Margaret Chardiet's spine-pummelling, synapse-skewering rhythms elicit a variety of responses from audiences. Many spectators at the New York-bred, self-described "death industrial" musician's shows find themselves frozen and transfixed by her aggressive onstage presence. Other attendees writhe and screech along with the abrasive performer, who plays under the alter-ego Pharmakon.
In conversation, Chardiet is far more reserved, refraining from the violent outbursts she inflicts on her instruments and eager fans at her shows, although her voice is hoarse from those Herculean efforts. Yet the sinewy mentality behind song titles like "Intent or Instinct," "Body Betrays Itself" and "Bestial Burden," (the title track from the album that she released this past fall) was on full display during a recent interview.
Creative Loafing: You spent most of the fall touring with noise rockers Swans. What was that experience like?
Margaret Chardiet: Yeah, we all were travelling in a bus together, so I saw them play almost every night for weeks and weeks on end. They're just such a intense live band, incredibly ecstatic.
Fans and critics say the same thing about your live set. How do you keep up that energy night after night? Do you use a secret regiment?
It's incredibly physically exhausting. But it's also one of those things where the mind takes over the body, and if you can get into that emotional state then you can conquer the exhaustion.
Is the music enough to get you into that emotional state, or do you need other things to get into that mindset?
Yeah, I can be very nervous to play, or feel like a complete pile of garbage before I play, and the moment that I hear the music cut through the speakers it sort of puts me in a trance where none of that matters anymore, just the lyrics I'm saying and the sounds that I'm making. But, as you can hear [clears her throat], my voice is really hoarse from performing last night. Your body takes a lot of wear and tear touring night after night.
One of your nonconventional techniques was to have a crowd of fans squeeze into the recording booth with you, so that you could recreate the energy of your live set. How was that effective?
One song wasn't working being in that sterile little room. To focus, I needed to physically push the songs out of my body, like I do when I play live. So, I got a weird idea to invite some people over. Only five showed up, but the booth was small enough that it was packed with all of us in there. And then we had the music blasting while I was doing the vocals. That's not how you're 'supposed' to do it [laughs], but it doesn't really matter if you get the take you like. It's something I'm going to try on the next record.
Speaking of the new record, how far along are you and how might it be different from Bestial Burden?
I'm starting to write the material. It's going to requires a big shift in the instrumentation I'm using and the way I treat my sound. So it's taking me a little longer to develop, because I'm almost completely overhauling the way I do my music. I have to build a bunch of instruments that don't exist yet as part of it, and I don't yet know how to do that [laughs]. I have lyrics and themes, but it's in a very early stage.
Because your live set is so intense, can you tell us about some of the funniest fan reactions to it?
It's funny you'd ask that, because I think one of my favorites so far was last night. There was this one girl that was really feeling it, which was awesome. She was really feeling it in her body— she was gyrating against the stage, and rubbing her head back and forth on the floor of the stage, like she was physically engaging with the base of the stage. That's a polite way to describe what's going on (laughs). That was one of my favorites that happened so far. But some people get freaked out, some people move around a lot, some people can't believe what's happening and they just pay attention, then come up to you afterwards to ask about it. It's a very personal thing. For me, when I watch a band, sometimes I'm just sitting there staring, but it's the best set I've ever seen. And other times I'm like, twirling around wildly. It just depends on your personal connection with it.