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The MK ULTRA Interview with Tim Dahl of Child Abuse

Interview by John Wisniewski photo by Harald Krichel

Tim Dahl is a professional electric and double bass player, vocalist, keyboardist and composer living in New York City. He is best known as the bass player of the noise-rock band Child Abuse and Lydia Lunch Retrovirus. He also writes and performs for the jazz ensemble Pulverize The Sound.

Child Abuse is a noise rock trio featuring Tim Dahl (bass and vocals), Eric Lau (keyboards and vocals), and Oran Canfield (drums) based out of Brooklyn, New York. Originally formed in 2004 as a duo with keyboardist/singer Luke Calzonetti, and drummer Oran Canfield, the group expanded into a trio with the addition of bassist Tim Dahl in the summer of 2005. In 2011, Luke Calzonetti left the band and was replaced by Eric Lau on keyboards. It was during this lineup change that Dahl added vocals in addition to his role as the bassist. Child Abuse has shared bills with many bands including Suicide, Ruins, Arab on Radar, The Locust, Thee Oh Sees, AIDS Wolf, Liturgy, Rhys Chatham and many more. In 2014 Child Abuse joined the Skin Graft Records label for their third album Trouble in Paradise. This same lineup was used for their fourth and most recent album Imaginary Enemy.


John Wisniewski; When did you begin playing music, Tim?

Tim Dahl: I was 5 or 6 when I first started taking piano lessons. So either in 1980 or 1981. I’ve stuck with music since. I got a bass guitar when I was 10, but just fucked around with it. I started taking it more seriously once I became a teen. At that point it became my main instrument as I no longer was taking piano lessons. At 15 I started learning the double bass.

JW: When did you form Child Abuse? What was the concept for how the band should sound?

TD: I actually didn’t form Child Abuse. However, the form it’s most known for involves me. It was originally a duo with Luke Calzonetti on a casiotone keyboard and vocals, and Oran Canfield on drums. The duo was around for about a year before I joined. When I first saw them, they were playing at Cake Shop in Manhattan, sharing a bill with People(Mary Halvorson and Kevin Shea). At that time I was looking to start a new band and they happened to be discussing adding a 3rd member either on guitar or bass. I think they asked me to join the band about a month later. We made a few splits and two LPs with that lineup. In 2011 Luke Calzonetti left. Eric Lau replaced him on casiotone and I took over on vocals. At that point we started incorporating a lot of glissandi in the writing. In terms of a concept to the sound, there really wasn’t a premeditated concept, except that the music is through-composed. Timbrally it’s a bass and casiotone both going through distortions and ring mods into bass amps, along with rock drums and kinda death metalish vocals sometimes through effects.

JW: You are a fan of jazz?

TD: I am a fan of jazz, sure. There is also a lot of jazz that I can’t stand. I’ve played jazz professionally on and off for almost 30 years. Including with some jazz artists who are in the jazz history books. Between ages 19-21 I think i was pretty much exclusively listening to jazz. I was taking in as much as I could get my hands on. These days I don’t listen to that much jazz, unless I’m playing it or i’m on a bill with other jazz groups. Interestingly enough, the more I look to and play music that isn’t jazz, the better I believe my jazz playing gets. So many jazz players have this kind of jazz tunnel vision of perception that makes their playing beyond derivative and unimaginative. Sometimes the solutions are as simple as looking just a micrometer outside the margins people superimpose onto themselves. With all of this said, the jazz discussion often comes down to that ever-so-resilient question of “What is jazz?” Most folks who I’ve met that claim they play traditional jazz totally miss the point. Since when was it in the tradition of jazz to try to synthesize the past? Miles davis didn’t try to play in the style of Armstrong. Cecil Taylor didn’t try to play in the style of Count Basie etc.

JW: Any favorite jazz artists?

TD: Too many to mention. Thelonious Monk always does it for me though.

JW: And what are your favorite genres of music?

TD: Again, too many to mention. There are genres that I don’t like though. For instance I think Christian pop/praise music really sucks. In some ways I think it’s more important for an artist to know what they don’t like more than what they like. In fact bad music has had more of an influence on me than good music, because there is more of it. How could it not have an influence on me? Bands like Pearl Jam provide ideas and designs for me to avoid for the rest of my life. Going back to the genre discussion, I believe bass players more than any other instrumentalists get to perform and record across the widest range of genres. When you get intimate with the different genres, it creates a different, almost personal, relationship with them. So for me, I think that’s one reason it’s hard for me to pick favorites.

JW: When and how was Pulverize the Sound formed?

TD: I think we formed in maybe 2013? I honestly can’t remember. Our first album came out in 2015. Honestly it was formed just by hanging out together. Definitely I remember hanging out with Peter Evans, drinking some beers at the old Zebulon in Brooklyn before it moved to Los Angeles. I can’t remember if Mike Pride was there or not, but definitely the idea of forming a trio with the 3 of us came up. I think we were joking about making some kind of mean spirited commentary on jazz fusion. Once we got together however, that concept was immediately out the door and we just played like ourselves. Art rarely works for me unless i’m myself. That’s why I kind of envy some of these a-list session players who are hard to identify unless you read the credits. It’s beyond selfless and borderline sociopathic. Impressive.

JW: Do you often improvise when playing and recording your music?

TD: It really depends on what the music is. Sometimes it’s all improv and sometimes it’s none. As i said before, Child Abuse is no improv. The last Pulverize the Sound album was all improv, where the earlier ones were a mix of composed music and improvisation. Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus was basically rock and roll songs with no improv, although there would be variation within the songs from night to night. My trio with her and Matt Nelson called Murderous Again, is matt and I doing improvised accompaniment behind her reading text that she has written.

JW: How did you meet Lydia Lunch and join Retrovirus?

TD: Weasel Walter introduced Lydia to me. Retrovirus existed for about a year beforehand without me. Algis Kizys was the bass player the first year. Around the time he was leaving I was recommended. I think Lydia came to a Child Abuse show at Death by Audio and saw me play around that time too. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I believe the next part of the audition was her coming over to my house for a small bbq i was hosting. Maybe 6-7 people total. We got along instantly. A month or so later she called me to go on tour with her in europe.

JW: Were you a fan of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks?

TD: Honestly, I didn’t own any Teenage Jesus and the Jerks records growing up. A couple of friends of mine would play teenage jesus when we would hang. But more often it was lydia’s music post teenage Jesus. I enjoyed it for sure. With this said I was 1 years old when TJATJ formed and 4 when they broke up. The transgressive rock that I gravitated towards when I was in high school (89-93) was florida death metal. I was fortunate enough to see the early Deicide, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse etc. shows. As a fan I wanted to experience something of my generation when it was happening. The chance to lose my virginity to the late 70s/early 80s downtown NY thing wasn’t possible for me in the flesh or in real time.

JW: Any future plans and projects?

TD: Always. Right now, Child Abuse is working on a spin off band called Child Support. We are excited about it. That’s all i’ll say about it for now. I just got off the road with Pulverize the Sound. I go to Europe this week to tour with GRID. I will stay in europe for a few weeks doing some jazz shows followed by a little trio tour with Lydia, myself and Sam Ospovat in the Baltic region. Then I’m in NYC this summer with a ton of stuff. Some shows with Lydia. I have a couple of new trios that are starting to perform around town. One with Sandy Ewen and Brian Chase (yeah yeah yeahs) and another with Mark Morgan(Sightings) and Bob Bert(Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore,Retrovirus). I also have a NYC trio performance with Lydia and butoh dancer Azumi Oe at some point in the 2nd half of the year. I’ll be in europe a bunch this fall. I might do a little tour with Makoto Kawabata at the end of the year, but we will see. I’m hoping to bring Pulverize the Sound to Brazil in december, if not I’m thinking of doing a solo tour there. In general I like to try out new things in between the tours and long standing bands. Sometimes they don’t work out, but sometimes they do. The only way i can find out is if I do them.

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