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.
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: