Randolf Reimann has been an important figure in the Australian underground music scene for many decades. Most would know him as the frontman for the legendary hardcore/thrash/punk/etc band Massappeal. Anyone who caught their live show would have witnessed him thrashing around like a man possessed, throttling a microphone and throwing himself into the performance like there was no tomorrow. As Massappeal matured as a band, they were one of the few Australian hardcore bands to obviously embrace sonic influence from outside of the HC/punk scene. They never shied away from experimentation, and for this reason I believe they are still one of Australia’s most important heavy guitar bands. In the last few years Reimann has been slowly releasing bits and pieces under his new moniker Wolf Shield. Wolf Shield is at once rather removed from the heavy intensity of Massappeal, but the influence and creativity is deeply ingrained. Wolf Shield is heavily electronic, minimal and hypnotically repetitive at times, and is an exciting new project from Reimann. Over the course of several email exchanges over a rather protracted length of time I conducted this interview with Randy, and as Wolf Shield’s debut LP ’Residuum’ is about to be released by the French label EXBTN Records, it was a good time to finally get it out there.
Cyclic: Can you begin by telling me a bit about the Wolf Shield project, when did it begin and what inspired it?
Randy: I gave the project the name Wolf Shield in 2014 after finally being satisfied with an approach to an idea I have been toying with since about 2006 when Massappeal were asked to reform for some shows with Henry Rollins doing benefits playing Black Flag songs for the West Memphis Three.
After a show at the Metro, Massappeal kept getting asked to do more shows and then a new album was taking shape. The other members in Massappeal asked me if I would add some electronic elements to the new record, interludes, intros or outros etc. I knew that this could go in many directions so I decided to limit myself to only using sounds from Massappeal recordings. No synths or drum machines. This way, the electronic element seemed to make more sense to me. It had a direct relationship and connection to Massappeal.
While some of those ideas sounded interesting on their own, I don’t think they really worked with the songs for that album. Anyway, that Massappeal album was never completed as we stopped playing once again in 2007.
In 2014, I finally decided I’d like to do a solo project. Since Massappeal’s original disbandment in the mid 90’s, I have done a few electronic collaborative projects, but aside from recording a couple of songs on an old Casio for my niece and nephew, I have not really done anything solo.
Cyclic: You’ve told me that the genesis for most of the Wolf Shield tracks come from grabbing snippets from old Massappeal rehearsal tapes, looping them and playing over the top. How do you feel about those old sessions now? Why do you feel it is important to incorporate those old tapes into your current musical work?
Randy: Over the last few years, I have been asked on occasion, mainly through social media, “will Massappeal do a reunion?” or “Massappeal should get back together.”
I usually take time to respond thoroughly and give my reasons for not wanting to do this. Most people who ask whether Massappeal will play again are passionate punk/hardcore fans, so I feel I want to tell them that even though I have no desire to do Massappeal again, it was a most profound time for me. Without wanting to sound too dramatic, I must say, I had life altering epiphanies at those gigs and band practices in Ultimo, Sydney. Cosmic moments. Massappeal went just as hard at band practice as we did at gigs. And for me, without substances or alcohol, it was mind altering and transcendent at times.
The fact that I had no religious or spiritual background or upbringing and no desire to pursue or investigate such things made these unusual incidents stick to me.
I would often tape our band practice and jam sessions with a dictaphone or ghetto blaster and I have carried a shoebox of those cassette recordings around with me ever since.
In 1998 I moved from Sydney to the Byron Shire in Northern NSW. Byron Bay is known to many as a bit of a new age haven and during my years here I have heard many stories about peoples spiritual awakenings. For the most part, these spiritual experiences involve some kind of engagement with a practice that is designed specifically for a spiritual outcome and it usually involves a cultural practice from another time and another place. I have no real problem with people adopting practices from other cultures to feel a connection to something universal or oneness or whatever. I just know through my own experience that it is not necessary, or the only way. Wolf Shield was not only a response to my punk musical roots, I wanted to add something to the spiritual discourse of the Byron Shire. My spiritual awakening happened in-between four padded walls, with the stench of stale tobacco and beer and immersed in the noise, distortion and feedback of a hardcore band. So whenever an opportunity to drop that in a conversation with a Byron new ager arises, I do it. It’s worth adding to the conversation as I come across a bit of spiritual narrow mindedness up here.
When I considered doing a solo project in 2014 I needed something that had some meaning to me. Something interesting. I have hours of noodlings on hard drives and machines but I couldn’t really care less about most of them. I thought about my recent conversations with old punk friends and some of the Massappeal fans that had made contact. While I considered these conversations, my mind would often land back in Sound Level studios in Ultimo, immersed in the ringing out of drum cymbals and guitar feedback as a song or jam came to an end. Sorta like when you consider a church and your mind may dial up a choir or thinking of a temple and you hear chanting. I also found myself thinking of all the skateboard journeys between the train stations and band practice and gigs and how the sound and physical vibration of those countless treks seem to still be alive in me. The knowledge that these experiences still reside in me in some way and that I still feel strongly about them gave me a reason to do a solo project. I wanted to do something new that expressed my experience now of how the past still resonates for me. It’s not nostalgia. I have no desire to relive anything, like reforming a band. So I pulled out the shoebox of old Massappeal practice and live tapes and made loops of just the outros of songs, just a final guitar chord or feedback and drum cymbals ringing out. Or the near silence of the room between our jams. I would do some basic processing like EQing / filtering and adding reverb but not too much fancy processing as I wanted it to keep some of its original integrity. As the loops played, I jammed along with my drum machine. Next to my shoebox of tapes I have a journal with entries from around 1987 to 1996. I decided that the lyric content for this solo project should be mined from the same period as the tape loops.
Cyclic: Obviously your style has changed dramatically from those Massappeal tapes, how do you see your Wolf Shield music fitting into the continuum of “punk”, or does it even fit?
Randy: To me personally, punk was always more than just a sound. When I first started buying punk records in the early 80’s from a record shop in Sydney’s western suburb of Fairfield, the punk section contained records by everyone from Medium Medium, Blitz, Cabaret Voltaire, Gang Of Four, The Clash, Dead Kennedys, PIL, Pere Ubu to Discharge and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I didn’t know at the time, but it was more like a mix of punk and post punk. So my early naïve idea of punk was broad.
When I was corrected/educated by punk kids in the city about what was punk and what was not, I realised that I was probably not a punk. Or that I was more punk than the inner city fashionable punks. Personally, I feel part of the broader punk idea and I think Wolf Shield sits somewhere within that. Or at least, acknowledges a personal love for it.
Cyclic: To me Wolf Shield is a great combination of past and present, even without knowing the process of your work. Sonically you are touching upon some influential early post-punk electronic acts. The inclusion of the old Massappeal tapes suggests that you may intentionally making reference to the past apart from your own output. Is this the case or have I just read into it too far?
Randy: Thanks. I didn’t intentionally attempt to sound like anyone else or study their techniques. That takes a type of effort and commitment that I rarely invest in or have the patience for. It was more an attempt to work with heavy but simple repetition. Like the sound my skateboard made as it went over the slabs of concrete sidewalk on my way to and from band practice.
As I use a drum machine and arpeggiator in a rudimentary fashion, I understand why there are comparisons to some early post punk and I’m happy about that. I loved Chris & Cosey, Primitive Calculators etc. Henry Rollins introduced me to Suicide in a tour van between Melbourne and Adelaide in 1989. It was a punk epiphany for me. I’m sure all that filters through on some level. I hope so anyway.
Cyclic: Do you feel like you have settled into your sound as Wolf Shield, or is it a constant evolution? How does technology affect your work?
Randy: The Wolf Shield stuff has proven to be quite satisfying personally. It is the first bunch of Wolf Shield songs and I am sensing further places to go with it. So yeah, I think I’m onto something but feeling confident the ideas can go further. This debut LP, Residuum, will probably see me move on from using Massappeal noise. I think i have completed what I set out to do. As far as the technology goes, It’s a really comfortable, two way relationship. We both have our limitations and strengths that we accept that about each other. I think we compliment each other nicely. I don’t have such a great relationship with my headphones, they are held together with gaffer tape.
Cyclic: Did you make any music after Massappeal called it quits? Did you play in other bands?
Randy: Massappeal had a residency at The Lansdowne Hotel in Sydney in the late 80’s or 1990 I think. At that time, I started going to warehouse parties, raves, usually after Massappeal had packed up after a gig at the Lansdowne. To me, what was happening at these warehouse events were way more punk than what was going on with most guitar bands in Sydney at that time. So when Massappeal called it quits in the 90s, I purchased a sequencer, a sampler and a synth module from Massappeal’s old sound guy and founding member of Caligula, James Fonti. Together with ex-Massappeal bass player Kevin McClaer, the two of us fumbled around sampling old HC and punk records. We had no idea what we were doing. We were called Little Hut.
I wanted to do acid house and IDM stuff but my first tune was a waltz inspired by watching crabs walking sideways at Freshwater Beach where we lived. Next was a folk / electronic duo that also liked writing in 3 / 4 and 6 / 8 time signatures called Kolliope. We put out a CD called Oracles & Glands. A couple of years ago I did another duo with a painter friend called Lawn Cigar. We did two shows then never spoke to each other again. Oh and I started Tralala Blip in 2007.
Cyclic: You have your debut LP coming out soon on EXBTN Records out of Paris. How did that connection come about?
Randy: Detonic Records out of Melbourne put out a compilation LP called Normalized. Wolf Shield had a tune on that compilation and I think that’s how EXBTN found out about me. They contacted me and asked if i wanted to do an LP.
Cyclic: Have you maintained much of a connection with people from the HC/punk scene? I was interested to know what the reaction to Wolf Shield as been in those circles, seeing as it is a completely different type of thing.
Randy: I originally was only going to share Wolf Shield with my old punk friends. Some of my old friends really like it, they totally get what I was trying to do. Others, didn’t respond to my Soundcloud link sharing and so I take that as not liking it. Most of the past members of Massappeal really like it.
Cyclic: Have you developed a particular process for songwriting for Wolf Shield? Does it always start with a sample, or do you approach songs and ideas differently each time?
Randy: With most of the Residuum songs, the Massappeal drone loops were my starting point. But now that I have completed the Residuum suite I will be using different processes. The central piece of equipment for Wolf Shield is an analog drum machine. At this point, most of my songs are written with it. I do have a little monophonic granular sampler that i really like too. I think I’ll be starting some new ideas around it. I recently dumped some MC-202 loops into this sampler and i really enjoy what it does.
Cyclic: Have you been playing many live shows as Wolf Shield, or has it been more of a studio project so far?
Randy: I have done some live shows in Melbourne, Brisbane, Paris and Lismore. The songs are quite improvised, so live, they are never quite the same. Actually, the Residuum LP is all live takes with very little post production. They were not constructed in a computer, all live hardware.
‘Residuum’ by Wolf Shield is out now on EXBTN Records. Vinyl LP is due shortly.