Adam Sherburne talks about the return of Consolidated

After an extended hiatus from the project, Adam Sherburne and Mark Pistel have re-activated their radical activist music group Consolidated to release a new album, We’re Already There. It’s been followed by a series of remixes by such artists as Adrian Sherwood and R34L.

Formed in 1988, Consolidated released their first EP, ¡Consolidated!, in 1989 and a year later put out their debut album, The Myth of Rock. Their music blends industrial, hip-hop, rock, sound collage, and other styles. Consolidated were known for their immersive and interactive live shows, with extensive use of videos and post-set discussions with the audience about topics their music addresses.

We’re Already There is an extremely strong release; lyrically and musically, it takes what Consolidated is known for and brings it to a natural evolution to today. In a phone interview, Sherburne discussed how the album came together.

It had been many years since the last Consolidated album. What made you get back together to make new music now?

I’ll sort of correct you there and just say that Mark and I had worked together all throughout these decades that Consolidated didn’t formally exist, but the stuff he and I did together was not released for money. And so, it consequently doesn’t appear that it exists. We were out there and we worked together all this time, on and off, just not for Consolidated. Other of my projects, which are more like free music, street education happenings and stuff like that, that were put on tape. So, in 2018 or 2019, a bunch of Consolidated fans released a tribute to the group [ A Message To The People: A Tribute To Consolidated] and that had something definitely decisive to do with us getting together and meeting, all three of us, the original band, and deciding to do something. Finding out that our original drummer Philip [Steir] couldn’t do it, Mark and I decided to just go ahead. We’d spent some time living in different cities, in a very different time and reality in music and in our lives, but we’d go ahead and attempt to weigh in. So that had to do with us talking about the world getting so fucking ridiculous. But decisively it was because these kids, meaning folks who were probably all in their late forties, early fifties now, had made this tribute record and sort of prompted us to get off our asses and do it.

Did you have a clear sense as to what Consolidated should be and sound like today?

It took time. It involved one or two days playing with live drummers in San Francisco, just to get some improvisational possibilities together. I knew that Mark would already make tracks. That we would probably agree on a process where he would send me a towering gleaming track and that I would sully it with my iPad screaming or guitar parts and send it back and we would have that. But the important thing to note was how could we get to the place to imply all of the things that the group had when it broke off? There was certainly a lot of live instrumentation. There was improv, there were skits, there was media, and there was the one really important elephant in the room. And that was the audience response, contribution, which we didn’t have. So how are we going to do that? And how are we going to make it for now? And I think the ultimate decision was that we had a couple of full days of creative improv with instruments. We had several ideas programmed, a basis for music. And then the way that we used to always do it was after those got going, I just sort of decide, what were the important things to hammer home? And one was obviously, an aesthetic and political half parody of how we used to sound, and that was the intro, “Capitalism A.F.,” and then how to keep meeting, where one person is very much staying in the music industry, staying on the techno side of programmed, professional music and how I was completely outside of that realm. And only operating from an underground free street perspective or volunteerism, teaching perspective, could sort of add to that, respond to that and create who we are today.

You mentioned the tribute album. Has revisiting Consolidated’s past and the audience’s perception of it impacted your new music?

It’s a great question. I’ve noticed it way more recently, because I’m going back to utilize some of the videos on YouTube, and I’ve seen a lot of people’s, over the years, response to hearing our music new … because they hadn’t known us in the eighties and nineties. And of course that’s a great thing to see. It’s a great thing to be affirmed, to continue to be critiqued. And the thing that I have to stick in the front burner of everything is the fact that no one in my band, it seems, or in the entire music realm, wanted to admit, that the future of the political economy, and then thereby the music itself, was going to be drastically different after file-sharing. I was trying to get out of the music business because its existence in thriving caused me so much mental illness and disappointment and creative compromise that I went seeking an alternative and a corrective to that, while it’s still existed.

But then that coincided pretty much exactly with just the draining of the balloon, of all the ecosystem of recording industry money and the way that we perceived it for a hundred previous years, and so what I was doing was trying to create something that had no money. It had no performance, it had no private property of songwriting. It was the opposite of all that. It was jamming with strangers. It was teaching and learning at the same time on the street. And it was creating an anarchist model for how we can have a free dialogue and discourse and people can show up with their own level of experience and their own aesthetic, and we can all contribute together and have fun. And so I’ve been doing that for 15 years and people refer to that as Free Music! and Stop America!

But for us, it’s just a principle, it’s just a couple of organizing principles and it’s the opposite of the music industry. But then when it came time to agree to do something like this, then I’m trying to figure out how can I acknowledge the fact that people are still recording and performing and we’re still in some sense at the same stage, a completely constipated and completely in denial stage of stasis and capitalism. But the truth is that all the air went out when the profit of recorded music went out and no one wants to deal with that. So that’s always at the front of what I’m working on and that found its way into all the themes of this record.

The vinyl edition is a double album. Did that have any creative impact on putting it together? Perhaps thinking about things as sides?

No, it was all reactive. All of our albums always pushed the limit. We put every bit of garbage that we thought that was relevant into all of our recordings because in those days you could hold 72 to perhaps 80 minutes on a CD, when those platforms existed. And we filled them up with all kinds of side skits in between these media and music collages. And we were intending to continue to do that. And we ended up cutting a lot of shit out that is interesting. We just were aware that we were being offered a deal by this conventional old school distributor and they want to do vinyl.

And so we, in some ways regretfully, agreed to that. They are Cargo Distributors and they’re lovely people and they’re trying to help the group, but the absolute prohibitive nature of any physical product anymore just becomes apparent. And the first way that you learn that is yes, of course, the time limitation. And if you’re going to do this, you’re going to have yourself a double LP, and we’ve never had anything like that. Maybe we did, maybe they did in fact do that or attempted to do that at our previous labels with previous recordings. And they would either have had to have double and triple “Sandinista!” size albums, or they would have had to cut a lot of material to make the requirements for vinyl. Sorry, that’s a long-winded answer, but that wasn’t a big consideration.

Do you feel that the state of recorded music makes live shows more important?

Oh absolutely. This is the point. I agreed to it because I thought it would be fun to have a bucket list adventure where we went around and gave the mic out at old school shows, no matter what kind of venues they were in. We’re aware that the only viable economic way forward for musicians was live. And so that resulted in 20 years of glutting the industry with so many bands who all used to use playing live as a promotional tool for selling their physical [products]. So now you just have a race to the absolute bottom and that has fossilized over 20 years. And so you have solvent concerns across all the strata, that can be bankable, and they were all of course really hit hard during the pandemic. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re extreme metal or country or whatever form of “conventional pop” or hip hop or rock music, you are definitely now facing a huger glut of bands, all getting more mediocre, to vie for the final slots that are available in this, whatever’s left of the entire globe being a live music venue every day for the future. So that formerly solvent aristocrats who sold millions of records, who have no more of that music and are losing their castles every day. They can gig everyday like BB King until they die. And then there’s a whole series of echelons beneath them that are all waiting till Elton John gets all of his canceled dates played back, and then they get to go and then some other layer gets to go, and then Consolidated in the next year and a half is going to do the tour for the album that we released last year that died a second after it was released. But that’ll be the fun part.

You’re performing at Cold Waves this year, correct?

We’re doing part of it. I don’t know, we were supposed to be on all of the dates. And then somehow we’re not on the dates for New York. I don’t have anything to do with that side, but we are going to do Chicago and LA and Denver in September as part of that. Yes. So those will be our only dates, probably for a year.

I’m sure the live shows will focus on the new album, but have you been thinking about what past material to perform?

Absolutely. I’m looking at it as we speak. I won’t forward that to you just in case anyone has any interest in being surprised, but like you said, one would want to focus on that, but there is a giant pile. And they represent various periods, aesthetics and the places where the group was. And we’re going to get in as much of that as we can. We have videos to virtually every song on this new record. And we have been working with this artist, Ayelet Hai. I work with her, and she and I make the videos together. And so that’s happening. And then we’re going to have a tremendous lift from a drummer, Kevin Carnes, who’s a dear old friend of mine and Mark’s. He’s from San Francisco, he’s the founder of the Beatnigs. He’s the founder of Broun Fellinis and just a heck of a drummer, a heck of a guy. We’re gonna play living music, with real instruments at times, which will, of course immediately separate us from the largely programmed cyborg nature of everything else going on at these festivals. But there’ll be all that shit that there used to be; videos, live music, and a discussion for a few minutes with the audience that will be recorded. This for me is pretty much a one and done. I am not doing the music industry these days, but if there were to be a final recording, and if we do a real tour, we’ll have a wealth of whatever today’s people’s commentary is to text up the next recording.

Will videos play a big role again?

I’ve just started doing them because when the drummer couldn’t do the project … that was his and my thing back in the day. And I knew that I’d have responsibility for it. And there was an artist who was interested in working with us, and they had put in hell of volunteer time over a year. This person is a painter and we were trying to put in the ideas that we would highlight, some of the topicality, but more open, movement. And just a focus on this person’s painting as a vehicle for driving the videos forward. Mostly because all of our early videos that also were readapted and remixed by other people to the same songs for the subsequent decades, just kind of created a basic visual floor that everyone is accustomed to, of fast moving media images, assaulting them.

And we have our shame and having been one of the first bands to really utilize that shit and have it all the time with our work. So in this one, the idea is that there’s some of that topicalism for sure, that we’re acknowledging our place and contradiction in it and influence in it. And then also giving more and more space to the possible open interpretation and non-topical ambiguity of this person’s painting and just more of a positive movement of light and color and opening the mind’s possibility to ideas. Not just having everything reduced to a very binary or surface sort of interpretation of political imagery, which we have our shame in having mainstreamed.

Could you discuss the remixes that have been coming out for tracks off the new album?

For those of you who are down with that, feel free to resume mindlessly dancing. Mark is creating community with other people who, in my opinion, they’re living their lives with incredible blinders on to assume that the kind of a dance club culture that hasn’t existed for 20 years, or hasn’t existed in the same way … the pedaling of these types of remixes, it is an interesting psychology and strategy that I’m observing from a distance. I don’t have anything to do with what gets released and what’s trying to be sold on Bandcamp for $7. But the ultimate point is that I’ve been showing people the royalties of this shit for 20 years, and they are 0.03 of what they used to be.

And they used to only be 0.125 if you’re lucky enough to be a person with a contract, with a label in the music industry. But now they are about a hundredth of that, or about a 10th of a 10th of that, leading inexorably towards zero. And so simultaneously it’s kind of perverse. It’s the part that I don’t like. I have no problem with Mark asking his friends to just take stems of our music and do their own shit with it. But the techno music scene is kind of an anathema to me, as far as finding a path to a new future aesthetically, a new future economically. All these things. And I’m not singling out techno musicians; pretty much every kind of band, every kind of idea of holding onto the previous assumptions of distribution and profit and marketing and formats and platforms is regressive. And free music is what’s happening out there in the future, but that requires everyone to admit that they’re holding on to previous assumptions of capitalism and aesthetics.

And I can’t stop anybody from doing that. So I’m simultaneously talking that kind of shit while stepping back into this, the older assumptions of capitalism.

Remixes can also be a way for people to discover the band, if they listen because it’s in a particular style, or from particular remixers they are familiar with.

I think that’s true. I think you’re totally right. I think that my partner Mark is interested in that happening. He’s interested in our ideas being collaborated with other people and whatever exciting surprises do exist there. And I am not in any way disputing, the potential for what you said. So I get that that’s possible.

For this album, what was the collaborative process like between you and Mark?

I had fully finished a few tracks and submitted them, and he submitted tracks to me and then I did vocals, or chose to leave a few instrumentals. So basically it’s not a dialogue so much as it’s a monologue and a rebuttal. There were monologues in the reverse direction on like three songs on the record where I had created the beats previously and pretty much done the whole thing, but mostly Mark produced whatever beats that were programmed. And then I just tried to put shit in it that made sense to me. Sometimes I don’t even like what I do and the reason I do it, but there’s a calculus somehow. Part of it is knowable and rational. Part of it is everybody’s individual thing. And I just yelled or played that back into the iPad and hit send. And then he had to do what he could do to make it sound like his standards of professionalism. But then we also of course had two days of good instrumental improv with these drummers, Lynn Farmer and Bill Langton. That just created a very different emphasis, and thereby it made all of it more dynamic. And so it’s good to have that. That’s how we used to do shit anyway. So that was a good template.

And then I guess my idea was to talk about hammering home the notion that as much as everything may seem like it’s the same, even though everything’s changed, the one thing is very much changed that no one talks about is the economy of music and subsequently how that’s going to affect all strata of the economy. And that’s the essential premise of Free Music! I knew I was going to find places to put in on this, and there would be some topicality because of course the world is still just diving into barbarism and our inability to remember that we’re part of history, our inability to somehow show unity and solidarity across different strata, and different classes, and our willingness to just go to the lowest common denominator, of ‘I will fucking fight my own family every day.’ So we’re trying to put all that stuff in different places, but also have a few instrumental tracks. For me to say that I said it all once already, and it look where it got us. And so there just also have to be open airy spots where there can be music where that’s the idea you’re conveying, and then people can work with that.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

The principle of the music industry is everybody to go hide on their own, in their own screen, in their own bank account, and try to capitalize that. And the principle of free music is to put those types of activities down and just sort of get good with the fact that we’ve gone backwards. We have descended into barbarism. Music tells us that. That’s why nobody’s into music anymore, in the way that it had power before. The radical political acts at this point are: Can you talk to your neighbor about dogs without wanting to kill each other? Can you find people who want to gather with instruments who don’t care so much about what the other person’s playing and what’s going to happen afterwards. But can we all learn and teach from each other and have a good time and learn and keep these ancient human collectivities, like playing music in real time, playing sports, dance, writing, painting. The ways that these are still really strong and valuable, even though they’ve all been politicized and weaponized in the last half-century, and they’re subject to corruption and we have a lot of work to do. But play music together. That’s the thing I want to say. And don’t fucking pay money for it!

bands(fixed group)   friends,strangers,different every time
playing shows ($)   playing in public(no$)
making recordings($)   having fun now, not ‘saving it for later'(no$)
promotional existence($)   promoting existence(no$)
Monologues   Dialogue
band meetings, business meetings   no more meetings
rehearsal,performance   end of shows, all playing is teaching-learning and practicing- creating
com’posers’, song publishing   end of songs,songwriters, and trying to possess 3 chords as private property (although free music! plays many songs)
clear distinction between ‘artists’ and ‘consumers’, ‘stars’ and ‘fans’,   end of ‘artists,consumers,stars, fans, beginning of people relearning how to be people
parasitic satellite economy (managers,promoters, agents, admins, etc.)   community, not economy, no mediation or representation, all those people are playing music
definition of ‘free music’; adj, describes surplus of devalued music commodities   definition of ‘free music!’; verb, describes the act of liberating music from it’s commodity prison, it’s relation to $, and returning it to all.