After several quiet years in hibernation, Have a Nice Life returned earlier this year with a fantastic full-length, The Unnatural World, its best and most concise work to date. The record blends grimy programmed beats with distorted vocals and blazing guitars, Throbbing Gristle, Bauhaus and Nine Inch Nails all in one. It’s bracing stuff. Members Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga answered my questions over email, and talked about their new record, new label, and same old writing style.
How long of a break, in terms of writing, did you take between Deathconsciousness and The Unnatural World? Or was it more of a continuous process?
Tim Macuga: We recorded “[Unhappiness Will] Eat the Witch” and “Defenestration [Song]” soon after Deathconsciousness.” Dan and Tim Reunited” happened late in 2012. Everything else in the middle?
Dan Barrett: It was all spread out pretty evenly, although as we got closer to the release we began to think about pacing and the structure of the record more, which songs to put on and so forth.
Has the way you write as a pair changed over time or with increased popularity? What was it like writing for that larger audience?
T: Our system has remained more or less the same. When we get together, between one and three things happen – 1. We put single ideas in the can (ex. “Bloodhail” and “Guggenheim Wax Museum” were song-less riffs built up much later), 2. Either of us adds to/restructures songs the other has mostly laid out (ex. Dan has bass/keys/drums/vocals done for “The Big Gloom,” I write and track guitars, I have organ/guitar/woodblock down for “Eat the Witch,” Dan adds vocals and more keys,) or 3. We write, add ideas from the can, arrange, and track something together from beginning to end (ex. “Earthmover” and “Dan and Tim Reunited” were each a day’s work together.)
D: The mechanics certainly didn’t change. It’s always hard to block out the idea that there are more people who will here this thing than the last thing. If anything, I think we set out to deliberately make something different in terms of approach, how it’s all put together, etc. Beyond that, we just sit down and see what comes out, like we always have.
I noticed on the album that the clearest, most, for lack of a better word, ‘pop-y’ songs were on the first half the album, where as on the back half the vocals were buried and there was more noise. Was this an intentional writing or sequencing decision? Or did it just fall into place?
D: It’s funny, but I would’ve said the opposite, what with “Dan and Tim” and “Unholy Life” being on the second half, and the first being dominated by “Guggenheim” and “Untune”. Sequencing-wise, we did very consciously try to create “sides,” in terms of coherent halves of the record that shared a similar pace, rise-and-fall, etc.
To me these songs feel denser, with more instruments in less time. Was that a factor of having more time to work on the songs? Or did you have access to better or more equipment?
T: Recording software and computer hardware changes helped. I remember the old gear could not play “Destinos” back to us without crashing the program.
D: Yeah, it’s more than likely a symptom of us both knowing a little bit more about how it put things together, as well have some more options open to us technologically. I also think some of this is due to the record just being more “edited,” more put-together in a deliberate way.
How does the title relate to the lyrics? There are a good number or references to things “real” and “unreal” throughout a good number of the songs. Is it relating to that illusory world of the title?
D: For me it’s about reality and un-reality, both in terms of internal monologues and straight-out psychosis. Those are things I’ve always been interested in. Personally, some of it comes from dealing with the Platonic-Ideal-Dan-and-Tims that exist now, sort of out there in the ether of how people perceive us.
Compared to Deathconsciousness, UW is compact, only 8 songs as opposed to 13, and less than half as long. Was that brevity an intentional choice? Or did it just come together as the writing progressed?
T: We took the limits of two LP sides into consideration, which never dawned on us to do ourselves before. I like the LP, as a structure, a format of anything. When we were sequencing, it might have been this phase where I was listening to South of Heaven back to back to back to back and so on. And that album is not necessarily a great exemplar of the form. It seemed like we had an appropriate amount of material to get to that “flip side B back to side A” moment, so we pursued it. We might or might not again. We’ll see.
Were you approached by Flenser about releasing a new album, or did you approach labels after the writing was done?
D: We were actually talking to Flenser about repressing Deathconsciousness, which is happening this year, and it just occurred to me that we should probably have someone help us deal logistically with larger releases. ELHR is really made for small pressings – that’s what we’re into – and I didn’t want to delay people getting the record or drag things out (as has happened to us in the past). I’m really glad we did – Jonathan from The Flenser is great and they’ve really made the whole process smooth.
Would you consider playing shows again, or are the logistics too complicated?
T: Yes, we are working on it.
Is new music in the future, or are you planning on taking plenty of time before that?
D: I don’t know. I think we’ve been building to getting this out for so long that we haven’t really thought past it much. But, if I know Tim, he’s already thinking about new stuff; I know I am. We’ll do our best.