Oct 2019 07

Currently on an upward trajectory of acclaim from the electro/EBM scene, Pittsburgh’s Tragic Impulse invites ReGen and its readers into the home of “Mr. Stompy” and asks the scene “Why so serious?”


An InterView with Paul M. Graham of Tragic Impulse

By William Zimmerman (WZ)

After putting Eisengeist to rest, Paul M. Graham embarked on a new musical project to satisfy his musical inclinations, with the ironic, yet somewhat appropriate name of Tragic Impulse. Releasing his Machine Parts debut in 2014 and appearing on the Electronic Saviors compilation series, the Pittsburgh electro/EBM act signed to Jim Semonik’s Distortion Productions, releasing the 2017 album Devil On Your Shoulder to great acclaim. Through further compilation appearances on such prominent imprints as Metropolis, Alfa Matrix, and Cleopatra, and building a strong live following sharing the stage with the likes of Suicide Commando. Ego Likeness, and Leæther Strip, Tragic Impulse has been on an upward trajectory to be one of Distortion’s most eminent acts, and one of the scene’s rising stars. In 2019, the Space Force single/EP and the Echoes of the Unseen album appeared, furthering Graham’s artistic and musical development, taking the band’s sound into more sophisticated realms of production and songwriting. Speaking with ReGen Magazine, he now speaks about his history and the evolution of his music and live show, the serious attitudes of an electro/industrial music scene desperately in need of a laugh, along with a couple of hypothetical questions for an extra bit of fun.


What was the initial reason for moving on from your previous project Eisengeist and starting Tragic Impulse? Was there a specific catalyst that inspired the name?

Graham: Eisengeist was really my first attempt at putting any music out there for public consumption. I submitted the song ‘Apocalyptic Visions’ to the Electronic Saviors 2 compilation and it was accepted (thanks Jim Semonik!). I was thrilled! This gave me the confidence to start working on lyrics and vocals – something I had never explored with Eisengeist. The direction of my music at that point just felt different and as a result, Tragic Impulse was born. The term ‘tragic impulse’ is actually used to describe a literary character’s impulse for self-destructive behavior. It’s often used in reference to the works of Shakespeare and I just thought the term sounded cool so I adopted the name.

‘Space Force’ has some intriguing samples from the likes of Donald Trump and other sources. Do you look at any particular sources for samples proactively, or do you discover most of your samples in passing?

Graham: It’s a combination of the two, typically. Sometimes I use a soundbite I’ve heard as inspiration for lyrics or a theme, and other times they just fit well with the subject matter I’m already exploring. In the case of ‘Space Force,’ I remember hearing Trump’s soundbite again and again on the daily news cycle and thought the idea might make good subject matter for a song. I almost always add samples after the core parts of the song are already finished. I see them as complementary pieces or ‘garnish’ if you will.



‘Home’ is another track off of Echoes of the Unseen with some very deep and poignant lyrics. Can you talk about that track a bit?

Graham: Since my material tends to be a little bit more up-tempo, ‘Home’ is really my first foray into something more subdued. It’s definitely a less comfortable space for me to operate in, but I think it’s important to push myself as an artist. Coincidentally, I had one fan at a live show tell me it gave him goosebumps when I performed it, so it’s nice to hear it’s working on some level. The song, as it was originally conceived, is about how we take things like the health of our planet for granted. It’s so easy to go about our daily lives while things (sometimes literally) are ‘burning’ around us. We have to do better as stewards of this place.

You’d spoken about the intent of making Devil On Your Shoulder a concept album, but that in fact didn’t turn out to be the case. Was Echoes of the Unseen more of a concept album?

Graham: Although I still love the idea of doing a concept album, I’ve yet to make that happen. When I was working on Echoes…, it just didn’t seem to fall into place – probably because my workflow tends to be scattered when it comes to themes and ideas. However, I have talked (very informally) with a talented artist friend of mine about perhaps collaborating on a concept album that would feature matching artwork for each song. Maybe there’s opportunity there?

How do you think Echoes of the Unseen represents a maturation in style and sound much in the way that Devil… was to its predecessor?

Graham: I do think my production skills have gotten better over time, but I’ll probably never be totally satisfied. I think that’s a healthy perspective for an artist to have – you should continue to push yourself and, hopefully, I’ve done that to some degree when it comes to production.

You have a couple of digital singles, which clearly indicate that you don’t take yourself too seriously – I’m talking, of course, about ‘Mr. Stompy’ and ‘Swords.’ Could you talk about these tracks? Why do you think in this music, some artists and fans appear to take themselves too seriously?

Graham: Why so serious? I’ve always said that I’ll keep making music as long as it’s fun and those songs are a reflection of that. To be honest, songs like ‘Mr. Stompy’ or ‘Swords’ get birthed into the world mostly as a ‘happy accident.’ Rather than let them die, however, I decided to put them out there and have some fun with it. I do think some people/artists take themselves too seriously. That’s probably true of any scene though. But as long as you’re having fun and not hurting anyone else along the way, I’m not one to judge.



How has the Tragic Impulse studio evolved since the first album and how does it differ from the live setup?

Graham: My studio has changed a bit since the beginning when I think about it. I started out with FL Studio, a few sample packs, and a few hard/soft synths. Now I use Bitwig for my DAW and an ever-expanding collection of soft-synths and tools (Hive, Serum, Sylenth1, Fabfilter are favorites). Lately, I’ve been working on improving my listening environment and that’s really helped my still developing mixing/mastering skills.
Our live setup is quite a bit different than the studio setup – particularly the light show. I keep saying that if you catch a Tragic Impulse show and hate the music, you’ll probably still like the light show (hopefully, you like both!). We played a gig with Kite a couple of years ago and they had such a great light show that it inspired me to get to work on our own. After some experimentation, I feel the light show is now pretty dialed in. I’ve actually had a few offers to do some lighting consulting work from people who have seen our gigs, so that’s cool.

What plans do you have for the foreseeable months in 2019 and 2020?

Graham: Right now, I’m just supporting Echoes of the Unseen and booking gigs with plans to hopefully tour. Otherwise, I’m working on new material and have actually been kicking around a side project that has more of an industrial/metal feel to it – something in the vein of Front Line Assembly’s Millennium, 3TEETH, etc.



For a hypothetical situation, you’ve been asked to score the remake of a classic film. What film would you like to score and why?

Graham: The ‘Mr. Stompy’ side of me thinks scoring Full Metal Jacket with songs featuring samples from the late, great, R. Lee Ermey (Combichrist, Grendel, Modulate, etc.) would be kind of awesome; weird, but awesome. Otherwise, I’d have to say Aliens… seems like the perfect movie for an industrial music makeover.

For another hypothetical situation, many years in the future, a very distant relative locates a box in the attic of an old home. In that box they find a Tragic Impulse album and something to play it on. What do you want this person to know about you and your legacy simply from listening to this release?

Graham: Tough question. Probably that I tried to make music that just covered some ground. It’s all EBM, but each song has its own feel without interfering in the space created by another songs.


Tragic Impulse
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp
Distortion Productions
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube


Photography by Brett Rothmeyer, courtesy of Brett Rothmeyer Photography.


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