Let’s be real. The word “dirge” isn’t all that appealing. Setting aside it’s aethestic ickiness, it’s also a bit, well, literal, at least when applied to our little corner of the universe. While brothers and sisters of the heaviest cloth tend to gravitate towards the morose and funereal, literalism isn’t usually a good look. In fact, in this particular case, it’s usually associated with post-nu regional strugglers, the kind that opens for Sevendust at your strip-mall sports bar.
This is a different kind of Dirge.
Spawned back in ’94, Dirge has since sprawled away the harsh, industrialized clang of their early days. At their sixth LP, Hyperion, they’ve come to a humming rest at a post-metal intersection where late Godflesh / early Jesu thwomp awaits collision with the bleak reflection of Process of Guilt. It’s an ethereal, enveloping take on a well-shaken vibe, one that captured the attention of both the often-corpsepainted Debemur Morti and the seldom-corpsepainted Ian Chainey.
He threw Dirge five questions. They hurled back five answers.
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Every Dirge release seems to take a leap forward in sound and progression. To what do you attribute this restlessness? Is there an underlying drive to keep taking chances? Will Dirge ever settle into a groove or do you see every release as a chance to reboot and grow?
LUZ: I think that each time, a new release sets a specific period of our lives. We grow up and learn about life everyday, so naturally our music grows up with us and is in constant mutation.
STEPHANE: If there’s an “underlying drive” in our way to make music, it’s mainly the (unconscious) will to develop our creative vision by trying new things, new stuctures, new atmospheres etc, and most of all, not making the same record twice.
And in another hand, we’ve got to keep our own identity. So, as you can guess, moving forward while keeping our very own essence is a tough equation; it’s the same story for every band, I think, but some of them achieve this challenge better than other. So yes, you can see it as driving force, but we never start writing music telling ourself “let’s do this that way, differently, because it’s new for us”; this would put creative barriers, it would shrink our artistic vision and everything would then become unnatural and artificial. It’s far more unconscious. We imagine things, write the music and let everything flow its way. And I think it’s worked so far.
Considering how far you’ve come since 1994’s Infected Brain Machine, are there any past choices — be it compositionally or musicianship-wise — that make you cringe? If you could take a time machine back to those instances, what would you tell yourself?
STEPHANE: Honestly, there is nothing we did we regret today. Simply because what we are today is the sum of everything we did in the past: good things and bad things, clever choices and weak choices. Our musical evolution had to pass through different stages and also there have been several (unconscious) experiments that we had to taste. Everything that has been done during these 20 years fell under a notion of need. And there’s nothing we’re ashamed of, there’s no albums or tracks we hate. It’s all about temporal contexts.
Do you mind taking me through Hyperion’s construction? Specifically, with the guest spots, did you write with those performers in mind? How open are you to outside contributors and how does that affect the band dynamic?
STEPHANE: We usually don’t have any precise idea about the singing parts (even our own) when we start crafting new tracks. Voices (and lyrics) come at the end, before entering the studio. So no, we first didn’t think about any future guests. It came slowly; we thought about singers then contacted them. Everything is really simple.
Our good friend Nicolas Dick (from Kill The Thrill) who sings on “Floe” is not a newcomer in our universe as he already sang on our two previous records. For Tara, it was my idea, as I’ve been a huge fan of Lycia for ages. I always knew her ethereal voice would perfectly fit with our massive guitars. I was sure this would give a very interesting “clair-obscur” rendering. We’re very used to asking external people to join Dirge, whether it be for singing of playing instruments (trumpet, violin, didjeridoo, guitar…). For the vocals, we generally let the singers do their own stuff, as we want them to completely take over the song, in order to bring their own personal touch.
LUZ: The interesting thing with external stakeholders that it allows us to integrate–within our music–new feelings with guest’s very own visions. This allows us to obtain mixtures of styles that create some truly “magic” atmospheres.
Hyperion, while displaying gorgeous moments of transcendence, has its fair share of wrenching sludge. What’s it like to get into that mindset, when you know you have to make the listener feel pain? And, does it ever become too much? Is Dirge always on your mind or do you?compartmentalize and leave Dirge behind when practice/performing ends?
STEPHANE: It’s random according to every person in this band. Personaly, Dirge is always somewhere in a corner of my head, whether it be for creation or for more pragmatic stuff like concert searches. So the band (and music in general) is always with me in my everyday life.
But to answer your first question, we’re not doing music to make people suffer. We don’t tell ourselves, when writing and composing, that we have to be the heaviest and gloomiest as possible. This is not our aim. We make the music we want to listen to and this can take several different shapes: heaviness, darkness, ethereal, noisy, ambient, melodic… We don’t put any boundaries with Dirge, we go where we want to go, try what we want and need to try, no matter the final result. I think this is the key.
Dirge has been in the game for quite some time now. What advice, if any, do you have for up-and-comers? What’s the best way to achieve longevity while maintaining a coherent artistic vision?
LUZ: I’d say “just do it!”
Don’t think about audience and be always happy when you play your music.
STEPHANE: You just have to accept the idea of survival and follow your own path, no matter the fashions, bad surprises, or strokes of bad luck. And most of all, to accept all the sacrifices that driving a band requires. But it’s worth trying.
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