Photo credit: Ed Marshall
Dysrhythmia unleashed devastating sonic lethality this past Saturday at the Talking Head. I talked with guitarist Kevin Hufnagel before the show about rad metal, the role of theory in songwriting, and his participation in the reincarnated legendary avant garde metal outfit Gorguts.
Aural States: I ran into you at Summer Slaughter Sunday July 19th. What do you think was the highlight of that show?
Kevin Hufnagel: Unfortunately I was really tired. The night before was our CD release show and I stayed out until five am, so I left right after Suffocation…Suffocation was probably the highlight, but Origin was really good too. Origin and Suffocation killed it.
AS: Talk a little bit about your songwriting process. Do you guys use written notation?
KH: No we don’t write anything out. It’s pretty organic, I think the way we write, it’s really collaborative, and everyone has equal input. In terms of songwriting, usually I or sometimes Colin will write something beginning to end on our own instrument, but then we all write our own parts.
AS: What is the title ‘Lifted by Skin’ a reference to?
KH: The interesting thing about song titles and especially putting song titles to instrumental music, because there are no lyrics, is that they are very open to interpretation. I like titles that are provocative and could mean many different things. That title in particular, it can sound gory, it can sound erotic, and the song is sort of the epic closer of the album and it’s probably the most dynamic song on the record with that long, dark middle section. I’ll leave it up to the listener to make what they want from it.
AS: What kind of formal musical training have you had?
KH: I went to college for jazz guitar at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and I didn’t study jazz at all before that. To be honest the school really turned me off to jazz guitar. I graduated but I hated jazz by the time I got out of there. It was a little too formal and traditional for me. I guess I learned something from going there, I’m not sure what, but I basically threw a lot of the education out the window. I guess it’s still part of me somehow, but the way I write music now has more to do with using my ear than with using my brain. People think that our music sounds technical and there is a lot of theory behind it but I don’t really think theoretically when I write, I just use my ear.
AS: So studying jazz alienated you from jazz.
KH: Yeah. I was into so many other things, and I was kind of hoping to meet other people at school that were also into other kinds of music besides jazz, and that really wasn’t the case, everyone only listened to jazz and went there for jazz. Sometimes when something is rammed down your throat you want to do that opposite and that’s the way I reacted there. I can appreciate it more now that I’m away from it, but I’m not the kind of person that thinks everyone should go to school for music.
AS: To me and to a lot of people parts of your music sound a lot like Gorguts, especially Obscura, and now you and Colin are in Gorguts. Tell me a little bit about how awesome that is.
KH: It is awesome. To be totally honest, when I bought Obscura when it came out, I was so inspired by the strange riffing on the record. That album was one of the things that made me want to start Dysrhythmia. And now to get a message from Luc Lemay saying he had heard about us and liked my playing and asking us to join…
AS: He just straight up approached you and asked you to join?
KH: He sent us a Myspace message. He saw some videos on YouTube and said I would fit in if I was interested and I wrote back…I didn’t even ask any questions I just wrote back yeah we’ll do it. So far it’s been working out great. We’ve only gotten to play once, one weekend back in April where we all got together and played and demoed three songs. We’ve been writing long distance, and once we have some stuff written we’ll get together and play some more.
AS: How is that going so far? What does it sound like?
KH: The writing process is a little bit like Dysrhythmia…Luc writes the songs but we each contribute a lot and he has liked everything we’ve been doing so far. What we’ve got so far is really dark…it’s creepy, dissonant. To me it’s beautiful though. Some of the stuff Luc is writing, it’s almost pretty in its own twisted sort of way. For me, playing and writing parts in Gorguts feels really natural because they’ve been an influence on me.
AS: Is [John Longstreth] the drummer for Origin the new Gorguts drummer?
KH: Yeah, but I’ve known John for years before that because we were on the same label and we’ve played a few shows with Origin. It was cool to have someone I already knew involved in Gorguts, although we’d never played together before.
AS: When is the new Gorguts coming out?
KH: I really have no idea, hopefully next year. We are not going to rush it. We are all really excited and there is excitement from the Gorguts fans that the band is back, but we are not going to throw something together. It’s got to be really good. And so far it is really good, but we only have four songs. We need an album.
AS: I noticed you tuning up a Gibson SG. When I think of your playing, I think of Strats and Strat sounds.
KH: I got it a few months ago for Gorguts actually. They are awesome guitars, I’ve just never had the money to buy one. It’s a heavier sounding guitar, but still crisp and bright. I use a lot of tunings for Dysrhythmia so I use it live.
AS: You list Cephalic Carnage among a very diverse list of musical friends on your website. What’s your favorite Cephalic Carnage record?
KH: Probably Lucid Interval, but I thought the new one was really cool too.
AS: What’s your favorite Death?
KH: That’s a hard one…Human through Sound of Perseverance…well even the early shit is killer…maybe overall Symbolic. That album is just a perfect metal record, great songwriting, super-heavy. With Human a close second.
AS: Talk about some books and films that are important to you.
KH: I’m not quite the bookworm. For a while I was into this writer Barry Yourgrau who wrote these dreamlike, surreal short stories that I’ve found inspirational for music. I am into the whole idea of the dream world. Eraserhead is probably my favorite movie, it had a real effect on me when I was young, again a really dreamlike journey. I’ve watched it probably thirteen times. Twin Peaks is also an inspirational show.
AS: There is a strong emotional element to your music. You obviously want people to have a more than cerebral and intellectual experience with your music. However you use a lot of elements that discomfit the listener, a lot of technical elements, a lot of dissonance. There’s also a lot of spatial and logical language in the titles of your songs and titles. Do you see this as a tension at all in your music? Are you exploring the relationship between these two realms?
KH: I’m into interesting music, and in this band we all want to make music that we first and foremost find interesting, and thus the music comes out technical and rhythmically involved. Sometimes it’s great to have the technical tools to play some fucked up chord or fucked up rhythm or some crazy fast line to really illustrate the emotion that you want to get across in the song. I don’t really believe that technical music can’t show emotion, or that sloppy music shows emotion, you can have both and that’s what we strive for since the beginning, the meeting of the two.
AS: What kind of emotion is it that you want to express? When I listen to some Death Metal I’m pretty clear as to how I’m supposed to feel…so that’s technical and emotional music…but the emotional territory in your songs seems a little harder to pin down. Is there alienation in your music?
KH: Yeah, actually, I think so. It depends on the song, but if there is one prevailing vibe that comes across with our music, I think it’s a lot of tension, and not always a lot of release from that tension. Playing that kind of music live is a kind of release for us, you feel really tense playing it, you’re making the listener tense, but then when you’re done you feel really exhausted and spent, but good, almost like therapy. I think that’s why it’s important not to do it too much. If you tour too much and you’re playing the same set the music will start to become less meaningful for you, it’ll become too routine. I’ve seen some bands recently that tour all the time now, and they’re flawless, flying through shit and its super pro. But for me it’s too slick, it’s too perfect. There’s no element of danger where everything could fall apart, and they look bored, even though their playing is perfect.
AS: You guys definitely do not look bored.
KH: Yeah we always play our newest stuff. We only pick the songs that we are excited about when we play live, and we have to be excited or there is no point in playing.
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