For an industrial metal band that thrives on gothic stage tendencies, performing at Saturday’s Knoxville PrideFest poses a conundrum.
“It’s not a normal show for us,” Danny Rendo, the founder and frontman of Knoxville’s Deconbrio, told me this week. “Obviously, we have to kind of recalibrate certain things with our performance itself. We were told by the committee that we don’t have to censor the lyrics, which is kind of a relief, but it’s still difficult to pick and choose the setlist, because even though we don’t have to censor anything, we still have to pick songs that are appropriate to play at PrideFest.
“Some songs — no, because they’ll easily get misconstrued, and we want to avoid that at all cost. And as far as theatricality is concerned, we go on at 7 p.m., so it’ll still be daylight outside, which means that any kind of lighting or effects will be very, very limited. And as far as our look? It’s basically the beginning of summertime outdoors, so the typical attire (we wear) may not be appropriate for surviving a 40-minute set!”
If any band is up for the challenge, however, it’s Deconbrio. Rendo — and wife, Ashley Fantastic, on keys; guitarist Wolfegang Grey; drummer Christian Kanoa; and bassist Kevin Humler — are East Tennessee’s premier industrial metal band, picking up the torch from groups like Nine Inch Nails, Stabbing Westward and A Perfect Circle and setting the local scene ablaze whenever a venue or festival needs some heavy variety.
Rendo fell in love with the genre — heavy on programming with a visceral sound that sounds like a riot in an abandoned factory — when his sister introduced him to “The Downward Spiral,” the 1994 masterpiece by Nine Inch Nails. He formed Deconbrio after high school and put together the band’s first album, “Obsessions of a False Idol,” in 2007. (Last year, the band released an anniversary reimagining of that debut, a clanging, tribal paean to Rendo’s roots that demonstrated just how much he, and the band he’s put together, have grown as musicians.)
After bouncing from Florida to California to East Tennessee, he recruited from the local metal scene and built out Deconbrio, releasing two other albums (“Voyeur” and “Hail to the Liar’s Throne”) along with several EPs. Live, Deconbrio is a force to be reckoned with, as Rendo prowls the stage like a combination of a freak show ringmaster and a tour guide through nightmares — the rest of the band summoning a tornado of sound around him. Over the past year, Deconbrio has been quieter than usual, however, thanks to a change in personnel.
“We did the ‘Obsessions of a False Idol’ rerelease last year, and this week we’re dropping a music video for the song ‘Masquerade,’ but as far as new stuff goes, we’re still going back and forth, writing it and coming up with creative ways to promote existing stuff,” Rendo said. “We’ve finally got another solid lineup for the band, so that should hopefully work out pretty well. The last year was kind of difficult, but we’ve regrouped, and now we’re at a point where we’re like, ‘OK — let’s pick up the pieces and see if we can get back on track.’”
To prime the pump, Rendo has been expanding his listening choices to find inspiration in sounds outside of the industrial paradigm.
“One of the things most people in the industrial scene are struggling with, I’ve noticed, is sounding like everything else,” he added. “There are only so many things you can do to stand out from everybody else using the same software, the same plug-ins, the same vocal effects, the same drum machines, the same this and that.”
As a result, he’s been listening to different sounds, including the music that Australian composer Mick Gordon did for the video game “Doom.” Because game designers wanted to avoid rote guitar sounds, Gordon was pushed out of his own comfort zone to create the game’s aesthetic, and to Rendo, few things are more satisfying than rising to meet a musical challenge.
“The fact that he took a chance as a guitar-based musician and built something that was very unique is amazing,” Rendo said. “‘Doom’ is a phenomenal soundtrack, and it’s what I’ve kind of been keeping in the back of my mind when I’m creating music. I’m just trying to take more chances and step out of my comfort zone.”
Performing at PrideFest is another step — not because Deconbrio feels uncomfortable in a setting that celebrates unity and acknowledges the humanity of the LGBT community, but because a band that thrives under strobes while wearing all black in a dimly lit club has to find a new way to connect with fans of all ages who will gather on the lawn of the Civic Coliseum in downtown Knoxville.
“The question is, how do we approach this and do the best performance we possibly can that people are going to look at and say, ‘That’s Deconbrio’ and not a bunch of dudes on stage in T-shirts and jeans,” he said. “Like I said before, being outdoors in the middle of summer, in all black, might not be the best idea if we want to live to see the next day. On the flip side of that, we don’t want to be up there in white T-shirts and shorts, because that’s not our aesthetic, so we’re trying to find some middle ground. It’ll probably be a last-second decision of picking something that should work, running with it and hoping for the best.”
And, he added, paying homage to the reason the entire festival is taking place.
“This year is a very important year with it being the 50th anniversary (of the Stonewall Riots) and figuring out how we want to represent that and support that,” he said. “We want to respect the heritage and the source of Pride, but I feel like it’s more important for us to showcase the love and the unity and the support. We have a very aggressive approach with music and performance anyway, so how do we present ourselves at Pride?
“We can easily stick to the very aggressive, angry, angsty approach, but I’d rather not do that, because Pride has become more than just the riots from 50 years ago. It’s become a place where people can band together and feel like they’re loved and welcomed and supported by everyone else around them, and the fact we were given the tremendous honor to perform, we want to showcase that Pride has become more of a gathering of love and support rather than the remembrance of the hate that led to it snowballing into what it is today.”