Prick Up Your Ears
Huh Magazine #10, June 1995
By Edward Helmore
Transcribed by Dusty Hollensteiner



A "connoisseur of distortion" suggests Kevin McMahon, is somebody, who can

"appreciate color in noise."  

"I don't know why I'm attracted to it", he says, absently forking at his

lunch.  "Something inside me is awakened and liberated by it, and I can see

what lies between black and white."

In his somewhat quixotic quest for beauty in noise, McMahon walks avenues of

grand sonic adventure with his band's eponymously titled debut album, Prick.

 "It's cool to do noise distortion for a moment , but it's good to get off it

before it becomes mind deadening." he advises.  "I like to lead people there,

but I don't like to throw them in and let them drown."

Drawing from a stylistic cast that ranges from T-rex and Bowie's Low period

to the affectation of early 80's synth pop like Gary Neuman, McMahon has

assimilated old style riffing with new, aggressively driven industrial beats,

fuzz guitar, and distorted vocals.  The result is often cartoonish and

unsettling, climbing to peaks of discord and then back down into troughs of

gloom.  The ten songs on Prick, garnered from a back catalog of songwriting

that covers the best part of a decade, roam and writhe in varied styles.  At

best, songs like "I Apologize", "Animal", and "Other People" are blistering

rock outs, while others, like "Communique" and "No Fair fights", fall smack

into a repetitive pop parody of the industrial-dance staple.  

Surprisingly, for music this aggressive, the lyrics are always audible and

often drawn from cryptic  observations of love:  "Congratulations, you have

won/You fought off calling me for a whole year to prove your point/But I'm

tired of shouting out in the night/My pride is packed away and I apologize,"

he sings on "I Apologize."

Prick hails from the vaunted post-punk scene of Northern Ohio-one which

spawned bands such as Devo and Pere Ubu in the late 70s.  McMahon's first

band, Lucky Pierre, achieved a degree of critical success within that cult

circuit, but failed to make any impact across state lines.  Indeed, his first

stabs at singing were greeted with little enthusiasm.  "It's ironic that I'm

here today,"  McMahon admits.  "When I started to sing everyone called me

worst singer of all time."

Deliberately theatrical, Prick's surface similarities to nine inch nails are

more than coincidental.  The album was partly produced by McMahon's boyhood

friend and fellow Cleveland industrialist Trent Reznor, and the and is signed

to Nothing Records, Reznor's boutique horror label of guitar driven dance

groups.  

"It worked out great," he enthuses of the fourteen days and nights spent

locked away in the star's Pig Studios in L.A. "There was no ego situation,

the songs were there, so it was just how to get it down."  In fact, McMahon

and Reznor share a close musical genealogy; Lucky Pierre once boasted Reznor

on keyboards for one of it's may periodic reunions and, in debt now repaid,

Reznor was impressed enough by McMahon's style to borrow some inspiration and

moves for NIN.

McMahon has the besuited elegance of a pallid and libidinous vampire, while

not employing so many of the dark carnival fantasies of Reznor.  This

ideological difference is born out in the video for "Animal", a skewed attack

on a girlfriend in a fur coat.  "I didn't want to do a slithering, snakeskin

rock guy in mud" he says, making an obvious reference to his musical chum.

 "So I stood on a perch in feathers in a 'lonely god'-type thing.

Many of Prick's songs are dressed in a cut of industrial glam.  "I was always

a big fan of Tony Visconti [Bowie, T-Rex], he concedes.   "But the main thing

was to use the best technology available, but not rely on it so heavily that

you just become of the moment. 

Recording four songs with Warne Livesey (The The, Jesus Jones, Julian Cope)

in England, it was open season in the studio - the drum fills done by whoever

happened to hold the sticks at that time. "There is something about British

sound boards that give the sound a shimmering depth,"  says McMahon, who, for

"I Apologize," creatively forsook effects boxes and digital break-ups for the

delicately amplified hum of the recording desk itself to get the just-so

dissonance."

So how exactly did he settle on "Prick" for a name?

"I wanted something that would stick, and at the same time to have different

levels of interpretation," he explains.  So far such interpretation has been

of more interest to America Online's obscenity police than to Biblical

scholars - the internet service has threatened to disconnect McMahon's

publicist for using the word in news releases "I considered 'Sic,' he

concludes in defense, "but there was so much more to Prick."

Leaving this semantic quandary to the censors, McMahon has at least won a

proud reaction from his mom, and it's one he evidently relishes.  "When she

heard the single on the radio, she was going, 'This isn't tuned right! Listen

to all that static !"  High parental praise for anyone in pursuit of

distorted perfection.


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