There’s nothing half-baked about Beautiful Machines. If you’re looking for little acoustic ditties, you can look elsewhere because this duo thinks big when it comes to their music. Look no further than to their recent single “Control,” a big, bold, electronic rock extravaganza that pulls no punches. You could say the same about the more recently released “Survive,” the latest single from their forthcoming new record Singularity coming out this summer. The album’s release will coincide with another massive moment for the duo, confirmed as the opening act for OMD’s German tour that will be taking place the first week of August.
Conrad Schuman and Stefanie Ku have always thought big about their art. They view music as an opportunity to combine technology with art and make something beautiful. Singularity is, of course, an album of songs, but it’s intended to be more of an experience that goes beyond the audio to the visual and the artistry and charm of live performance. There’s a cosmic feel to Schuman and Ku’s music that is entirely engaging and captivating.
Rather than focus on the music today, we decided to get to know Beautiful Machines in a different way. In our latest Purely Provocative interview, we got a little wild and silly with both Schuman and Ku, as we discussed the more outrageous side of life.
Any near-death experiences? Describe your wildest drug experience. Does God exist – why yes/no/who the fuck cares?
Conrad Schuman: “Here is one story that unites these three questions. Living in San Francisco, I had recently broken up with my then girlfriend. I was a bit emotional and wild, I decided to completely revamp my life and pretty much became reckless and wild for a few months. We were playing a show at this place called The Hive in San Francisco, which is a living collective of hackers, coders, entrepreneurs, tech geeks. One thing to know is these guys party hard. Imagine a rooftop, definitely not intended to have anyone there, overcrowded with hundreds of people, easily surpassing the weight limit for this dilapidated structure, loaded up with insane drug-filled parties, mostly people on Molly, with body paint and fire dancing, glow sticks.
“We have these temp tattoos we came up with that said ‘Real Love’ on them. So we decided to go around and apply these to people at the party, very kinky styled. One gal I put this on, some time later invited me to a party, like a small nudist festival in the hills of northern California. Of course, me being wild, I’m all in. I rented a camper van and we went up there for the weekend. Imagine this kind of compound of houses on some land high up in the hills, with little bits of forest and a pool. Night falls, some amazing DJs are playing, there are glow structures and tents all over the place. I tried some of these substances which make you feel very warm and loving. People are naked and free, I see a shooting star.
“Out of the shadows, a guy with a furry head piece, who likes my energy, invites me back to his tent (not like that, at least I didn’t think, or maybe I didn’t care). He opens up one of those bulletproof briefcases from the ‘80s, inside it opens up with many drawers and lights and all kinds of drugs I have never seen anything like this. He was very meticulous with everything labeled and colour coded, with little letters representing his plethora of party supplies. It looked like a venerable alphabet, I would see A, B, C, G, H, L, M, K X, Z, etc. I came to find A = Acid, B = Benzo-something, C = Coke, G = GHB, H = Heroine, L = Lithium, K = Ketamine, X = Xtasy, not sure what Z was, maybe he couldn’t spell and it was Xanax.
“Of course since I’m already properly loose I accept and start mixing things. Some way to escape whatever absence existed inside. What happens next is something next level, that I don’t even believe. First of all, let me just say, I don’t usually do this, and this is an exceptional experience, as well, I absolutely urge anyone considering doing this, not to do this. I’ll explain.
“I’m back at the proverbial dance floor area, nudists, costumed up people with glowing cat eyes, the music is low and bass-driven, almost puppeteering the body. My heart starts racing like not in a good way, I become clammy and start seeing things. Now you may be the type who thinks these kinds of things are merely mind-altering substances at work, but throughout all of this, I remain conscious and become a witness to something beyond. What I witness is a kind of glowing code, which appears on literally everything. Imagine Egyptian hieroglyphics, in complete 3D that look more like a mixture of Japanese Kana, Sumerian cuneiform, Matrix code, mystical spells, and what one could imagine to be Atlantean writing. It becomes more and more intense, and it wraps literally everything, animate or inanimate, from a blade of grass to rocks to people’s faces. It looks like it could be painted on, but you can walk around it and look at it from every aspect, even from behind.
“My heart is still racing, I’m sweating profusely and inside a bit of panic overtakes me, maybe I’ve gone too far and this is the end. I lay down in complete acceptance, shivering at the same time sweating hot. Some people come over, but no one knows what to do, they are petting me and they themselves are out of it, so it’s just like being a flower on a river at this point. I decided to force myself up and walk around. Just then like a bolt of lighting a powerful booming voice echoes inside my body and mind shaking the literal fabric of my being, sending chills all throughout my body.
“‘What are you doing? Who do you think you are? Do you realize you are the culmination of billions of years of creation.’ None of those words were spoken in the human sense, it’s more like a vibration, a knowing, but yet a voice none-the-less. This is where words fail, because these kinds of mystical experiences just can’t be contained in words so well. You hear other people tell you these things, but this was an NDE. My heart was about to give, I had no saliva left, I was vastly overheating and the combination of who knows what and how much I put into my system had taken a drastic turn. The feeling of death overtook me.
“Then a calm came over, ‘let go.’ I instantly knew that I would never be so idiotic and audacious, and at the same time ungrateful for this gift of life. We are beyond fortunate every day just to be here, to exist, to have a relationship with life. How amazing and awe-inspiring life actually is, when the blinders have been removed. You look at the smallest thing and are infused with true ecstasy.”
Stefanie Ku: “That’s a great story and it’ll be hard to follow up on it… Let me attempt to weave one. I had a few close brushes with death. The first I was 16, I had borrowed my mom’s car to have a girls’ day out to San Francisco. On the way back my best friend drove, I took a nap, next thing I was looking at a white Mercedes at a really odd angle and tumbling through the air in slow motion. I flew something like 50 feet and landed on the side of the I-80, with my head a mere few inches from a drain pipe. From this I got a broken shoulder, fractured lumbar spine, a hefty fine for not wearing a seatbelt. Although I couldn’t remember a thing from the time I heard my best friend running towards my body on the side of the highway and being brutally scolded by my mother at the hospital, I felt different, perspective expanded like I had been on a proper NDE journey.
“The second close brush with death was a couple of years later in Hong Kong, I took something I thought was a harmless white powder which turned out to be not so harmless and ended up in a hallucinatory/sleepwalking experience, fell out of a third story balcony, and landed flat on the asphalt below, fractured my spine pretty badly. My father thought I was disturbed so he sent me to recover in a psych ward. For two weeks there I had feverish dreams almost every night, hounded by a being with a burning skull for a head, reddish blond long hair like a Medusa on flames, riding a badass, futuristic chopper. He even had a name, Griffin. Every night there I had to face what I came to recognize as the embodiment of my fears, stood my ground and felt the heat of the flames, until it all stopped.
“I had an incredulous moment years later when I found out about Ghost Rider, they looked almost exactly the same! The third close brush with death came a few years later while scuba diving with my best friend at the time, the same girl I was in the car accident with. We were getting our advanced PADI licenses in Mexico. At a depth of 80 feet, my weight belt dropped, just gone into the depth. I groped around for a brief instant trying to hang on to something or someone, then started to rise up like a helium balloon. It couldn’t have been 20-to 30 seconds, but it felt like a long time to me. I deflated my vest, attempted to empty my lungs multiple times, drank, and savoured some tasty seawater, watched a whole highlight reel of my life, talked to everyone I loved, attempted to communicate to my cat I love him telepathically, etc.
“When I got to the surface, I floated there for a few minutes before others showed up and it was just so calm and surreal. So, no light at the end of the tunnel or anything like that while I came close to death these few times. The more metaphysical and visual experiences came with drugs and meditation. These two are the same in that they are means to mind expansion. I’ll be brief like a haiku. First time Burning Man, riding bike in endless sand, speak with Mushroom God. Gift of San Pedro, meet many faced Hindu Gods, sing for Cactus Sun.”
Have you ever been too wasted to play live? What happened?
Schuman: “I had a band in university, we played this venue on April 20th aka 4-20. My then bass player also played in a reggae band, although you couldn’t tell from looking at him, but also he is a self-professed cultivator of cannabis. In fact, he was growing it in my bedroom, where I would fall asleep to the sound of fans and grow lights illuminating images on the walls. But back to the show. For this show, I wanted to do something bizarre. So I knew a guy who was head of the acting department at the college, he made these gigantic papier mache strange looking heads, like something out of Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal. I thought, let’s freak people out with these.
“Just before the show, the bass player invited us to his car to become infused. I have never been so high. I find my way to the stage, and by the third song my mouth doesn’t seem to say the words so well, my fingers don’t seem to work so well either and just then these gigantic heads come on stage. I can’t remember, but I think I left the stage and the band had to finish the set just jamming and calling it short.”
Schuman: “Just once so far, and not for something that cool, but it has a cool story. It was the middle of the night, maybe 1 am. I was heading out to an afterparty in a college town where I was living at the time. I should mention, at this time I had a Volkswagen Vanagon, you know for moving gear around and camping in the mountains. I go to my car, start the engine, and in the rearview mirror, I see a dark figure rise up. With the speed of a panther I am transported out of the car, my heart has jumped to 140bpm, adrenaline flushing the system. I hear the man inside saying ‘please don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ I muster up what can be reminiscent of testosterone fueled survival instincts from caveman days, my voice drops an octave and I yell, ‘get the fuck out of there!’ The guy comes out, hands up. He broke in and was sleeping in my van.
“Eh, who can blame him. Because I didn’t know what his state of mind was (was he methed out, was he aggressive, was he just humbly looking for a place to sleep and thought, hmm, covered vehicle). I said, I’m calling the police. So I did.
“That was the biggest mistake. The police showed up and questioned me about the incident. I explained what happened. The officer asked for my ID and went back to his cruiser. He comes back a few minutes later, casually walking over to me and says, ‘Mr. Schuman, turn around and place your hands on the vehicle.’ Totally caught off guard, I’m like, no, it was me who called you to report the person sleeping in my van. Maybe he is dangerous, on the prowl and was hiding for good reason. They tell me that I have a warrant out for something so ridiculous, that it’s beyond a waste of time. Some years ago before this incident, I wrote a cheque (remember those) as a teenager, I had switched banks, and the cheque was cashed some year later, but because there was no bank account associated with it, the check bounced.
“Now in Florida, this must be some kind of a big crime, as they call it check fraud. Now the most ridiculous part is, this was all for about 20 dollars. I told them I’ll just pay it now. Nope! I was thrown in the back of the police cruiser, and hauled into jail, did the whole finger prints, mugshot and all. So after they take all my clothes and belongings, give me some slippers and jail garb, I am taken to spend the night in a shared drunk tank with a bunch of definitely more serious offenders. I puff up my chest, pretending like I’m in there for something more serious.
“Now it gets even stranger, I am on a bunk, underneath of me, I hear a voice that I recognize. It’s another guy I know from a local band, a guy I’ve known from literally chewing on a half stick of dynamite in a parking lot, while people scattered, a real idiot. I ask what he’s in for, he said he couldn’t make his child support payment on time, so they took him in. Some other people also piped up and it seemed that a lot of what people were actually in for were offenses related to not being able to pay for things. So in effect, they are in jail because they couldn’t pay not to be in jail. What a corrupt system I began thinking about. Luckily at the time, my girlfriend’s parents were both lawyers and were able to bail me out. But I learned my lesson, avoid this place at all costs.”
Ku: “Yes. I was arrested while pulling into my own driveway in college by the local sheriff. I had heard about fraudulent breathalyzer tests and opted for a blood test. All my friends watched in horror as they took me to jail. I thought I would be given a blood test and be let go, instead was told no blood tests are available until the morning and spent a night in the Santa Barbara jail. The experience was complete with the royal treatment of baton on the cell bars and horrible pastrami sandwiches, which I gladly gave to a transvestite sex worker who was hungry.”
If you could choose, how would you die?
Ku: “Honourably and gracefully.”
Do you bathe on tour? Is it regular? Do you take what you can get and do a wet-nap wipe if there’s no shower?
Ku: “Yes. That’s what gym memberships are for.”
If someone stole all your band’s gear, then you caught the dickwad and no one would ever know what happened next, what would you do to him?
Ku: “Firstly, recover all the gear. Then, give him or her some money or kindness. Discipline or revenge don’t work, rather leave an impression by doing the opposite.”
What scares the absolute shit out of you?
Ku: “More like concerned with and wouldn’t want to be in the presence of: cockroaches and mob mentality.”
You find someone’s wallet in the street. It contains a ton of cash and/or a winning lottery ticket inside and their ID. What do you do?
Schuman: “Try my best to return it to them. I’m a boycott when it comes to these kind of things. I don’t like to take advantage of others, just not in my nature. I’d much rather have the sense of integrity and peace of mind knowing that I was able to relieve this person’s worry and loss. We’re all in this together.
“Once I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving. Earlier that day, we took a walk down by the river, came back home and realized, oh no! I’ve lost my wallet. A few hours later, I get a Facebook message, someone has tried to contact me. Luckily I looked it up, this person found my wallet, in a very obscure place to begin with, on a holiday, and took the time to try and contact me. He was very kind, and had tried many different ways to reach me before; he even came and drove half an hour to deliver it in person, and rejected any reward, just said, glad I could help. This is what the world needs more of, people looking out for one another.”
Ku: “That’s so nice! I would return it too. I found a wallet with 200,000 Japanese yen in it. I returned it to airport security, they looked stunned and I have regretted it. If there’s a do-over I’d keep the wallet and try to find the person to return it to instead of trusting airport security.”
Your instrument/gear (drums, guitar, etc.) has a catastrophic failure on-stage and you have no backup, what do you do?
Schuman: “It has happened before on several different occasions. This is definitely something you need to consider, not just your guitar or amp not working, but the whole PA and if your electronic equipment stops, then it’s good to have redundancies. But let’s say all of that fails, the best thing is to relax, talk to the audience, have fun and entertain however you can. I think people can understand when there is a crash and things are out of your control, and the best is just to go with it, same with life.”
If there were zero repercussions to you, what one thing would you do that’s illegal or morally wrong?
Schuman: “I don’t really have the desire for doing anything morally wrong, but whose morals anyway. Illegal, on the other hand, you wouldn’t believe some of the things which are totally ‘normal’ yet ‘illegal.’ I would have us tour by way of a floating craft like a giant blimp fashioned into a space vehicle and we just cruise over different towns and cities, beam lights down on people.
“True story. Stef and I rented some roller skates in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We rode all around, and I decided, hey, let’s go inside the Academy of Sciences Museum on roller skates (why? the floor is so smooth). So we both rode around in there, for quite a while, until of course one security staff approaches and says, ‘I’m sorry you can’t skate in here.’ I replied, ‘why not?’ She says, ‘you just can’t.’ I say, ‘I didn’t read any sign prohibiting it, no one is in danger, no one is complaining, is it just too out of the ordinary for you that you have to stop it?’ Of course, this is the rebel Conrad questioning authority as usual, but in a more playful way. Eventually it becomes less fun to be there so we take off.”
Ku: “I think now I find it more gratifying to just be a free soul instead of singling out things to be a rebel to. I’d love to be able to feel free enough to seize any opportunity, like if there’s an opportunity to jump out of a plane with a parachute, drive as fast as you can on the autobahn, wander into the canyons with nothing but some warm cloths and a hammock, dive off a bridge into some pristine river, board a flight with no luggage, etc.”
If you weren’t a musician or totally in love with your job, you’d be…
Schuman: “Trying to figure out the mysteries of life and the cosmos, attempting to exceed beyond our current limitation. So, paranormal microbiological nano-technological sciences… or something like that.”
Ku: “I might want to pursue esoteric philosophies and human potential stuff.”
How often have you/do you pirate music? What about movies and TV shows?
Ku: “I never pirated music. Except, when I had a minidisc player and it was just really fun to use it to rip cheesy theme songs off anime DVDs. But seriously, I’m not a fan of pirating. I searched for torrents for underground films that weren’t available to rent or purchase anywhere, and sometimes for PDFs of musical score or books, but only as a last resort.”
What is your stance on the legalization of marijuana?
Schuman: “Like most things, let people decide. Personally I say legalize it, don’t criticize it. It’s already legal in many states in the U.S., something I thought unlikely. I don’t think drugs need to yield capital punishment. In fact, we should be open to expanding our consciousness and experimenting with altered states. Perhaps we as a people would come to the obvious understanding of reality a bit sooner, that we are all connected and part of a beautiful machine, rather than trying to control people for power and the illusion of safety.”
When was the last time you cried and why?
Ku: “Well, I’ll tell you the last time I cried and was really sad while watching a movie. It was this movie Archive, in it a robot ended her own life and it made me really, really sad.”