The purification of Boyd Rice
In recent years, the raw minimalism of NON has found its niche. "Mainstream bands have incorporated elements of rep-etition and ambient sound into their music, and audiences have become acclimated to them," says Rice. It's taken time for people to catch up to the idea of noise in general, and noise like his in particular. "People just didn't know how to respond. Twenty years ago, if you had told me that someday people would be dancing to my music, I never would've believed it."
Growing up near San Diego, Rice was one of the Southland's only proponents of noise-as-music back in the '70s. "I got into noise when I was a child," he says. "When I was left in the car in a parking lot, I'd honk the horn as long as I could, because I liked the sound . . . When I got older, my favorite music was the Shangri-La's. I tried to figure out what aspect of the Shangri-La's fascinated me, and I realized it was the edge in the girl's voice." Rice used a portable tape recorder to butcher the bubblegum. "I figured if you could strip away the unessential and isolate that edge," he says, "you could create something totally harsh and visceral, which for me would be the ultimate form of music."
Settling on the moniker NON ("It implies everything and nothing"), he relocated to San Francisco, where, in the thick of disco, he created environments for himself with elemental noise loops. Few people knew how to place NON in the scheme of things. "I was compared to Kraftwerk simply because people didn't know what else to compare me to," he says. The Throbbing Gristle comparison, while more suitable, was still inaccurate: "The difference was they were using real instruments to make music that was noisy, whereas I was creating noise that was trying to be music."
In 1976, Mute released NON's first full-length recording, known as "The Black Album," which was followed by the equally pernicious and decompositional Physical Evidence and Blood and Flame LPs. A collection of NON's most venomous tracks is found on Music for Iron Youth: The Best of NON, which could be described as mood music for summoning demons - pure evil pressed into vinyl. Rice moved away from unadulterated noise in the late '80s.
"When I first started, there was nothing out there like NON," he says. "Then it became a trend, and I got away from it - it's hard to make minimalism more minimal." Music, Martinis and Misanthropy (1989) found him waxing malevolently on mass destruction and the little things that make life difficult, while In the Shadow of the Sword (1992) and Might! (1995) were based on Social Darwinist themes and Ragnar Redbeard's controversial book Might Is Right.
With NON it's not a question of listen-ing to the music, but of being assaulted by it. Instead of ambient purification, these soundscapes offer complete environmental (and occasionally mental) obliteration. It's fitting that Rice in person is unnervingly tall and black-clad, imposing even before he opens his mouth. Once he does, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-mannered, more humorous individual. Those familiar with Rice's recorded output as NON, or with his admittedly vitriolic spoken-word albums, accept his penchant for fascist imagery and his fascination with scabrous philosophies, extreme politics and the darkest recesses of human nature.
"I don't feel any sense of moral obligation to most people," says Rice, "which allows me to be honest and frank and say things that a lot of people think, whether they want to admit it or not. Certain individuals get angry if you state a fundamental truth like 'Some people are weak and some people are strong.'" It was a solitary protester that kept Rice from performing on a recent stop in L.A. supporting Australian goth pagans Death in June. "I think at this point I'd be a lot further along in my career," he says, "if people weren't reacting to negative ideas of what they imagine I am, instead of just reacting to the music I produce."
For Rice it's an obligation to be skeptical about the realities we're force-fed daily, and he makes no excuses for himself or his work. "When a 60-year-old man says something bitter and misanthropic, he's a lovable old curmudgeon," he says. "When someone my age expresses the same sentiment, he's a Nazi.
"I'm not a Nazi, and certainly not a communist, but if I had to choose between totalitarianism and democracy, I'd opt for the former. Why? Simple: the lesser of two evils. Sure, the abject poverty synonymous with communism can be soul-destroying, but is rampant consumerism and overabundance any less so? People demand oppression, whether in the form of a fascist regime or the demagoguery of the oppressed that is democracy. I doubt that people will ever change, and until they do, the State and its inherent oppression will remain the same."
Over the years, Rice has amused himself with numerous extracurricular activities, including film projects, fatherhood and his own record label, Hierarchy. The label's inaugural release, Hatesville, a misanthropic parody of Rod McKuen's hippie-happy Beatsville LP, laid the foundation for what was to come. Jim Goad (of Answer Me! magazine fame) interprets a semi's worth of classic trucker tunes on the just-released Big Red Goad, while Musical Pussycats, a compilation of obscure '60s girl groups, and a career retrospective of demented rockabilly artist-polygamist-counterfeiter Ralph Gean (songs include "Homicidal Me" and "Dang, It's Hard To Be a Killer") are next up.
As a member of the Council of Nine, the Church of Satan's governing body, Rice has frequently tormented Christian muckraker Bob Larson, appearing on his radio program and on his TBN show. With the recent death of the church's founder, Anton LaVey, Larson invited LaVey's estranged daughter on the show to badmouth the "Wickedest Man in the World." Rice refused Larson's last invitation to appear on the show. "Larson's the best advertising I've ever gotten," he says, "and I'm good advertising for him as well. But my loyalties lie with Anton."
Rice moved to Denver nearly a decade ago, where he deejays once a week at the Lion's Lair, located on the block that once housed the Denver Playboy Club. On the verge of bankruptcy, two bartenders purchased the Lair from the aging Mr. Lyons, who expired the day after the contract was sealed. "It was like a geriatric ward when I first started going there," says Rice. He chuckles. "Now that my friends own it, I don't want to refer to it as a 'dive.'"
December saw the release of God and Beast, the purest NON disc in a decade. It marks Rice's first collaboration with a producer, veteran Ken Thomas, who has worked with everyone from Laibach to Paul McCartney. The album is simultaneously polished and raw, Thomas applying his Spectoresque techniques to barbaric vignettes like "Between Venus and Mars" and "The Law." God and Beast also includes the only studio versions of NON classics "Out Out Out" and "Total War." Rice was made aware of their longstanding impact during last year's tour of Europe. "After I'd finish, people would chant, 'Total war!' and drag my kettledrum onstage, pounding out the rhythm with their fists."
What does the title God and Beast signify? "In a Promethean sense," says Rice, "it's the idea that man is God because he has created his whole world. But in a more fundamental way he's a beast, and these two elements of his personality have been at war with one another throughout the history of mankind. I believe we can find the place in the soul where God and beast intersect."
When that occurs, you can be sure Boyd Rice will be there directing traffic.