ERROR'S LEO ROSS
interview and image by night watchman
AT THE TENDER AGE OF 15, LEOPOLD ROSS ALREADY HAD HIS HIGH SCHOOL BAND SIGNED TO SONY RECORDS. SINCE THEN, HE HAS GONE ON TO DO SEVERAL PROJECTS WITH HIS BIG BROTHER, UBER-PRODUCER ATTICUS ROSS, INCLUDING MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACKS AND THEIR LATEST ENDEAVOR, THE INDUSTRIAL-PUNK NIGHTMARE KNOWN AS ERROR, WHICH FEATURES MEMBERS OF THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN AND BAD RELIGION. NIGHT WATCHMAN CAUGHT UP WITH LEO TO FIND OUT THE HOWS AND WHYS OF THIS SOON TO BE LEGENDARY BAND.
Night Watchman: The Error EP is amazing. I can't remember the last time I really got excited about a new band like this. You should be really proud of your accomplishment on this disc.
Leopold: Well, thanks.
N: How did this project come together?
L: Well, me and Atticus (Ross), you know, we're brothers. I'm younger than him, so I've always worked with him on everything I've done. We lived in London, and then he moved out here (Los Angeles), so we weren't working together then. When he first moved out here he met Brett (Gurewitz), and both of them came up with the idea for this kind of band. You know, what is accepted as "aggressive music" nowadays is very pathetic, in a way. What is seen as "rock" is just terrible. It's pathetic.
L: It's basically fat guys angry about nothing. That's what we decided. We wanted to try to make music which has motives for being aggressive, rather than just being told that something is aggressive, and then listening to it and it just sounds middle of the road. Like The Eagles with distortion pedals. So the idea hatched between them, and then Atticus came back to London with a groove that he had been working on, which ended up being "Nothing's Working", the first track. I put some guitars and some ideas on that, and then it just went from there. We played it for Brett, and he really liked it. He put the vocal melody on it. After that, it got a lot more serious. We were just kind of trying it out at first to see if it would work. We were all very excited about that song.
N: What's great about it is that it's dangerous sounding-- it's not like modern rock music, who just listen to other modern rock bands to figure out how to sound aggressive and then they just copy that.
L: To us, it's the idea of not plugging into a Mesa Boogie. It's just like a stock distortion sound that covers the whole genre-- be it metal or rock or soft rock-- and you have to have this Mesa Boogie distortion sound. And that's something we try to get away from in every sound. First of all, we try to use other instruments apart from guitar, and any guitar that we do use we try to make sound as non-traditional as possible.
N: So, is Error a band and not just a project?
L: It's definitely a band. It's an odd situation, because when we tour, Brett and Atticus-- well, Atticus might tour-- but, basically, I'll probably be the only actual core member in the band to go on the road. We have to find a singer, because Greg (Puciato) is in Dillinger Escape Plan, which is a bummer, because I think he did a pretty amazing job on the vocals. It's going to be tough to find someone as good as him. I'm sure we will. We're going to build a band once we've written the songs.
N: Will you then try to keep that same band, or will it be a "hired gun" situation whenever Error goes out on the road?
L: I think we'd definitely like to have a permanent vocalist. Vocals are what people recognize when they hear a song, most of the time. It's how they recognize what band they're hearing.
N: Are most of the songs constructed, or do you jam to get song ideas?
L: The way we work, Atticus and I come up with a drum groove or a riff, and we play with that ourselves. We'll get a rough structure to take around to Brett. Sometimes Brett has ideas, or he'll just concentrate on the vocal side. We'll kind of ping-pong back and forth. So there are a lot of Pro Tools and CDs flying backwards and forwards.
N: Have you always written music this way? I know you were in the band Nojahoda awhile back. Were those songs written like that, or were they written more traditionally?
L: That was before the time of Pro Tools, or at least before I had Pro Tools.
N: I couldn't find any samples of Nojahoda online. Was that a similar style of band?
L: That was when I was about 15. It was just me and my friends from school. It spiraled, and we signed a deal with Sony. It could have been bigger. We weren't successful; record sales-wise it was a big failure, but it became bigger than we ever thought it would be. We never expected to sign a deal; we weren't really looking to sign a deal.
N: It must have been a great experience, at least, especially at that age.
L: It was a great, fantastic time in my life. It taught me a great deal about the record industry. It was kind of a weird, Ween-type of band, but it didn't go down well in England at all.
L: It's kind of a hard thing to deal with. You don't really think it's going to go anywhere, and then suddenly you get this deal. So you think, "Well, maybe it is going to go somewhere." You build up more confidence, but then nothing. There's a learning curve. It ended up a disappointment, but it was one of the best times of my life. We were on a few major tours in Britain and Europe, so I remember it fondly. (laughs) Hell of a thing to do when you're 15.
N: Any wild stories from that time? I'm sure the statute of limitations must be up by now.
L: (laughs) The good thing about the band was that we recorded the album ourselves, and I don't know how they got a copy of it, but Sony wanted to sign it. Other people heard that Sony was going to sign this band, so it turned into a bidding war. I think when Sony finally signed it, they weren't sure exactly what they had on their hands. It worked in our favor, to a certain extent, where they didn't know what they should do with us. So any idea we had, they'd let us give it a try.
L: So we made a couple of videos. The first one had a Star Wars theme to it, and for the second one-- which I preferred-- we went to Las Vegas for a one day shoot, but stayed there for ten days. We filmed the video in one of those legal whorehouses.
L: That was probably the best time.
N: Did you come home with any souvenirs?
L: I came home with a lot of headaches. My fondest memory is waking up one morning not knowing what happened the night before, but I had a CD of 2 Live Crew on repeat.
L: That was my fondest memory.
N: Growing up with Atticus, did the two of you have similar tastes in music? Or was he turning you onto new things?
L: He always turned me on to new things. He's always focused on the artsy side of music. He appreciates production. When I was younger, the first band I really loved was Nirvana. I guess I'm more from the school of rock than he is. He likes more of the avant garde stuff. It's great, because he turned me on to a lot of things I wouldn't have discovered until much later in life. I had a head start. He turned me on to The Cure, which is now one of my favorite bands. But when I was younger, I always thought they were terrible. When I got into music, The Cure was in that "Friday I'm In Love" phase. But there were all these classic albums before that I didn't know about because I was too young at the time.
N: I started liking them during the Disintegration era, and went backwards from there.
L: Same with me. Atticus played me Seventeen Seconds, and I was like, "Wow. This is really good." And then I got Head On The Door.
N: That stuff is amazing.
L: Yeah. It was good in that way.
N: I hear you and Atticus are working on a soundtrack for the new Hughes Brothers' movie.
L: Yeah. We did a soundtrack for a movie called Touching Evil, and they're making a TV series based on the film, which we're also doing the score for.
N: What's it about?
L: It's sort of a similar setup to The X-Files, where you've got the two main characters-- a guy who is edgy and crazy and does things off the cuff, and the girl who does everything by the rules. I don't actually know the details of it. At the beginning, the main character gets shot in the head by someone-- you don't know who-- but he survives. Ever since being shot, he's got this sixth sense. They don't go into it much, but I think they wanted to draw that out into the TV series. He's the main character. It's quite weird, and it's got more of an edge to it than a lot of other television-based shows.
N: What kind of music are you doing for it? Is it moodier?
L: Yeah. It's a lot more mellow.
L: There are moments where we'll burst into Error-type sounds, but they're usually just for a split-second. (laughs) It's still very electronic, but it's more mellow. More like Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile, or Mogwai. I don't know if you've heard of them.
N: Yeah. Great band.
L: That's the main influences.
N: Depending on the project, does one thing become more of an electronic, Atticus-designed sound, while others lean more toward your rock-style?
L: Well, the way that we work, Atticus is the overseer of all things, so he is always in the studio. It might start off with an idea in his head, which I'll then play, and we'll take it from there. We'll get the idea down, he'll work on the structure, and I'll be working on more parts. He can hear the final product in his head. He shapes it all the time, and I provide the building blocks.
N: It must be amazing to work with someone who has that focus and vision of what they're striving for.
L: Yeah. That's one of his major talents; that he can have something in his head and make it come out of the speakers, whereas most people would fall down. It's like you can hear how you want something in your head, but, for whatever reason, you just can't get it out.
N: Does he ever take your parts and twist them, and you're like, "What are you doing?" Does it ever scare you, or do you just know that he knows what he's doing, so you let him do whatever he wants?
L: There is a lot of debating. He thinks it should be one way, and I think it should be another. So we don't talk to each other for an hour, and then he just does what he wanted to do anyway.
N: What other things help inspire the way you work?
L: Mogwai. They're one of my favorite bands. People like Aphex Twin, Autechre, a lot of stuff off Warp Records, which had an influence on Error.
N: It's funny that you cite Aphex Twin, because in the review I did for Error's EP, I wrote that "Nothing's Working" was like a combination of Aphex Twin's "Come To Daddy" and "The Perfect Drug" by Nine Inch Nails.
L: Yeah. That's what we wanted to make a whole album of; that kind of thing. It's a good comparison.
N: Are you a big moviegoer?
L: Yeah. My favorite movies are Japanese horror movies. My favorite movie of all time is probably Oodishon (The Audition). I don't know if you've seen it.
N: No. I never heard of that one.
L: It's a Japanese film. I wouldn't describe it as a horror movie, but it's definitely an extremely unsettling film to watch.
L: That's what I like to watch. I actually thought the Hollywood remake of The Ring was surprisingly good.
N: Yeah. I was surprised by that myself.
L: Had you seen the original?
L: I loved the original, and I didn't know if they'd be able to pull it off.
N: Well, of course, they Americanized it. But it wasn't bad at all. The scene with the horse falling over the edge of the boat was really freaky to me.
L: Yeah. That was a good scene. I like some of the effects they added, like the screws unscrewing out of the floor. What I like about Japanese films-- and I don't really know why they all do it-- but when you break it down, not that much really happens. There is just this unsettling atmosphere throughout the whole film. I don't know how they manage to do that, but it's just amazing.
N: Yeah. It is the subtleties that make it so creepy.
L: I remember watching Ringu on my own, and I felt weird. But I don't know if I actually felt scared. But when she came out of the TV, it was just terrifying.
N: Have you ever seen Uzumaki?
L: I don't know if I've seen that.
N: It's this Japanese horror movie where all these people in this island town become obsessed with spirals. There are all these shots where you see the clouds twisting into spirals for just a second--- all kinds of subtle little freaky moments. It's like a Japanese Tim Burton/David Lynch movie.
L: That sounds cool.
N: Yeah. You should check it out if you get the chance.
L: Cool. When I went back to England over the Holidays, I saw Dark Water. It's the next film from the director of Ringu. It's not as good, but it's still very good. There are some good moments in it.
N: Is that coming out over here?
L: I don't know. I'm never sure where to find my Japanese horror movies here in L.A.
N: It seems like you usually have to wait for the DVD to come out. So, how do you like living in L.A. as opposed to London? You've been here a couple of years, right?
L: Yeah, a couple of years. When you first come here from England, it's a bit of a shock, just because it's so much bigger. It's hard to put your finger on why it's different. But once you get used to it, it's a lot more of a laid-back lifestyle, which I like a lot. It's great. Because of the size of America, you can do a band like Error. In England it's impossible to do it, because a small scene in England is miniscule. Only one thing can be successful in England at one time; everything else is suffocated. Even more so now with all the pop idol crap. In England that's all there is. The idea of a young band working in a rehearsal room through their teenage years, breaking into the industry,.. I just can't see it happening much in England. But here, probably due to the size of America, a small scene is the equivalent of a very big scene in England. A band like Error-- if it went really, really well-- we could probably sell 100,000 records. It's not unreasonable to think that.
N: In England, would people just be scratching their heads if you could even get the project going?
L: Yeah. They'd be scratching their heads, and we'd be lucky to sell ten records.
N: Has it always been like that? It seems like there are a lot of great bands that have come out of England.
L: Oh, yeah. There always seems to be great bands coming out, but it seems like one thing gets hyped while everything else gets ignored. In England, the press controls the music scene more. It goes through cycles; there was a time when Radiohead was the most supported band in England. I mean, I think they are a fantastic band, but the press pushes things off to the side when something else comes along. Like The Strokes, or when something else dominates the headlines. I just didn't want to wait in England for the industrial punk scene to blow up.
N: So it's better if you bring it over there once you've achieved success here?
N: You guys are doing a lot of insane production and Pro Tools tweaking on the recordings. When you're recording things, do you stop and think, "How am I going to get this sound when I have to play it live?"
L: Yeah. Sometimes I think that, but we've got a digital camera that we use to take pictures of the settings we're using, so that helps. We kind of catalogue what we're doing. A lot of the sounds are going to be tough to do live. But I think we're quite lucky that Atticus has been working with Nine Inch Nails, because I think-- for this style of music-- Nine Inch Nails have always done it live the best.
L: They really bring it across well. I'm sure we'll pick Trent's brain about it. How to best do it live.
N: Nine Inch Nails is one of the only bands I've ever seen that plays to prerecorded tracks, but you're never aware of it. It doesn't hold them back at all.
L: Yeah. You definitely don't feel that. That's a credit to him.
N: You live there with Atticus?
L: I do, yeah.
N: So it must be nice to be able to stick your head in there and hear the new Nine Inch Nails album as he's working on it.
L: I actually haven't heard any of it. I know that Atticus has got it. He brings CDs home, but I don't ask to listen to it because I like to hear something when it's finished. When someone is like, "Here it is. I'm proud of this." I don't want to listen to someone's half-finished idea.
N: You don't want to spoil the magic of hearing it for the first time?
L: Yeah. So I haven't heard any of it.
N: Did you get to hear any of the Tapeworm stuff that Atticus worked on?
L: No. I haven't heard any of the Tapeworm stuff. But that was more in New Orleans. I don't know whether he brought stuff back to L.A. or not. I was excited to hear it. I think it would have been potentially amazing.
N: Is Tapeworm dead?
L: Um,.. from what I can make out, yeah. I think it got swallowed up by legalities, more than everything else. I think the idea of Trent Reznor and Maynard Keenan singing together in this band would be an amazing thing. But then I think the record companies want to make sure that they have the upper hand, or they make more than the other record company. I mean, I don't know what they wanted, but I think they basically killed off the project.
N: I know the self-titled Error EP isn't out until February 24th, but do you have a projected time frame for the release of the full-length Error?
L: Yeah. The EP comes out in February, and we want to have the album done in September or October, so it would be out a little later than that. We're already working on ideas, but we'll get together in June or July.
N: Will that be all-new stuff?
L: I think at least two of the EP tracks will be on the album. For me, something like "Nothing's Working" or "Burn In Hell", they really put across what we were trying to achieve when we first came up with the idea. So I'd really like that to be on the album. Hopefully, more people will get the album than get the EP.
N: Are you going to keep pushing it and get more and more aggressive with the new tracks?
L: Yeah. We've all got gear fetishes, so we always need to find something to make it sound even more angry. We experiment with a lot of different equipment, and we've got some pretty cool stuff that I'm excited about.
N: Do you have some favorite tools of the trade?
L: We use a lot of modular synth systems; that's how we create a lot of the insane noises. We also process a lot of the guitars through those. And then we use a lot of programs like Reactor; anything that might have the potential to be cool.
N: It is always fun to tweak equipment to make it do things it was never meant to do.
L: Definitely. That's what we try to do with sounds like guitar or bass. We never wanted to be traditional. I think a lot of bands you hear, it's like they want to step forward and flirt with the idea of "electronic rock". But they end up sounding very contrived because they are rooted in the classic live drums, bass, guitar setup, while knowing very little about programmed electronic music, synths, or samplers. A few bands get it right, but a hell of a lot get it wrong. It's like they have their fingertips in the future, but their feet in the past. (laughs)
N: It's hard for people to get away from four guys in a room jamming away.
L: I know. I'm not dissing the live bass. I think live bass is great.
N: When you tour will you be playing guitar?
L: I imagine I will. Me and Atticus have been discussing what the lineup will be. I'm not really sure. My personal opinion is the fewer people the better. I imagine it would be a drummer, guitar--- I've been trying to weigh up in my mind, like if we had a guy who was playing bass and triggering samples at the same time. I've been trying to figure it out.
N: I think Rush does that.
L: Well, there you go. (laughs)
N: One more thing I wanted to ask you about is the artwork for the EP. The design is amazing.
L: Yeah. That was Nick (Pritchard) at Epitaph.
N: Whose idea was it to get him to do the artwork?
L: I don't know. He works within Epitaph, I think. We had some ideas, like the idea of the bomb logo with three bombs. Brett said he'd run it past Nick, so he came up with a few different ideas. His art really fits the music. I'm really looking forward to seeing what more stuff he'll come up with. Also, within the live arena we want to have some visuals. We want visual artists working within the Error structure creating projections or something for when we play live. When I think of the music, it reminds me of the original From Hell comic book. It's realistic, but it's bigger and more absurd. Like a nasty cartoon, in a way, and every night I'd like to put that across in a live situation.
N: That's definitely the way to do it. Just hit them over the head with it.
L: I think the Error experience live will be pretty,... (laughs) Well, you'll either love it or hate it. You won't ignore it.
L: I think we'll be playing live towards the end of this year. Before we release the album. We'll just have to play it by ear.
N: I do have to ask you one last question. In your professional opinion, do dogs have lips?
L: Dogs have lips? Well, I just got a dog in November, and I would have to say that they do have lips, because I spend a lot time with my dog. Surveying it from various different angles,.. dogs are on my mind a lot because I just got her, so I spend a hell of a lot of time with her.
L: So, my professional opinion would be yes.
N: Excellent. Thank you!
L: Thanks a lot.