Born Douglas A. Scharin. Addresses: Record company--Perishable Records, P.O. Box 57-8804, Chicago, IL 60657-8804, Phone: (312) 225-8440 Fax: (312) 225-8451.
During the 1990s, bands sprung up in the city of Chicago which established a new direction in contemporary music. Mixing improvisation with punk, noise, and rock, groups such as Tortoise, Isotope 217, the Flying Luttenbachers, and Shellac excelled in what is dubbed "post-rock." Drummer and multi-instrumentalist Doug Scharin, too, played an important role in Chicago's music scene during this period. And since the early part of the decade, his groups--including Codeine, Rex, and June Of 44--proved highly influential. His latest project, called HIM, has been equally successful, resulting in four critically well-received albums thus far: Egg, Interpretive Belief System, Sworn Eyes, and Our Point Of Departure.
Although the industry likes to place HIM in the same post-rock "slowcore" category as his previous groups, Scharin tends to resist such categorization. "I don't like to put music under any category," he told Raseljka Kekez in an interview for Fokus, a weekly Croatian newspaper, during HIM's first European tour. "I think that HIM plays fusion, using a lot of different influences such as jazz, afro-beat, rock, electronic music, dub.... I think that fusion comes out like the best thing of music, cooking, painting, anything. It's a mixture of everything. For instance, yesterday, after our set in Florence, I heard some Sardinian singer that blew me away. I had never heard something like that so far. Music is always new, you just have to have a good approach."
Scharin first entered the rock world as the drummer for the bands Codeine and Rex. Although now a full group, he initially came up with the concept of HIM as a vehicle for solo work. During breaks from his two existing groups--Rex and the recently defunct June Of 44--he worked on what would become HIM's debut album, Egg,released in 1995. "Rex had bought some real basic recording equipment at the time and I was just fooling around with it," Scharin recalled to Mike Barnes of the Wire about the genesis of the record. "I was trying to learn basic studio techniques and it was the music I was doing to learn them. It was great at the time but I'm glad I'm not working on cassette anymore. I had a minimal amount of gear and it taught me how to make the most of it."
Despite his inexperience and lack of equipment, Scharin's results were impressive, due in large part to his use of exotic percussive instruments that provided the reggae and ambient-tinged Egg with a spacious feel. Soon thereafter, he met Skiz Fernando, the owner of the New York-based Wordsound record label, while at Bill Laswell's Greenpoint studio. Scharin, incidentally, had known Laswell since the age of 12, when one of the bassist/producer's early groups rehearsed in his mother's basement.
After the encounter with Fernando, Scharin ended up working the door at some of Fernando's parties in a room above Laswell's studio. Although Scharin had never heard the music put out by Wordsound before that time, he did begin to notice some similarities between his own tendencies and those of the Middle Eastern-influenced, cross-rhythmic bands Bedouin Sound System and Scarab. Fernando, likewise, saw the overlap, and one of Scharin's tracks eventually made it onto the label's first Crooklyn Dub Consortium Certified Dope 1997 compilation. Subsequently, that same year, Wordsound released HIM's second album, Interpretive Belief System.
Meanwhile, Scharin had also formed another group, Out In Worship, with Joe Goldring, the bassist for the Swans. The pair released a couple of albums and toured the United States with a live line-up that featured bass player Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu. However, the group dissolved halfway through their American tour. Once they hit the road together, according to Scharin, the members soon discovered that they really did not get along well. Around 1999, Scharin's other group, June of 44, also called it quits. "I'm very disappointed with the way we split up," Scharin said to Kekez, pointing to the five-month tour of Europe and the frustration surrounding the recording of their Anahata album as the catalyst for the split. "There wasn't any huge fight. We just basically felt like it was time to separate and that each of us go our own way.... At the time we hoped and believed that we would get together and play again. It still didn't happen but I believe it will."
While disappointing, the demise of other projects enabled Scharin to devote more time to HIM. In 1999, he released HIM's third set, Sworn Eyes, featuring fellow Chicagoans Rob Mazurek on cornet, Bundy Brown on bass, and Jeff Parker on guitar. Although the use of dub still figured prominently in the group's sound, Scharin's own abilities as an engineer and original composer had greatly improved. The album's opening track, the 20-minute "A Verdict Of Science," presents a prime example. Here, he used some of his original drum tracks and basic sketches recorded by the other musicians, then took samples of his kit and overdubbed them in real time. "I had loops running for weeks," he recalled to Barnes. "I couldn't shut off the power! I just wanted the loops to keep going, so when it was time to bring something back in, it was kind of random, so it just kind of took on its own form.... I'm really into finding an interesting point in a track and manipulating it in different ways and finding various combinations of instruments and seeing what can happen. I like to physically edit on tape, I don't have a computer. I like the splicing block, I like the sound of tape edits--they're punchy."
Also evident on Sworn Eyes was the influence of electric jazz. "Up to that point of making that record I'd probably been playing [Miles Davis'] Dark Magus every day for a year. And then I got that Bitches Brew [Complete Sessions] box. And the liner notes are pretty involved: they give you the time when there are edits. I found that really fascinating. I kept it as my little Bible." His association with and observations of Laswell at work in the studio also provided inspiration. "Bill is drawing from a lot of production techniques those guys were doing at the time," continued Scharin. "He was always kind enough to let me hang out at different recording sessions. So I saw Pharoah Sanders do a few tracks in the studio. I saw Tony Williams do a few tracks in the studio, and I sat and watched Bill mix and edit sh** together."
Sworn Eyes went on to earn critical praises. But the album's lineup soon dissipated, as the other members were too busy with other projects to tour. Eventually, Scharin was joined by Fred Erskine (also a former member of June Of 44) and saxophonist Carlo Cennamo (who played with Erskine in the Boom). With this semi-stable nucleus, HIM recorded a new album titled Our Point Of Departure. Released in 2000, this record also saw Scharin exploring new ground. Departing from his previous work, he provided Our Point Of Departure with a seamless quality, making it sound like a single piece of music. Scharin also expanded his drumming repertoire. The rhythms of the album, in part, were derived from Ghanaian drumming patterns. "I was studying them out of a book on traditional African rhythms that were adapted to a drum set," explained Scharin to Barnes. "I thought it was time I got my sh** together and figure out what I'd been doing all these years and try to actually learn something. I'm self taught and have never had any lessons, so it was cool."
In support of Our Point Of Departure, HIM toured America, Great Britain, and Europe. According to Scharin, a new album, written and recorded with the addition of another drummer, John Theodore, was in the pipeline as of early 2001.
by Laura Hightower
Doug Scharin's Career
Started career playing in the bands Codeine, Rex, and June Of 44; formed HIM as a solo project, released debut album Egg, 1995; met Skiz Fernando, owner of the New York-based Wordsound record label, which released HIM's second album, Interpretive Belief System, 1997; released the electric jazz inspired Sworn Eyes, 1999; released Our Point Of Departure, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Egg , Southern, 1995.
- Crooklyn Dub Consortium Certified Dope (compilation), Wordsound, 1997.
- Interpretive Belief System , Wordsound, 1997.
- Sworn Eyes , Perishable, 1999.
- Our Point Of Departure , Perishable/(U.K.) Fat Cat, 2000.
- Melody Maker, April 13, 1996; March 28, 1998; May 9, 1998.
- Wire, December 2000.
- Interview with Doug Scharin, http://users.pandora.be/fugazi/doug_scharin_interview.htm (February 9, 2001).
- Progressive World, http://www.progressiveworld.net (February 9, 2001).