An Interview with Nikademus, Malic Acid and James Halo Weber of Sonik Foundry
Evolving from synthpop beginnings to a full blown assault of industrialized EBM, Nikademus guides us through the inner workings of Sonik Foundry.
by Ilker Yücel
Having first earned recognition with his first band, Bow Ever Down, Nikademus gradually focused his attentions on a new project. Shifting away from the lush female vocals toward a more aggressive sound, Sonik Foundry took shape in early 2008. Drawing inspiration from the danceable beats and melodic structures of Assemblage 23 and the caustic atmosphere and the guttural overdrive of Combichrist, Sonik Foundry released the Mechanized album on their own Hitman Records imprint in 2009, with the Epiphany EP following the next year.
With the full-length Parish of Redemption album, released in early 2011, Nikademus took Sonik Foundry further into the realm of industrialized EBM, emphasizing harsher beats and a much more searing tonality to the synthesizers, bringing the band fully in line with the post-futurepop brand of hard electro. As the band embarked on a nationwide tour throughout the year, even more organic elements were brought in, incorporating live guitar and drums to transform the band’s sound into a fuller assault of hard-hitting electronic rock and offering listeners an anguished and imperative preview of what the band plans to accomplish on future releases.
Nikademus and live drummer/backup vocalist Malic Acid, along with fill-in guitarist James Halo Weber, speak to ReGen on the development of Sonik Foundry from the studio into a force to be reckoned with in the live arena of industrial/EBM.
Sonik Foundry has a new album, Parish of Redemption, now released on Nilaihah Records. First of all, let’s talk about how you got signed to Nilaihah. Obviously, the label has a pretty good reputation primarily for being very synthpop-centric. How did you come to sign with the label?
Nikademus: Well, having already been signed with Nilaihah Records with my first project, Bow Ever Down, we had an established business relationship with them. I sent the latest Sonik Foundry works I had to the label, and Kristy Venrick became interested, so we worked with her and produced Parish of Redemption. After the completion of the album, the Sonik Foundry project was offered a five-year contract with Nilaihah, and released Parish of Redemption under the label in March of 2011.
As far as the new album, it’s your second album as Sonik Foundry after Mechanized and also the Epiphany EP. How do you feel that the sound of the band has evolved over the course of these three releases? Obviously, Mechanized is a shorter album, at least in terms of the number of tracks, and Parish of Redemption is a little bit longer, but as far as the evolution of the music, how do you feel that has developed over the course of the three albums?
Nikademus: Actually, Mechanized was a nine-track LP, while Epiphany was a six-track EP. Parish of Redemption, which is our latest release, is a 13-track LP. However, in the beginning, when I produced Mechanized, I was still learning Logic Audio. I was also fairly new to industrial/EBM. As I performed more and more, I learned what other people were using for gear and obtained many new instruments—namely, the Access Virus. Parish of Redemption is the first album that I started using the Access Virus on; I love the sound of it, so now the Virus is pretty much all I use to produce music, and that’s how the sound changed. You can hear its distinctive sound throughout the album.
Another element that has changed the sound live is the guitar. I’d been looking around for a guitarist after the Epiphany tour and found one. I really liked the sound it added. It sounded fuller, more dense. In the studio, I have software guitar sounds that sound pretty real, and I also have my own guitar, which I also play; however, I can’t play everything on stage, right? I also plan to have some live guitar on the next album with another guitarist.
The music has also evolved by watching and learning from others, seeing what other musicians were doing, along with learning new sounds by auditioning the Virus. If I like the way something sounds, it makes its way into the production, and that’s basically how the music evolves…just by working with the equipment and getting more and more comfortable with it. Ultimately, the music evolves from experiences inside and outside of the studio.
You mentioned Bow Ever Down, which is a more synthpop-oriented project, and obviously Nilaihah is more catered to that type of music. One thing that is very clear, while Sonik Foundry is as you mentioned more of an EBM/industrial kind of sound, there is still a heavy dose of synthpop-style melody. That seems to be something that’s been happening with a lot of EBM music over the last decade. Even Combichrist started singing more on some of their later releases versus the more traditional ‘oomph-oomph’ of their early stuff. As far as the genre of EBM music is concerned, what do you think is drawing people to incorporating more synthpop and more traditional melodies into the music? What do you think about the way that’s happening?
Nikademus: I think the scene is gearing up for some change. There are thousands of bands out there, doing the same sound, and it kind of gets repetitious. I think we need some change. You have to meet supply and demand, and that demand seems to be changing. It’s evolving into different types of sounds. For instance, you may start hearing some dubstep in new productions; some industrial bands may start incorporating it because it’s hot. Whatever’s hot, whatever’s going to sell an album, whatever’s going to get a band known is the shock and awe factor. New sounds come along all the time. Also, you got all these bands that were hot in the ‘80s coming back. It’s like history repeats itself. It’s driven by change, and people want to hear something different instead of the same stuff all the time. Also, in my opinion, if you can understand the lyrics and actually understand the storyline of the song, it makes the song more interesting. Not only great beats and sounds that you can dance to, but something that has an understandable meaning along with it, to me, is the best of both worlds. We do have screaming in our music, but with moderation. I don’t do much of the screaming, however; Malic, my backup vocalist, who is also my drummer, does a lot of the screaming.
As far as the band is concerned, is it ever a concern for you as the musician and the staying power of your music if people will still be listening to this when those particular stylistic demands on the part of the audience have changed? Do you ever worry about if the music you have put out now is going to become outdated by the next release, or two releases later? Or do you even think about that?
Nikademus: Well, a lot of music is short-lived, you know? I’m not worried about it, because anything new that I come up with is going to be pretty current. However, I’m also going to stick with whatever sounds good, while keeping the trueness of the Sonik Foundry sound. Albums will come and go, and new ones will come to take their place. That’s just the way it is. New sounds will always be better than the last, and that’s how I see it. I think I’m going to just keep on getting better as I get more and more fluent with the Access Virus. I don’t see a ceiling in my future. I just see change and evolution, so that’s kind of my take on that whole thing.
Where would you say the lyrics have gone in terms of what you were talking about on Mechanized and Epiphany, and how is Parish of Redemption a continuation of those themes, or is it going in a completely new direction, lyrically-speaking? What are the topics that you are tackling this time around?
Nikademus: When I first started with the Mechanized album and following with Epiphany, I pretty much just wrote whatever came to mind, and I really didn’t follow any particular storyline, but I kept it simple. With this latest album, I pretty much sat down and really thought about what I was going to write about and made sure the album from cover to cover was going to have some kind of meaning and some kind of flow to it. The last albums kind of jumped around a little bit. This particular album has a lot more lyrics; some of the songs have so many lyrics that it’s hard to keep up as far as what it’s all about. The lyrics are a lot better in this one, I think, a lot more complex, a little bit more meaningful in terms of what it really is about.
You mentioned that you’d be using the Virus on the new album, and for quite a few years, that particular synth had been associated with the EBM/futurepop style. Obviously incorporating a live drummer and live guitars, you’re probably steering away from that sort of comparison, as least consciously, but what are your thoughts on the way that the equipment has sort of become such a standard for this particular genre?
Nikademus: I think it’s because of the sounds that you can produce with it. The Virus is something that’s been used for not only this genre but in a lot of pop and mainstream as well. It depends on what sound banks you use. You can create your own, or you can get sound banks from other bands. People are sharing a lot of Virus sound banks. For instance, I’ve gotten sound banks from Tom Shear and Sebastian Komor. People put them out for free; you just download them and put them in. I like to make my own, as well. The ones I used in the new album are all sounds that I created from scratch, because I just don’t want to have a preset sound or someone else’s sound. I want to be original and unique and have a sound that’s my own. So that’s pretty much what I did: auditioning sounds and coming up with stuff that I like to hear and use in the songs as I create them. The Virus has always been the first choice of musicians in this genre, however. It’s been used all over the place. I just like it particularly because of the sounds it can produce. Its capabilities are endless.
What are the major challenges that Sonik Foundry has faced as far as bringing the album and your past music into the live format, especially now that you’re using instruments and musicians that were not featured on the album? What is the biggest challenge of transferring the music into the live environment?
Nikademus: Well, there is no challenge, really. It’s pretty simple. I take out parts that are played live. We do still use backing tracks; a lot of the synths and arpeggios and much of the heavy beat stuff are still in the backing track. The vocals are taken out and some of the percussion is taken out, as well, which is played by Malic Acid and myself. Finding guitarists in this genre is not easy, as most of the available guitarists in Maine are into rock, classic rock or country. This forced us to look further south for a better fit. There never was any guitar in the music; however, when I first heard the guitar when T.S. came to audition, I was floored and amazed by the sound. It just fit like a glove.
We found guitarist T.S. Moth, who worked with us for a few weeks before the tour. However, he lived in New Hampshire, and before long, the travel costs took their toll, and with having his own project going on, he decided to focus in that direction. T.S. departed from the band prior to the Parish of Redemption tour, so we introduced local guitarist and acquaintance Grant Furman, who stuck with us for the summer performances. However, after the tour, he chose to take a break and focus on his personal life and family. He was totally new to the goth/industrial scene and was oblivious of its existence. It took him from a ‘normal’ life, and subjected him to what he had described as ‘a massive cultural shock.’ It was also the very first time Grant had ever toured in a band before. The road can be very rough and unforgiving. The stresses of the road and the relentless rehearsals took their toll on him, and after the tour, he resigned. However, for the last show of the year before heading into the studio, we went on a search for another guitarist and asked our friend Ken Collins – former manager of The Ludovico Technique – if he could help us find a replacement. He had mentioned James Halo Weber, who we coincidentally stayed with in Raleigh, NC during our summer tour.
We’d spoken before about the inclusion of the guitarist and the drummer and that they would be featured not only in your live shows, but in future production work. As Sonik Foundry has now had the time to get the new members accustomed to the sound and vice versa, how pleased are you with the results?
Nikademus: I’m very pleased with the results. The incorporation of a live guitarist and drummer really added depth and excitement to the shows and the music. In the studio, collaborating with other members and coming up with different sounds and ideas for the music has proven to be quite beneficial and enjoyable. When working with other musicians, more ideas flow, and when the result is a great sound, the gratitude is shared. This not only builds better music, but builds stronger friendships and a brotherhood that extends beyond the studio and onto the stage, making for better performances as the members feel more a part of the music, and not just session artists. For Parish of Redemption, Malic had contributed his vocal talents to the backing vocals in most of the songs on the album. However, no guitar or live drums were added at that time.
In what ways do you feel the presence of live drums and guitar is changing the sound of Sonik Foundry for the better and taking things even further than Parish of Redemption has?
Nikademus: I feel that the presence of live drums as well as guitar gives a more active, more powerful sound and performance. I strongly believe that being more active on stage, with sweat pouring, shows the audience we care very strongly about giving them everything we can muster to deliver the best performance their money can buy, no matter how big or small that audience may be. A strong performance is the key to giving the audience a level of entertainment they deserve. It is my opinion that adding guitar and more drums in the studio recording raises the bar on the music’s diversity and makes it more interesting.
For Malic Acid and James Halo Weber, what attracted you to Nik and Sonik Foundry that you wanted to work with the band? In what ways do you feel your contributions have helped to enhance the band’s sound, not just in the obvious sense of adding live instruments, but affecting the tone and spirit of the music?
Malic: I discovered Sonik Foundry through an ad they had posted for a live performance drummer. After getting to know Nik, it was obvious he was passionate, and that hooked me. This was also a project that was completely out of the box compared to what I was used to doing as a drummer. Before the album, the plan was to just be a live performer, learn the songs and play them live. Nik and I have very different backgrounds as musicians, and that chemistry gave us the desire to collaborate some in the studio during the recording of Parish of Redemption and you can hear the difference when we play live – the music gets a little more aggressive, but not too much, and we created some different drumbeats with more cymbals. On the album, he asked me to add some backing vocals and the Sonik Foundry sound started to grow into a new direction. We are excited to work on another album together.
Weber: I met Nik and Sonik Foundry when my manager Ken Collins of Synthetik Visions Management called me up one day and said, ‘Hey man, I got this great band out of Maine that needs a place to crash for a night while on tour.’ I said to him, ‘Sure, man!’ My house is open to traveling bands and acts and being a musician that has been out on the road, I know it’s awesome when you have a place to go to not be in a van or hotel or a venue floor and to not have to take a birdbath in a sink and to get some real food! We all went out and had a few brews and in my opinion hit it off well. A little bit later, Ken had mentioned to me that Nik was maybe looking for someone to play a show, so when Nik called, I was ready to jump on and play with such a great act! I had the album and Nik sent some tracks. Being only a few weeks out, the real challenge for me was to pretty much create the guitar tracks from scratch with only one or two older videos to go off of for ideas. I wanted to make sure that the riffs that I played blended well with the music and did not overpower the established tracks and works that Sonik Foundry had already laid down. Being a gun for hire at this time, my goals are to work with bands and help people attain what they want for their sounds with my own added flair in hopes to open avenues to work with a multitude of great musicians and live life to its fullest and eventually landing that dream gig. We all have one. Overall, I think that we found a great sound for the show, and I am excited to be able hopefully to get to work with Nik and Sonik Foundry on their upcoming new album for a track or two.
Tell us about your backgrounds in music, bands you’ve participated in and such.
Weber: I have a long background in bands and music with added recording arts and engineering degrees, but in the past few years, I have played both drums and guitar for a few different acts. I played with a project for a bit called Voodoo Velkro. I played guitar in the beginning, which was great for me. I played in A-tuning on a seven-string and getting out and using my stilt-walking through crowds while playing guitar, which was a big hit. Then later, I took up the drummer position, lending some heavier rock/metal feel drums to the driving techno that Rogi and Spiral had created. I also played a short stint in another project called Skabdriver and played some fun and wild percussion where we elevated drums up on PA speaker stands, and again I wore the stilts and played drums and did some backing vocals. There are some great pics on my official/personal and the band’s Facebook pages from shows. From both projects we opened up for some kick-ass acts like Imperative Reaction, Psyclon Nine, Funker Vogt, Scandinavian Cocks, Thrill Kill Kult, Deviant UK…the list goes on. Now, being a musician for hire working with my manager Ken, we have been in and out of the studio working on some killer remixes and working on some top secret stuff that we hope will pan out going forward in the hopes of working with some great projects and people.
Malic: I have played acoustic drums for about 15 years now and have only played drums in a few bands when I lived in Philadelphia. I was lead vocalist in most of the other bands I have been in. Most of the projects were closer to punk and metal. Sonik Foundry was a refreshing challenge that made me excited to play again and learn something new. Everything about this generally is pretty new to me.
Is Bow Ever Down still active?
Nikademus: It is active, but it’s kind of been on hiatus. I may start working on some new Bow Ever Down stuff at some point, but it’s still up in the air. I am working on a new sound, however; as soon as I find more time to dedicate to it, things will start happening. I know you didn’t say it, but Bow Ever Down is not dead. It’s just on hiatus at the moment because being only one person you can only cram so much at a time. I’ve got a family; Linda and I have three children, a cat, two dogs, and a partridge in a pear tree, so I’ve got to balance my family life and career with music, and that also takes time.
Is it ever a concern for you as far as your writing process is concerned that what you might be writing for one project would actually be more appropriate for the other?
Nikademus: Well, yeah, sure. Sometimes it just happens. It just evolves during the process. if I start making a song for Sonik Foundry and it seems like it would fit Bow Ever Down more, then I would probably focus on moving it to more of a Bow Ever Down sound and have my wife come in and start doing the lyrics and making it her own. On the same token, if I start on a Bow Ever Down song and it winds up being really grungy and more industrial-sounding, or more like Sonik Foundry, it turns into that. It’s a trial and error; it’s ‘art.’
Let’s talk about your background. Your father was a booking agent, you’ve been a DJ, and you’ve pretty much gone through every genre that’s out there. What would you say has had the most significant impact on you and your own musical progression?
Nikademus: Probably when I was DJing in…I think it had to be the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the economy was pumping. I was DJing in clubs here and there, and seeing the crowd and how they reacted. I soon found out that being a DJ you could have control over what people do on the dance floor. I loved the music, the music was awesome, and at that time it was hot. It wasn’t really until I opened a studio in New Jersey back in the early ‘90s when I wanted to have something else. I mean, there was other people’s music, but I wanted to have something that I liked to hear, something I could call my own, so it kind of drove me to make my own music. I had a couple of experimental bands that I’d had been in as a vocalist. When you’re brought up in the music business things just kind of happen, you’re always surrounded by it, so it just grows on you. It becomes nature, it becomes your life, and you just follow it, it just comes to you. That’s pretty much how I started, DJing, then the band thing.
From the shows that you have performed, is there any one in particular that stands out to you in your mind?
Nikademus: Well, yeah, I had a good time playing twice with Jim Semonik from the Electronic Saviors compilation. Jim was awesome to work with on stage, and I had a lot of fun. I plan to do it again when Electronic Saviors 2 comes out in 2012. I’ve already put a song out, an exclusive song that I’ve given to Jim. But the performances with Jim are probably the most memorable performance that I’ve had thus far.
It does seem like as far as the scene is concerned there is a lot more tribute and charity compilations being put out for various causes. In your experience, what are your thoughts on the fact that this is sort of become a recent development? Really, tribute and charity albums have not been a big part of the underground scene, at least as far as electronic music is concerned, until fairly recently.
Nikademus: There are many reasons why people are doing that. People in the music scene are trying to change the perspective of the scene for the better because a lot of people out there are shallow, and people see the scene as, ‘Ugh, goth/industrial, they’re just a bunch of people making evil music.’ But it’s more than that. We are capable of good and capable of making positive change in the world. That’s one reason, so people know we’re more capable of doing something good. Another thing is people want to do something that puts the focus on the scene in a positive light. A lot of current events that are happening are the reason why it started. You have a lot of catastrophes that have been happening with the tsunamis, New Orleans, the oil spill, and then you’ve got the war; that’s how it started. Somebody else had the idea, and they figured, ‘Wow,’ and everybody jumped on the bandwagon because…here’s another reason, it’s a great way to get exposure, and it’s a great way to get your name out there, but in a good light by doing something good for people in general; not just the scene, but the whole world. So that kind of opens the doors for the goth/industrial scene to the eyes of people that never heard of this genre before, and it just evolves and makes it grow much bigger. That’s kind of my take on it.
What do you think from what you’ve noticed what the current consensus from the average person is of the scene? Do you still think that people view it in a negative light, or is it starting to come around thanks to whatever the exposure, brought on by whether it’s the charity albums, or these other little mainstream nuggets that are coming out there?
Nikademus: Well for the most part, the mainstream and the goth/industrial scene have kind of been segregated. People that listen to mainstream music don’t even know about the scene. Unless they hear it from a friend or from someone else, no one’s going to look for anything if they’re content where they are. It’s the same thing as living in a house; there are thousands of better houses and different houses that you could be living in, but if you stick with the same thing all the time, then you can never see anything else. So mainstream kind of never sees the goth/industrial scene that much, unless something happens like you get people that were or had been in the goth/industrial scene early and then went to mainstream. I’m not certain about it, but I think Lady Gaga actually stems from part of the goth/industrial scene. One of the comments I’ve heard that she had mentioned was that the goth/industrial scene just doesn’t get enough play, they don’t get enough play in the right places to be exposed enough to break the barriers of mainstream, but a lot of people don’t want that. It all stems down to the early ‘80s of how this whole ‘Fuck the Mainstream’ thing started, because you had all these bands that came up and had these one hits, and then they were dead, and the mainstream studios and producers dumped them. That’s how the whole attitude and resentment that all these bands had against the mainstream came about. That’s my take on how that started. So there’s this barrier of people and what they like and what they follow, and there’s this big barrier of resentment between mainstream and the underground. It’s kind of made it segregated, and it’s hard to break that barrier. What with current events, changes and stuff, slowly makes it so in time, who knows what’s going to happen, you know? There might be some kind of co-genre that is both accepted in the mainstream and in the goth/industrial, and I think that might just happen.
What would be your thoughts if such a crossover were to happen on a massive scale, or if not massive, at least on a scale other than peripheral?
Nikademus: I don’t know. I think that maybe at first there’d be a lot of riots. [Laughs.]
A lot of chair cushions being ripped up. Who knows? There’d be people that are hard to change and there’d be resentment stemming from the whole thing that went down in the ‘80s. Trent Reznor, I think, it’s my opinion that he’s pretty much opened up the industrial sound to mainstream, but I wouldn’t consider him mainstream. Mainstream to me are all these Hollywood producers picking up nine-year-old kids and making them a star in two days, which is ridiculous to me because they’ve got all the money and they’ve got all the power and all of the equipment and the know-how and everything else, and that’s the only reason that I can see why. Unless you’re going to make money for those people, you’re gone and then it’ll be somebody else. That’s how I think the mainstream works. But in the underground, in the goth/industrial scene, people and bands work a hell of a lot harder. They don’t do anything that they really do for you in the mainstream, but then again, the mainstream is very cutthroat. They take all of your money and whatever you had, if you’re gone, you’re gone. You lose everything. In the goth/industrial scene, you have a chance of surviving longer because you work harder, you learn more, and you spend more time doing a lot of your own work.
From all of your experience as a DJ, all the musicians you’ve met that you’ve played with, that you’ve talked to, releasing three albums now, or three releases at least, what do you think is the single most important lesson that you’ve learned as far as making music and how to survive in making music?
Nikademus: Be true to yourself, don’t be somebody or something you’re not. Don’t get too wrapped up in yourself and develop an attitude. People see that and will start disliking you, and you won’t sell any music. That’s pretty much rule number one for me. Just keep on making music people want to listen to. Listen to your fans and your friends. Take their advice. Take constructive criticism as a positive thing and not get all bent out of shape. Those things are good to know. Don’t use the Internet outlets and social networking sites to spam everyone about your new thing that you have today and your new album is out.and now okay, your new album’s out again, and okay, I’ve seen this yesterday. You lose more people by doing that rather than just telling them something really important, making it really count, and do it sparingly. People hate spam. You’ll lose people faster than lightning. People don’t want to hear the same or see the same thing more than once. Don’t book a gig and then have the promoter make a Facebook event, then you make a Facebook event, and then your friends make a Facebook event, and then you invite everybody to this Facebook event, and even people across the country or across the world that never will attend this. It’s annoying. Coordination and having a good head on your shoulders and really planning stuff out, that’s what’s important.
What is the next step for Sonik Foundry at this junction?
Nikademus: Well, I plan to have more vocal contributions from Malic, and perhaps some drum collaboration. James has also expressed his interest in contributing his guitar skills to the music as well, and we are in talks about that. As far as the sound that this will create, we will have to see what this brings to the Sonik Foundry sound, and be realized when the album releases, but I’m sure it will be shock and awe!
Malic: I would say to continue to create music and grow. Let’s see what the next album brings.