Timeless music doesn’t fade away. Fueled by the passion of its creators, sometimes it rises from the ashes to feed ears that are tired of listless, formulaic tunes and hungry for solid, genuine, and soul-thumping Music-with-a-capital-M.
Glamatron! was originally formed in 1981 by Canadian musicians Rude van Steenes and Kurt LaPorte. Together they produced one Glamatron! album called Only the Heart Beats … Inside the Silence. There was one other album to follow that never, unfortunately, saw the light of day: Chrome Horizons. After Glamatron! was dissolved, van Steenes and LaPorte then formed Vis-A-Vis in 1984, which was nominated for two awards and won the 1987 CASBY Award for Best Independent Artist.
Prior to Glamatron!, Rude van Steenes was the front man for Canadian punk band ARSON, formed with guitarist Marcel La Fleur and highly visible in the Canadian and American punk scenes during the late 70s and into the 80s. Fast forward to 2013 when Van Steenes and guitarist Marcel La Fleur resurrected ARSON and released a blistering, well-received album called not always about you.
Now, it’s time for van Steenes and LaPorte to reintroduce Glamatron!. And what makes the reemergence of this album doubly exciting is, well, that it’s a double album. Not only is Only the Heart Beats … Inside the Silence back, the previously unreleased Chrome Horizons is now available as part of the package. Add to this the influences that its creators point to: Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan & T-Rex, as well as early Ultravox, Wire, and Magazine, and you’ve got a collection of music that will absolutely wow fans of early New Wave. DJ David Marsden has been giving solid airplay to various tracks from Glamatron! on his Internet streaming radio station NYTheSpirit.com, and they have been met with keen interest.
Rude has graciously agreed to be interviewed, and I am proud and pleased to re-introduce you to this wildly gifted musician and his music. I have enjoyed…and will continue to enjoy…Glamatron!’s recently reissued Only the Heart Beats and Chrome Horizons. I know New Wave/post punk fans will, too.
Missparker: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us about Glamatron!. I think an obvious first question is, what inspired you to reissue Only the Heart Beats … Inside the Silence and Chrome Horizons? And, who were your partners in crime (other band members)?
Rude van Steenes: Thank you for the opportunity and for all the great work you’ve done in supporting and bringing new life to one of the most creative eras in music! It truly is a pleasure to see this music thriving so many years later while continuing to garner new interest through the great articles you’ve written on the bands and artists and your ongoing support.
So, the question was, ‘What inspired me to reissue these albums and who else was involved?’ Well, the reissue was something I had been dabbling with in my mind for some time. I always thought the initial recording, Inside The Silence, was a diamond in the rough in that it was recorded on an 8 track reel-to-reel deck in a basement studio with little-to -none of the studio enhancements available today. The songs were roughly fleshed out by Kurt (Laporte) on guitar and myself on synthesizers and drums; then, Rick (Krausminc) came in on additional keyboards.
We worked with several players including Max Hutchison on drums and Marky Haughton on bass. Although Max and Marky played together on the same tracks, both left together before the recording was complete. This led to Kurt playing both guitars and bass, Rick on keyboards, and myself on vocals, synthesizers, and percussion while Max played drums on 3 tracks, Ben Elfassey on one, and I played on 2 tracks for the finished product. I think we recorded it over two weekends, mixed it, and borrowed the money for a pressing of 950 copies and that was it!
The cover was designed by Anne Marie Carlson and the striking woman featured is a portrait of her mother. The layout was bold for the time; most akin to the European releases of that era which had appealed to us.
Although critically acclaimed, North American labels in general were not interested as it lacked, in their opinion, “commercial appeal” and was considered “ahead of its time” for their audiences. Remember, the Canadian industry was tethered to their American parent companies and, at the time of release, the popular markets played Eye of The Tiger by Survivor, Physical by Olivia Newton John and Ebony and Ivory by McCartney and Jackson, as well as artists John Cougar, Chicago, Foreigner, and Toto topping the charts in North America, so no one here could or would do anything for us. Although the European scene was much more in tune with our sound, we lacked the management and resources to market ourselves over there.
And that brings us to Chrome Horizons, the previously unreleased, three-quarters completed, follow-up to Inside The Silence. At this time, Kurt, Rick, and I were working on some ideas and were joined by Scott Matthews on bass and Rob Greenway (a.k.a. Brilliant Fish) on drums. At some point, Kurt dropped out, leaving the project guitar-less. This was, of course, a challenge I wasn’t anticipating, and it took a while to adjust ,too as Kurt, for the most part, was my song-writing partner; however, as I had the bulk of the lyrics and part of the music written, it was then up to all of us to complete the pieces in the studio.
We took on the song Call written by Rob and, after a few runs, it started taking shape. Scott’s fluid bass lines combined with the keyboard melodies and stylized vocals, gave the finished song its character. The rest (Intrigue, Photographs, Death In September, Art of Seduction, And We Who Dare) followed suit; however, this was another self-produced indie project and we were again in a financial crunch unable to continue. In fact, one track didn’t make it on the studio version (And We Who Dare), as it wasn’t ready. It is, however, included on the live version of the CD and Bandcamp download. What was salvaged from those sessions remained on master cassette tapes for better than 30 years before being re-mastered by Scott in his studio this year.
Finally, what brought this all to light this year was a message I received from my friend Jacek who has a label called Artoffact/Storming The Base. He was interested in Glamatron! and asked if he could do a re-issue of the original first record. I then told him about the unreleased 2nd album and live tracks and a deal was struck to put the whole package together. They did a wonderful job, packaged the vinyl in optional pink along with a great poster, and the CD has a beautiful little booklet and bonus live tracks, as does the download. Really impressive—their label also has an incredible roster of artists that I’m proud to be amongst—such great influences and talents. (Please see the links at the bottom of this article for more information).
Missparker: To me, it’s quite a shift from ARSON’s pure punk to Glamatron!’s New Wave. What was the reason for switching genres, and did you find it to be a natural progression?
Rude van Steenes: Well, for starters, I think musician, author, publisher Jaimie Vernon probably nailed it best in his description of ARSON:
“Though ARSON was shuffled into the First Generation Toronto Punk deck of cards, one listen to tunes like “Love On A Leash,” “Art School Fool,” “Social Eyes,” “Not Always About You,” and “Motor City Suicide” and 20/20 hindsight reveals that ARSON were/are actually a true-blue American Rock ‘n Roll band owing nothing to The Ramones and everything to Iggy & The Stooges, The MC5, and The New York Dolls” – Jaimie Vernon, Musician, author, publisher (Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia Vol 1 & 2, etc.).
So, ARSON was always kind of on the outskirts of the scene. For example, our third show was opening for The Dead Boys at the height of their initial popularity and that pissed off a lot of local bands who had wanted to do that show; however, it was the promoters’ decision, and although it worked out well for us, the resentment from other bands was never completely resolved.
Our shows were also more rock ’n’ roll than punk; being fairly agile performers, we would utilize stage lights, fog machines and experiment with different outfits and even characters. I took on every show as an adventure; however, towards the end of 1979, while playing some dates in New York City including Max’s Kansas City, I began to feel restless—restless to do something more creative, a different trip that would incorporate more diverse influences and, I think, we all saw that coming. Things were becoming strained between all of us, the road had taken its toll, the original scene was dying, and we were still broke and in debt. I needed to move on; ‘transition, transmission’ was my state of mind.
We came back home, recorded The Animals’ We Gotta Get Out Of This Place for the No Pedestrians compilation album, and all went our separate ways. Marcel and I were obligated to play a couple of gigs in 1980, so we picked up a few former players for those shows, and after two years of working closely together, we took a break for some 30 years!
At first, I began experimenting with different ideas under the ARSON banner. I found a guitarist I had known, recruited a bassist from another band, advertised for a keyboard/synth player and a drummer and put it all together. We did some of the old material, but focused on new songs and ideas; and at first, things went well. We played a few shows and started recording some demos. I brought guitarist Kurt Laporte into the band, but tensions began regarding direction and I began to sense potential problems that I didn’t want to deal with. So, I walked away from my creation, Kurt followed, and the remains went on to become Boys Brigade.
Immediately after, I started writing new material with Kurt and I came up with the name GLAMATRON!, which was the complete antithesis of ARSON. We wrote all new material and never once referenced the recent past. We were going to be new and different using our musical influences inspired by the UK and European music scenes. Transformation came quite easily, as I had already introduced characters into the previous band; however, this time everything changed dramatically from the music to the staging to the overall presentation. It was going to be more ‘theatrical,’ if you will, more along the lines of a hybrid Roxy/Bowie/Reed/’77 Ultravox-come-Stranglers affair. I wanted to change back from the stripped-down punky stage setting to creating a more engaging environment that rocked; and, the transition was so complete, that only close friends knew what was happening.
Having always written lyrics and vocals driven by a rhythmic feel from my drumming days and being influenced by a wide variety of jazz, blues, rock, and soul pioneers like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, the Walker Brothers, not forgetting Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Jim Morrison & The Doors, Todd Rundgren, Peter Murphy, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, etc., etc., at the time, I felt the limitations of the genre that ARSON had become was somehow preventing me from exploring other areas. As much as I loved doing what I did, I wanted to do more.
Writing was always important to me; it was an outlet to express myself whilst defining the moments of my interactions with life and all of its trappings. I grew up with books; I’m still an avid reader with a couple of books-in-progress left throughout the house. Great writers and poets have always fascinated me, particularly when their stories have the power to hold you as if a spell had been cast and you can’t leave until that spell is broken or the story ends.
Writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Edgar Allen Poe, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Anthony Burgess, Christopher Isherwood, Rod Serling, and Martin Amis, amongst others, could transport you right into their scenes with such vivid descriptors that if you closed your eyes, you could almost feel your senses open to the experience you just read about. So many other wonderful writers—each one has its influences while the best ones leave their mark.
When I came into the music scene, the last of the Beat poets were rolling up their influences in the old coffee houses of Montreal. Allen Ginsberg, Tuli Kupferberg and The Fugs, Jack Kerouac, Lou Reed and The Velvets, etc., had all drifted through and left their mark. It was all good and hung over with hints of old-world/Beat romanticism lingering in the air, giving it a sense of creative freedom. Switching genres was not really difficult, but more of a natural progression.
Missparker: You mention some fabulous influences in the release notes. Can you expand a bit on the elements of some of these artists that gave helped life to Glamatron!? Was it appearance, musical style, a bit of both?
Rude van Steenes: Well, I’ve been musically inclined for as long as I’ve known; my first instrument was drums and I was self-taught. Within two years of practicing, I was playing high schools, parties, and special events. Life at home wasn’t great, and in 1967, I left home and went to the west coast, finding myself in San Francisco for part of the summer of love. That experience opened up so many different avenues in music, poetry, art, and film that it easily became the creative extension of the Beat generation.
While many of my then contemporary influences included The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Dylan, and Frank Zappa to Paul Butterfield to John Coltrane, the Velvet Underground to Motown to Miles Davis and on the British side, John Mayall, the Stones, Animals, Who, Troggs, Them, etc., they were now joined by The Doors, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, Traffic, Small Faces, Moody Blues, Cream, etc., and styles from American garage to psychedelia to glam incorporating Bowie, Bolan, Roxy, Todd Rundgren, et al. All of these influences impacted throughout the seventies and into the eighties, constantly regenerating and further exploiting the boundaries of creativity, which at that point, showed no limits. Rock and Punk had bred New Wave, Goth, Hair Metal, Nu-Metal, Industrial, and Grunge—all variations on a theme!
My personal tastes have always leaned more to the other side of the pond with exceptions, of course; but in general, there appears to be a greater appreciation for music and the varieties and styles seem to co-habit in more of a non-competitive environment in comparison to the North American artists. I’d love to go over there and play some dates—we’ll have to look into that!
So as a direct answer to “was it appearance, musical style, or a bit of both?” The answer would have to be a lot of both!
Missparker: I have to say, when I put the CD in my player, you had me at Passport. I love the marriage of guitar and synths. What made you include an instrumental, and particularly as the opening track? Were you making a statement?
Rude van Steenes: Passport represented a number of things to us as it starts the adventure. First, the sound—a joyous, up-tempo instrumental that signals a new direction. It starts with the synth drone and church bell that opens into a bass sequence before the guitar and drums kick in. The song evolves around Kurt’s guitar lead and builds with momentum as it progresses; timbales kick in, the tempo remains strong, focused as the guitar counter plays against itself until the final stanza when the drums double up to punch out the last notes followed by the synth drone from the opening coming back and leading into Facial Saviour. Second, as the title implies, this is your ‘passport’ to the rest of the record. And, you’ll notice that just as in the beginning of Passport, the pealing bell is repeated at the end of the closing track Porcelain Doll, after the shattering sound of the doll breaking, to signify the end of your adventure.
The record was planned that way in my mind, albeit subconsciously. It emulates the cycle of birth, life, death, and reincarnation while incorporating all the trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows that we encounter on our journey. In the end, we’re reborn; hopefully wiser, stronger, and better individuals as a result of our experiences and encounters. A passport is always a beginning to something, it never ends.
Missparker: Even though “a little birdie” had given me a heads up that Glamatron! was coming to David Marsden’s live stream, I sat straight up in my chair when I first heard Porcelain Doll on his show. My initial reaction was, “Wow—who’s this?” Is this the reaction that you were hoping for from other New Wave fans?
Rude van Steenes: Of course, but it always comes as a surprise that the song still has that kind of impact. Porcelain Doll was a song that was very carefully arranged from the opening strains of the toy piano to the ‘Gregorian-style’ chorus and the off-kilter guitar that drunkenly wanders throughout the song right down to the child’s voice in the song’s midst. The fact that we were able to incorporate all these tracks with multiple bounces and not lose too much clarity on an 8-track reel-to-reel deck was a bit of a miracle onto itself! As it was also the last track we recorded, there were glitches to overcome. For example, we were going to have a drummer for the session, but he cancelled at the last minute. So, I ended up playing drums. Time was also tight, so we had to scramble to lay down all the tracks and, of course, things never go as planned when you’re jammed. We had to level the toy piano samples as they recorded too “hot,” the guitar parts had tracking issues, finding the right “shattering” sound for the ending, etc., etc.; but, in the final hour, it came together. The first time I heard it 35 years ago, it took my breath away and I hoped it would do that for everyone who heard it.
Missparker: Death in September has such wonderful overtones of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy days. Is that era of his music something that you found valuable to your own work? The reason I ask is because he took a trouncing in the press for his music during that period, but Glamatron! seems to embrace it fearlessly, without regard for critical backlash.
Rude van Steenes: Well, in all honesty, I’ve never written to appease critics and I’ve always admired and respected artistic individuality and integrity as part of the creative process. Lyrics, poetry, prose etc., are an extension of your soul, a diary, if you will, of experiences, encounters, and interpretations that you have witnessed and composed creatively into words. Every artist has their own ‘vision’ and license to explore and interpret in their own way, as to how they perceive the intricacies of life.
David, as we know, was a master of that process not only during the Berlin trilogy but before and long after as well. His poetry and lyrics from early on and throughout his career are, for the most part, shining examples of life experiences woven into a variety of musical fabrics representing every era, so many of which he himself helped create.
The song Death In September was originally titled The Word from the first record and yes, the dark influence was definitely intoned throughout that first album; however, I felt the original version could be improved upon, so we re-recorded it focusing on contrasting the lyrics with a pronounced dance rhythm and a heavier synthesizer track and it pumps so much better now!
Missparker: Personally, I’m drawn to the 80s for the very style that Glamatron! emotes. I think it’s safe to say this collection is very appealing to that generation of listeners. Do you think you have a market with the current generation of music consumers?
Rude van Steenes: I’ve always believed that markets are created and not necessarily by the talent alone, but by a number of factors that include radio airplay, video play, label support, a strong promotional team, and motivated management. With those initiatives in place, I firmly believe that audiences can be created for any genre of music.
Unfortunately, the North American industry has always been “trend” focused in that they would hold back and follow trends rather than set them. Once a trend was established, everything else was put on hold and that’s where the indie labels had some clout. With savvy marketing campaigns, smaller labels could pick up acts, record and distribute them accordingly, and achieve success.
Of course, the majors didn’t like that and started buying out a lot of the smaller labels and either taking them over or gutting them depending on the individual success of each. This totally backfired as the smaller labels had a better understanding of their unique artists and often had chosen talent over profit, something the majors couldn’t understand.
In the early nineties, the industry began suffering major setbacks affecting artists, labels, and consumers and their markets continued to shrink throughout the next two decades. Once upon a time, there was a thriving industry that was able to invest and nurture and grow talent and although it wasn’t perfect, it certainly helped a lot of artists throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Money for investing and promoting, recording and support for musicians was available, and it was, for some, a great community to be a part of.
By the mid-2000s, we saw the decline of the rock star and the rise of the reality TV star, which implies it is basically only about the image. Music took a back seat. When people don’t buy music anymore, the record industry responds by promoting stars with a marketable image. That created image has to then fulfill an objective with commercial potential, thereby stripping out any artistic quality for the sake of sales revenue. In essence, many of today’s songs are not reflective of the artist, but rather carefully written lyrics and hooks assembled by multiple writers with the subject matter designed to appeal to the reality show culture. In other words, today’s pop hits are usually manufactured.
The industry today is almost non-existent, and why bother? With shows like American Idol, hundreds of people can “sing” and they all want to be stars. Why would an industry develop an artist when they have access to clones of today’s stars for nothing?
Do I think that there’s a market for the 80s sound with the current generation of music consumers? Yes, because good music withstands the test of time and because audiences still seek out good dance music and the 80s had that in droves! We just have to have a solid fan base that can help sustain us in order to continue producing and recording our music.
Missparker: I love, love, love (did I say, “love?”) Call and Art of Seduction from the Chrome Horizons collection. The fretless Mick Karn-ish bass riffs and the Sylvian-esque off-kilter singing absolutely slay me. Was that a nod to the group Japan, or just a coincidental and fabulous collision of incredible sounds?
Rude van Steenes: Well, I would have to say both in this case! We’re all fans of Japan and I would be remiss in denying that there was some influence; however, Call was written by Rob (Greenway) and when we were laying out the track before recording it. Scott (Matthews) was experimenting with his fretless bass while Rob and I experimented with vocal stylings as a progression of the overall “GLAMATRON! sound.” The rest fell into place and we recorded it.
When it came to Art of Seduction, this was a little trickier as the song flowed around the vocal, which had actually started out as a poem I was writing influenced by a series of books I had been reading by Christopher Isherwood called “The Berlin Diaries.” Once we started playing around with some ideas, the lyric developed a flow. Scott again incorporated the fretless bass and the nucleus started taking form. I wanted to keep the background somewhat dark to contrast the bass and vocals and that’s where the notorious Prophet 5 synthesizer came in. I was able to layer several ghostly ‘creeper’ tracks that wove in, out, and between the vocal, bass, and percussion layers. There were other pads that I wanted to add to flesh it out a bit more, but time was a factor.
Missparker: There seems to be a distinct difference in sound between Heart and Chrome. The tracks on Heart are a bit more upbeat, where those on Chrome are a bit darker (and actually appeal to the Goth tendencies in me). What type of evolution had the band gone through to bring about that difference in style? Did that have something to do with not releasing Chrome when it was first made?
Rude van Steenes: Yes, there definitely is a distinct difference in sound between the two which was brought about by a number of mitigating factors. Following the recording and release of Heart, Scott came on board and we did our first live show at a place called The Domino Klub. It was a well promoted showcase; however, nobody, save a few close friends, knew who we were. There were no clues to the past (i.e. ARSON, etc.), and we decided that the less we say, the more intrigue got to play and it worked! The ‘intrigue’ portion played out on national television as a segment of The New Music show where reporters were filmed chasing the band to the dressing room without getting an interview—all in good fun!
It was shortly after that show, when drummer/percussionist Rob came into the picture joining Kurt, Rick, Scott, and I and we started thinking about recording a follow-up record. In addition, we were offered a television taping for a future broadcast. Once the taping was done, it was time to get back to writing.
I think that one of the primary differences in our evolution was that with the first album, Kurt and I wrote the songs and parts and the guitar was always there. Now, with two new fulltime members also contributing, somewhere in the process, Kurt seemed to sense a directional change that he may not have been comfortable with and took a break from the project. As some of the tracks had been written with Kurt’s parts, we had to change those with alternate parts and that was tricky at times. Everything was revamped and all told, Rick, Scott, and Rob did an incredible job breathing new life into the songs.
Other factors include the variety of influences we were affected by in the process of developing the GLAMATRON! sound. As an avid reader and observer, I’m always armed with pens and paper and usually end up with all sorts of scraps of paper with partial lyrics, ideas, etc., in my pockets. At home, I have at least 5 scratch books in different rooms for the same purpose. Scott, Rob and Rick would also gather ideas and throw them on the table; some worked and some didn’t, all parts of the puzzle.
As for not releasing Chrome sooner, there were still tracks to be recorded and mixed, final touches that we weren’t able to finish and like most indie bands, the money is always an issue. Although we were in a slightly better studio with a bit more money, it really wasn’t nearly enough to finish the album. As such, the project was shelved for almost 35 years. What you’re hearing was culled from cassette masters and carefully re-mastered by Scott in his studio.
Of note, one of the incomplete tracks, And We Who Dare was never fully finished although there is a live version on the CD and Bandcamp versions.
Missparker: Only the Heart Beats … Inside the Silence and Chrome Horizons is such a nostalgic trip for me. I just want to put on my dancing shoes, spray my hair up high, and go clubbing. Will there be more—in other words, would you be open to creating more music in the traditional New Wave style?
Rude van Steenes: Well, with the support I’ve been getting from fans, old and new, and of course from David Marsden and his nythespirit.com radio programs, as well as opportunities such as this wonderful interview with you, I’m encouraged and delighted that after all these years, the music and the sounds of that era are still very much alive.
Personally, I’ve never really stopped writing and I do have at least two albums worth of lyrics that easily would fit into that, shall we say, timeless style. Also, let’s not forget, GLAMATRON!’s “successor,” thrice nominated CASBY Award nominees and 1986 winners for Best Independent Artist, Vis-A-Vis!
Vis-A-Vis was actually the continuation of where GLAMATRON!’s founding members, Kurt LaPorte and I, were reunited. Bolstered by our mutual friend and current nythespirit.com host Rob Stuart on synths, along with Gene Burda on keyboards, Gord Baker on drums and Gene D’Onofrio on bass, you had the first version of that band! More on that for another occasion as there may be a CD release in the future.
So, back to your original question, I would have to say yes, there is material there and I’m working on it as well as scripting a video for Porcelain Doll. The hard part is finding like-minded people to collaborate with as many people involved with these projects have moved on and had families, careers, and other projects and pursuits. For example, on my end, I got together with Marcel and some old friends and reignited the band that preceded GLAMATRON!, ARSON. I’ve known these guys since the late 70s and we decided to have some fun and get together, do some shows, and release a CD.
Former GLAMATRON! bassist Scott Matthews works in theatre now in Stratford while former drummer Rob Greenway records under the name Brilliant Fish and plays in various bands. As for Kurt LaPorte, I understand that he gave up playing professionally years ago to focus on career and family. Rob Stuart went on to create EDF following Vis-A-Vis and I was quite honored to be part of his band as a vocalist and percussionist and a contributing writer to tracks on their first CD. Rick Krausminc survived both versions of GLAMATRON! and was a significant contributor to the GLAMATRON! sound. A very talented piano and keyboard player with a great sense of humour, Rick could easily defuse any tense moments. When GLAMATRON! left the room with Elvis, Rick went back to his DJing at clubs and built a successful career.
I should also like to thank Greg Baker, who in the beginning stages of the band, was there and really believed in the project and helped out with all the managing chores and contributed his energy and experience. Also a special thanks to Brian Masters for his contributions to the second album, Chrome Horizons. Playing with all these amazing musicians has been a privilege and something I would love to do again, as so much good has come out of those collaborations, so many creative ideas spilling over and birthing other ideas that flow like paint on blank canvases breathing life into a cascade of colorful notes and leaving something that spurs memories and good times, tears and laughter, love and loss, but always a time that sparks would fly and live dangerously in love with the creative muse.
Be sure to check out Glamatron!’s music and legacy music on the following sites: