Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Interview with Daniel Henderson of Newphasemusic by Dave Wolff

Interview with Daniel Henderson of Newphasemusic by Dave Wolff

Before starting your solo project Newphasemusic, you released several albums as part of the neo psychedelic darkwave/dreampop project Trance To The Sun. What is the musical difference between the two bands? Were you looking for a different direction when you started writing for Newphasemusic?
Funny enough, Newphasemusic preceded that and all of the other Portland bands I've been a part of. I was in a band in Ithaca, New York called Mr. Downstairs, and it was hardcore metal. The earliest pieces of music for Newphasemusic were a few rejected ideas for that. I cut my teeth writing parts then, and it was difficult for me. When I moved to Oregon it was to get an MBA, and playing went on the back burner. I didn't even bring drums with me. But I did bring our band's studio gear. So I started writing songs using midi emulators and plug-ins--trying to capture the intensity of my old band anyway that I could. I tried to break the sounds, mess them up. The very first song I wrote at that time, explicitly for Newphasemusic, was “Starter”. No words, just the drums, the bassline, and the production ideas. None of this was remotely goth...
Where I grew up there weren't many musicians to play with, so I just drummed along with my favorite bands. One of them was The Cure, which I learned a lot from--not the least of which was how to play multiple overlaid drum parts at once, like “The Walk”. I decided that it would be a good way to differentiate myself, and it really helped. Fifteen years later in my third year in Oregon, I saw posts about a Cure Tribute band called theXplodingboys performing shows in Portland--my dream band! So I reached out, and the co-founder and I started talking. I told him I could play La Ment and he let me audition. I got it, and my first show was Convergence 13. So in five years I hopped genres from a fairly recognized east coast metalcore drummer to a west coast goth drummer that nobody knew.
Trance to the Sun played their 2007 reunion at Convergence--right after we did! It turns out that Ashkelon had moved from Santa Barbara to Portland a few years earlier, and was even part of the Cure Tribute for a short time. He saw me play at that show. In 2009, Ashkelon rejoined theXplodingboys, and we started performing together--I heard a bit of Trance to the Sun during this time, Spiders, Aether and Rain and The Blue Obscurities. He was working with Soriah, and they had just released their 2009 album Atlan. When it was time to tour their second album Eztica, he and Soriah recruited me to play live drums on the 2011 and 2012 Soriah tours down the west coast. That was a dream come true too! I had been on the wrong coast. In 2013, Ashkelon and Ingrid reformed Trance to the Sun to release another album. That's when I came in. Ashkelon had always wanted a live drummer, and he always wrote parts as if he did, but for almost all of their original 1990-2002 run they didn't have one. None of this was expected in my “musical semi-retirement”. Newphasemusic went on the back burner for quite a while, but I was learning so much about songwriting, production and performance from multiple perspectives while also honing my drumming craft. I also did a lot of mastering of live shows for CD and video releases--most of the tXb and Trance live footage was mastered by me.
In late 2019 I found myself with no live projects. I had begun writing for Newphasemusic again around 2016, found a bandmate and played the first two Newphasemusic live performances in 2018, and was looking into building a new line-up and securing more shows in early 2020 when Covid hit. Instead, I finished and released The Precedents of the United States of America EP in 2020, recorded “Go” by The Indigo Girls with Jana Cushman of Darkswoon in time for the 2020 election, then released Precedents Remixed, a remix album of the Precedents songs. In late 2021 a few covers and remix/mastering opportunities came my way and I joined Luscious Apparatus in late 2021. But I was also finishing “Starter”. Basically, the difference between Trance to the Sun--and all the other west coast bands theXplodingboys, Magnon (with former theXplodingboys members Raven Meyers and Edgar Paras), Soriah, Devoured By Flowers and now Luscious Apparatus--from Newphasemusic is that the others were all someone else's vision that I had helped realize. Newphasemusic is 100% me with occasional guests to help me realize my own vision. It took many years to figure out what that vision was, and still more to figure out what a live show would be like. But now I am utilizing everything I've learned along the way to jump genres once more and make this happen.

Why do you think it took you so long to find your own direction, considering how many bands you've worked with over the years? Were any of those bands helpful in developing your diversity and songwriter abilities?
Early on I figured out what Newphasemusic wrote. There was a visceral heaviness centered on drums, with vocals here and there. It was borne out of aggressive music because I loved playing aggressive music—but it was industrial because that was easy for me to create it and to make it sound the way that I wanted. I utilized a lot of musical dissonance, and I was fascinated with including major-scale parts which gave the impression of being off the rails in the song but which sound like a happy tune to hum to oneself when taken out of context. The end of Helmet's song “Milquetoast” is one example. After four minutes of bludgeoning guitars, the outro is a simple repeated root-to-major 3rd guitar riff that sounds completely demented. These have remained core principles of Newphasemusic songs.
My Mr. Downstairs bandmates were absolutely vital in giving me initial songwriting feedback. They helped me discern which parts conveyed something and which ones simply meandered, and what my early writing patterns were so I could work on diversifying them. The earliest parts were written for the band I was in—guitar, bass, drums, vocals. Eventually I learned how to write parts for synths instead of guitars, how to write a song around a lyrical idea, and then how to make my own parts convey tension, resolve, humor and surprise. It was like developing a language. Working with the Oregon bands taught me a lot about song crafting and arrangement, and helped me further refine what connected with listeners and what didn't. I learned not to overthink parts, to let ideas flow. From Trance to the Sun in particular, I gained mastery of orchestral levels of finesse and minimalism, and how to invent new song ideas. As I gained confidence, it just became easier to write and arrange parts of my own. But there were other roadblocks.
Vocals were a challenge. The very first songs I completed also didn't have vocals. I tried some vocals here and there and some of it worked, but there were a lot of gaps. It wasn't until the Precedents EP was written that I really worked on my vocal style, focusing on what made me and my voice unique—low range, dry/sarcastic delivery at times, interesting word choices and rhythmic delivery. And then sometimes I just needed to belt out some lines, because like my drumming, I am also passionate and explosive when needed. Being in bands with such accomplished singers actually hurt, as I kept feeling like I was out of my depth. Eventually I just realized that I simply wasn't trying to do what they did. There are a few songs on The Dark Side of the Earth that need someone else's vocals—and now I see it as an opportunity instead of a limitation.
The live performance was also a hang-up. I write for the stage, so I need to envision what that looks like. Not knowing what the line-up was going to be clouded how the songs should be constructed. But after a while I drew up some ground rules—real drums with electronic rhythm elements on top, a bass part played on guitar or synth, some sort of synths or guitars, and vocals. That was enough to write for. I am still working on a new line-up. I think two additional members could work, as long as they each do electronics and vocals as well as instruments. Apply today!

In particular, Trance to the Sun released a lot of material in 2010 and from what I've heard, each of them had its own distinctive sound. Do you feel that working without any set of rules is a unique experience for you and the others working on that project? Has this freedom always been available to you?
That would be the “All the Covers” release, cover songs that were released on compilations or kept in the vault from throughout Trance to the Sun’s career, and The Blue Obscurities in 2011–rarities and unreleased or re-imagined tracks from the Ingrid Blue era of the band. Those collections are as varied as the discography. Each album was unique, and certain consecutive albums–usually with a change in vocalist–were so different that it’s hard to recognize that they were the same band. But that variety was part of the appeal of joining. I mainly played the Ingrid Blue-era songs since I did not join until 2013. When Ashkelon and Ingrid began to write Via Subterranea, they wrote knowing what I could bring to the band, so they worked in some bombastic songs and drum parts. I don’t believe “Loch Ness Square” would have turned out the way it did, or at all, without my involvement. And the energy I brought to the live line-up led us to become more “rock-and-roll” than previous live iterations. Trance to the Sun had a few hard and fast musical theory rules, otherwise whatever they feel like goes. I did contribute some flourishes–I drafted the piano part in “Purple Mushroom House” and part of a synth line in the opening of “When Smoke Blows Across”–but what I could offer for musical parts largely wasn’t suitable for Trance to the Sun. And that’s fine. I didn’t join to change Trance to the Sun, I joined to more fully realize its vision while adding a new chapter to it.

How was it to work with Ingrid Blue and combine your skills as musicians while you both were members of Trance to the Sun?
I thought it was a lot of fun. I don't think she knew what to make of me at first. I met her in Santa Barbara on the 2012 Soruah tour. We didn't meet in person again until late 2013 when the three of us took a press photo. When we practiced before the tour she saw what I was about, and shortly after that she gave me the nickname 'Spider Monkey' that I think is great. We didn't see each other much but her partner Terry was the tour bassist, and they and my wife KD and I bonded with them as both parents and friends. We communicate from time to time but I haven't seen her since pre-pandemic when we stopped traveling. She actually made the artwork for The Dark Side of the Earth cover.

After working with so many musicians, was starting Newphasemusic liberating for you? Was naming your solo project symbolizing a new phase in your musical evolution?
The name did come from a goal of personal advancement, but it also has a nice dystopian, robotic feel to it. At first, Newphasemusic was about developing my own musical ideas—I wanted to write parts as well as arrange them. I was anything but confident about it. But, I did dive deep into myself and pulled out some things that I never fished for before, and it was very liberating to see what I had in there. It was even more liberating to learn how to write songs around those ideas, and then to share it and find that people were receptive to it.

Describe the visions you realized during your deep dives, and how close your compositions come to capturing them?
There were two experiments that helped me find the direction that I went. The first was to take a song that I had written and was quite happy with, and I “industrialized” it–I re-produced it into as heavy industrial a track as I could manage. And I really liked that, so I made a mental note about trying an industrial format. The second experiment was free form. I constructed a completely unstructured series of notes–no defined time signature–and looped them. I listened to it for a bit, and added a few additional random sounds to it–percussive, but also pitched (one main benefit of MIDI being that any sound can be made into a music scale). It was an ambient idea. I listened to it over a few days, figuring out what I was hearing and what I liked about it. Then I kind of quantized it to groove in a 4/4 pattern, correcting some notes to bring it into some semblance of a key with a defined scale, and made it an ambient piano part. And then I wrote a song around that chord progression–guitars, bass, drums and. I worked very hard on it to get all of it as profound as the main chord progression. I am happy to say that final versions of both experiments will be appearing on The Dark Side of the Earth. I still write by listening to initial ideas over and over until the next piece comes to me.

Are your arrangements for Newphasemusic designed to be a mystery to your listeners or can they figure things out more easily?
I don’t believe there is much to the arrangements as much as song structure goes–verse/chorus/breakdown and so on. As for the parts, there apparently isn’t much that is easy to figure out. I don’t go out of my way to make my songs mysterious, but I do try to make them unique. If anything, I sweep back through them and simplify them as much as I can. Prog taught me that if you do something complex, you need to give the listener something else to hold on to while they take it in. Give them a solid downbeat, give them enough repetition to pick up the groove, keep the other parts simple, whatever fits the song. In “Starter”, the bass/kick drum parts are complicated, and the bridge drums when the other parts drop out. This keeps the songs flexible enough for some complexity without the listener getting lost in a labyrinth. I hope.

The single release of “Starter” includes three different mixes, each with a different theme and atmosphere. How did these versions come to be and what inspired them?
“The Geodome Mix” is the version of the song, barring any final adjustments for the album. There is a lot of remixing going on in the electronic music world these days, where you provide someone else your individual vocal, bass, drums, etc. studio tracks and they do their own thing with them on your behalf. Remixes are a great way to collaborate with others, to learn something from them, to expand the reaches of your music and support each other. I also miss working with a band, and collaborating with people on remixes provides camaraderie that helps fill that gap. On top of all that, I really enjoy hearing how other artists re-interpret my strange songs. For such a rhythmically dense song like “Starter”, I thought it would be fun to ask other drummer/producers for remixes, so I asked Dan Milligan from The Joy Thieves and Rona Rougeheart from SINE to contribute. Then Colin C of Slighter/The Cell Studios, who has supplied me a remix in the past, mastered the tracks to perfection. They all did amazing work and I am very grateful!

Have you previously collaborated with Dan Milligan and Rona Rougeheart or is this your first time? Has Colin C collaborated with you before?
First time with Dan and Rona. Colin did a Division By Zero remix for me for the Precedents Remixed release, and we had talked then about mastering because he can master his own contributions if asked. I met them all through the Sounds and Shadows Facebook group, which has been wonderful for me.

Will finding additional members of Newphasemusic depend on how they expand on your approach to writing and composing songs?
Yes. But first and foremost, I hope to find people who can replicate the parts from the tracks that I’ve come up with so far. There will be some flexibility in reproducing them, but I’ve been waiting an awfully long time to play many of them live as close to the way they are as we can manage. But however that goes, I think that will help the new members understand the way I compose and what the project is “about”. And then after “The Dark Side of the Earth” is released, I would like to do a collaborative album next where others are more actively involved in composing the tracks. So far, I have given collaborators structured parts and an arrangement to add their parts to, and then I iteratively re-arrange and produce all of the parts based on how their contributions updated vision of the track, moving the target. And I have enjoyed where they went, and acknowledged what each collaborator brought, so I would like to do co-writing and explore that. And this would be when the new band members can really help make this project theirs as well.

What was the process of incorporating your collaborators' contributions to Newphasemusic? How would you build on this process?
I leave placeholders for vocals, and for some guitar parts, and re-arrange the song based on what I get back. For future recordings I think I would pick someone first, and then we would work out how to write it together–who wants to write what, who wants to contribute the first part, and so on. For a vocalist collaboration, I’d like to try having them give me a lyrical idea that I could write a song around. Maybe with additional members this will go on the back burner, but either way I am open to writing with additional contributors.

Is there a vocalist or musician you are considering collaborating with, or would like to if circumstances permitted?
There are a few. Some have been asked, others still need to be. Soriah will be one of them, I am happy to say. Brian Bessire, the vocalist from Mr. Downstairs, is another.

Which bands has Soriah and Brian Bessire (besides Mr. Downstairs) worked with? What do you suspect would come of working with them?
Soriah is a globally known award-winning Tuvan throat singer; that is his main thing. He just opened for Bauhaus on three dates, in fact. But Enrique and I have been friends for over 10 years. He was also in the Cure Tribute theXplodingboys in 2010 as the bassist. A while back he was in a band called Sumerland with Dorian Campbell that is very good. Brian and I are very close and he has a very diverse range that involves soulful pop. He hasn't done much musically since. I chose both because of what they would bring to my music. Brian is singing a song I wrote about working long hours to commute and trying to hold things together. Both he and I relocated and went back to school to start new careers after Mr. Downstairs, so it fit well. And Enrique is helping me with a song so big that it gets into his more mystical, otherworldly realm… and so he is what that song needs.

How much more work is needed before "The Dark Side of the Earth" is completed? Which other songs are taking Newphasemusic in new directions?
Several vocal parts need to be added including my own, and some guitars/bass are still needed. That's about it. This release is going to be a bit more organic, I guess is the word. There are a couple of full band-style tracks, as opposed to the more electronic cuts on “The Precedents of the United States of America”. There are also a couple of tracks with symphonic elements. I love pairing orchestral and electronic, I think they go together really nicely. I enjoy layering parts, so orchestral composition is really fun. Lastly, there will be as close to a pop single as I will likely ever get. So there is a lot more variety. I am thrilled with it, and I hope everyone will find something to enjoy.

How much of an impact do you think your music and collaborations have had on your local music scene and underground music in general? What kind of an impact do you want to have in the years to come?
For Newphasemusic, you would have to ask everyone else in it. I have had a sizeable impact in the live Central New York metal scene, and in the Portland and West Coast Goth and Darkwave scene through my drumming contributions, and I hope to one day match that. I would like to be known as someone who makes unique and interesting music and who puts on a live show that leaves you blown away, wondering what you just saw.

-Dave Wolff

No comments:

Post a Comment