K: Our music doesn’t really fit into any popular genre so we had to come up with something to call it when people ask. It’s “Not So Punk.” We juxtapose elements from various genres that don’t necessarily mesh together; the sound is strange and not quite sane. Some of the vocals are reminiscent of punk rock but it’s rhythmically different. It’s more drawn out and foreboding. We strive to make a sound that is at once both euphonious and cacophonous. There is a lot of contrast between songs– between dark and bright.
D: My musical prowess is far from stellar, which is probably why I gravitated to hardcore and punk in my youth during the ‘80s. The alto and bass clarinet bits that I play are simply there to provide an atypical texture to what most people think of when considering modern-day music. Our instrumental make up is quite different from what most people expect of live bands. We have no rhythm section, whatsoever! The rhythm in a typical Aryawn song will come from looped samples that Francois or myself have created, the low-end of Ken’s keyboards, or from the bass clarinet. I suppose this would make our music less palatable in the ears of the common music-listener.
F: I would say that I’m influenced by a myriad of sounds. My way of playing music could be described as instinctive or reactive. Whatever happens directly in one moment is transformed a few minutes later into something else. However, mood is also very important. And as life is very diverse, so, too, is our sound.
Does a new musician set out to emulate or do a takeoff on someone else or does it just happen?
D: We have scant musical emulations but they are intentional references. These are performed not only to solidify an aesthetic about Aryawn’s sound but to complement song lyrics. The Wagnerian bits at the beginning and end of “The Ghosts Of Christians Passed,” for example, play on the whole Hitler satire that ties the band persona together as well as subtly comparing American politics to what has transpired previously.
Where do you get your song ideas? Share more about your process in composing. Music or lyrics or concept first? (As a writer, I tend to start with a concept first.)
D: Usually, it begins with a concept I have and I verbally relay an emotion that I’m trying to convey through the lyrics and music. Ken and Francois come up with something that is fucking amazing and then they are forced to wait impatiently for me to come up with lyrics that I feel okay with.
K: Each member of our band has a different musical background, so we have different ideas coming together. In composing some of our songs, we started with a looped sample, which captured the mood of the song and then we embellished on the mood until we developed something we liked. The lyrics typically get written and rewritten afterward. However, with “This Is Our Manifesto”, the lyrics came first and controlled the passage of the two songs. We use a lot of improvisation during our songs and each of us composes the part we play.
F: We could go on and on about how our music is created. The lyrical side is a bit different but for the most part, one can liken our musical creativity to conducting research for a scientific experiment: it’s a simple mixture of luck while creatively using a technique. Then it’s a matter of opening your ears, your eyes, your thoughts—all of your senses—so that you can pick up on the things that you like and want to keep.
D: The ideas for the lyrics generally stem from something that I have strong feelings about and they are almost always political in their scope. Actually, both demo CDs we’ve recorded are motivated by the same situations but coming from a different emotional landscape. The first CD was put together in 3 weeks while Bush was still in office and I feel like the lyrics and music espouse how jaded I was feeling about the war, the facsimile protest of war, and the reality that an elite group was getting away with raking in profits at the expense of human life. The second CD espoused the same situations but it was intended to have less of this jaded feeling hanging about. Bush still held office when we recorded it but he was soon to be ousted. There was a general sense of relief over this fact and that hope was expressing itself by the general public through the presidential election. However, I still felt it necessary to write songs about the war because it is still happening– despite the rhetoric to the contrary. I wanted to subtly demonstrate that we shouldn’t pin our hope on the “X” that we wrote in a small box on a piece of paper. We need to believe in ourselves and in our vision; it will not come about as a result of another’s deed. What are we doing to blur the faint line between dream and reality?
Did/do you have a mentor with whom you worked to develop your music?
F: No gods, no mentors. How has it been different to work as a band rather than individually?K: Well, it’s certainly harder to find time to practice, since we all have different schedules with our jobs. When you’re alone, you can always find free time to play. In a band, the different parts of the music have to fit together so one member can’t arbitrarily decide to change tempo and scale ad lib. Phrases and transitions need to be planned out and structured. The advantage of the band is that the product is much more rich, more complex; we can stimulate each other’s creative abilities. Plus, there’s the social aspect of hanging out.
F: Exactly. A band is a social experience—an adventure that you share with a small group of people. I use the energy from the band members to push me to listen, create, make proposals, and ultimately, to challenge myself.
D: Working alone equates to public readings of poetry for me. I’ve experimented with this but I find the intensity lacking and I miss the performance part of it. A poetry reading is gift-wrapped in a certain context and this has a tendency to water down what is being conveyed. But with music… at least the way WE play it… WE create the context. There’s more magic afoot.
How’s the international reception for your music have you ever played out of the US/discovered you have international fans? We have many international readers.
K: I doubt many people outside of our normal circle have heard of us. However, we’ve been talking about a possible tour in Italy, and the UK.,
D: Francois shared a link to our first CD with a number of people back in France and they all seemed to respond the most to “Sensationalism Is The Opium Of The Asses.”
F: There’s an obvious language barrier when listening to those rougher-sounding songs, so they’re missing a great deal of the vibe of this music.
What would be your ideal concert experience? How do you adapt to such a variety of venues?
K: We certainly want an audience that appreciates us, one that feeds us energy by responding physically–dancing to our music. I’m thinking a small venue where we can perform physically close to people around us. That way, we can personally interact with people—before, during, and after the set.
D: Yeah, I would think that which arouses the most audience participation. To me, the most important part of the experience is creating a situation to which people will respond without giving their inner critic time to question their active role in what is unfurling. In this minute sliver of time, where the separation between performer and spectator has been eradicated, people unconsciously allow their dream world to inhabit the same space as their living reality and it is in this instant that miraculous things begin to happen.
F: The ideal concert experience for me would have been to play a gig for GW Bush during Barack Obama’s inauguration!
Why did you choose music as a medium as opposed to writing poems, etc? How did you choose your style of music?
K: I didn’t choose music so much as music chose me. I’ve never been eloquent with words but music is a universal language. Dave came up with the theme for the band; I’ve just helped create a sound that seemed befitting.
D: My life changed the day after Aryawn’s first performance. It was ecstatic! Music is fuel for the vehicle of change, whether it be personal or societal. Rebellion of any kind—cultural, revolutionary—has always had a connection to music. Music has the ability to unite people and instill ideas in young minds—what people do with it beyond that is a different story.
Share some stories from your travels and live performances– favorite memories. What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on the road, most poignant memory, etc? Anything interesting in how others respond to your music?
K: Dave likes to add something different to each live performance; he prefers the use of the term “shenanigans.” The funny thing about this is that he usually doesn’t tell Francois or myself what he has in mind– even up to the time of the performance itself! So we’re left scratching our heads with whatever appendage is available while we’re playing the set as he’s pulling off some stunt. There was this one show at the Pedestrian Bridge where Dave arranged to have a cloth effigy of Bush to be set on fire while we were playing. Fun times!
D: I think it’s more important to remove the crutch of spectatorship out from under the audience. The exorcism of GW Bush at the Pedestrian Bridge was the most successful display of this. Although, I must say that when the crowd erupts into dance during “Waltz,” I’m pleasantly surprised every time.
F: These stunts don’t always work with the public, however. When we played at the Candy Mountain warehouse in Oakland during that juggling workshop, people got pissed off because Dave was attempting to dance with them while they were juggling. They sure were serious about their craft!
How has your music changed over the years and where do you see the creative spirit taking you in the future?
F: It’s difficult to say whether it’s my music or myself that has changed. My old band Elan was NOTHING like this. If I return to France in the fall, I’ll probably go back to playing bass in another band. I really miss the rhythmic beats of playing alongside a drummer. Admittedly, if we had a drummer in Aryawn, it would make rehearsing in a housing co-op extremely difficult!