Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Interview: Scar Symmetry

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to a band of one of my favorite metal bands to appear in recent times. Scar Symmetry have always been a busy unit straying from the usual and making their own recipe with music and lyrics. With The Singularity albums coming up and getting fans all giddy, I spoke to Per Nilsson, the guitarist and head man for Scar Symmetry as he gives us some insight on what the band have been up to.
~Matthew Clewley

MRD: How has everything at Scar Symmetry been going so far? It seems like everything has fallen into your own hands now?

Per: Yeah that's right, when Jonas left the band last year I had to take on all of the music composing and production responsibilites myself. It was as much a daunting task as it was very liberating to seize control of the creative process! 

How have you coped being the only songwriter for Scar Symmetry whilst being in other musical projects?

I'm not involved as much in my other projects, for example I don't write anything at all in Kaipa. But having to compose, record, produce, mix and master the entire Scar Symmetry album was a LOT of work, so during the almost full-year of working on the album I had to take time off from my other projects. The Absence went on tour without me, and Kaipa had to wait to finish up their new album until I had finished mastering the Scar Sym album.

How have the other members of Scar Symmetry felt about you writing the songs? Have they had any input of their own into the songwriting or have they been easygoing?

They haven't been involved much at all on the previous albums so it wasn't really a big difference for them. Henrik wrote the lyrics as he's done for all our albums, but music-wise I have written each and every note that's being sung or played on this album. Everyone seems content with his place in the band, it's just a super-chill easy-going bunch of dudes!

How long did it take you to learn and play everything like you do now?

I started playing the guitar when I was ten, and somewhere in my early twenties I had reached the technical level where I'm at today, though I've continued to learn, evolve and deepen my knowledge up to this day. So it has been an ongoing journey from I was ten up until now, really. I'm hoping to keep on maturing and evolving as a musician, composer and producer, I'm not one to rest on my laurels.

What was the first ever song you played on guitar?

I have no idea, it's a loooooong time ago, haha! But some of the early stuff that I jammed to was Iron Maiden, Metallica, Dio, Accept... This was in the mid-80s so basically it was right around these bands' glory days - 'Powerslave', 'Ride the Lightning', 'The Last in Line', 'Metal Heart', all good stuff!

Did your taste of music alter whilst you learned how to play?

It didn't change as much as it did expand. I was ten when I started listening to metal, but during the years that followed I was exposed to a lot of different sorts of music, from friends, guitar teachers, my parents and my older brother, so even though I was mostly drawn to metal music I listened a lot to stuff like The Beatles, The Doors, U2, and Pink Floyd, and by my late teens I had started to listen to both jazz/fusion and classical music. I'm just a huge fan of music, and I have always strived to understand what I'm listening to, both the music theory of it and also how to actually play the stuff.

The Singularity signature guitar is a beautiful thing. was the guitar exactly to your perfection? And how many of them have been sold?

We actually haven't launched the guitar yet! We're working on a second prototype right now in order to finalize the exact specifications of the production model. The first prototype is pretty much one of the most amazing instruments I've ever played, but there are a few minor adjustments that I'm looking forward to try before we settle on the exact specs. 

I can guess being a guitarist is your favorite part of being in a band, but what is your favorite band related activity to do behind the scenes of music production?

I really, really love the whole production and recording process, as well as the songwriting process. It's like you are in a music laboratory where you make the music of your fantasies manifest into reality! The business sides of being in a band isn't nearly as much fun, it can be quite energy-consuming to be honest. 

Could you explain what each of the 3 stages of The Singularity trilogy are about? 

The first part deals with the emergence of the new technologies like cloning, cryonics, robotics, androids, bioenhancements, artificial intelligence and so on, and how these technologies are being used by a malevolent elite to impose their idea of a new world order. Basically, they develop a new race of super-humans called the 'Neohumans', which is humans who modify their bodies with various strange components and use brain-computer interfaces to access higher levels of intelligence. This creates great unrest in the world because there will be a lot of people who for different reasons oppose these new technologies - and eventually this will lead to all-out war in between these fractions.

Are Henrik's views on Transhumanism and other types of manipulation and alteration to the human body wrote as lyrics for this album?

The lyrics are very much based on the works of Ray Kurzweil, like his book 'The Singularity Is Near', but whereas Kurzweil is an optimist, Henrik has painted a much more bleak and dystopic picture of our future.

The futuristic element of Scar Symmetry has always been a main appeal to me as well as your other fans, but what was a main critisism that you received, if any?

Haha I wouldn't know where to start, especially in regards to all the criticism I read on Facebook, YouTube and similar places. Everyone has their own opinion on what it is that sucks the most about the band, haha! Some people hate growl vocals, some hate clean vocals, some hate synthesizers, some think the songwriting is lame. Some people wants us to bring back Christian or Jonas, others are happy about the lineup changes. While most of these criticisms are valid to the one person posting his comment, it's not something that I really can take into account when writing and producing music for the band - my main objective will always be to first and foremost satisfy my own musical tastes, and no matter what we do there will never be a way in which we can really please everyone, so that's not really something to strive for. If you dig our music, that makes me super happy and humbled, and if you don't like it, well, you should check out some other bands instead, no hard feelings, hehe!

Are Scar Symmetry a band you can't compare other bands to when it comes to lyrical content and songwriting?

I think we have carved ourselves a little niche of our own with a sound and a style that is unmistakingly ours, and I'm very proud of that. I'm not saying that we are super unique or anything - there certainly is parts of our music that are obviously influenced by other bands and artists, but I think that the way we mix things up is a bit unusual.

Cryonic Harvest has gotten the attention that in my eyes it deserves, how does this make you feel as a person, and also, as a band completely?

The fact that the singles and the album have mostly been extremely well-received is really blowing my mind, and it is a HUGE relief! I've been working on this album for over a year and really given it my everything, I've put in countless hours - much more than any previous album - and to see it really hitting home with our fans is just the best feeling in the world. I don't really mind there being a few people being disappointed with the album as long as there are all these people who really 'get' what we wanted to say with 'Neohumanity'.

What fresh faced guitarists are out there that have caught your eye at the moment? Any you would love to collaborate with?

A up-and-coming player that I like a lot is Benjamin Ellis from UK melodeathsters Bloodshot Dawn, that guy is super talented. He actually filled in for me when I had to sit out a few dates earlier this year due to a family situation. Amazing player and his band is really cool too.

Do you still keep in contact with Christian Alvestram? Would you ever wish to reunite him with Scar Symmetry in the future?

I haven't really had any contact with him since we fired him, and since we live several hours from each other we don't randomly bump in to each other either. He did some pretty uncool things when he was in the band, and I don't ever want to deal with that kind of stuff again, so it's not likely that we would work together again. He seems to be doing alright anyways with his multitude of projects - most of which I think are really great.

Have you ever had a bad run in with a band you admire? Were they not as nice as you expected them to be?

I'm happy to say that most of the people I've met have been really cool. The exception has most often been the lead vocalists, haha! Great vocal skill seems to be proportionally related to inflated ego... though there certainly are a lot of exceptions!

Do you think the line up you have now is a settled one and will stick together?

I really hope so! I think we are an incredibly strong unit right now and I would hate to see anyone go. We're using session players for the second guitar player spot but at some point we might add an official, permanent guitar player.

Piracy has taken it's toll on the financial side of the music industry. As a musician, what are your views on this matter?

We haven't made the leap into doing the band full-time, which makes us sort of immune towards some of that - everyone keeps a day job which means that any money we make from the band is sort of a bonus, and not something we depend on to sustain ourselves and our families. One of the upsides of having our career setup like this is that we never have to make business decisions that would compromise our art, and we don't have to tour more than we find enjoyable.

Do you plan on touring the wonderful little island called the UK when everything is complete, or do you have other musical commitments?

I'm pretty sure we'll come back to the UK in 2015, we've done a couple of UK tours the past couple of years and it's always such a good time! We were actually planning to go on an Euro tour - UK included - early next year but we had to scrap the plans when we learned that Roberth is becoming a first-time father around that time. Family will always be more important than music so we're postponing all of our touring plans until at the very earliest Summer 2015.

When it comes to live performance, having two singers is becoming more common with metal bands, especially with harsh and clean vocals. What is it like performing with two singers? 

Well we did tour a bit with our previous singer, who really struggled keeping his voice together. It's not easy doing all the growling every night and then try pulling off the clean vocals, especially the stuff that is using the higher register. He did have decent nights on occasions, but most of the time, he couldn't reach the highest notes and he sang out-of-pitch a lot, to the point where people from other bands and the crew told us we should hire someone else to do the clean vocals.

When we decided to fire Christian, going for a two-vocalist approach was a given. A funny fact that not everyone know is that Roberth and Lars are friends since a long, long time - they've been in bands together in the past, though Lars played drums back then. They never compete for the spotlight on stage - instead, they feed off of each other's energy, performing as a tight duo and you can just tell they are having a lot of fun with it. Off stage, they are two of the coolest, sweetest dudes you'll ever meet - there's just zero diva bullshit about them!

Last question, in a sentence, how would you describe what a live Scar Symmetry performance would be like?

If you attend a Scar Symmetry show, you will experience a best-of-Scar-Symmetry setlist - we pretty much always play songs from all of our albums - performed by a bunch of smiling Swedish goofballs, and you will be encouraged to sing along to the songs!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

JC & The Nobodies - Ish

James Murphy said he's obsessed with where songs are coming from, 'a place', 'a moment' - and it's that self-investment which allows ones expression to bring songwriters to their knees in emotional anguish. Songwriters can bring their listeners to tears through the beauty of music, or a heart-throbbing story of pain which has an iconic reflection of the listener. Murphy did this well with his songs, but not to the extent of scathing lyricists such as Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Arthur Russell, and to some extent, Morrissey. They gut you; they tear that beating organ inside you apart with their own daggers of wisdom. Stories of loss, depression, greed, and anonymity within a society which moves so fast even David Byrne is unable attract people’s attention. The truth is, things do fall apart - and the beauty of that moment is the deliverance of a body of work - a Pink Moon, an Either/Or, an Ish.

James Clayton's repertoire consists of blatant sad songs. You may not be susceptible to feel the feels, but with Clayton and his pseudonym Crywank it's pretty hard not to. He speaks the songs you're too macho to write, the songs of his predecessors Drake and Smith, with personalised stories from a place, a moment - "Baby Self Absorbed". Clayton starts this release with a simple, almost sweet song sounding like Justin Vernon on the layered vocals, and a voice in the dark with the lyrics: "It's a guilt trip, to know me." And that's it, two minutes gone - a reasonably long time for a Clayton song if I may add. But that's doubled with "Dan Have You Watched Blue Streak Yet?" a gritty, powerful track musically with distorted guitars driven primarily down the left channel.

Clayton's song titles have often left listeners baffled while searching Google - from the American Beauty ridden "The Only Way I Could Save Myself Now Is If I Started Firebombing" / "It's Ok, I Wouldn't Remember me Either", to The Simpsons' "Deep Down I'm Really Kirk Van Houten". Clayton likes to use fictional characters to represent his feelings in a more visual sense - the apathetic Lester Burham, and the feeling borrower Kirk Van Houten. This is how Clayton wants us as listeners to react. He uses others to signify his feelings through song - which is then passed on to audiences to reflect our feelings through Clayton. 

Musically, Ish is more experimental. It's been slapped under the title JC & The Nobodies as a solo body of work to distinguish it from his work with Crywank which now boasts two other members. This allows Clayton space to go back to his roots and start fresh with his guitar and self-producing skills without help - straight from the man himself. "Lucky and Wasteful" opens with the initial Crywank sound - a pounding guitar playing three chords over and over. The vocals here are edited to sound jagged and rough over quite a relaxing instrumental.  This is backed by the layered backing vocals where oooo's can be heard to the surprise of the lyrical content: "Sing about bad decisions, ignore good advice." /I know I don't deserve this." Again, an Arthur Russell comparison comes up with "Treehorn" with the reverberated guitar and estranged instrumental which follows - again reflected on the final track "Comfort" with a more sinister dependent on chord progression. 

There's no escaping a Clayton release having heard the previous three Crywank albums. Ish however is differently in style. "Baby Self Absorbed" is actually melancholic and wouldn't sound out of place on an Elliot Smith album - while "Dan Have You Watched Blue Streak Yet?" gives Clayton a whole new dimension with distortion. But it's really the closer "Comfort" attracting me to Ish. There’s a feeling of sorrow even before Clayton has said a word, and that's very important on these 'sad' style releases. When the vocals kick in, the audience is left with a summary of Ish  - "Is it the pain that keeps me going, is it the love that makes me stop," leaving  you wondering where the song has come from, which place, which moment.
~Eddie Gibson