We never notice the final breath we take before we fall asleep, yet we can rationally assume that there is a point between a measured inhale and exhale, a point where wakefulness surrenders itself into the dreamworld of the subconscious. Hopes, fears, and memories all swim aimlessly together in a hazy soup of impression and feeling. Love, hate, anger, sadness, regret, anticipation, indignation, and the entirety of the emotional spectrum engulf the raw data our brains have taken in (as well as concocted on their own) over the span of our lives up to those final moments of consciousness. However, without the immediate mindfulness present to sort through the fog, these emotions are free to attach themselves to memories or ambitions as they see fit. Have you had a dream where you awoke to not knowing why you feared someone you have otherwise trusted your entire life? Of course, the fear of betrayal is always, at the very least, the tinge of a possibility in such a relationship; yet within the scope of the dream it feels like something of a more potent and immediate nature, if simply because our subconscious can’t (or won’t) distinguish from what our conscious minds can filter.
First of all, thanks for the opportunity to shed a bit more light on your music. I’ve always found 夢遊病者 fascinating in that there are undeniably central themes and ideas that the band is working from, yet the final product always feels like a breadcrumb trail of sketches and clues. The music is certainly poetic in its ability to spark the interpretive imagination. I almost don’t want to know and not have the mystery spoiled, but I have to ask: If you were to pick one singular central theme for the band — the seed idea, if you will — what would that be?
Thank you so much for the kindness, and for the opportunity to expand on this very strange phenomenon. The central point of influence of 夢遊病者 — or at least, the root — is people, real people that once lived, or continue to live. Their experiences, fears, joys, pain, and kind of the compass their experiences land on both from a psychological point of view and a contextually historical one — the prism of their experience in relation to the world. Some of those experiences are tragic, horrid, negative; some are steeped in humor, sheer absurdity, synchronicity; some are driven by the need to create in the bleakest and brightest of moments. What spawns out of all of it is a lesson, or introspection, some sort of understanding (or lack-thereof) of the contradictions or systems they might hold in the day-to-day. Some sort of cathartic onomatopoeia is made from a melding of this. Memory and dream, reality or some sort of perceived fiction, a blurring of lines in many respects when it comes to what you hear and see. All in all, it’s not meant to be prescriptive, just descriptive. Observation of an observation. The deeper in the rabbit hole you go, the more you find some empathy in it all, or maybe disgust. As long as it gets a sincere emotional reaction.
Can you expand on the people, past or present, that find themselves woven into your records? What are some of the more tragic examples? The more humorous? The most absurd? And how would you describe the process by which the band translates their experiences into music?
One story is the source of the cover for 一期一会: This fucked-up car on the front cover is my father’s. He and my grandfather were driving down the highway when a drunk soldier (returning home from a bender?) swerved into them from the oncoming lane. Glass, steel, pieces of debris [were] everywhere. My father was behind the wheel, and my grandfather was in the passenger seat. They walked away unscathed, somehow, but my great aunt in the back wasn’t so “lucky,” unfortunately. The soldier was left whole, as well.
It was an ode to my father, in a way, to empathize with his experience. Imagining myself living through it, the emotional weight. He doesn’t talk about it much, and we, as a family, are quite private — but it was a way of “owning the pain,” in a way.
The track-listing is a parallel to superstitions and actions / responses to those superstitions that are common for my [family], and other Eastern European families; we sit for the road before heading out for a long trip: If you forget something, and you must return to get it from your house — you must glance into the mirror; when you greet someone, you never shake their hand or embrace through a threshold of a door; you can never celebrate your birthday early, as it is a bad omen; you never show on yourself an ailment when describing it, you blow it away like the wind. And you never, ever clink glasses when you honor the memory of someone that has passed on. (There is an episode of the Sopranos where they exhibit this phenomenon quite well). This absurd ingrained programming, so to speak, follows us, some more than others. Is luck real? Is karma real? What force decides? Is there a system? Why did people create this mythos? Do we manifest the bad or the good based on this kind of programming?
Much of it, as you see, is self-examination. Asking whether we are, truly, free from our “mental cockroaches (тараканы, or emotional+psychological baggage),” from childhood conditioning, religious doctrine, things we think we see or hear or read. Again, being “aware” of it, do we mark ourselves with it? Much of these omens center with sickness and death, the prime motivator of fear, of control (self or otherwise), so it’s interesting to be conscious of that apparent mystical air, or lack thereof. The music is a reflection of this: “Was that intentional? All those noises I hear, are they real, or manifested?” Is there really any difference if you’ve manifested it? Does it legitimize it anyway? The cultural play there is interesting, as well, because you find parallels to other cultures that share rituals that are geographically far apart. Like all the mythos with the “evil eye,” for example. That cultural criss-cross is on one of our shirts, actually! This idea of carrying a “protective talisman.” Does it do more harm than good? This kind of “cultural-synchronicity” is a big influence on the way I write. If it makes an appearance, it’s an omen (good or bad). I make a mental or handwritten note to not forget.
As far as humor, there is plenty of it. Read the lyrics to our split song with Sutekh Hexen: On the surface the driving force behind our side on the 7″ is a lot of Italian lore, specific statues in specific church courtyards (this goes deeper), but the central figure of the track is the guy that lived at that coordinate address. He plays a big part in the evolution and growth of this band: It is an ode to him, an ode to his hometown in the art, to his own upbringing. We have to recognize our own art dealers from the 13th century and give them praise and thanks. I made a point to sing this in Italian for a reason. That guy gets a lot of shit, and we laugh about it. The song is about him getting a lot of shit from people that essentially don’t know him very well. Kind of owning the absurdity. As you see, “ownership” is a bit of a theme. And the fact that Good goes hand in hand with the Bad.
The implications of karma or fate lead to an assumption of predestination — where do you fall in your observations? Looking inward, would you say you feel that your art is something that is created? Or something that you discover?
That’s a very good question. In a way, it’s both. There are parts that I hear before I even kind of “formally” sit down to write, if that makes sense. Stream-of-consciousness type of notes litter my phone and around my work desk, anywhere I can write down an approach to a texture, a melody, a noise; things I read about — almost like picking up pieces for a mixed media collage or stage direction to a shot in a movie, picking out colors for a painting. I’m not always certain where this “intuition” will lead and whether it’s intuition or predisposition, as you say, at all. Synapses of the everyday kind of drive a song forward, whether it’s an innocent conversation about something completely mundane or a heated discussion about something creative with friends or peers.
There is a certain solace in knowing that no matter if you are a hobbyist musician, or someone doing music professionally, you will have a point of struggle with your creation, no matter “your level” of commitment, probably even more so if you are really committed. And this plays across creative disciplines — writing, art, filmmaking. It kind of unites us in that way, almost also indirectly acts as a propulsion engine for creation.
So curiosity definitely consumes a big part of that — being open to challenge yourself, to change. Musicians have a fear of risk, pressure, a performance anxiety they put on themselves to “write a certain way.” Some try to tap into what was “seemingly successful” the previous go around (whatever that means). You almost have to be “zen” to counteract this. What does the silence tell you, when you are most focused? There are a lot of opinions, a lot of noise, so you have to have a good filter for what you feel you are trying to accomplish. “Vision” is something that gets tossed around. So there is a balance in the listening and the doing, in the discovery and in the execution, because if you listen too closely to the outside, you end up mimicking it. If you don’t listen or hone your ears and eyes and all senses enough, you run the risk of not having focus — so it’s definitely a balance. A singular fear, at least for me personally, is that “the spark” might disappear one day, whether from lack of practice of the “craft,” or lack of anything new to say. I’ll bow out gracefully, though. I think self-awareness in that regard (and in every regard) is essential: You have to know when it’s over and go on your own terms, in the very least.
One of the reasons 夢遊病者 leaned heavily on guests on this new album [Noč Na Krayu Sveta], besides it feeling natural for the parts that were envisioned, is that it created more alleyways of thought, of expression, a new dynamic in what seemed possible. “Genre music” has a tendency to build up these self-imposed artificial constructs and constraints, unfortunately to its detriment. “Free your mind and your ass will follow,” and all that. It won’t really have any choice. Having “legitimate” musicians involved also plays with pressure in a way. It forces you to be choosy as to why you made those choices, be committed to them, all the while it takes a bit of the pressure off, because if they are sincerely “into it,” it legitimizes it in a way. Those guest parts weren’t written out, for example, all that was said was — “go wild” [and] “follow your intuition”.
William Friedkin talked about this in his documentary. He hated multiple takes; he wanted the natural inclination of the actor, what they would do in that moment, almost what they would do in “real life.” He wouldn’t even tell them he’s rolling some / most of the time so he can get the most innate take. Perfectionism cannibalizes that notion at times, makes us all self-obsessed with getting it immaculate instead of getting it “just right.” Metal is utopia in that way. Which, again, could be quite cool, a certain unattainable fantasy that we all fetishize, but at the end of the day, you are eventually awakened to reality. That’s another point of balance: Knowing you are making something out of thin air with music, and that creation transforming into a new reality. Touches of that “perfect unreality” in a harmony here and there give the natural an otherworldly quality and spice, but again it’s a balanced play, in my humble opinion. There must be intention, even if it’s “free” and improvised. At some point, the passive observer has to make haste or take action. That’s the output of the creation in that way, to enact some sort of connection or response in others. Otherwise, it’s all futile.
There is an idiom directly from my mother-in-law on this record — translated to something akin to “Have You Not Had Enough?” Meaning: Don’t take this world and the experience in it for granted; have you not all fulfillment? The act of recognizing your experience and striving to mold it into something is that action — so the discovery and the action ends up going hand-in-hand. Where the influence of the inward meets the outward world — that’s the point of intersection in that predestination, I imagine.
I’m glad you brought up the collage comparison! While the music of 夢遊病者 has always had that abstract feel, what with the menagerie of influences and stylistic blends, to me Noč Na Krayu Sveta really expands on that concept — the music itself comes across a lot less linear than the already stream-of-conscious spirit of prior releases. Would you say this is a goal for 夢遊病者, or just for Noč Na Krayu Sveta in particular? What other avenues do you wish to explore to further transcend the bounds of genre music and free yourself from constrictive thought patterns?
Every 夢遊病者 release is a bit of a microcosm of a larger world, almost like scenes in a film. Each arc, or part, calls for its own scoring, its own foley, its own, hopefully unique, take on what is “visually” or literally imagined. The concept of each release is predetermined first (back to your previous question), at least what person is the starting point for the idea, and then it kind of expands outwards. For Noč Na Krayu Sveta, I knew who I wanted to write about, and I knew that to do so, there will need to be a duality in the songs, a balance and counterbalance. They are reflections of each other: One is brutish, cold, cryptic, self-protective, and menacing; the other is self-sacrificing, open, kind, and takes strides to heal the world around them. They are interpretations of a certain kind of “strength” or “will” within humans and humanity, but they also kind of can’t exist without the other, which makes this “greater” more dynamic whole. How will these two live through a cataclysmic event? How will their experiences differ? Hence the name of the record: Night at the Edge of the World, the idea that, come nighttime, there could be exhilarating things that happen, filled with ecstasy and joy, and inversely, with tragedy, insurmountable pain, total inexplicable darkness. That is why the songs are equal in length, and even that was a certain serendipity.
These songs have conscious and subconscious “movements” (as they are usually called, in my understanding). It challenges the listener, for better or for worse, to commit and invest the time to hear it. Those movements and scenes have “new” color: Some shadow of a creature playing violin outside the window as gusts of wind and rain pummel the glass, or a sharp boisterous voice in the form of a flute as people dance inside.
In a way, if you start asking yourself, “Is this Heavy Metal?” “Is this Jazz?” “Etc?!” while listening to this album, then the album completely failed in, my opinion — because, in totality, the aim isn’t to dissect this or that part of the painting or collage, but to kind of succumb to it. We definitely don’t want to tell anyone how to — or in what manner to — listen to these records. Even more so, this interview is hopefully only a sliver of a reveal of the intention behind the creation [because even in this regard, it’s part of the discovery, even for us, per your last question]. Our singular aim is a certain catharsis of the onlooker, the listener — the experience of it as a whole and (hopefully) the range of emotions it evokes. This is a tall order. Some just want to headbang or air-guitar or air-drum to this, and if we managed that — amazing! If people choose to dig deeper, “there’s gold in them thar hills.”
For awhile, there was a consideration to do a short-format film for both sides of the record, almost a companion piece to the music; ultimately we want people to create their own visuals in their minds, as that would probably be far less singular than a concrete video.
I was watching 48 Hrs. last night and James Horner’s soundtrack for that movie is everything, both that one and Another 48 Hrs. It is off-kilter, groovy, funky, menacing, noisy. When I first watched this movie, I remember feeling a certain unease with how it was scored, [but] in a good way. The film parts that were mundane even carried a looming air to them. And you laugh — the movie is fucked up in that way. On the surface it’s sold as a buddy-cop comedy, but it’s brutal and quite relentless in certain parts. But the whole time you are watching it, you’re not trying to figure out the genre: You are totally in for all the strange vibes that it gives off, especially for all those vibes. This morning I started reading up on the movie again, and I found this passage:
“From the start, [Walter] Hill [director] envisioned a more improvisational film than he’d ever before created. “The story is a traditional urban thriller: two terrible guys are out there and have to be brought down,” he said. “But even though I enjoy working in genres, the point is always to explode them or give them a transfusion. So I made a very conscious decision to go with the elements of personality of the two players, rather than be overly genuflective to the narrative.”
And I thought about this question that you sent last night. It also felt synchronous. The idea is to explode these concepts of genre; it’s probably the only honest way people can wholeheartedly enjoy music again and again, at least in my humble opinion.
The new album that is being worked on now is fucked up in that way. It’s another turn in that scene, so to speak. I think people will say it’s very “stripped down,” but then again, I can never guess those things. A Western, filmed in Lebanon, maybe?
You mentioned each release being an arc; I always find myself recommending new listeners start with 5772 and then to proceed to listen to the releases chronologically. Do you feel that 夢遊病者 albums are intended to be appreciated in a particular order?
Lyrically and conceptually, it is a matter of chronology, at least in the “self-discovery” of the band. Musically it is probably an “evolution” of the preceding output. 統合失調症の飢餓 is the initial seed. It is the most primitive, raw, infantile — the first sketch of a possibly bigger painting. The pieces are still forming as flesh on a skeleton. By the next one, the being already has its own thoughts. A lot of people seem to connect with 5772; I’m too close to it, so it’s hard for me to pin down exactly why. Why do you connect to it? The latest album took the longest time, but whether it sounds like this: That’s for all you fine people to judge.
I’ll let you in on a small secret: There are albums in between those 夢遊病者 records. That is the “bonafide” chronology, but again, you have to dig through the easter-eggs, so to speak. Even more so from a musical point of view.
Needless to say, there are “challenging” parts on all — and maybe that’s another connective tissue, the level of discomfort for the listener[s] in relation to the makers. I think it’s as much about expanding the musical sphere and universe as it is [about] stripping away the “musical non-essentials.”
What would be ideal is 夢遊病者 “evolving” at the same rate as the listener, and conversely, the listener “evolving” at the same rate as 夢遊病者. It’s as if we’re all in this fucked-up cosmic spaceship together, through all the turbulence of the “genre explosion,” on our way to who-the-fuck-knows-what. I hope it’s a fun ride for whoever and whatever jumps into the ship. Another tall order, but dare to dream?
I definitely connect with the evolving nature of the band, and perhaps that’s why I’m so adamant about starting with 5772: It’s where I started, so my perspective is obviously skewed. To me, it’s the most logical point of accessibility to metal fans while still opening up doors into other avenues of musical thought. This is said with the possible exception of 統合失調症の飢餓, which, while still having its own merit, only teases at the scope of the band, at least to my ears. But, as I’m learning from our conversation, it’s all relative to experience and perspective, isn’t it? That what one thinks they hear in the music is just as valid as what may or may not actually be there.
This brings me to the next question. At the start of this interview, you mentioned that the intent of the band was from a place of observation, to be, in your own words, “descriptive, not prescriptive.” However, I can’t imagine the band is able to walk away from their art without learning something, be it about themselves or the world around them. What would you say is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from the 夢遊病者 endeavor, or, at the very least, the most acute observation you’ve made as it pertains to your own life and experience?
That’s fair! You have to take chances and be open to them, wholeheartedly and sincerely — and those risks have to come from a place of truth. 夢遊病者 Is the most “personal” project or band I have done, with all the layers to peel away. At the root, it is a reflection of family, personal experience, a story you share over vodka or ginger ale amongst close friends. The listeners become your family.
This is something I talk about often with Helm of Locust Leaves — “friends before fans.” Meaning, in the age we live in now, bands don’t get worshipped on some sort of throne or pedestal. These mere mortal humans are accessible; you can speak to them openly, write to them, be friends, involve them in your own art, if you’re so inclined. Be free from boundaries. Obviously, within reason. [Laughs] There is no social media account for us because why not buy the record blind like you used to in the record shop? But we have the email on the Bandcamp, and I’ve found it to be the best place to exchange with people I can wholeheartedly call long-distance friends. Some appear on Noč Na Krayu Sveta. Send us your hate mail!
In a certain way, you almost feel perfectly fine “to fail” because of this — to take ownership of that risk, knowing these people are in the same ship with you and will “get it.” Or maybe you’ll get judged harshly for it — but at least you’ll know it’s from a place of care and someone giving a shit. Haha! The next album is all about that, owning your (perceived) failure.
Additionally, what do you hope (or perhaps the better word here would be ‘imagine’) listeners will take away from the new album? In other words, if you were hearing Noč Na Krayu Sveta for the first time, how do you envision it to be perceived outside of your own insight into the creation process?
When the label-head of Sentient Ruin first heard the album, they said that it felt like the most “abstract” work yet. They needed more listens.
Some short weeks passed, and I got a message out of the blue saying it’s “revelatory.” They went through it three or four times over. It sunk in.
When discussing the album initially, I half joked that it was the best-worst shit I’ve ever written, the most ambitious pile of shit I could make, especially considering how long it took. We laughed about what was considered “in” right now as opposed to this record, and what was said next was profound to me: That no matter how “abstract” the 夢遊病者 album would be, they would still back it up because they believed in the vision of this band.
Personally, this is very humbling and priceless.
We all tend to be self-critical — hopefully because we want to push ourselves and take risks — so (maybe foolishly), I hope this is a fulfilling risk of a record for listeners. That they’ll be curious enough to listen multiple times, to unravel the meal before them, because I think this dish is also an evolving experience with every taste. Hopefully the taste is new, interesting, and refreshing to their palates. Hopefully the chefs didn’t overdo it on the spices, or the butter, or [any of] the ingredients.
It’s hard to step away like Patrick Swayze out of his disembodied “Sam Wheat” body and be the fly on the wall.
It has elements of all the things we dig. I hope that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts for people.
Rennie from Starkweather said, regarding how the album starts:
…how open the entire thing goes is reminding me of Queensryche’s “Promised Land” in a different locale. The way it opened was horror film territory. That song in particular is them at their best. This has that hazy bar at the end of the world feel, or like the “mall scene” in Blade Runner — a complete shock of cultures. The man is a library of sound. It’s such an unconventional recording. It isn’t traditional song-craft. It’s more of an immersive experience. People are either gonna love it or hate it. They’ll either be in the zone or they’ll check out. It really plays like a warped soundtrack. Think that film Decasia, where the movie is constructed of damaged film stock — things melt, come to focus… Here you have things come in and out of the picture — there are some recurring themes, but nothing that’s a full on rhythmic pulse. They’re there, but they aren’t the drive. It’s really out of the ordinary. Almost like Dockstader or musique concrète gone psychedelic.”
“It all feels absolutely together, but it’s loose. I don’t know how you did it,” another voice I respect deeply calls out from the void. “Sounds like Test Dept,” “Sounds like The God Machine,” or “sounds weird.” Again, other peoples’ perception of the “creation” can be even more illuminating than your own. I know I circumvented that question, but I hope the experience is a visual one, the third tall order, but I am clearly greedy with my intent for this thing to make an impression.
I think that’s the true beauty in the ambition behind 夢遊病者, and I’ve touched on this before but I’ll reiterate: To me, it’s sketches of ideas, emotions, and raw feelings that are ultimately in the hands of the listener. Perhaps that’s the beauty in taking the effort to work outside of parameters or genre constrictions. It’s music at its most honest core. I’ll ask this and one final question before I let you go: Do you think it would be fair to consider 夢遊病者 as a mirror of sorts? Granted, the frame and design are crafted by an artisan, but the reflection that is seen is ultimately up to the beholder?
The new album that’s being worked on now — the first song is called “Mirrors Turned Inward.”
;lBelieve in fate, synchronicity, some predestined road, or the supposed swindler that led you here through all the winding turns: But this is reality, be it dream, simulation, or actuality. Thank you so much for this opportunity and hope the path wasn’t too exhausting.
Not at all, in fact, it only led to a greater appreciation of the context behind the work of the band. At the very beginning of our discussion, I was worried that the air of mystery behind that I find so engrossing about 夢遊病者 might be extinguished with the illumination of detailed backdrop, yet I find myself even more engrossed with the curiosities of the project. And so I’ll leave you with a final (seemingly) irrelevant question: What’s your favorite Running Wild album?
Punch-for-punch winner is Gates To Purgatory for me, personally. It’s got that evil Venom vibe in the vocals, but still keeps the German heavy metal school of melodic sensibility alive. I can take it or leave it with the pirate themes, and shit like “Soldiers of Hell” had the pirate gallop even then in the leads, just none of the eye patches and theatrics. “Adrien SOS” is proto-Megadeth.
“Black metal graffitis are thrown against the wall! Black metal art is shocking law ‘n’ order, man!” Why does no one talk about this, man? People talk about Discharge, Possessed, Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory as the roots of black metal, but here’s a direct lyric! Also they had that Death Metal comp with Hellhammer and Helloween (Kai Hansen!). The lines were blurred then, need to embrace that!
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks so much for the insights, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for 夢遊病者. May that spark never disappear! Any last thoughts you’d like to add before we continue the process of amassing experience in our lives?
Just a huge thank you to all who bought the records, streamed the records, stole the records, listened to them, wrote about them, talked about them, and supported the band. Please go follow Starkweather on Facebook, not only because they are a killer-as-fuck band, but it’s also the best hidden gem resource for music around. Have fun!