Music of resistance: An interview with Das Mister

Cover of “American Carnage” by Das Mister

We’re so happy to finally present to you this, the first of what we hope will be a long series of feature articles that will serve to shed light on our incredible roster of talented artists, our catalog and issues/topics that we feel deserve extra, in-depth coverage. Today we kick things off with an interview.

Back in February we released American Carnage, the debut EP by Das Mister, a brilliant collaborative effort featuring the talents of The Das Kaput (an Electro-based act from Bethlehem, PA) and Mr. Bitterness (who has released two great releases here at blocSonic).

To better understand the project and gain some insight into it, we interviewed The Das Kaput’s Jimmy Kaput (JK) and Mr. Bitterness.

Das Mister interview graphic number 2 depicting conceptual themes as presented on their album art

Hi Jimmy Kaput and Mr. Bitterness. Thank you both for taking a little time to discuss your collaborative project Das Mister and the incredible debut EP “American Carnage”. I want to begin by learning a little about you both and how the collaboration came about.

While listening to your individual musical projects, The Das Kaput and Mr. Bitterness And The Guilty Pleasures, you can hear common themes of disillusionment and dismay at modern American society. However, while the themes have common touchstones, the sonic underpinnings seem to be coming from different places. When and how did you both become aware of each other’s music? What are a few of your individual musical influences?

MB: I believe I first become aware of Das Kaput when he was recording under the name Wet Dentist. Around the 2008 mark or so there was a pretty engaged community of musicians on Twitter, somewhere around that time Bandcamp and Soundcloud started, and I think he had supported one of my early releases and I in turn checked out his music.

Music influences are too broad and varied to list. I tend to pick artists, genres, etc. and go down rabbit holes, so I have a really long list of music I’ve listened to and been inspired by at one point or another. Early influences would be Billy Joel in my very early teens when I was trying to learn how to play piano and structure songs, immediately followed by about 5 years of listening to nothing but Prince and affiliated Minneapolis funk projects (The Time, Sheila E, Jesse Johnson, etc.). I then took a hard left turn into late 60’s early 70’s prog rock (Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd), and then really dove into 90’s NIN, Tori Amos, Soul Coughing, Seal, Peter Gabriel, Terence Trent D’Arby and on and on. I can find inspiration in anything I can make sense of, and when I listen to something and don’t “get it”, it makes me want to know what I’m missing and dig deeper.

JK: I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but sometime around when Mr. Bitterness put out “Destined for Dust” is when I found him on Twitter, IIRC; there’s a pretty good chance I was searching for Soul Coughing-related stuff at the time, so it was total luck. I was really impressed with Destined for Dust; the songs, the playing, the lyrics, and especially the vocals. Then I remember when his next record “The Good Fight” came out, I was like “holy moly is this hot, or what?”. That was an album that made me think that if he had a band playing those songs live like how they sound on the record, he could make a good living touring & recording. So when he suggested that we do a project together, I was excited. Granted, I had absolutely no idea what it would end up sounding like, but I sure wanted to find out. My musical background/back catalog, with bands, collabs & solo situations, has usually involved a lot of weird experimentation (with guitars, computers, and especially my voice), sometimes a bit too weird (especially apparent in Wet Dentist songs, lol). So, being presented with the opportunity to add some of those elements to Mr. Bitterness’ songsmithing seemed like a good thing to do.

In terms of influences, I like music in many genres, and there are some genres I can’t stand. At the place that I’ve been employed for the past 11 years, I listen to “classical” music for 8 hours a day, mostly a mix of these particular kinds: lute music of the Renaissance and Baroque period, lots of other Baroque, classical, and some Romantic era stuff, though I’m not that into symphonies/big orchestras or opera. I would much rather listen to something Beethoven wrote for a duet of piano & cello than one of his masterpiece symphonies any day. I think I was 9 or 10 when I first heard the “Candy-0” album by The Cars, with that luscious mixture of synthesizers, guitars etc. I was a fan of hip-hop from the beginning; and I remember exactly where I was, and how floored I was, when I first heard “Planet Rock,” and a few years later “Rebel Without a Pause.” I got into punk/hardcore back in the early-to-mid 80s, and then “college music,” and funk & jazz & reggae while I was in college. And, of course, there is The Fall, and Brainiac’s “Electroshock for President” EP was a huge influence on the early development of Wet Dentist back in the early oughties. I could easily keep going on and on, as there has been so much music that has impacted me deeply, like Antipop Consortium, LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, Talking Heads, etc. etc.

Das Mister - present past tense
Das Mister interview graphic number 3 depicting conceptual themes as presented on their album art

So, Mr. Bitterness suggested the collaboration, then? Interesting. How did each of you approach working together? Were the conceptual themes there from the beginning, or did they come about as songs developed?

MB: The original idea that I think I pitched was we would each come up with something, 4-8-16 bars or so, then pass it over and the other would tack on to that, and then pass it back, etc. That sort of worked at first, but quickly the issue was that we’re both working in different DAWS (Digital Audio Work Station) (he’s in Cakewalk, I’m in Ableton), so not so easy to exchange in order to build out a song. We also tried to go with known drum kit sounds, and free (or already in our library) VST’s so that we could continue to work on things.

What ended up happening mostly is that I hi-jacked several of the songs and didn’t give them back until they were 2/3 or all the way done, in terms of structure and lyrics. This again was partly a function of us each being in different software, and that I’m used to working alone and my Type “A” approach took over. Should we do another one, I’d definitely like to find a way to be more collaborative throughout the process.

4 out of 6 of the songs were seeded off of what Das Kaput sent me (Fuck Your Guns and Exit/Exist were my genesis, the rest started with what he sent me). I would take a piece or a section that I could work with and see what I could come up with in terms of structure and lyrics. For instance the intro to Present Tense, and the synths that start off Fentanyl were both part of the same project that he sent me, and I took a piece and wrote Fentanyl around it. I still really liked the up-tempo part, and it ended up coincidentally being a good lead-in for Present Tense.

The lyrics I mostly just wrote as I went without having ideas as I started, but I knew that our politics mostly lined up, maybe 90% overlap. So I just started writing things and figured he’d let me know if I was getting too far out of the box of what he was comfortable with. A couple of the riffs that Das Kaput provided (Fentanyl and what became Present Past Tense) just felt important/had heft, so I tried to find subject matter and lyrics that could live up to what I felt like the tracks called for.

I should also say that I’ve spent several years watching YouTube reaction videos (it’s a guilty pleasure) and one of my favorite reactions to watch is young hip-hop type people seeing/hearing Rage Against The Machine for the 1st time. They are usually blown away, both by the intensity and the intelligence of the music, and how all the themes are still as relevant as they ever were. It made me think about who’s making that music today? So this was my best attempt in substance if not in style to try to say something of importance, because if anyone is making that music today, I’m not hearing it.

In my own “Mr. Bitterness” project, I tend to write more abstractly about politics/society/etc.

JK: I don’t remember any preset conceptual themes at the beginning, but then again, I didn’t have much to do with the lyric making. My main approach was to do whatever it took to get the project completed, even if that meant working in a way that was totally alien to me, or the opposite of what I am used to, or whatever. The songs were that worth it to me.

Das Mister - fentanyl
Das Mister interview graphic number 4 depicting conceptual themes as presented on their album art

So, it seems like both of you went into this project fully expecting to work in ways that were new to you. Now that you look back, do you feel like the collaboration really did force you to do so? Mr. B, you mentioned that you slipped into a bit of a less collaborative role for a few of the songs and that you’d like to be more collaborative in the future. Any ideas on how you might approach it differently now that you’ve collaborated once? Mr. Kaput, from your perspective, how do you feel the collaboration went?

JK: This was one of those records where I feel that “the ends justify the means” & I don’t really want to get too much into the sausage-making aspect of it. As I said, the songs were what kept me involved with the project, not how much or how little I had to do with how they developed or what they became, or how they ended up sounding the way they do. I love the record, though, that’s for sure.

MB: I think the collaboration went pretty well over all. I’ve never collaborated before, beyond a couple of tracks with Dustmotes (that really need to see the light of day) and so it's a learning process. I'd like to find a primarily online/centralized way to do it, so we're not shipping tracks back and forth, at least until the later stages. What's tricky to me about that, is while I was able to cobble together the tracks and so on in Cakewalk to pass over, I really couldn't create in Cakewalk, because so much of what I'm used to doing in recent years is built around my workflow in (and knowing the tools in) Ableton.

The other thing I have to work on is my type A personality. My hope with collaborating is that I just put in my input and let it go, but this go around, there were a few I really dug in on once I had an idea of where I thought it could/should go. I'm not sure how fun that is for someone else who is collaborating, and it wasn't my initial impulse with the project, but maybe it's how I'm wired.

Das Mister - present tense
Das Mister interview graphic number 5 depicting conceptual themes as presented on their album art

What’s currently in the works for each of you? Are there any other new or recent projects you’d like listeners to check out?

MB: I've got some tracks in process, but nothing I’m ready to announce just yet. hopefully you’ll see something more from me as Mr. Bitterness before the end of the year.

As far as things to check out, I’d say give Das Kaput and his other project Wet Dentist a listen. It won’t be for everyone, but if you’re into or familiar with Avante-Garde Punk / Art Rock / Cyber Punk type music, he’s got some great stuff. Every song has 2 or 3 great riffs or sections that could be full songs in their own right, and it’s why I wanted to collab with him in the first place.

JK: Well, I just released an EP of the 5 newest Wet Dentist songs called “In the Haus” which is available for free on the Wet Dentist Bandcamp & all the streaming services), and I am also working on a re-mix/re-master of a Wet Dentist album that has been out of circulation for a number of years. It is pretty interesting to open up project files from 13-14 years ago! This re-release should be available for free download pretty soon. Then, of course, I am also working on new material for The Das Kaput! Thank you very much for asking!

Das Mister - money party (Featuring C-Doc)