After 15 years, AOI is getting back together
by Mike Huberty
September 2015

Angels or Insects 2015 - photo by Mary Sweeney Photography

Angels or Insects 2015
photo by Mary Sweeney Photography

When you click your heels and close your eyes and think of the year 2000, what do you think of when it comes to rock music? Rap metal, probably. Snotty second generation Green Day pop-punk, maybe. Shiny shirts from Gadzooks (back when it was a co-ed store), dyed blonde spiky hair, and 7-string guitars aside, the turn of the last Millennium is not always looked upon fondly when we think of what shaped modern rock music.

But buried underneath that morass of backwards baseball caps, bands with deejays, and walking erection macho posturing, the industrial movement was brewing. The tracks and loops and synths that we expect today from mainstream rock bands like MUSE and 30 SECONDS TO MARS all started with the brave acts who would bring massive keyboards and digital samplers onstage when you couldn’t just use blast backing tracks through your iPhone.  And in the Madison rock scene at the time, no other industrial metal act was bringing as many people to clubs or building more of a buzz than ANGELS OR INSECTS.

A heady concoction of metal and electronics, the band was FAITH NO MORE and ALICE IN CHAINS and NINE INCH NAILS. Cory Kastner’s vocals move from playful to angry sometimes in the same word, and they brawled and clawed over Jamison Downing’s chunka-chunka riffing, Mike E.‘s bass and loops, and Brian Klemke’s confident pounding (*who should get a special medal for playing along to loops without a click track in the past.*) They ruled over The Annex, which was the touring spot of choice for heavy rock bands at the time and the first time I interviewed the band it was at Taste of Madison in 2000, where they were on top of the world after a performance in front of thousands of people. Sadly, a few months later, egos and infighting had broken the band up. They carried on for a bit, but the lights eventually went out.

Flash-forward fifteen years and the old wounds are healed and they all started feeling a burning sensation that meant it was time to play together again. Things start moving in early 2015, when Jamison says “they had to write their love letters to each other”,  but as they felt it at their first rehearsal, Klemke recalls, “It clicked the first night we got together and actually jammed.” As Jamison recalls,  “Don’t call it a reunion. Everyone is fired up and we enjoy being together again… I think it’s a goddamn miracle.” Kastner agrees, he says “We’ve been freed as adults to give up on obsessing on petty stuff and what the world expects of us. You have pressure like that in your 20s or 30s. Now we’ve got nothing to lose and that helps us keep our center and be more relaxed and not be as sociopathic or antagonistic.”  And when you’re in a room with the whole band, you can feel that any tension that might have been in the air in the past has evaporated, these guys are having fun and feeling excitement about the music without the stress that youthful hopes can put on you. Back then, getting a record deal might have been the dream (or a nightmare, just ask THE GOODYEAR PIMPS or THE BUZZHORN), but now it’s around the music and camaraderie.

Angels or Insects circa 1999Adding to their sound, have added a second guitarist, Clint Smith, to the band and he’s a player that Downing only has praise for, “It just seemed so natural to have Clint come on board”, he says, “If AOI was big before, if we had that thickness, that vibe, that wall of sound, dude, it’s only that much thicker now.”

And it’s creating a sound that can pull from their past but is modern that drives Mike E. “One of the things that scares me is relevancy”, he says. “We’ve gotta be relevant. Things have changed since then, back then, electronica and the industrial sound was a thing that people liked to hear. Then everything kinda took a step back to a raw sound, but it’s come full circle. We’re back to people enjoying electronic shit again and I think it’s the right time for AOI to come back *and* be relevant again.”

And Cory agrees, “We’re in the right mindframe to put in all that hard work again, and if we get a good response, we’re going to keep on working and see what happens… Our chemistry is something that’s bigger than us.” He continues “We’re fine tuning what we got and feeling optimistic about the future and looking to make an EP, since we never actually released anything except for a JJO compilation disc… We even think that with 45 to an hour, we could open up for a semi-national and be well-paired, if not make them look stupid.” Everyone in the room has a laugh at the last line, but with decades of experience behind them and a new more focused attitude, that’s the kind of bravado that many bands have ridden to amazing performances.

Their first official show back together will be The Nightmare on Regent Street on October 9th and bringing the blast from the past full circle will be its host, Rich Peterson, better known now as Freakshow from CW57’s *Bordello of Horror* and a music promoter through much of the early Aughts. They’ll be performing with newer bands like The Faith Hills Have Eyes, We Are Legion, and Gods in The Chrysalis and there will be live art from Brota of the Art Brothers. It’s a celebration of Madison’s heavy rock scene, classic and newer, and since these guys still know how to party, chances are it’ll be a night to remember (if you can!)

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