Interview: Stray

I had the chance recently to talk with Erica Dunham from Unter Null and now the growingly popular Stray here in Portland, OR. I have followed Erica’s music for a long time and am a consistant fan, so it was really great when she moved to Portland and I had the opportunity to open for Unter null a handfull of times and get to know her. Stray, which started as a side project of Unter null has really taken on it’s own form and following. It’s safe to say that Stray will soon become an equal successor to Unter Null and lay some solid foundation in the female fronted world of Industrial/EBM. I have had the opportunity to hear bits and pieces of this new album coming together and I can tell you that fans of Unter Null and Stray will be very pleased with it. 

Facebook: Stray

Current release: Let Me Go (upcoming - no date announced yet!)
Label: Alfa Matrix

You’ve released a number of albums under Unter Null and are preparing to release a second album for your primary side project Stray – What are your general distinctions between Unter Null’s newest album Moving On and the new Stray album?

Well, Moving On was written over the course of a few years, with a few interruptions during the recording process… The latest Stray album, which I just finished writing, was also written over the course of about, well… 4 years; pretty much since I finished that last Stray album. When I’m writing for Stray, I feel more freedom in the creative process to express a more gentle side of myself. However, Stray was never meant to be a ‘light’ project, nor was it meant to be ‘happy’ just because the content with Unter Null is angry, brooding, and pissed off. Stray kind of reflects the feelings of despair and sadness when that anger wears off. Lyrical content aside, the writing process of the music is approached in a very different way; I can’t really describe it, but I’m in a different headspace when I’m writing for either project, and I have to focus on one or the other so I don’t start melding the two projects into one. It’s very important that they remain separate.

Do you have a projected release date for the new Stray Album?

It’s looking to be early Springtime of 2012, so not that far away. I’ve mentally cut myself off from writing any more for the album, and the artwork is finished, so it’s just a matter of sending it off to master and wrapping final details and more business and paperwork aspects of releasing an album, which is a bit tedious.

How do you view the music now compared to The Failure Epiphany?

Improved by leaps and bounds. Here’s how I look at it, though: I’m not embarrassed by anything I’ve ever released because that is what I knew then and what I wanted to write then. Every day is a new day to learn something, to improve, to expand your skills, and so is every album, and every song that is written. What I know now I probably didn’t know then, but it’s the accumulation of practice and learning and applying new knowledge that is important, and it’s important to keep evolving as an artist. I would hate to be writing the same album over and over- that would be a personal hell. I want every album I release to be better than the last, and sometimes I can be kind of an asshole to myself because of expectations I hold myself to…. but that’s okay.

What were some influences, musically, that you had when shaping the new Stray album?

I listened to so much different music over the years it took me to finally finish Let Me Go that it’s hard to narrow it down to a few artists or bands, but I listened to a lot of Halou, Blue Foundation, Mind.In.A.Box, The Flashbulb, Moderat, Faunts, Röyksopp, Covenant, Raison d’être, Wovenhand, Nick Cave… and on and on. I’m pretty much all over the place with music and I like a lot of variety. I wouldn’t necessarily say that any one of the artists I’ve listed influenced Stray, but I sure have enjoying their creative output.

What is your most important piece of gear in the studio for the critical Stray sound?

I’m a Native Instruments whore, so I pretty much need everything they release. That being said, I use Absynth, Reaktor, and Kontakt heavily, and I rely on an enormous sample library of real instruments (piano, cello, violin, strings, voice) for composing not just Stray material but Unter Null as well. As a lover of classical music, I find it absolutely necessary to incorporate traditional instruments into electronic music.

You’ve gone on a couple tours with Unter Null, do you ever plan to take Stray out on the road?

I’ve actually answered this question with a firm “no” previously, but as Stray is turning more into a second main project for me, I do think it’s something I definitely plan on doing in the near-ish future. I have a lot of ideas of how to present the project, visually and whatnot, and I’ve talked with a few people about live collaborations, so we’ll see how that turns out.

If you could add any one thing to the live show, if money were not a factor, what would you add?

A full choir and orchestra.

If you could tour with one band, throughout history, who would it be?

First choice hands-down would be Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Murder Ballads era when he was working with Kylie Minogue and P.J. Harvey… that would have been a kick in the pants… Rammstein, but that would fit more with Unter Null, huh? And absolutely Nine Inch Nails. Amazing stage production!

What would you say is the most memorable show you’ve played?

In spite of all the shows I played overseas when living there, and in spite of playing bigger cities and bigger venues, and in spite of shows from years and years ago, this one is a bit more recent. We played with Nitzer Ebb right here in Portland, but it was the first show where it felt like I had a full band to work with, and we were working together well. The energy from the audience as well as everyone on stage was incredible and that performance felt absolutely magical. I strive to feel that again.

You’ve recently voiced your intention to return to living in Europe – Do you believe German, or even European audiences in general are more receptive to our style of music?

Receptive? Yes. A lot less reliance on guitars in Europe. I love guitar mixed with electronic music when it is done well, but in America it seems people are raised to think that all music must contain guitars, otherwise is it automatically lumped into the category of “that trance shit”. …Despite the fact that I believe Europeans to be much more open-minded and accepting with the arts.

When you’re not making music, for either project, or working the day-job, what hobbies do you have?

The problem is, is that any free time I have these days IS spent on music. I work an insane amount of hours, and what precious little time I have left over is to rest and to create. Hobbies, though, I like to create. Can I be as generic as possible? Haha. I just love making things, whether it be material or food or music- pretty much anything I can get my hands on. I spend a lot of time planning and plotting, making to do lists, setting goals for projects I want to start.

What release are you most looking forward to in the early parts of 2012?

2011 was a really good year for strong music across the board; a lot of the electronic heavyweights (hehe ;)) released really solid albums and it seems like for the first time in a long time innovation and a breath of fresh air has been breathed into music once again.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with A Dark Figure Music Blog, I look forward to the release of the new Stray album as well as possible live ventures soon!

Thanks a lot!!

Check out Stray on Soundcloud:

Stray - The Bitter Pill of Being (feat. E.S.A.) by Stray_official

Interview: reakt[ion]

I’ve watched reakt[ion] grow over the last few years in a really brilliant way. I’ve thrown my cents at it here and there, but I can say that Wes definitely has his own idea about what he wants for his sound, and that is really important for a project to succeed. I am endlessly interested in seeing where this project will go in the future. The first demo took a million years to come out, but for good reason - It’s a really fine tuned first demo and I would suggest it to anyone who likes HarshEBM

Current release: Attrition
Label: unsigned

You recently released your first demo, “Attrition,” after a long period of silence – What does “Attrition” mean to you, and is there a general theme to the demo?

The title “attrition” was meant to be representative of some common themes from the songs it contained. There is a lot of war in the demo. The songs from the demo were written over a couple of years, and there’s some evolution in the songs that kind of show my political evolution over that period of time. The beginning of the demo is very war and religion oriented, but by the time you get to Parasite, I’m talking more about domestic politics; the modern reactionary conservative movement, fear-mongering in the media, things like that. Soulless, which is a homage to Blade Runner, is an exception to the war/politics theme.

What are some of the major influences you had for “Attrition”?

Musically, I originally come from a punk background. When I started writing music in the early 2000’s, it was all political punk music, so I think my music tends to carry the more traditional verse chorus song structure. Distorted Memory has been a huge influence on my music, I really like the way he layers his sounds, as well as the hard trance influence he brings to the genre. I’ve also been heavily influenced by Tactical Sekt.

What plans do you have for a follow up demo?

A Christmas album! No, right now I don’t have any hard plans for a new release. I’ve been stuck in a lyrical dry spell for a while now, though I think I’m finally starting to push through that. Once I have something new, maybe a single with some remixes.

Do you have any live performances coming up, and do you have plans to expand to more than 2 people?

I don’t have any performances scheduled at the moment, but I’m always looking to play shows. I don’t have any plans to expand at the moment. Two people is fine with me.

What new releases are you currently listening to?

Knife Party’s new “100% No Modern Talking” EP. Its got some amazing beats. I’ve also been enjoying Aesthetic Perfections “All Beauty Destroyed”. “I Hope You Choke” by [product] has also been on heavy rotation.

If you could tour with any one band (current and in rotation), who would it be?

I’d love to tour with Distorted Memory or Aesthetic Perfection. Distorted Memory has been a big influence on my music, and I love seeing Aesthetic Perfection’s performances.

What are your top 5 albums of all time?

Oh man, this is going to be the hardest question. I think I’m going to have to bust this into two categories, top 5 in the genre and top 5 general.

1. Burning Heaven - Distorted Memory
2. Swallowing the Sun - Distorted Memory
3. Syncope - Tactical Sekt
4. Precognitive Dissonance - Manufactura
5. Harsh Generation - Grendel

In No Particluar Order:

Anything by Tom Waits
The Ziggurat - The Constructus Corporation
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West
Welcome Reality - Nero
Ain’t No Grave - Johnny Cash

What are some movies that your watching currently?

Contagion, 50/50, Hannah, X-Men First Class, and Fast Five are the ones I can remember off the top of my head. Contagion and Hannah both had really interesting soundtracks. I really liked Contagion, I think it was fairly accurate, both scientifically, and sociologically. Hannah seemed like Kick-Ass meets Jason Borne, and was a lot of fun. 50/50, no joke, made me tear up a couple times. Of course, X-Men and Fast Five are probably the greatest films of our generation. Both were works of true cinematic genius.

What video games are you currently playing, and what is your preferred system?

I just finished a Skyrim binge, I think I put in close to 100 hours there. I’m back to Minecraft now, peppered with a liberal amount of Modern Warfare 3. My preferred system is definitely the 360.

What are you most looking forward to in 2012?

Mass Effect 3. Die Antwoord’s Ten$ion. I am also tentatively looking forward to the election season. I really would like a crazy fringe candidate like Perry or Bachmann to win the Republican Primary so I can see them debate Obama, because that would be amazing and hilarious. I know Romney’s going to win, though, so this election season will probably be fairly boring.

Dead When I Found Her

Interview: Dead When I Found Her

Dead When I Found Her is a Portland based industrial project that harbors a uniquely old school sound. Recently signed to ArtOfFact Records, Dead When I Found Her’s debut full length album “Harm’s Way” is out now! I personally have known Michael Holloway, key manpower and frontman of Dead When I Found Her, for about a year now, and I am definitely looking forward to the follow up of “Harm’s Way.” 

Current Release: Harm’s Way

Your debut album “Harms way” on ArtOfFact Records is out now – Can you describe the inspiration for the album, or a general theme?

The music is (obviously I think) inspired by late 80’s – early 90’s electro industrial. That style seemed to have disappeared off the face of the planet, and I for one wasn’t ready to let it go. I figured if nobody else was making it, it was time to step up. Thematically, Harm’s Way is (loosely) tied together by a murder-mystery story involving a woman who is found dead in a house, and the subsequent questions, doubts and grief that follow from this. Those images and ideas are used to more broadly explore one main theme, which is the act of trying to find answers to unanswerable questions, and where that leaves a person, psychologically and emotionally, if they can’t give up the search.

You’re currently working on the follow up to “Harms Way,” will that also come out on Artifact Records, and has there been any talk about a single, or maybe remix EP?

If all goes according to plan it will be out on ArtOfFact Records in the summer of 2012. I’m deep into working on the album and it’s at the point where the shape has been mostly fully-formed and it’s more a matter at this point of finishing off many, many details. There’s a lot of material, so it’s either going to be a huge album, or an album plus an E.P; at the moment I can’t be sure. There will also be a video during the first quarter of 2012 as a teaser for the album.

How would you describe the new material that you are working on?

The new album is very true to the original concept of Dead When I Found Her— that is, it continues the exploration of old-school electro-industrial music in a contemporary context. I learned a huge amount about digital audio technology while creating Harm’s Way; in fact most of the software tools I was using to make the album were brand new to me when I was writing those songs, so creating the album was really a process of teaching myself how to make the thing that I was making. So doing a second album has felt like a different process; everything I learned during Harm’s Way has been internalized, refined, and sped up. At first this resulted in way too much material, and I started drowning in it. So now the skill I’m learning is how to organize my ambitions.

You do a lot of cover songs (NIN. Prince, Phil Collins,) - How do you choose them, and do you have plans for any more in the near future?

I started by posting polls on Facebook where I listed five songs from the eighties and fans voted for which song I’d cover. Then I just started doing things I felt like doing. They’re a way to just have fun—a sort of break from work on the album—while also allowing me to regularly provide new material to the fans between album releases, as a sort of “yeah I’m alive and kicking” reminder. I’m working on two new covers right now. The first is “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush, because I love her and that song is so dark and mesmerizing. The second is a very obscure Skinny Puppy cover, in fact the obscurity is the whole reason for doing it—it’s “Kill To Cure,” which doesn’t exist in any recorded form, it was simply played live on their 1988 European tour for Cleanse, Fold & Manipulate. I had to figure the music and lyrics out by listening to a very crappy Youtube video over and over again. But crappy recording quality or not, it’s an awesome song.

You recently went to Philadelphia for the I Love Industrial Festival – How was the Festival, and do you see Dead When I Found Her playing more festivals in the future?

Regarding doing more, absolutely. I don’t think I’ve turned down any invitations yet. Everyone in Philly was super nice, especially Joe Scott from Digital Ferret, so that made everything fun and easy. We had a great time out there, and it was our first non-west coast show, so it felt like a big step forward.

Do you see Dead When I Found Her being played in dance clubs, and while writing the music, did you consider the elements of a club-friendly song?

I’d love to have a dance-club hit, sure, but I keep writing these thick mid-tempo atmospheric pieces, because this project is ultimately about horror-industrial and texture and atmosphere, not about club riffs or whatever. So I think if it happens, it will happen organically, not because I designed it that way. But you never know, look at Worlock—it’s been a club staple for two decades and it’s a crawling 90bpm!

What are your top 5 albums of all time?

Oh man. They’re probably all Skinny Puppy albums, with Too Dark Park & VivisectVi probably up at the top. Outside of that realm, though, Disco Volante by Mr. Bungle, Louder Than Bombs by The Smiths, Where Angels Fear to Tread by Mentallo & The Fixer, Let Love In by Nick Cave…

What are some recent releases that you have been listening to?

The new Kate Bush record, “50 words for snow”, which is a gorgeous piano-based album all about winter. The new Tom Waits record. New Skinny Puppy and Ohgr, naturally. I want to list more ‘new’ industrial but, well, I don’t listen to Imperative Reaction.

What music did you grow up listening to, and do you think that it still has an influence on your musical taste/creation now?

This is hardly original, but Depeche Mode was one of the first bands I took interest in as a kid. My dad had a cassette of “Music For the Masses” and, well, I think him introducing me to that tape pretty much shaped my whole musical future. He also had these new age tapes, like Windham Hill stuff, that I played over and over. Honestly the melodic and ambient sides of industrial music are not far from that stuff, the use of pads and drones and textures, it’s very much in the same family.

What are some of your favorite movies of all time?

You know I’m going to say Blade Runner and Aliens….so it goes. After those…bad ones, mostly. Gritty 80’s stuff. I’ve been watching the Basket Case movies lately, those are…just wow. “Dead Heat” is one of the best of that era, and most people have never heard of it. I’ve got samples from it all over Harm’s Way. I like good movies, too, but honestly they are more likely to disappoint you. With crap movies you know exactly what you’re getting into (most of the time). Though lately, quite to the contrary, I’ve been on a big 40’s kick, old Bogie films and the like. I love Casablanca. I put it on at night and fall asleep to it.

What has been the most influential live performance you have ever seen?

Flaming Lips put on the most fun show I’ve seen. The energy is just so positive and infectious. That’s kind of rare; usually you just have people in an audience who are happy solely because a famous or semi-famous person is standing in the same room as them, and the songs are recognizable. The actual quality of the music seems secondary to that basic experience. Usually it’s too loud, and if people didn’t already know the songs, it would just be chaos to their ears. I hate that, really. It’s no fun and as I get older I’m kind of more and more done with it; but certainly there are exceptions that stand out. I saw Smog (now Bill Callahan) at the Doug Fir with Jim White drumming, it was amazing, and the first show I’d seen in years where every note played, every drum hit, counted for something. Electronic music is hard to sell, Live. I think it hasn’t been completely figured out, it’s still usually this weird cross between DJ’ing and live performance, by necessity. I’m certainly a part of that; I haven’t figured it out, either.

Dead When I Found her now stands as a two-member live crew, do you have plans to expand that and if so, what kind of changes would you make in the future for the live performance?

I have ideas for expanding it, but it’s just so hard to actually do, especially when the primary focus of the project is in the studio, and time is limited. So I’m not sure where that is headed. For sure we will be having more multi-media and other elements to the show; but there probably won’t be anyone else up there anytime soon.

What are you most looking forward to in 2012?

Finishing and releasing Dead When I Found Her number 2, just getting it out there and then supporting it in whatever way I can, shows, press, whatever. I’m also excited about the first DWIFH music video. Beyond the project…..well, Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus, of course.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview.

Thank you!