The Foundling Wheel: Spinning the Wheel of Fortune

Sonically nihilistic, <b>The Foundling Wheel</b> is Edinburgh’s premier one-man octave cranker. But, during a chat with the amiable Ted Koterwas, <b>Billy Hamilton</b> discovers appearances can be a lot more than just deceptive

Feature by Billy Hamilton | 27 Jul 2009

Quietly supping beer on a sun-drenched Edinburgh afternoon, Ted Koterwas is curiously relaxed company. Elegantly spoken, his courteous demeanour makes it almost impossible to believe he’s the creative force behind The Foundling Wheel’s decibel-notching racket. In fact, so stark is the contrast between this daytime persona and his writhing stage-bound contractions, The Skinny’s beginning to question whether he suffers from an unchecked strain of rock star bi-polarity.

“Having an outlet for rage is something I need,” explains Koterwas with a flash of gnashers that belies the sentiment. “It’s a Jekyll and Hyde thing. I need an outlet, but I put it into something that’s productive rather than destructive. Being aggressive is satisfying and I want that chaos around me in music, so it’s going to happen regardless.”

Born in Arizona, Koterwas spent his youth shadowing his military engineer father; hopscotching around New York, Kansas, Panama, Virginia, and Colorado before eventually settling in San Francisco. As a privately trained percussionist, his schoolboy heart was sold on the concrete career path of a life in the studio but, boys being boys, those good intentions were quickly swayed by punk’s lurid advances and Koterwas’s incurable appetite for noise.

“There were a lot of experimental bands in San Francisco and that stirred my interest,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in the idea of bands who were, at one time, very much on the edge and are now considered mainstream. There’s a real desire on my part to be noisier than what is acceptable. I want to be pushing harder than what’s out there.”

After relocating to Edinburgh three years ago, Koterwas immediately sought out the periphery he craved, scouring Auld Reekie’s dank hovels for like-minded souls. But, as a one man blister of bit-crushed bass, candy-wrapped melody and merciless drumbeat, The Foundling Wheel eased into the city’s feather quilted alt-folk scene with the subtlety of a torpedo to the anus. Unsurprisingly, the settling-in period was far from smooth:

“Looking back on it I could have done more research into the scene, but instead I just went out a lot to try and find music I could relate to,” he concedes. “I found that there was a fairly hardcore experimental/improvisational noise scene and there was an indie scene but there wasn’t much that crossed over. I think that’s changed quite a bit now; there’s more margin-walking between the two.”

Being caught between the noise sect’s rock and the (not so) hard place of the folky hoards weighed heavy on Koterwas’s shoulders, almost inciting a premature disbandment during what he describes as a “winter of discontent” last year. But the two factions’ strengthening coalition has developed an attentive audience looking to expand its risk-based approach to sound consumption. Today, The Foundling Wheel’s fare has never been higher.

“I think the surroundings have become more accommodating,” explains Koterwas. “I’m probably on the very harsh edge of an experimentalism that’s becoming more mainstream in Edinburgh. There are people who really like what I do, then there are people who clearly don’t, or just don’t know what to make of it, and where they stand is apparent on their faces when I play. In some ways that’s deliberate, that’s the way I approach music - trying to mix extremes.”

By actualising the sound of urban decay and smashing it deadweight into unprepared lugs, The Foundling Wheel’s 2008 debut LP was an agitated, abrasive clang that screamed ‘acquired taste’. Now hip with the in-crowd — he's part of Edinburgh music collective Bear Scotland, has recorded local wailers Dead Boy Robotics and organises collaborative shows under the VERSUS tagline — Koterwas is determined to ensure his future endeavours won’t succumb to the mainstream bear-trap:

“I would love to be adored by millions of people but I’m not willing to pander to make that happen,” he declares. “I don’t want it to pull me in a direction that I don’t consider authentic. I’m interested in music as an art form and I want to make music that pushes the edge. The best definition of success I can think of is gaining the respect of my peers.”

The Foundling Wheel plays Pivo Pivo, Glasgow on 18 Aug.