Sunday, January 3, 2016

Interview with Sebastian Elliott of BRAINDANCE by Dave Wolff

Interview with Sebastian Elliott of BRAINDANCE

Autoeroticasphyxium's first Braindance interview appeared in issue #6, sometime around 2001, if I recall correctly. The band was active for five more years and then took a long hiatus until 2015.
It was a long hiatus for those outside the project, but continuous attention to the many facets of Master Of Disguise within, having worked on the material since 2003, and even performing some of it live as early as 2004. After nonstop grinding since 1992 with the common practice of write, record, perform, repeat, we decided to take our time with this one, and tried very hard not to torture ourselves or fall victim to whatever self-imposed anxiety that was constantly at the gates. This attention to a variety of detail led to a longer maturation period, from the sound and material to the visual concept and packaging.

How many full length albums were released by the band before the hiatus began? Was there anything about the material recorded during the mid 2000s that convinced you to take more time with your latest full length?
Before Master of Disguise, there was 1994's Shadows, 1996's Fear Itself, and 2002's Redemption.  Many factors contributed to us taking more time with this one - attention to composition detail, attention to performance detail, attention to packaging detail, not to mention attention to details that life brings your way while attending to other details.

Did Braindance perform a lot to promote their first two full lengths? What do you remember of the club scene of the 90s?

To answer both questions simultaneously - we performed far more frequently than we do today - largely in part because the club scene in the 90's was quite different. Live music wasn't as affected by real estate constraints, which placed bottom lines above artistic concerns and eventually drove out most of the smaller and mid-level clubs.  It essentially damaged any and all cohesive 'scenes' that had developed and flourished for decades in Manhattan. 
Aside from playing shows at larger venues like the limelight and L'amour, we could expect to regularly headline smaller venues that actually had a built in crowd that was eager to hear new music, and thus, we were able to return to supportive crowds on a more frequent basis.  Simply booking a show with a motivated promoter assigned to a venue seems to be a thing of the past, and now we're forced to actually rent the entire space, and hope that ticket sales and alcohol sales cover the hefty bar guarantee.

I noticed several reviews and articles on the band on their website. Did your 1994, 1996 and 2002 full lengths generally receive positive feedback?
For an unsigned, completely self-produced entity, we've been quite fortunate to have received so much positive feedback, if not from labels who have never known what to do with us, but from fans and journalists who seem to have gotten it in a big way.

Braindance played NYC on the thirteenth of September, at Bleecker Street’s Poisson Rouge. This event was stated to be a headlining event to mark the release of your new album Master Of Disguise. How would you describe the scene at Poisson Rouge, and the atmosphere at that club, to those who haven’t been there?

Overall, it was very successful, given the long absence from the stage, the complexity of the material presented, and the new musicians we're fortunate enough to be working with. Aside from that, the venue is more of a performance space, and staffed with talented people who actually give a shit, so we were treated exceptionally well. Most importantly, people actually showed up and were unusually supportive of the stage show and new material.

Who are the new members of Braindance who worked on Master Of Disguise with you? Was it a long process to find new members who were on the same wavelength as you? How well are the new members working out?

We recorded Master of Disguise with the help of bassist Andy Bunk and percussionist Stygmie Von, both of which assisted on 2002's Redemption. Backing vocalists Beka and Natalia lent their talents, as well as current live rhythm guitarist Tony Geballe, who greatly assisted during the mixing process. Currently, the live lineup joining me and Vora consists of Geballe, a member of the League of Crafty Guitarists, Kenny Grohowski, who's played with the Secret Chiefs and the Pastorius brothers, bassist Eiki Matsumoto, who was with us from 1992 until 1996, keyboardist Mario Pinzon, and backing vocalist Emilie Lesbros.

Braindance has been part of the NYC club scene for a long time. What changes have you seen due to rising rents and the suburbanization the city is currently experiencing? What nightclubs are around these days that you would consider worth mentioning? I’ve been hearing a lot about new clubs opening in Brooklyn over the past several years.

Certainly a reduction in mid-level venues from when we first started, not to mention a massive reduction in what might be considered an actual hard music scene. Although the scene was always partially fragmented and compartmentalized, there was still a scene nonetheless, and you could regularly jump from one spot to another to hear live music or just hang out with actual regulars who belonged to a scene, much like the hard music scene in Los Angeles, which is still a living, breathing entity. The NYC goth/EBM/darkwave scene still appears to be relevant, and continues to bring quite a few attendees to events, but i can only imagine how the aforementioned rent hikes and gentrification has affected promoters' bottom lines. Having said that, it's still difficult for me to assess every aspect of this progression, as I work practically every night, and don't spend nearly the same amount of time hanging out or frequenting establishments as I did twenty years ago.

When was the last time you were in Los Angeles? Which clubs there are most actively supporting goth, darkwave and EBM?

I try to go out to Los Angeles as much as I can, though the interesting thing is that depending on where I go usually dictates the scenes that I’m exposed to. For instance, if I go to Las Vegas, there’s a 99 percent chance that I’m attending dance venues - anything from tech house to vocal house to trance to classics to dubstep to what’s considered progressive house and EDM, simply because my social circle in those locations gravitate to that scene. The same pretty much goes for New York and Miami as well; however, in Los Angeles, most of my friends are immersed in the metal scene, and that’s usually where I end up gravitating to when I’m out there. For me, it’s the social connections that come first, since I can always listen to what I want at home. Having said that, I’ve heard good things about Bar Sinister and I like the Shrine Shop on Melrose.

How would you describe the Shrine Shop having been there? Are there other cities in the U.S. and abroad you have visited or would like to visit?
Kind of like a lot of shops that used to be on Saint Mark’s Place in the East Village, or similar to the excellent Gothic Renaissance shop on 4th Avenue. I’m no fashionisto, but from what i understand, they make their own line of clothing and supply the world’s dark shops with higher end garments. As a band, we haven’t visited anywhere outside the U.S. but would certainly love to do so, as long as there is a comprehensive marketing strategy in place. I don’t mind losing a bit of money if the opportunity for exposure is there.

Who wrote the lyrics for the songs appearing on Master Of Disguise? What are the songs inspired by and what is the intended meaning of the album title?
I believe in a good measure of ambiguity when writing lyrics. Naturally, the themes have specific meanings for me, but I try not to assign definitive conceptual values to our material, because I believe listening should be somewhat interactive. Insofar as everyone's experiences are different, so should their interpretations be. Whereas I might see despair and desolation, someone else might see chicken cutlets. 'Master Of Disguise' is most definitely a 'concept' album which draws upon solid ancient Egyptian and Mayan themes within the setting of a parallel universe. As with previous Braindance material, there are definitive topics contained within each track that I can closely identify with emotionally, however they are communicated within a (hopefully entertaining) science fiction or fantasy framework that runs parallel to the emotional underpinnings.
For example - without giving away too much - the sixteen page comic contained within the packaging of 'Master Of Disguise' tells the story of a powerful pharaoh-like being who had everything that anyone could ever want. Upon the discovery of an ancient relic - the Braindance amulet - he ends up questioning his beliefs and eventually destroying everything around him.
Obviously, I am not that individual (at least in my present incarnation), and have never experienced what our aforementioned protagonist has, however I think all of us can relate to the concept of questioning one's beliefs, feelings of hopelessness, identity confusion, and of becoming lost within one's self amidst a plethora of history and information.

What gave you the idea of including a comic in your new full length to help tell the story? How many elements did you borrow from Egyptian and Mayan history while compiling it?
As you can imagine, since the release of Redemption, there have been quite a few developments within the recording industry, most particularly with regards to physical distribution. Album sales have dropped like a stone - and although I’d like to think that the majority of our fans are still the kind of folks that have the desire to digest a larger experience (and purchase albums) - I nevertheless wanted to provide a tasty reward for those fans, like myself, who consider the packaging and associated imagery to be an integral part of the experience.
Although we’ve been doing this on our own for so long, I still think it's important to listen to what others with varied experience might suggest. A good friend (and unofficial advisor) of ours, whose opinion I hold in high regard, took a look at the completed five panel foldout illustrated by Joe Simko, and strongly suggested I take the artwork further in order to give the fans something special. One thing led to another, and the entire packaging concept fell into place over the next few years.
For Master Of Disguise, I did quite a bit of research on the history, religion, architecture, fashion, and overall culture of ancient Egyptian and Mayan civilization and society. I also spent a lot of time reading up on the history of written communication, from cuneiform and Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs and pictograms to Asian scripts, Cherokee alphabets and Anglo-Saxon and Nordic runes, and spent as much time reviewing archeological artifacts from around the world and their associated inscriptions. In particular, I focused on religious practices, burial techniques, and theories on the afterlife from ancient Egyptian civilization, drawing regularly from texts such as the Book of the Dead.
I spent of lot of time researching these different areas, because I wanted to convey the concept of identity loss and confusion under a simultaneous barrage of apparently unlimited information, or dense communication. I wanted to convey those ideas visually wherever possible, and in as many creative ways as possible. By creating an alphabet from every alphabet ever created, by re-creating recognizable archeological artifacts within the packaging, and by creating a story in the which there existed a parallel society whose nature of communication was as perplexing as identity loss is, I felt that I paid attention to the underlying emotional challenges as well as presented something unique that draws the viewer (or listener) in, and makes it interesting enough to stay for a while.
For the 'Golden Glyphs', I researched 60 alphabets from the very beginning of recorded time and chose five characters per alphabet to replicate in order to create a 300 character custom designed alphabet. These characters, visually presented in random (or not so random) order could easily be taken at face value as solely a form of hieroglyphic communication (and perhaps a moderately attractive visual effect), but the message behind choosing a visual comprised of a multitude of apparently non-compatible glyphs - and a main theme running through the entire album - again, is one of identity confusion amidst information.

It’s good to hear there are still artists who care about packaging despite lower album sales. And there are still fans who prefer to have something physical to listen to rather than downloading it. Do you hope other bands will follow suit?
Not sure if I feel any sort of way about other projects following suit, and given the expense, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. If it works for them, then by all means, I’m supportive. I certainly spend money on music, however, it’s been awhile since I’ve purchased something from the hard music, metal or progressive sub-genres. Having said that, if there ARE leaps in packaging, my instinct tells me that it will most likely come from projects belonging to one of those sub-genres.

How much more attention to detail did the band pay to their work compared to their previous recordings? Do you remember any specific quotes from local or national reviewers who appreciated your early material?
It’s hard to say. I’d like to think that we’ve always been overdoing it from the beginning. Master Of Disguise just takes it a bit further, and the timespan allowed us to go more in depth, certainly with regards to the packaging. We’ve gotten quite a few nifty reviews from journalists, some of which have been supportive from the very beginning. Check em out:

Describe in some more detail how well the band was treated by the staff of Poison Rouge.
It was fantastic. Aside from the fact the Operations Manager is a longtime pal (and a Braindance fan!), the entire staff - from the general manager to the promotional team to the sound and lighting crew to the help we received from all staff was simply incredible. Our last show was nothing like that, and in fact, I can’t recall if ever there was a more comfortable and professional environment that we’ve been in in our entire 20+ year live career. My friends told me from the start that it was a performance space that is founded and run by musicians and artists, but I had no idea that that’s what it actually was. Plus, it’s in my neighborhood, and a good fit overall, since our crowd is generally responsive to that kind of environment - and who wouldn’t be?

What sort of fresh elements to the new band members bring to Braindance that were previously absent? How does your live show reflect the concept and imagery of Master Of Disguise?
I wouldn’t necessarily say the last incarnation (Mach III) was absent or lacking in any way - all of them are great players, and I still keep in touch. This time around, though, I think that we built the live show up around the finishing of the new release, so naturally, we utilized what was happening successfully, and hence, the rhythm guitar/programing position was created - Tony is such a pleasure to be around, and such a powerhouse, not only musically - but personality-wise, energy-wise, and just overall coolness. He’s been a big part of getting things to this point, live-wise. Since we decided to break up the keyboardist/backing vocalist position into two separate roles - we brought on our longtime pal Mario Pinzon to run keyboards, and then Emily Lesbros on backing vocals. Both are totally focused, and fantastic performers. Emily has a great voice, picks up on things super-quickly and is great work with. Ken is just a fucking powerhouse and is exactly the kind of drummer I’ve always dreamed of working with - a brilliant, hard-hitting, jazz, fusion and metal player that I was lucky enough to be referred to. The guy can do anything. He’s kind of like a superhero amongst percussionists. You’ll have to see it.

How much longer is the tour supposed to take place in support of Master Of Disguise? After the tour is completed, what does the band plan to do next?

I’m not sure that what we’re doing would constitute being on tour. Until we’re able to link up with another project or supportive label, we will continue to perform locally and semi-locally until it’s time to write and record a new album. I’m always thinking of possibilities, but I want to be both realistic about what actually can and can’t be done, and I certainly don’t want to create anxiety commonly associated with adhering to big plans that are usually dependent on unforeseen events.

Braindance official site

-Dave Wolff

1 comment:

  1. Shared the bill with these guys at Limelight NYC in 1994, picked up 'Shadows' and loved it ever since. Awesome that they are back!