Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Interview with Harrison of Castle Danger

Castle Danger's newest album is the best one, in my opinion. It's a blatantly titled piece of work called I Feel Evil, with the description: "influenced by slint, suicide, swans, earth, pharmakon, and my own inner demons." Not only does Harrison name some of my favorite bands, but they are also good reference points, as the album begins with a high frequency, a mechanical bass loop, and a distortion-laden scream emphasizing "the urge to kill." So you know what's in store. This album seems to be the most personal Castle Danger release right off the bat and some of that has to do with the addition of lyrics on the first song. It also seems to externalize a lot of internal struggle for Harrison. I don't know if  it's my place to speak on those personal issues, but needless to say, I Feel Evil works as a sort of Picture of Dorian Gray.

This isn't to say that Castle Danger only makes music on the negative emotional register. In fact, the majority of his music is rather meditative and ambient. The first few Castle Danger releases were consistent companions to my reading as well as a means to dilute my anxiety. There's not a terrible amount of web presence for Castle Danger, which adds to the mystery. How can an individual with such a proficiency at the relaxing make such harrowing music as well?

In addition, Harrison has stated that he plans to release three full-length albums this year so keep your eye on the Castle Danger bandcamp page for music in the future!

Jordan: Harrison, what’s going on?

Harrison: Not a lot, just started working on some new music as a matter of fact.

J: Same kind of ambient stuff?

H: Yeah, I’m actually doing some interesting beat-based stuff more, but my workstation glitched out and shut down so I’ll have to rebuild it from scratch.

J: That sucks, dude.

H: It shouldn’t take all that long.

J: What program do you use to make music?

H: I use audacity and Acoustic Mixcraft because they were cheap. I really just make the best music I can with what I have.

J: How’s the move been to Seattle?

H: Seattle has been treating me very, very well. It was relatively painless actually and everything fit in my room. It was just really a futon, my piano, and a desk that was already here.

Sorry Carl But We'd Rather Destroy Ourselves Cover Art
J: Spartan living, I suppose.

H: Yeah

J: Have you gotten to go to any shows or seen any local flavor?

H: I actually haven’t been to see live music in a long while. The last show I think that I saw was Mount Erie in Madison. They were playing a free show at UW Madison. Afterwards I bought a shirt personally from Phil Elverum and we had a short conversation that I will always remember.

J: (laughs) Nice. So tell me a little bit about when you started music. I guess you’d been making music for a while, but started releasing music like last year?

H: My first serious album was the Castle Danger album Dark Matters. I had all these compositions that I could sequence into something thematic. I decided to release that. I’m not exactly sure when - somewhere in 2013.

J: For me, that came out of nowhere, and it was very well timed because I was just getting into ambient and noise music. I think it’s an incredible album. What was the process behind creating that?

H: As I look at the track listing, it all really started with “Reapers.” I had recorded that as a single take and that is one of the two on this record that I recorded live. “Reapers” and “Light Travels.” The others were produced. The glitch effects are something that I continue to use. I import raw data into audacity. Audacity creates a glitch, which won’t sound super pretty, but it will try to read any file as a sound file, which is fun to play around with.

J: Where’d you get the pictures for your releases?

H: The picture for Sorry Carl, But We’d Rather Destroy Ourselves is from the sun setting over Lake Michigan when I was camping on the upper peninsula. It was taken last summer in 2013 from a hyper-extended family reunion.

J: Have you thought of doing a physical release for any of your albums?

H: I have. I thought about doing a limited CD-R run for Ghosts but I sort of gave up on that idea. I would theoretically like to release Ghosts as a cassette. I’d have to change the track listing a bit, though.

J: Do you think that would compromise anything?

H: Ghosts is one that I’ve been listening to again to see if it holds up, and I think that it does. But since some of the songs are old recordings, some of the melodies don’t seem to have a beginning, middle, or end. “Becoming the Ghost” is the one that I haven’t had to keep listening to, but the effect of it is really cool. I’m concerned, though, that that track may wear off. If there were a resequence, I may try to put it between two more melodic parts. That’s my self-assessment of that album.

Ghosts Cover Art
J: Do you frequently assess your own albums?

H: Absolutely. I always try to critically evaluate my own stuff and look at it without the bias of being the maker. “What would the reception be?” I’m really proud of Dark Matters and Ghosts. Sorry Carl was kind of a throwaway.

J: Why do you say that?

H: I may have gone a bit overboard with how long I made the first and third songs. The same is true of “The Ocean in Which We Drown.” “The Reapers Wake” is actually a remix of the "Van Halen Corruption” track I had on Soundcloud. I wanted to take that track and do the Ghosts thing with it and coax some new sounds out of it.

J: Are you happy with that one?

H: There is no real structure to “The Reapers Wake.” It’s a formless mass. A metal machine music dare. I wanted Sorry Carl to be a sequel to Dark Matters.

J: What’s the story for “The Ocean in Which We Drown”?

H: Oh, right. That was actually one of my old experiments with tape loops recently. I found a method for making a loop within a cassette and have it work within a cassette loop. It probably would work about 2/3 of the time, but I would record them when I did. The tape loop in “The Ocean in Which We Drown” is a cassette that I found in a Pink Floyd case. I bought it at an antique store, but when I opened it, it was a Mariah Carey/Boyz 2 Men single. I then made it into a sound of an ocean and drowning.

J: I’m sure Mariah Carey would love to hear that. 

H: I’m sure she would too.

J: How did you first get into noise/tape loops/ambient music?

H: I’d been a fan of Brian Eno’s ambient 1 for a while. I thought that was one of the most haunting albums I’d heard, but recently my kick in ambient in music was an album recommended by Tiny Mixtapes called Glass Canyons by Marielle V. Jakobsons. I downloaded it based on the review and I listened to it and was blown away. It’s an incredible mesh of synthesizer, soundscapes, violin, and more. It made me realize that ambient music can be compelling.

J: Do you still write for Beats Per Minute?

H: BPM actually went on a hiatus in October of 2013, but I’ve been meaning to start writing reviews for maybe my own personal blog.

J: I didn’t know you had a blog.

H: I don’t have one yet, but I’m thinking of getting stuff together. I’ve got a notebook filled with ideas, like ratings on albums of 2014 so far.

I Feel Evil cover art
J: So you do like numerical ratings for albums?

H: Yeah, just for my personal notes. I used to think that the letter grading system was good, but I hit on a numerical system that I like, which is that you rate albums from 0 to 9 as opposed to 0 to 10.

J: 5 being like average?

H: Yeah, 5 would be average. 7 would be pretty good. 8 would be very good. 9 would be super solid. Over time an album could become a 10. I don’t think you can consider an album perfect until you know how it ages. Very, very rarely, though, there will be an album that comes that you know is a masterpiece. For me, that last album was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West.

J: Interesting.

H: Those rare times, you could give an album a 10 when it was released.

J: So what have you been working on now?

H: Immediately before you called, I’ve been setting up a glitch library and making some drum loops. I should have some new music coming up that I think you’ll like!

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