scott crow talks about revisiting Lesson Seven

Continuum of Time is a new collection compiling the music of seminal Texas darkwave group Lesson Seven. It brings together their best-known tracks, covers, demos and new songs, and features guest vocals from Psyche. The bulk of the material spans 1988-1992, an era when Lesson Seven toured with Nine Inch Nails (Hate 1990) and Skinny Puppy (VIVI sect IV 1988) and opened for numerous major industrial bands that toured through Texas.

The group consisted of scott crow (vocals), Wynne Martin (synths) and David Starfire (guitars, bass and synths). Beyond Continuum of Time, there are two upcoming remix albums, Memories of the Future: Remixes//RED (Jan 2023) and Memories of the Future: Remixes//BLACK (March 2023). The releases are on eMERGENCY heARTS, a record label/media hub crow launched in 2019.

While away from the music industry, crow established himself as an anarchist author and activist in the anti-fascist, environmental, and mutual aid realms. His first critically acclaimed and influential book Black Flags and Windmills (PM Press 2011) tells the harrowing story of him going to help his friend in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and leading him to co-found the internationally influential anarchist mutual aid organization Common Ground Collective. This was followed by Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Defense (PM Press 2017) and the compendium of interviews Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams: A Scott Crow Reader (GTK Press 2018).

The Austin, Texas-based eMERGENCY heARTS has also put out releases from such artists as Mark Stewart, Sine, Consolidated and Dead Voices on Air. In the following interview, crow discusses returning to music and revisiting Lesson Seven.

What made you decide to put a Lesson Seven collection out at this point in time?

scott crow: It just seemed that the timing was right for it. I had written a few books starting in 2012 that came out. I began touring on those books, and that’s when I first became aware of the younger generations of people that actually cared about this other music. When Lesson Seven was around, darkwave didn’t even exist as a term yet. But all these kids were like, ‘Hey, tell me about your music days.’ And I was like, ‘what?’ [laughs]. So it kind of started from there. And you have to understand too, in 2017, I only had five songs from Lesson Seven. I’d lost all my tracks. The tapes had disappeared decades ago. I just started putting out calls through social media and people started sending me stuff. So now I have like 40 songs, but I have not even had these tapes for long. It gave me time to reassess it myself.

You mentioned being on the book tours and realizing that these younger people are getting into the music. Did anything take you by surprise in terms of what they were gravitating towards? Or what their impression of it was versus how people perceived it back then?

scott crow: Well yeah, because the kids today were much more open to the ideas and to everything. I had been living in this subcultural world of politics, an anarchist subcultural world that really was largely about just politics and culture, so things kind of took a backseat to that. But through this, I got to see that there was a whole group of people who really cared about other things. They cared about beauty, joy, and they cared about music subcultures just like I used to. And so that was an interesting aspect to discover. It wasn’t just political. Everything in my life for the last 25 or 30 years has been political, super political. So it was just really refreshing to see these kids to say things like, ‘oh my God, I just love this song because…’ Then, Chris Steele, who’s the manager of the label, he’s a rapper, but he loves darkwave. He mashes hip-hop and Dark Wave together in his music sometimes. He was one of the people who was really encouraging me to release this.

You mentioned that you didn’t have the recordings and had to seek them out. Is there like more stuff out there that you’re trying to track down?

scott crow: It’s always an unknown because when I closed the door in 1992, I just forgot about everything. And that’s how my tapes and CDs and things just drifted away and the vinyl drifted away and stuff. So I don’t think there are any other recordings, but I still have a bunch that have not been released yet. I have a series of Lesson Seven recordings that are coming out in the foreseeable year.

The other thing that it did was it gave me the opportunity to reassess the art. Because there’s a cringe factor, you know, and sometimes you create something and feel, ‘ah, I don’t care anything about that anymore.’ But now I’ve gotten on this other side where I’m like, ‘okay, I see value in it.’

And so I wanted to have it reassessed by my contemporaries and artists by getting remixes done and stuff from people like Adrian Sherwood and Meat Beat Manifesto, people that were friends of mine before, or people I had looked up to in the past. Not necessarily just industrial or darkwave. A mid-career artist that’s still doing stuff, or late in career artists. And so I get to work with them through this project.

What is your approach to finding people for remixes? Do you have particular tracks in mind for different people? Do you give them choices?

scott crow: Well, the basic approach is I like to treat remixes just as sound collages. I love the idea of taking tracks and being able to send them to somebody and say, here’s source material. Do anything you want to with it. It doesn’t have to be a dance beat. It can be anything. And just do what you do as your craft with it; this is source material. So that’s the basis of where I come from. And we do that with all of our artists. So we’ll send hip hop songs to darkwave artists like I was talking about earlier; a dark wave song to somebody else. Like some super noise person.

But for me personally, it was two things. I wanted to re-contextualize our music, because really after 92, the band was forgotten. We burned bright and then we just burned out and then we just were forgotten largely, in the larger circles and music circles and stuff. And so for me it was kind of coming back and re-contextualizing it. I had reached out to Adrian Sherwood and Keith LeBlanc in 1988 and 1990 to do remixes for us back then, and they just never worked out due to finances and stuff. And so I went back to Adrian again and just reached out to him because I was working with Mark Stewart on stuff, and I said, “Hey, I’d like you to approach this.” I do send specific songs that I think, ‘these are the tracks I think that you would want to do.’ And one of the first ones I did actually before I even reached out to Adrian was with Clan of Xymox.

I’d had this song that I wanted them to remix back in the eighties, and it just seemed like a natural fit. And Ronnie liked it. We’d opened for Clan of Xymox back in 1990 or 91. And so he was like, “Oh, I remember that show.” So he was a natural fit for this song. And then I loved it so much. The song was called ‘Crown’. And then I took another song to him about a year later and said, “Why don’t you do this one?” So, yeah, I do actually think about curating it towards people. If it’s my own stuff, I’m like, “Who would I like to see do something with this?” Not just because of their name, but because of what they would do with the song. And then I just took that to a wider thing with the label.

So during the time you were away from the music industry and focusing on writing and other things, were you still thinking about music? Were you doing any songwriting?

scott crow: I always have written, so I never stopped. I’ve always written poetry and I have never given up since I was a teenager. I still do today, always writing. But when I left the music business, I started to do more visual art stuff, not as a creator, but I owned two art galleries so I incorporated music in that way. Music has never left my life because I think it’s one of the most important things for storytelling and for conveying ideas and emotions. I really value it, even to this day. The things that I’ve learned through music, it helps shape my world and it continues to do so today; different kinds of music. It’s not just vocal music, sometimes it’s just emotive stuff. It’s just the feelings that you get from it. I value those things. So it never went away. Coming back to the music project, it was just a natural fit to come back and do this, merging politics and the joy in my life.

Listening to this music again, after all these years, did anything surprise you at all, maybe in terms of the sounds or production?

scott crow: I’ve just been reassessing in the last couple of years, all of this stuff. It’s all interesting that it even exists because this is all in the pre-digital era. You know, like mostly analog cassettes and videotapes and then, later, a few CDs. So just the fact that as a baseline, these things existed and that people kept them for this long is amazing to me. But the tracks themselves, they definitely evoke an era, but because of the 21st-century mashup nature that we live in now, they sound contemporary to me. I’m super surprised by that because sometimes I hear bands. I’m like, “oh, that’s totally a seventies or eighties band.” But nope, the record just came out. And that’s the way I feel about those songs.

Electronic musical technology has come a long way over the years. Did the limitations at the time shape the sound?

scott crow: Oh my gosh. Absolutely. Throughout the evolution of that project, of Lesson Seven. We were just poor kids from Texas, so it wasn’t like we had access to lots of money and lots of gear. I mean, my dream synthesizer back then was to have a Fairlight, that was like $30,000 US or something. So, sure, I would’ve loved to have had that. But we just make the sounds and we developed our style.

Lesson Seven started in 86. I had started doing it by myself. And by the time we really solidified the lineup with Wynne Martin and David Starfire, I think those sounds became a very, very unique blending of industrial and darkwave in that moment with the limitations that we had. You know, like we weren’t like Skinny Puppy or somebody, or even later Nine Inch Nails and bands or even a lot of the Wax Trax! Bands that just had studios they could go into. We were always trying to do things on a budget in Dallas. But I think that the sounds have kind of gone on. They actually became contemporary again.

What was it like emerging in Texas at that point in time? What was the music scene like?

scott crow: We did not fit in at all. So it was like we were the weird goth band, even though we weren’t goth, and we were the weird industrial band, even though we weren’t. In Dallas at the time, major labels were swimming around and buying up all these punk funk bands. So those bands, they could do a show and there’d be a thousand people at that show. We’d do a show and there’d be 30 people at the show sometimes.

I mean, we built up a following eventually, but it’s just interesting. We were totally seen as outsiders, but the clubs and the club bookers respected us a lot. And so that’s how we ended up opening for every industrial band that came through Texas. We opened for them, all the Wax Trax! bands, Play It Again Sam bands. I mean, pretty much almost all of them that were touring, we opened for those because they respected us in that way. We ended up opening up for Ministry a couple of times and Revolting Cocks a few times. Laibach, A Split Second, The Weathermen, you just name the bands. Like we played with The Thrill Kill Kult, Psychic TV multiple times. Even today, even though we have a bigger audience in Dallas, we are still seen as outsiders in the history of music in Dallas.

Of the bands that you opened for back then, did any in particular inspire you?

scott crow: The three bands that inspired me the most live were Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and Clan of Xymox. Those bands really motivated me to do stuff. And Skinny Puppy is the reason… I was already in political worlds before, since about ‘85. But when we toured with them in ‘88 on VIVIsectVI, it really opened my eyes to animal rights and animal liberation movement stuff. And their live show. I had seen it the year before, and it just made my head explode. I was like, “That’s what we should try to be,” not emulate them, but to have that dynamicism. And then a little bit later, I would say would-be bands like Consolidated and Nine Inch Nails. Nine Inch Nails really inspired me a lot just in their live performance, the way that they put together the raw rock energy at the time that they were doing that even though it was like super synth-heavy. And so when we toured with them in 1990, I noticed that we became much more aggressive in our approaches to the shows because we could see that people loved it and liked what they were doing.

In terms of this collection, what was the process or mindset in selecting the tracks and putting it together?

scott crow: It was really just taking what the fan favorites were back in the day and adding some new cover songs that we had done that I’ve been doing in the last few years for these benefit albums. Then, there were some demos that I’d never had before with alternate vocal takes on them. So I was able to put those on there because they’ve never really gotten any exposure. I actually didn’t even know they existed. There’s like a couple of alternate takes on it, and then there’s one new song on there, which is the first new Lesson Seven song that’s been recorded. It’s actually based on a demo in 1986 by this band Energy Fools. The keyboardist from that band became the keyboardist for my band. And anyway, this friend of ours, Kerri Atwood, had written the song and we just used this process of taking her vocals from that, and the structure. It was just a raw demo. It wasn’t in a studio or anything. She literally just sang into a tape recorder and we just made it into a song, a brand new song. I just thought it was so beautiful. I’d never even heard it before two years ago.

Do you see Lesson Seven as being an ongoing project? Are you planning on doing new albums in the future? Where do you see it going?

scott crow: There’s still two more remix albums that are coming out. “Memories of the Future: Remixes//BLACK” and “Memories of the Future: Remixes//RED”, and that feature Adrian Sherwood and Meat Beat Manifesto. There are a ton of people on these, it’s just all remixes of the songs that have accumulated in the last three, four, or five years. Some people known and some people unknown. I do see more singles. I’m not trying to reform the band or anything. Both of those people have gone on to do their other projects. David Starfire is an international dj. He tours all the time. Wynne Martin, he works with me as Energy Fools, doing a lot of remixes on projects and stuff. I don’t really see it. I perform live a couple of times. I might do that occasionally. I opened for Front 242 recently, just last year. But I don’t see us really touring or trying to bring that back. But there are a lot more releases, demos, and unreleased b-sides and things like that coming out in the next year or two.

The label was started a few years ago. What inspired you to generally get back into the music industry?

scott crow: There are a few pieces. Again, doing the book tour stuff. Starting to bring this thing in, but also culture makers who are rappers. I’d mentioned Time [Chris Steele] earlier, there’s another guy named Sole, whose name is Tim Holland. These are outside rappers. They’re like conscious rappers, they’re not in the mainstream, but they have big followings in their own world. Well, Sole was a real supporter. He was one of the people who was saying all the time, you should record, you should record. And in 2016, he had me be a guest on a track for an album of his. I just did a spoken word piece on it. Then, this other noise band, called World Is Our Country, had taken some of my talks and mashed it up over this noise soundtrack. I just loved it.

They didn’t ask me, they just did it. They sent it to me. I was like, “oh my gosh, this is amazing.” I didn’t even know what it was so it just kind of led me down that road to doing that stuff. I reconnected with an old friend David May, and he had been doing an industrial scene in Dallas and he had gone on to run a techno and industrial label in the nineties up to the two thousands. We started collaborating on this label idea. He was helping me do stuff and get me back up to speed because, you remember, I had left the industry, so I left everything. I had to catch up on a lot of things so we were recording together and I was catching up to speed on all the digital content and stuff.

Then, he tragically died in a fire in 2020. After that it was really Mark Stewart who took it up. He saw how depressed I was about it. And he was like, ‘Hey, I think this is a good thing that you’re doing.’ And he really gave me a lot of inspiration and networking to keep it going. And then the other person I think is Mark Pistel. I’d known him for a long time, since their Consolidated days. I was friends with him and Adam, and they really gave me a lot of support and said, “Hey, let’s keep going. You should keep this thing going.” So we kept it going and then, you know, that’s where we are today.

To what extent are you seeking people you want to work with versus people finding out about it and coming to you?

scott crow: One of the main things I do is I like to curate. So I seek out people, old and new, who are doing things. I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, that’s just amazing that you’re doing that. I’d like to see what you’re doing.’ But we do get submissions pretty regularly. A lot of European submissions for stuff. But you know, a lot of times we get stuff for modern industrial or these subgenres of industrial. And I’m not a big fan of them, or I’m not against them but it’s just not the world I’m in anymore. I see the label as a curation; that’s what I really do. I do custodial duties and I curate for the label, and that’s just drawing people across. But everything has an electronic thematic to it, whether it’s noise, experimental, whatever the things are. It has some electronicness to it. And then I also have a lot of focus in Texas. 

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

scott crow: What I would like to add is that we are probably one of the only anarchist-run labels that’s in the electronic world. And it’s not that you have to be an anarchist to be around us, but we just run it collaboratively. And I think we’re probably one of the only labels that tries to ethically pay people. It’s a small, small label. We’re tiny, six of us. Most of them are part-time. But it’s not just about the music, it’s about political missions too. Not converting people or trying to change people’s minds, but just showing them other worlds that are out there, that we can do things together. I love collaborating and cooperating with people. That’s really a basis for what we do.

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crow is also releasing his first solo collection, Of Everything…and Nothing, on January 20.