by Maria Raha  |  Photos By Tod Seelie
originally published, issue #7, 2005


Explosions of blistering stop-and-start static are knotted with agonizing, far-off, distorted vocals. Blankets of brutal honesty distill the human experience down to its barest, most intense—though not always angry—moments. Regardless of layers of chaos, the aesthetics of Prurient and Dominick Fernow’s label, Hospital Productions, are tightly wound, but always fluid. There’s no room for leaks, no loose ends, no squeaky springs; however, Prurient is hardly an assembly line of albums rehashing one consistent idea.

The fact that the project originated in the near-void of Wisconsin (where Dominick grew up) can’t be inconsequential to how untainted the Prurient catalog sounds. Fernow started Hospital Productions with high school friend Matt Simmons when the pair was sixteen. “I was really into the underground death metal and grind scenes,” Fernow explains, “and that led me to noise. I’d heard about industrial music, which I literally thought [featured] the sound of machines, but as I investigated, I was severely disappointed with what was essentially mediocre rock music. My friend had this primitive computer program, and we started to make what we thought industrial music should sound like. His stuff basically turned into techno, and my stuff turned into noise.”

In 1999, Dominick moved to Providence to attend RISD, where he tripped over Load Records’ Ben McOsker and the town’s burgeoning noise scene. “There was this really aggressive, hard edge to the whole [thing], but everybody was wearing like, pink pajamas—just totally, totally fucked. I felt like, ‘Wow, these are my people. This is what I’ve been looking for.’” Dominick has since moved to New York, Hospital has put out at least 117 releases, Prurient’s latest album is Black Vase [Load Records], and Dominick spent the fall touring with Wolf Eyes.

I could spend pages talking about how the first time I saw Prurient live, I wanted to simultaneously break shit, cry and go for broke buying every release taunting me from the merch table. But Dominick would clearly do a better job of explaining his projects than I would. So this writer’s favorite noise artist explains it himself, with neither humble nor presumptuous interruption from swingset.

it’s not an attack on the audience—
it’s an attack on myself that the audience is witnessing.

Dominick Fernow:

My mom actually named the project. We were sitting in a Chinese restaurant and I had just started Prurient. I [asked], “Mom, what’s a word that describes something [being] wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on it…this sick obsession, or fascination, or omnipresent awareness of dread, or a sinister kind of mood?” And she said, “Prurient!” … So I looked it up and it was perfect: “Having or revealing indecent desires or thoughts.” So, “indecent desires” goes a lot further than just sex. There’s an infinite amount of indecent desires out there, you know?

Not so much now, but in the early days, there was a conscious effort to always use the non sequitur, or to use an unexpected image or title or twist. Originally, I didn’t want to have anything to do with sexual subject matter directly. It was always this indirect, twisted approach. It wasn’t necessarily obviously about sex to start with, but it was always about this feeling of unease and turbulence and pain. Something that was really important to me was to never be the orthodox kind of power electronics, in terms of a sense of domination or power. Really, my work is about vulnerability, weakness, desperation, anxiety.

I had a conversation with my mom at an early age, when I was first getting involved in this. She met this blind man who was talking about sound, and he said that the sound of a jackhammer was soothing. She asked, “Well, what about the sound of a scream?” And he said, “A scream is a call for help.”  While that seems very obvious, it had a profound effect on the way I thought about underground music. At the time, I was really into metal and noise and extreme music that often utilized the sense of screaming, literally. So that just blew my mind in the sense of: “Whoa, what if this is really all about panic and fear and anxiety, and not about anger and aggression and power and domination?” It just completely changed my view of underground music. That really got me thinking, and so the voice was always a part of Prurient.

So from that very first tape, there was always this sort of desperate, or really twisted, voice. Not screaming a bunch of stuff in your face, but very animalistic, very childish, very weak; a strangulation [or an] act of suffocation more than pronunciation, projection, power. … I hear a lot of things like, “Henry Rollins-esque machismo” or something, and that always makes me feel like I’ve failed as a performer or as an artist. When people [say], “Oh, it’s just this totally aggressive, really intense stuff.” And it is aggressive, it’s an attack. But it’s not an attack on the audience—it’s an attack on myself that the audience is witnessing. There’s a reason I don’t ever face the audience, because there’s a big difference between screaming in someone’s face and screaming at the wall. …It’s not about this sense of outward aggression. It’s really important for me to create a sense of voyeurism for the audience, which is part of why I never have an introduction [when performing live]. When it’s over, I’m gone. I want it to be as if they’re just walking into a room, into an event that’s already taking place, not an event that’s characterized by their presence.

Vulnerability’s a really key word. That’s another reason why I perform shirtless; I want the sound to hit me directly, I want to be naked to the sound. It’s a ritual flagellation, an exposure. …And I also want to visually seem exposed. It is an exposure, as if sound is an element.

[Prurient] was never this kind of academic kind of noise. It was always very much about literally making the sounds with your body; using the body to make sound. Which is obviously related to the voice, but also, it was always about physical objects. And the movement of the body is completely connected to the sound. So when you take your shirt off it says “physical,” rather than having a costume [would].

The red cross, [used as a symbol for Hospital Productions], is critical. …Visually, if you think about the red cross, it’s this strong, bold, calm, symmetrical, even symbol, yet it’s all based on disaster and pain and destruction. That paradox is something that’s really important to Prurient: the idea of paradoxes, the idea of struggle, [of] opposite ends colliding.

Even the use of feedback in itself is a kind of paradox. It’s obviously the entry and the exit; it’s generating and destroying itself simultaneously.  It’s piercing, but it cleanses at the same time. Something early on that I’ve kind of grown out of but still visit occasionally was [using] prayers for lyrics, Christian prayers—the Our Father, the Hail Mary. It was never pro- or anti-religion, but another metaphor for this sense of helplessness or intrinsic flaw. Because if you look at these prayers, they’re so simple; they’re all about giving yourself to God. And why do you have to give yourself to God? Because you were born a sinner. …It’s this idea that no matter what, you’re fucked; you will always have this dent—which is a pretty grim outlook.


There’s sort of a chronology to the albums. History of AIDS [represents] talking about something bad happening. Troubled Sleep is something bad happening. And Fossil is knowing something bad is going to happen, but not being able to do anything about it. So, it’s these three levels of psychological involvement.

[Fossil] was a critical event for Prurient. That was the sound that I had in my mind originally. The recording of that was very, very intense and took an incredible amount of work to finish the project. It had a six-person lineup, it was recorded in this very specific room at the Candle Factory in Providence (which now is gone), it was recorded on Valentine’s Day in the freezing fucking cold, at [an] incredibly high volume, two-hour session, with really good digital recording. That was like my final testament to this sound of truth.

For me, noise is not entertaining. It’s not fun. And I mean that in a larger sense. Obviously, it’s entertaining, and obviously it can be fun, but the reason I’m doing it is not for fun. It doesn’t feel good for me to do it. It takes a lot out of me to do it. I have to be in the right [mindset] to do it. I have to prepare myself to reach that point and then take myself out of that point once I’ve reached it. So, a lot of the sounds on Fossil I don’t like, but they’re there because they make me feel like shit. It’s about communication. People will say it all the time, “Where’s the bass? It’s all this high end.” And it’s just like, “Shut the fuck up, it’s not about the bass.” If it’s long and tedious and drawn out and excessive, it’s like that for a reason. And so Fossil …shifts around between more beautiful, atmospheric, almost bittersweet-sounding stuff with this long-burning, just fucking malaise. And it was a really important project, because in that sense, it allowed me to let go of this sound. All the albums were so tightly wound, so constructed in that sense.

Normally, an album leads you in a direction. I set out to do something, but it takes on its own life. Black Vase was the only time it came out exactly as I had planned. …It was done in one day. Basically, it was just two broken-hearted guys bashing, releasing this wave of negative energy. And in many ways, it’s the most accessible thing I’ve ever made, but in other ways, it’s by far the most extreme thing I’ve ever done. And it’s very, very raw sound recorded very, very well. So there are a lot of paradoxes on the whole album.

Black Vase is really getting away from that sort of cryptic metaphor for talking. And it’s just like, “Here it is.” So if Fossil kind of ends on the note of truth, Black Vase develops that idea. And I wrote all the lyrics, which is unusual. Normally, I appropriate the lyrics from other writers or literature, or information that wasn’t intended, [or] prayers. And the lyrics are revealing, awkward, rough, lewd, and bitter.

Every single thing on [the album] is essentially based on this sort of ritualized, sexual narrative. …It’s really planned out, but executed totally live. On one hand, it’s really accessible; on the other hand, really extreme, and it breaks the ice of the project. If all this time I’ve been trying to say it’s not about sex, then now I’m saying it’s all about sex. …It appears to be entirely up-front and sexual, but sex has almost taken on this different role, this different light. It’s almost like the sex is meaningless now, and it’s really about the exchange of energy or the drive of sex; the means beyond the sex itself.

Nothing in Prurient is arbitrary. It’s all there for a reason, down to the typography, color, length, all of it. But, don’t mistake that for, “I knew exactly why it was there before I ever pressed the record button.” It’s the process of creation that reveals. I always have the radar on for Prurient material, whether that be titles, images, ideas, photos, whatever strikes me, and [what I use] is whatever gives me that original feeling that takes me back to the earlier days. That’s what I use, that’s what holds, that’s what becomes an album or tape or performance. I know it’s all there for a reason, but I don’t necessarily understand why until I’ve made the thing in entirety. On one level, it’s autonomous and very subconscious. But on the other level, it’s prescribed.

The only thing that I care about in music or art is emotional impact and atmosphere. If I don’t feel it, I’m not into it. That doesn’t mean I’m rejecting anything, but whatever can generate feeling is what [moves me]. I don’t give a fuck if you’re a good guitar player, you know? If I don’t feel it, then I’m not interested in it.;


by Swingset Magazine on 6/20/2012 in Features, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , ,