Interview with Christopher S. Feltner

Interview conducted by: Billy Pizarro

I met Christopher S. Feltner on March 7, 2012 in Baltimore, MD. I was there to see Eugene S. Robinson (Oxbow) do a spoken word set at the Golden West Cafe. Chris had set up to do a collaborative performance with Eugene, providing a moody atmosphere to Eugene's chilling tale. It flowed so well that I thought Eugene was bringing Chris along on his tour for each date, but it happened to have just been a one-off performance.

We didn't actually speak that day, other than asking me how long the performance was. That same night, I messaged Eugene, asking who the noisy ambient guy was. He gave me his name, and I looked him up.

I believe our first conversation consisted of contact mics and pedals. We traded links to our music projects and became friends. I started going out to every Degollado, Kingdom of Sharks and solo performance possible. Each performance seemed better than the last; especially, his solo sets. They became more controlled, tense and physically atmospheric. I've been very lucky to have seen this artist grow and change. Hopefully, the rest of the public feels the same way. You should...

Can you start out by talking about your development as an artist/musician?

From the floor, up? My first experience of making/playing music was in 9th grade. I had a year of guitar lessons but wasn't very good. Joined an alt-rock band with a guy who played WAY better than me. That band, and several others, came and went. Ran the gamut through punk, metal and hardcore bands through college and afterward. Played for a while in a noise band which gave me permission to do whatever I wanted with the instrument (guitar). And, I did (for better or worse).

That band broke up, and it was back to hardcore/metal bands for a while. I hooked up with a two-piece looking for someone to play WITH the guitar vs PLAYING the guitar. Served my interests just fine. I learned a lot playing with that band (Stifling), then the band went on a hiatus from which it never returned. During that hiatus, I began Kingdom of Sharks, and progressed from there; further and further into the void.

You recently retired the Kingdom of Sharks moniker. I always wondered how you came up with the name. And, for clarity, do you feel that what you did in KoS just naturally dissolved into what you're currently doing under your own name?
Kingdom of Sharks photo by Alex Giron (2010)

The names "Ocean" and "The Ocean" were both taken. The ocean is incredible to me. It is very intimidating in a lot of ways to me. On land, mankind is on top. In the ocean, however, sharks are king; and we are meat for the beast.

My reasons for dropping Kingdom of Sharks, and going by my birth name... Well, there are certain things in the works that will require a "real" name rather than a moniker. It's hard to explain to people that this is my KoS project, and this is my solo project, also; but, I go by my real name, etc. It gets confusing.

As far as approach, I started performing under my own name because I missed the physicality of fronting heavier bands bands, and wanted to explore a more performance-based aesthetic. I was starting to mix more vocal-based work into KoS pieces, yet I was also doing this with my work under my own name. The lines were getting blurry, so... With all things considered, everything is under my own name, now.

Definitely agree with your fascination in the ocean, and it's sheer size and mystery.

There are so many ways to die in the ocean. Suffocation/drowning, getting eaten, crushed by waves, torn by coral... Plus, you can't see what's going on below.

It's all terrifyingly beautiful. It commands respect.

The first time I showed my sister videos of what you do, she was reminded of the mythical creature known as Slender Man. I had never heard of it/him. I looked it up and noticed some eerie similarities. Did Slender Man have any influence on your masked performances? If not, what or who inspired that transformation that you take?

Slender Man? I have never heard of him. I'll have to look him up. No influence.

My transformation... Clothing-wise, I like the contrast of clean-cut, neat, professional, safe... Versus, the performance which is on the OTHER end of the spectrum. The head covering is also such a great contrast to the clothing. I remember seeing Soft Pieces perform in DC, and he was wearing a black, spandex hood with no obvious eye or mouth opening. That always stuck with me.

There are a lot of performers I find inspiring who dress similarly. And, there are so many out there who cover their head with something. But, really, one of the most influential images which really drove me to combine both is the male killer from the movie, The Strangers. He was dressed nice but had this burlap sack over his head. That image and contrast had such a bizarre impact on me. I will never forget that movie because of it.

The same can be said to a little lesser degree of the psychiatrist/killer from the movie, Nightbreed.

He's the only character I really remember from The Strangers. I also love the contrasting look a a clean-cut performer. I try to portray that, as well, in my own performances, but more as a blank canvas. Clean.

It also helps, personality-wise. Puts me in a serious mindset when the clothes are on; then, with the head covering. I can't see anything, so I completely disappear.

I'm less attracted to flash, and more attracted to aesthetics. It might not get me noticed all the time, but it's what I'm most comfortable in. I totally get that.

How does your process of working out ideas begin? Do you keep a journal of themes you might come up with during the day?

The process varies. For recordings, I usually come up with a concept, then write out ideas for varying pieces on paper. I will make changes on said paper over the course of weeks, or months, before I finally record. For live performances, ideas pop in to my head constantly. I don't write them down; they are just always there. When I have a performance scheduled, I'll pick one of the concepts based on the performances space.

When I tour, I will try to find out as much info about the space, ahead of time, so I can plan a certain number of pieces.

Do you like to leave room for improvisation, or is each performance meticulously planned?
Photo by Chester Hawkins

I have the framework planned, but I don't rehearse, beforehand. The concept is planned, then I let the details develop naturally for most pieces. However, some do require more precision than others. Some pieces change from time to time like "The Blues." I have a few phrases that are repeated from performance to performance, but, overall, spoken-based pieces are improvised.

Interesting. I wouldn't have guessed that actually.

Besides enjoying what you do (period), I really enjoy watching people's reactions to what's happening in front of them. What are some memorable reactions that you've gotten during, or after, a performance?

During: A woman laughing, then cringing after I hit myself in the face while staring at her.
After: A guy came up to me with obvious reluctance. After talking with him for a few minutes, he started to relax, then told me how creepy the performances was, and that he felt uncomfortable, and scared about listening to what I was saying during the performance.

For the most part, people don't talk to me, after, unless they know me. Some will say that they liked but most just stare at me from a distance.

(laughs) They don't know what they're missing. Did you have the face cover on with the lady?

The cover was on. I have performed both ways. Neither seems to make people want to talk to me more.

You're involved in various martial arts - do you apply any of those teachings, or philosophies to your performances?

I am very skeptical of people, in general. I think about martial arts, and self-defense, as much as I think about sound/visual art, almost. Philosophy doesn't play in to my performances, at all. I do, however, consider how someone could react, physically, to me interacting with them during a performance, and how I might choose to react, if it ever got ugly. I also keep hyper-aware while loading in/out of places to perform.

What do you do for a living, if you don't mind answering?

I teach the Mandt System, and CPR/First Aid at a psychiatric residential treatment facility in Virginia. The Mandt System is a system based on building relationships, and interacting in a respectful manner with the clients we serve. Part of this is teaching verbal de-escalation techniques, and, also, physical intervention skills to deal with aggressive behavior.

Before this, banking.

I assume you deal with a number of unique incidents with that line of work. Do you take any influence from what you experience there?

The album, "A History of Mental Illness" was directly influenced.

I thought that was the connection.

Yeah, the world is dying in so many ways that the average person doesn't even think about.

How does religion play a role in your performances?

Religion. Hmmm... That's a little tricky. Religion influenced my first release under my own name, Absence. I watched a documentary that really dug in to historical accounts of demon possession and exorcism. I compared the information from that documentary to popular Hollywood depictions of such things.

For the "Five Minutes In Hell" pieces, I compared two different interpretations of what Hell is like.

It was tricky for me too. I could be wrong, but I don't think religion is THE main theme in what you do. You definitely touch on other subjects, but I do know there is some influence there.

Photo by Chester Hawkins
My love and faith for Jesus Christ is always present in one way, or another, in what I do. However, I am not the type of Christian that is depicted on TV that tells everyone that they're going to Hell. ALPHA/OMEGA and Return To Sender were directly influenced by my faith.

If God didn't put this creative spirit in me, I wouldn't be doing ANY of this, nor any of my other projects.

Very cool. It's nice to get some insight on that. I guess I could've asked you that myself, any time, but this is a good way to find out about it. (laughs)

Yeah, I'm FAR from perfect, and I have my own things I struggle with.

You and I, both.

What other projects are you involved with?

I am involved in the drums and guitar duo, Degollado. I am part of a guitar noise duo, Arterial, and I do limited releases, put on shows, and do interviews/reviews of experimental-based music and art under the umbrella of SEVEN1878.

You just finished up recording for both the Degollado and Arterial projects. Can you give some details on the estimated release dates, and album content?

Degollado photo by Ann Everton
The Degollado album has been named, "Compassion Fatigue." We re-recorded two songs from the "Dark of the Day" EP which have changed a good bit since they were first recorded. And, there are four new songs accompanying them. It is definitely going to be a much more diverse, and sonically progressive release. By the time this interview is posted, James Plotkin will already be in the process of mastering it.

Nic (Degollado drummer) released "Dark of the Day" through his Founding Father imprint. But, we are looking to release "Compassion Fatigue" through another this time around.

The first Arterial release will likely be released for download through RJ Myato's imprint out of Pittsburgh, but that hasn't been 100% confirmed yet. It has definitely been a blast doing this project, so far. The three tracks are a complete full-on assault, in both volume and intent, but there is still enough variance to keep it from becoming stagnant, or too repetitive. Two guitars with a lot of volume, pedals, and instrument torture.

Aside from what you have listed on the SEVEN1878 page, are there any new developments that can be expected for 2013? Also, in our past conversations, you hinted at some non-music related projects for 2014. Will you elaborate a little on that?

I really need to update the site! In April, there will be a three-way split CD-R release between myself/Clang Quartet/Baptizer. I'm releasing Zack Kouns' "Thanatos" album, which is incredible! For the Download Series, there will be releases from Stephen Palke, Ancient Noir, and Guillermo Pizarro.

For 2014, I am not releasing ANYTHING through SEVEN1878, and I may/may not do the music blog. I am taking a year off to work on short films, and some writing projects left unfinished. And, of course, there will still be live performances.

SEVEN1878 Imprint

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