the new tracks, we recently sat down with LaPlegua to talk all things One Fire and more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in so many different music projects throughout the years, but Combichrist has been your main band for 16 years now. What have the past nearly two decades taught you about yourself and music?
Andy LaPlegua – Not to take either one of them too seriously! Music is a part of my life, but there’s more to it. There was a time when I thought music was everything, then you realize that there’s so much more to life than just music. You need to, as they say, take time to smell the flowers, smell the roses. I’ve learned to do that. We’re fortunate enough to be able to tour a lot, so there’s not a whole lot of time for rose smelling. (Laughs) I’ve learned to appreciate everything in life: it’s not a race, it’s not a competition; it’s a love for what you’re doing regardless of what it is. Be able to enjoy your life—that’s the main thing I’ve learned.
Also that if you don’t do music for the passion then you should be doing something else. There’s some people who are doing it for the money and they’re doing it well, but definitely not the music style we’re doing. So, if you don’t have 100% love for what you do, you need to do something else. I just, like I said, I love to scale things out and spend time on music, and other times step into what I call ‘the real.’ The real is where you snap out of it for a minute and just focus on something else, just enjoy your life.
Cryptic Rock – That’s very wise advice. So, obviously we are here to discuss One Fire. The album really is a strong representation of all of the facets of Combichrist, which makes it a truly eclectic record. What was going through your mind as you began writing, and was this kind of overview of your career intentional or something that happened organically?
Andy LaPlegua – I definitely went back and took an overview over everything that I have ever done. I made a small list of moments that I needed to have on the album, but I didn’t purposely go in and look at the list while writing; I wrote from the heart. Every time I looked at the list, I was like, ‘Did this part get into any of the songs?’ And I found, ‘Oh yeah, that’s in that song’ and then I scratched it out. I deliberately tried to make sure that I covered all the small elements that I wanted to have in there, because it is a perfect circle for me. (Laughs) Which sounds like it’s going to be my last album, but it’s a perfect circle.
The Dead Kennedys cover, that song is what got me into Alternative music; I was nine-years-old and thought I’d discovered music. (Laughs) Because I’d never heard anything like it, it completely changed my life! Since I knew I was going to do that, I was like I need to have elements from everything else too just to make sense on this album.
Cryptic Rock – It makes sense that every so often you would look back at what you have done in the past. That doesn’t make it feel like a last album, more of an appreciation for where you’ve been in order to devise what the future will be.
Andy LaPlegua – And also to see where you are; not just where you’ve been, but where you are. What have I accomplished and what have I done? What have I learned? I’m not putting myself on a pedestal like, ‘I know this shit!’ (Laughs) It’s not like that, but I do believe that a lot of musicians forget about progress. They get comfy with what they’re doing, and they repeat themselves because that’s comfortable. Album after album sounds kind of the same, because they know the fans are going to like it because they’ve done it before.
I don’t feel comfortable that way at all! I’m kind of in the studio like, ‘I don’t care if anybody likes this, I love it!’ (Laughs) Of course, then the album comes out and I’m like, ‘I hope people do like it.’ (Laughs) But initially I write for me and that’s important. With live it’s a different beast, because when you play it live you are not alone anymore. You are sharing the room with a bunch of people, and you want everybody to have a good time and you have a good time together. That’s when you start altering your playlist and you play their favorites. That’s a very different beast, you know? In the studio I always write for myself and that’s the only way I feel is right.
Not everybody can be AC/DC and Slayer, that’s how I look at it! AC/DC, Slayer, and The Ramones. If you’re not any of those three, do not do the same thing over again! They’re the only three artists who can put out pretty much the same album over and over again and it will be awesome.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Alright, back to your music and particularly the explosive track “Hate Like Me.” You did a recent interview that explained the song, lyrically, as your old, rebellious self sitting back and saying, ‘Look at me now!’ Since fans are always accusing band’s of ‘going soft,’ is there also some sarcasm in there too?
Andy LaPlegua – The initial idea of this whole song was exactly that, but that was just the initial idea. It started with an exaggerated, comfortable me in my 50s with big, black frame glasses, and a suit and tie, in a happy family house. You know, the ‘50s setting with the perfect wife, the perfect cookie tray. Then Punk Rock me playing the show in the living room while everybody is happy, and I’m kind of singing to myself as the old, comfortable man on the couch. (Laughs)
It wasn’t necessarily the true story about my younger me and who I am now, because I’m still pretty similar to who I was when I was a kid. (Laughs) Some of us never grow up, you know what I mean? It was an exaggeration of who I used to be—the extreme of how I was as a kid and the extreme of what I could be as a comfortable older person. (Laughs) I just thought it was a cool idea, and that’s where it started.
While I was writing, I was like, ‘Oh man, this could work on so many levels.’ This could be a shout out to all of the bands, like we just said, they’re comfortable doing the same thing over and over again; they don’t take any risks anymore. “Hate Like Me” doesn’t necessarily mean hate, it can also just mean ‘Where’s your passion? Didn’t you used to have the same passion as me?’ There are many levels to the song, because it grew while I was writing. I was like, ‘Well, if I write this then I kind of trap myself into one meaning.’ I kept it open so it meant two or three different things.
It’s funny, I got a lot of shit in the past for a song called “Shut Up And Swallow.” (Laughs) Very few people realize that it was just ‘suck it up, life is hard.’ (Laughs) That was really the whole meaning of the song, but obviously I deliberately wrote it that way. I don’t like to provoke, there’s no point in trying to provoke anymore—it’s kind of the opposite now. In the ‘90s, everybody tried to provoke to get some attention. Now you’re trying everything you can to not get that kind of attention, because everybody is provoked by everything. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Alright, well this all plays into the next question, which is admittedly a bit dumb. With Combichrist you are almost always aggressive and loud, generally speaking. As you get older and you grow comfortable in your life outside of music, is it ever a struggle to maintain that aggressiveness?
Andy LaPlegua – There’s certain parts of you that never change. I mean, you never hear about a serial killer that stops killing because he gets older. (Laughs) It’s a part of you that you always have certain issues, and it’s okay. I say this every day on stage. Well, not every day, but often I say it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to have anxiety, it’s okay to have depression. It’s a part of you and the music is where you let it out. That’s what I say on stage: that this is a good place to let that anger out; this is a good place to suck up that energy and be good to each other, take care of each other. But it’s okay to let it out!
This is a really good outlet for me. Writing this music is a small part of it, but it’s an important part of it. Being on stage I get all of those emotions out! If you ever see us live, I always have a grin on my face—I always smile. People go, “Why are you smiling? The music is so aggressive!” It’s because it’s aggressive! It channels everything good and it makes me happy. It allows me to be the opposite when I’m not on stage. When I’m home I mostly listen to Outlaw Country stuff, acoustic music, the Blues—just chill music. I channel everything else through my own music when I’m out on the road.
Cryptic Rock – Generally speaking, the musicians that make the most aggressive music are the nicest, most chill people. Likely for that same reason: they get it all out in the music and on stage.
Andy LaPlegua – We’re not all GG Allin, you know? (Laughs) We’re not all drug-abusing, crazy lunatics. We’re artists and this is a way to channel feelings, and to connect with other people who need that, as well. Sometimes when it’s the most aggressive music, one of the reasons that you love it is because, “Holy shit, this is aggressive!” You just go, “This has such an intensity,” it really gets to your core.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. Now, you mentioned listening to Outlaw Country at home and that kind of segues into a discussion of one of the stand-out tracks on the album, “Bottle of Pain,” which is almost like the cinematic love child of Johnny Cash, Hans Zimmer, and Combichrist. What inspired that song, in particular?
Andy LaPlegua – Initially, I actually wrote that song for the Underworld: Awakening (2012) soundtrack; it was on the soundtrack but we never released it ourselves. I re-recorded it in a little different manner for the album. I always wanted to have it on an album, but it never fit in because I hadn’t re-recorded it—and it never felt right. For this album, I said I have to re-record it, I have to put it on the album.
I’m not talking about an actual battlefield. I’m talking about when you have everything go against you and you’re just kind of in the middle of it like, “You know what? I might go down with it, but I’m not going to let it take me. I have to do everything I can to get through this! And if I go, well fuck, at least I’ve done everything I can.” That’s basically the whole idea behind the song. I’m also a huge Tom Waits fan, so with the song there’s an obvious inspiration there. It was just an important song to do!
Cryptic Rock – It fits perfectly and it is definitely a stand-out. Now, throughout One Fire there are quite a few tracks that reflect on life in 2019—touching on topics like not feeling alone, what the future might hold, and politics. They all sound great but they also have an underlying message that forces the listener to think. What do you want fans to take away from their experience with the the album as a whole?
Andy LaPlegua – I don’t want to impact anyone politically at all. People go, “Well, you should take a stand because you’re a role model.” No, I’m an artist! I know that some people take what I say literally and probably follow it, and that’s just the way some people are.
My main thing on this album is really about mental illness, and I touched on this in several other interviews, as well. It’s a real thing! As you can see, there’s a lot of people around us with depression, a lot of people are suicidal. It’s not just those things, there are other things—down to schizophrenia. If you look at our homeless situation in this country, a lot of that is because of mental illness; people are just not capable of taking care of themselves. I hate to see when there’s a lot of homeless people, and it’s not because they’re homeless people, it’s because nobody is doing anything.
Every part of the society we have a mental health problem, but nobody is taking it seriously. Most people don’t take it seriously because you can’t see it: it’s not a missing limb, it’s not a broken arm or a scar. You see a scar and you can go, “Oh, there’s something wrong with that person.” This is in their heads and you can’t see it. People go, “Just suck it up, you’ll be okay.” It doesn’t work that way! People need to take things way more seriously. You don’t necessarily have to talk to people about it, but you should at least listen and take people seriously. It’s a serious problem in our society and that’s the one thing that I really don’t mind preaching about.
When it comes to politics people need to shut the fuck up! People are so extreme and it’s just—you both look just as dumb. If you’re yelling and screaming on one side or you’re yelling and screaming on the other side, you both look dumb to me. Just chill out! Everybody should be able to be friends and figure shit out together. (Laughs) That’s my political view on everything, that’s all I’ve got for politics. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) That works! So, obviously you have a bunch of other musical projects, as well. What’s going on with all things not Combichrist?
Andy LaPlegua – Well, it’s kind of on ice right now. I wouldn’t say that any of it will never resurface, but it’s kind of all on ice right now. I’ve been working on another project, which is more towards—I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s a little bit more towards Country and Psychobilly, that kind of stuff; a little Tom Waits, a little Nick Cave, a little Rockabilly, a little of everything. I’ve been working on that on the side, but I’ve done that for about the last three years, so who knows when that’s going to be done. (Laughs) That’s really about the only thing I’m doing right now. I’ve been thinking about some different stuff, but I really just don’t have time, you know?
Cryptic Rock – Maybe that’s a good thing: being busy tends to keep inspiration flowing. Alright, last question. At Cryptic Rock, we cover music as well as films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction. Are you a fan of either genre and, if so, what are some of your favorite Horror and/or Sci-Fi films?
Andy LaPlegua – Yes, I am a fan of both genres, but it’s so hard to find favorite movies. (Laughs) Of course, there’s total classics. I still love the Japanese, like Takasha Miike and stuff like that—Audition (1999) is one of my favorite movies ever. For Sci-Fi it would still have to be Alien (1979), because to me it has both. Even the new ones too—Covenant (2017) and Prometheus (2012)—I love those movies, as well. It’s still my favorite franchise, I think.
The funny thing is that as much as I’m a Horror fan, I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween (1978) or Friday the 13th (1980) or even A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)—all the classics. I’ve never really been a huge fan. I dig it, I like it, but I’ve always been on the weird side of things. (Laughs) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is an all-time favorite, because it’s just so bizarre and it has such a weird atmosphere in it.