Dec 2012 12

Dan Barrett speaks with ReGen on the progress of his journey through the darkest modes of industrial music, culminating his harshly atmospheric and aggressively magickal new album.

An InterView with Dan Barrett of Worms of the Earth

By: Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Industrial music has since the term was first coined in the late ’70s been an enigmatic genre that has undergone more permutations than one can count, culminating in various styles like dark ambient and power noise to name a few. So disparate have these subgenres become that it seems to many that never shall they meet amid the common ground of one of its progenitors: industrial. Along comes an act like Worms of the Earth to create a viciously decrepit and aggressive sound that blends these various modes, combined with an intellectually atmospheric approach that draws as much from themes of mythology, spirituality, and the occult as it does from the clamorous noise of the bygone era of industrial’s abstract and avant-garde beginnings. From humble beginnings as an independently released act that reveled in the tropes of sample-laden terror EBM and power noise, signing to Bugs Crawling Out of People to evolve into a tightly produced and finely tuned machine of complexly industrialized structures and dark ambient soundscapes, Dan Barrett has taken Worms of the Earth through a remarkable evolution that has culminated in his latest album, Anāgāmi, released on the prestigious Tympanik Audio label. Just prior to the album’s release, Barrett took some time to speak with ReGen on his journey through the darkest recesses of spirituality and musicality, touching on his observations on the state of the industrial scene in his native Baltimore/DC, the more celestial aspects of his Ghosts in the Clocktower vs. the more occult themes of Worms of the Earth, to performing live and the nature of understanding music – not just his music, but music as a whole.

 

You went from limited self releases to signing with Bugs Crawling Out of People and now signed to Tympanik Audio. First of all, tell us about how you perceive your own evolution as a musician and how transitioning from one label to the other has been a part of that evolution.

Barrett: In the beginning, I wasn’t a musician. I was just a guy who had some software and could drop some notes into the piano roll and some audio into the sequencer. With each subsequent step, I have tried to become more than my previous capabilities. With each release I try to expand upon my knowledge of music theory, gear, and techniques in order to grow towards becoming a musician and writing songs. Anyone can distort a drumbeat; I am unremittingly working to venture far beyond that low hanging entrance to being an ‘industrial music producer’ in order to transform into a project that releases profound music that resonates with people and serves a purpose.
The label thing is straightforward; as you get better at writing music, you ascend up the ladder and move to more active and wider reaching labels. I enjoyed working with Squid and Bugs Crawling Out of People, and now I am extremely excited and fortunate to have been accepted into the ranks of the venerable Tympanik Audio.

Secondly, how did you come to sign with Tympanik, and in what was has the experience difference from when you were with BCoP?

Barrett: It’s really not a very exciting story; I sent Paul at Tympanik a demo version of the Anāgāmi album and he wanted to release it. I’ve only been with Tympanik a short time so I don’t think I am yet qualified to speak on the experience, though I will say that Paul has been great to work with and has been very cool about letting me do whatever I want in terms of the music and artwork. It was the same with Squid at BCoP; they are both good, honest guys who care about their artists and their commitment to releasing innovative and challenging music.

While predominantly instrumental, your music has explored many different atmospheres meant to evoke themes of mythology, history, and literature. In what ways will the new album progress on these themes? In other words, will it be a continuation of what was explored on The Angels of Prostitution and The Lesser Ophidian Gate? Or are there any common threads running through them at all?

Barrett: Musically, Anāgāmi is absolutely an evolution of those albums, especially The Lesser Ophidian Gate. I see it as expanded version of that EP, which is better in every way: the rhythmic noise is heavier and darker, the atmospheres are deeper and more defined, the synth lines are more complex and musical, the IDM aspects are more intricate, the tribal elements are greatly expanded upon, the production is much tighter, etc.
Thematically, Anāgāmi ended up being something of a departure from previous material, while ultimately expanding on some past ideas. I think writing this album has radically focused the project. The Angels of Prostitution predominately inhabited the Judeo/Christian sphere and was mainly an observation on history and life. The Lesser Ophidian Gate began the exploration of eastern philosophy and spirituality but was limited by its brevity, as well as there being some other, quasi-unrelated ideas in the background. Over my career, I have slowly evolved through these kind of fantasy/escapist concepts: first the H.P. Lovecraft influenced material of the demos, then I wanted to get more into Hollow Earth/the Nephilim/humans being created by aliens, and so forth, but while writing the new album, I realized how ultimately limiting these imaginary concepts were, and so Anāgāmi is the first one that deals fully with actual, real, important life shit in a focused and constructive manner. I came to realize that in order to write a more powerful album, the album had to present something to its audience beyond nice sounds. It has to challenge you; make you think, make you feel. While Anāgāmi is a continued exploration of the esoteric and the occult, I wanted to actually provide results of this search to the audience in a format that they could ‘interact’ with, be it on a conscious or subconscious level and take away something from rather than just another album ‘inspired by occult stuff.’ Halo Manash and their album Par-Antra I: Vir was a big inspiration to me in that regard. Anāgāmi is obviously heavily steeped in Buddhist ideals, and I wrote it specifically as a multi-part audio ritual to aid the listener in evolving and awakening/connecting with his or her true self. It was written with the intention that the listener be me, though I hope others will be able to enjoy some or all parts of it as well. The purpose and ritual are explained more in depth in the liner notes, though I will be happy to go into it if you’d like.

What draws you to the specific elements that you incorporate into your music, and in what ways do you feel they enhance the music?

Barrett: I have always been drawn to the occult/spiritual stuff with the goal of seeking truth, knowledge, power, and discovering/enhancing yourself. This is the purpose of life for me. What better purpose for music is there?

Can you elaborate on that, at least with regards to your experience? In other words, as you’ve explored the occult and spirituality, what particular experiences have you gone through that have led to truth, knowledge, power, etc.?

Barrett: Honestly, no. I feel that the practice of the occult/esoteric with goals related to self-knowledge is deeply personal such that it is pointless to communicate – it’s impossible to accurately transcribe what an experience was and what it means to you in a way that will be equally significant to another party. I have no interest in talking about my own practices, rituals, whatever. I do what resonates with me; you should do what resonates with you. Everyone has his or her own path. Study everything and find yours.
To answer the inexorable follow up of ‘well, then why the fuck do you release albums with occult/esoteric themes?’: I present my album as a tool to help find or walk that path; perhaps, at the very least, to present the idea that knowing and joining with the true self is beneficial and you might want to consider thinking about it and similar notions.

Having been part of the Baltimore/DC scene for some time, and standing out in it given your rather extreme style, what are your thoughts on the way the local scene that you are part of has progressed – musically and/or otherwise? Or has it at all?
What have you noticed in terms of the way in which DJs/clubs/promoters have enabled the scene to grow; conversely, in what ways do you feel they’ve done the opposite?

Barrett: Well, let me start by saying that regardless of my thoughts on the local goth/industrial scene, its track record speaks for itself. DC is down to one weekly night held in a restaurant, and Baltimore is down to one monthly and one club that hosts random EDM events, occasionally something marginally related to industrial happens, though that seems to be in a state of change now. New nights spring up sporadically, though rarely last for any significant duration. For whatever reason, what seems to do the best here are ’80s nights and sort of ‘Top 40’ goth nights. Industrial and goth rock seem to do better than purely electronic, VNV and Covenant aside. The ‘industrial rave’/’cyber’ trend has been gaining steam in the past few years (mostly due to the DJs playing a fair amount of that, though the patron response seems about as lackadaisical as it is to everything else), and there seems to be continuing crossover with nerd/anime/otaku culture. As you can imagine, there is not a whole lot going on for heavier, darker, deeper electronic music. To give you an example of what I am up against here, there was a short lived night that they billed as a ‘rivethead stompfest,’ and the DJ told me, verbatim, ‘I don’t do power noise.’ At this point, I tend to do my own thing and rarely have any kind of ‘scene’ involvement.
I think the above speaks adequately on how much the promoters are enabling the scene to grow. That said, there is also an extreme and disheartening amount of apathy from club goers. There are DJs playing a lot of rave industrial, which, despite my acute hatred thereof and failure to see any connection to actual industrial music, is technically ‘new’ and ‘different,’ yet no one really cares. A new night will start up with a slightly different format and five people show up. So what can you really do when you have a group of people who aren’t particularly interested in seeking out new music or delving into the culture?
The other major problem with the scene here is that too many people are obsessed with being popular and way too few who are actually interested in the music and culture. This leads to promoters being afraid to deviate from the cliché stuff that works, no one wanting to work together (plus the same people running every event), constant finger pointing, and absolutely no one being willing or able to admit that they are wrong. As such, problems rarely get addressed and nothing really ever changes; things just continue on course until they inevitably run into the ground. Ironically, this very much mirrors western society as a whole, despite the fact that industrial was supposed to be both the resistance to that and the safe haven from it.

It’s interesting that you make the connection between the problems in the scene with western society as a whole. Does this in any way have to do with what you were speaking about earlier about focusing on ‘actual, real important life?’

Barrett: No and yes. I have no interest in and want no part of mainstream society/’culture’ (if you could refer to it as such). That said, life is life and living in the real world involves being integrated within society to some degree, so (barring escapism) you can’t avoid it. The purpose of this album and the concepts that shaped it is getting away from my prior mentality of escapism/fantasy and more into confronting existence and my self. Once you know your self and are fully cognizant and ‘aware’ (e.g. you are fully in control of and accept all of your actions), you are able to live and function to the utmost. This, in my opinion, is the highest goal, especially so when living in a world ruled by the current human paradigm/disposition (this is also the only way to break out of that disposition and to be free from the inherent weaknesses of humanity).

Your other project, Ghosts in the Clocktower presents a more ambient/IDM sound (very spacey and astronomical if you will), while Worms of the Earth seems more based in the mythical, even supernatural, with a much darker sensibility of noise, industrial, and dark ambient.
In what ways do you feel the two projects complement each other in terms of your own outlook on these subjects? In other words, how do you balance the more clinical, scientific approach of GitC vs. the more spiritual, magickal elements presented in WotE?

Barrett: It comes down to the fact that I am so interested in both of these facets of existence. In the beginning, predominately due to lack of direction, I attempted to cram all my interests and influences into one project, but as Worms advanced, I realized that it would be substantially more effective if I kept it focused on a limited subset of interests (spiritual, organic), and jettisoned everything else. I’ve always been passionate about the influences that make up GitC (space travel, robots, futuristic architecture, the vast emptiness of the cosmos, sci-fi, etc.) and it was always a dream of mine to write music inspired by this array of elements in addition to the more terrestrial, present moment, and ritualistic aspects of Worms. I was very lucky to meet Michael Sciortino, who shared my interest in these topics, and together we were able to effectively realize the true launch of the GitC project earlier this year. By having both projects exist completely separately, I am able to better focus on, refine, and evolve their scope – they each have a set style and concept that gives me an opportunity to both delve into vastly different worlds and also simply the chance to write multiple styles of music. I think this is important for anyone who is interested in becoming a better producer.

Now having discussed the conceptual differences between your two projects, tell us about the working dynamic. As GitC is a collaborative effort with Sciortino, how does that compare to working solo in WotE?
In what ways do the differences in the two projects complement each other with regards to your working methods?

Barrett: On the first GitC release, I. Enroute, I would say the writing was about 75/25-me/Mike. Mike hadn’t worked on music in something like 12 years so he was rekindling his producer chops and we were in that initial flux of trying to nail down a workflow that allowed us to work together at maximum efficiency. So for that release, he basically sent me some drones and synth effects and I shaped them into songs – adding percussion, bass, melodies, etc. The new material we are working on now is just about 50/50, with Mike writing all the synth material and sending it over to me to add drums and additional effects. Firstly, I want to express how great it is to work with someone who shares your vision for a project, as well as being able to have that trust between both parties to know that the other person will work hard to deliver quality and will be amicable to you saying ‘that doesn’t work.’ That said, I really enjoy this style of collaboration. Basically, with GitC I am only responsible for half of what I am in Worms and, as my forte is writing beats and sequencing, I can work really fast since I don’t have to worry about the tedium of programming synths and creating melodies (I enjoy working with synths as well, but it’s much more of a process). This has allowed me to focus on and expand my ability to build complex, varied percussion sections with tons of edits and glitches, as well as allowing me to hyperfocus on the production of the drum tracks (compression, panning, etc.) to maximize the impact of all the subtle stuff and make sure it doesn’t get lost in the mix. Even though Worms and Ghosts have different sounds, production techniques are universal and once you learn a cool skill or procedure, you will invariably want to take it to the other project. Also, just writing music period is good practice; I like to be working on stuff constantly as I am always trying to hone my skills.

Let’s discuss the live presentation – working solo in WotE, the live performance has relied primarily on you alone, the physical and audio energy you present, and sometimes some visual accompaniment (projections when available). Given that we exist in a day and age when many musical projects are one person alone, and a good number of them are a single live player as well, what do you feel are the important aspects to your live performance?

Barrett: As a single performer you have a lot working against you (for better or worse). Even though it’s very common for one person to write all the music for a project, there is still a significant stigma when performing live unaccompanied. For whatever reason, it is totally acceptable to have 100% of the music playing from an mp3 on iTunes while one guy pretends (poorly) to play keys and one guy does a subpar rendition of the vocal track, but no matter what you do as one man, you’re still second class and destined for the opening slot. That being what it is, you’ve really got to step it up if you want to be noticed and taken seriously because, in all honesty, watching multiple people is more enjoyable than watching one guy. At the same time, having multiple bodies on stage does not guarantee a good show or performance. For any act, there must be elements of performance art when doing a live show, and sadly, that has been all but forgotten in underground music. I think the main thing is that you have to appear to be into the performance. No one wants to see a guy who looks like he is working on his taxes or updating Facebook; they want to see a guy who is really vibing with what he is doing – jump around, headbang, punch; be doing something onstage. Some of the best shows I’ve seen were fairly simplistic, yet the performer(s) was/were so intense in their passion that it captured the audience. For example, Winterkälte was just a normal looking guy on drums and an equally normal looking guy on synths, yet they both looked like they were having such a great time playing their instruments and interacting with each other that it was quite exciting to watch. Another great show was Void Ov Voices (Atilla Csihar’s dark ambient project) – it was just him wearing a robe with a table full of pedals and candles, but again, he was so into his presentation and that took it from a guy looping some sounds to an actual dark, theatrical performance that entranced the viewers.
I’ve slowly evolved my show over time as I’ve deciphered the purpose and direction of the project. Most recently, I’ve added in banners and visual projections. I’m currently working on adding more theatrical elements for future shows in an effort to generate a more comprehensive ritualistic atmosphere, which hopefully helps to push people’s minds into the proper place for hearing and understanding the music.

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