Beauty in Chaos founder and curator Michael Ciravolo and vocalist Whitney Tai speak with ReGen about the musical partnership behind the band’s latest single.
An InterView with Michael Ciravolo and Whitney Tai of Beauty in Chaos
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Curating a musical collective is no easy task, and Michael Ciravolo has proven more than capable with the formation of Beauty in Chaos… and why not? Having served in such bands as Gene Loves Jezebel, Human Drama, and The Models, he has the experience and the creative drive to assemble a dynamic and fluid lineup of all-stars to craft something beautiful out of the seemingly chaotic maelstrom of artistic diversity. Even on the 2018 debut of Finding Beauty in Chaos, the band had surpassed the mere label of a “goth supergroup,” with the inclusion of classic rockers like Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) and Michael Anthony (ex-Van Halen) to OG gangsta rapper Ice-T, from underground metalhead dUg Pinnick (King’s X) to rivethead icon Al Jourgensen (MINISTRY); of course, the album was wrought with goth/rockers galore with Wayne Hussey (The Mission U.K.), Ashton Nyte (The Awakening), Simon Gallup (The Cure), and Evi Vine also appearing, along with many more. Things took a slightly more streamlined, though no less varied approach on the The Storm Before the Calm sophomore release in 2020, with industrial superstars Curse Mackey (Evil Mothers, Pigface, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult) and Steven Seibold (Hate Dept., Pigface) making prominent appearances, with the most recent outing from BiC coming in the form of “Orion,” which features an alluring and ethereal vocal performance from Whitney Tai. ReGen had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Ciravolo about the creative philosophy and process behind Beauty in Chaos, delving deeply into his partnership with producer Michael Rozon and the numerous guests and collaborators he brings into the fold, the logistics of performing live in the (hopefully) waning pandemic, his work as the President of Schecter Guitars, and some hints about the upcoming third album, Behind the Veil. As well, Whitney Tai weighs in on her own contributions to BiC, touching on the songwriting partnership with Ciravolo, and just what the future holds.
Beauty in Chaos released The Storm Before the Calm in 2020, as did Whitney release her Apogee album. The new ‘Orion’ single is the first new material from Beauty in Chaos since the October 2020 release of Out of Chaos Comes…, so almost a full year between releases.
As we are hopefully nearing an end to the global crisis (variants aside), simply put… how are you doing? How have you fared with the pandemic, and in what ways did it affect your working conditions?
Michael, you’ve had a long history as a musician, producer, and engineer, working with the likes of Gene Loves Jezebel, The Models, Human Drama… what would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your experience? I mean this in any terms – musical, personal, technical, etc.
In what ways do you feel you’ve applied this learning to Beauty in Chaos?
Ciravolo: Curating Beauty in Chaos is different from any other bands I have been part of, something I have been doing since I was a teenager. I think every experience I have had with those bands, whether live or in the studio, good or bad, is a lesson; hopefully a lesson I have learned from. Engineering and producing other bands certainly helps me with songwriting, and it sure in hell makes me appreciate just how great it is to have Michael Rozon as my BiC cohort! It certainly frees me to tinker and do my textural sound fuckery! BiC is certainly a different animal than being part of a ‘band’ and attempting to let everyone have a vote. I like to feel I am not egotistical and I certainly value and thank everyone who freely gives their time, art, and creatively to be part of BiC… but for this to move forward in a timely (usually propelled by my impatience) and somewhat cohesive manner, I have to be the ‘tiebreaker,’ so to speak.
What about the collaborative process do you find most invigorating?
Ciravolo: I think it is the element of surprise and anticipation. We complete a music track, and I sort of imagine in my head a singer’s voice and lyrical stylings as part of it. Then comes the wait, and the anticipation as to where the music we created will guide them. I have described it before as being like ‘Christmas morning’ – getting a text from an artist saying to check my inbox for what is now a song. That is a real cool moment to hear it for the first time! On the first two studio albums, I think the music tracks that we sent to the artists were probably 95% ‘finished’ as far as the music and the arrangements. For these new songs, which will culminate into Behind the Veil, we purposely left a bit more ‘space’ in the music tracks. I think this possibly guided the singers a bit less, which also allowed Michael and I to be inspired and directed a bit by what each singer did.
The band has approached musical styles as diverse as the musicians involved – goth, rock, industrial, hip-hop, etc. I’ve often felt that the lines between genres is becoming so blurred that they don’t matter much (certainly not where Beauty in Chaos is concerned, right?); but what are your thoughts on this? What do you find to be the validity of such categorizations?
Are there any musicians in particular that you’ve not had the opportunity to work with that you would like to, either within Beauty in Chaos or in another band or project?
Ciravolo: There are certainly some ‘big names’ that I would love to have the opportunity to have as part of our BiC Family – Robert Smith, Richard Butler, and Peter Murphy would all be stellar. And my ‘lady wish list’ is even longer – Shirley Manson, Elizabeth Fraser, Björk, Rachel Goswell (Slowdive), Julianne Regan (All About Eve), and Maria Brink (In This Moment). That being said, after our debut record had so many big names involved, I knew I had to shift BiC away from the ‘who’s next’ script that was being spread. While I would love to have the amazing artists I listed and have reached out to several, I really enjoy finding the right singer for the song. Lesser-known (but certainly no less talented) singers like Kat Leon, Curse Mackey, Evi Vine, Elena Alice Fossi, and of course Whitney Tai turned this music we had sent them into gorgeous songs that I believe, in my heart of hearts, could not be performed better by anyone I named.
In what ways do you feel these collaborations have helped you to establish a firmer sense of your own creative identity?
Ciravolo: These collaborations with singers are at the heart of Beauty in Chaos. Without them, these would be instruments – like a Steve Vai record with a million less notes! One of the joys of curating BiC is seeing where and how the music we create moves a singer and what it pulls out of them.
For Whitney, what was the working dynamic like on ‘Orion?’ How did the song come about, and what sorts of challenges would you say it offered you versus when you’re working on your own solo output?
In the most mundane question I can ask (and I do apologize), but lyrically, what would you say ‘Orion’ is about?
Tai: When I roughly sketched out the lyrics, the orchestration of the music was floating me into a swirling amber and black dust cloud. I could see myself fluctuating inside a nebula, every star like crystals in perfect shapes. I closed my eyes and saw Orion. He was beautiful, strong, but condescending, mean, and manipulative. His light was different – bright and mystical to behold, but callous and insensitive in nature. ‘Orion’ is a portrait of someone I knew. Someone we all may know. Someone whose ego and demeanor is deceptive, controlling, and dangerous. Someone that presents one way but operates another. The lyrics unfolded from there.
You’ve also worked with Julian Beeston in his Featured project – what sorts of similarities did you find in Beeston’s and Michael Ciravolo’s approach to songwriting and collaboration?
As they are both veterans and legends in their own right, what did you find most personally rewarding about these collaborations, and will we hear more from either of them?
What other sorts of influences – works of literature, cinema, people you encounter, anything – come into play in your personal process?
Ciravolo: While it would be more culturally interesting for me to cite literature and art as influences, the honest answer for me is ‘sound.’ My spark comes from the multiple combinations I get from running various guitars in various tunings through various guitar pedals. A sound will spark a chord change; thus, a song idea is born. A sound can also come from a non-musical source. I walked into our laundry room and heard the dryer creating a ‘rhythm’ by spinning with keys or something metallic left in a pocket. This is a true story! I cranked the time up so it would continue to run and grabbed a PZM style microphone and taped it to the dryer door. Then I recorded that into ProTools and added some assorted sonic ‘faery dust’ and off I went! As for musical influences, I think you absorb something from every song you have ever heard. These are the building blocks.
Tai: I extract endless creativity from so many influences. I draw from eclectic corners like spinning vinyls of Vangelis, Tears For Fears, Satie, David Bowie, to Stone Temple Pilots. I connect with sci-fi/fantasy shows like Dark, Raised By Wolves, or The OA. Random films like Contact, Interstellar, Real Science, and The Emperors Club have stuck with me. I love referencing the Tao Te Ching, Les Misérables, Neruda, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare. Astronomy, theory, the ocean, fine art, architecture, and botany inspire me to create, it’s an endless well that never dries; like seeing a butterfly or an agave, you cannot help but feel life as brand new every time it crosses your presence.
Michael, you’re also the President of Schecter Guitars, which has become a leading name in guitars and is a favored brand for much of the metal and industrial/alternative underground. From your perspective (and at the risk of sounding like a plug or sales pitch), what is it about Schecter that appeals so much to those scenes now?
Are there any particular experiences related to Schecter that you’d like to share – artists you’ve encountered, shenanigans in the factory, anything like that?
Ciravolo: Shenanigans? Ha! Anytime Zakk Wylde stops in, shenanigans certainly ensue! I think we have a very cool and diverse group of artists that play our instruments and many who I am blessed to call friends.
As live shows and festivals are steadily returning (and again, barring surges and new variants of the virus), how do you feel touring/performing live will or should change – both across the board and for yourself personally – in the wake of the last year’s events?
Ciravolo: Honestly, the hypocrisy of the entire 18+ months pisses me off. I am not denying the existence of the virus, but the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ bullshit shoved down our throats by so-called ‘leaders,’ and I use that term loosely, is wrong. I’ll leave it at that.
As for what a concert will be or should change to? I really don’t know. I don’t think you can put a band in a half full venue with tickets double or triple the norm. Bands need to perform to earn a living. People want to see and experience live music again… period. Sporting events pack 80,000+ fans in like sardines, and politicians host maskless fundraisers, so if bands want to perform, and fans want to go, do it.
Tai: It seems like such a weird landscape to navigate, and I really miss playing out with my band with no anxiety or worry of someone falling ill. Our last show was NAMM 2020 just before the shutdown, and seeing how much has changed amid our COVID reality, I say we just have to tread lightly as we softly enter back out there. Safety is obviously the concern across the board, following protocols, making sure the well-being of players and audience alike is taken into consideration until the pandemic tapers into the shadows.
With the difficulties of having so many different collaborators… will Beauty in Chaos be taking to the road at any time soon? What would such an undertaking entail?
What’s next for you?
Tai: I’ve been busy tinkering away on my third solo album with guitar extraordinaire/co-writer/producer, Tom Hatziemaneoul of Professional Murder Music. Working on a follow-up collab with Harry Vato, which I am busting at the seams about, and I’ve got some awesome songs coming out with Chuck Wright of Quiet Riot’s new solo project, Sheltering Sky. Really cool announcements coming soon!
Beauty in Chaos/33.3 Music Collective
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