A Death Cinematic: An In-depth Interview
One man and his affection for guitar drone music, avant-garde poetry, fine arts who has taken full control of art work and has done it the DIY way!
I’ve been following A Death Cinematic (ADC) for quite some years. His music can be roughly described as one man guitar drone, sometimes quieter sometimes noisier, but generally in that aesthetics. However, ADC is not just a musical project but also an artist publishing avant-garde poetry, sculpture, paintings and what’s especially important – does everything on his own! From the very concept and creation of the art pieces themselves to the packaging, distribution, promotion through his art-house / workshop / label Simple Box Construction. Basically everything. What we have here is an extensive interview, spanning over 3700 words, but fear not for it’s a great story of a dedicated artist and a skilled craftsman, who’s spent the last 7 years of his life, pouring his heart in an impressive amount of unique and high quality art pieces, thus has done it the DIY way!
For the past few years A Death Cinematic has been an important and very prolific part of the drone scene, what lies behind this project – the person, the urge, the reasons?
I’ve been doing this project for almost 7 years and I’ve been trying to keep it anonymous as much as possible. Which is to say that the person behind the project is of little importance. The urge and the reasons for doing this are more important. I feel a necessity to do this and often it is beyond my control. It has come to the point where if I can’t get time to work on this project it affects me in a very negative way. So I devote as much of my ‘free’ time to this as possible, I can’t help but to do so. I don’t really see any other way around it. And of course, as any artist who is serious about making work, I hope I have something new to say or something old to say in a new way.
An inseparable part of ADC is Simple Box Construction, your very own workshop/studio which is manufacturing your releases tell us more about that?
Simple Box Construction came to me way back in 1999 as I started to work on a very small and limited edition of hand bound books of images. It was a name I could print and manufacture that, and other, books under. At that time I only got around to putting out that one edition and once I finished the books simple box went dormant for a while, and at that time, maybe forever.
When I started to record music as A Death Cinematic in 2007 and thought about how to release it, doing it under the Simple Box Construction label seemed like the logical choice. I brought it back from the dead and assigned all the visual and design aspects that I did and will do for A Death Cinematic to this entity.
So now simple box is this unofficial label that I put out all my work for A Death Cinematic, as far as music and sound is concerned, and all visual stuff which includes editions of CDs, books, prints, artwork, t shirts, design work for other bands or labels, etc.
The two entities are inseparable for me, they are parts that encompass the pursuit of a larger creative vision. I would say that they necessitate each other.
Have you ever collaborated with a label or you’ve decided to take everything in your own hands from the very start of the project?
With these projects I try to be as DIY as possible. But I have worked with other bands and labels to put out joint releases and splits. It varies on how much simple box might be involved with those types of releases. In the past I’ve worked with labels that I would do all the packaging and they would pay to put out the release. Or I would do the splits and the bands would pay for promotional things. We would always divide it up somehow.
I’ve also put out split releases that were on other labels and Simple Box Construction would only contribute some artwork or design elements. At this point I don’t think I would sign over A Death Cinematic completely to another label where they would do all the work. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that arrangement. I would have to be involved in the visual aspect of it. The A Death Cinematic sounds and noises require a specific context whether it is visual and/ or verbal.
Can you outline how you assemble a release, from its very creative and artistic conception, to its composition and recording and then the very physical assembling?
I can try. Each release has its own set of challenges and problems that need to be solved.
I record music all the time so I have a surplus of recordings and I organize them loosely, very loosely, into themes to be divided into releases. As I record or review the recordings I usually, at the same time, am thinking of how I can and might thematically and emotionally present the recordings.
I usually start with making some drawings and notes on the design. Little sketches of how things might look or fold, materials, dimensions, images, etc.
The next step might be to assemble some of the materials to ensure that they will go together. In a lot of my ideas I try to use materials that normally do not go together. So I do this preliminary assemblage to test out adhesives or how certain papers might print.
While doing this I start to refine how things will be printed and put together and I make decisions based on how big I want to make the edition. I try to come up with an efficient way to do, say 100 or a 150 copies.
Next, I make the first mock up. I try and do this in the same way that I will do the whole edition. At this stage I proof read, make registration adjustments, sizing adjustments, and material alterations and basically fix any other mistakes. Every so often the first mock up doesn’t work so I have to make a second or a third. While doing this I make notes and sketches.
Once everything looks the way it should and I have my notes on how to assemble the edition. I try to raise money for the materials. This includes doing pre-orders or a t-shirt sale and saving money from my day job. Whatever the materials might be I collect them in and try to organize them in how they will be put together. I make whatever jigs I might need to help with registration and assembly. Sometimes these take a while to do in and of themselves. And sometimes the jig ends up not working the way I would like or need it to and I have to redesign it.
While doing this I might do all the printing I can and/ or all the cutting, scoring, folding. Whatever I can to help move the edition along and try to get it out in a timely way. I must say that I always or almost always underestimate how long things take and then I have to delay my releases.
As soon as I finish the first few copies I start to ship out whatever pre orders have been waiting the longest. Once those are out I start to make all the copies but usually somewhere in the middle of this I have another idea for a release, or i’m asked to work on a split, or something so I start to put the edition on the back burner and work on it in batches as time allows or as orders come in and the cycle begins again.
As I finish up an edition I start to collect all the proofs, jigs, sketches, notes, and mock ups and put them in an archive box. So I have a very thorough record of how things went together and what it took to make the edition.
Which was the hardest record you’ve had to come up with, musically and / or physically?
This is hard to answer. They all have their challenges. With each new edition I try to challenge myself and do something I haven’t done before. Eventually I might repeat a package design but for now I haven’t had to do that.
THE NEW WORLD, when I was doing it was very challenging and time consuming because of all the books that I printed and bound. but when I was working on CORROSIONS OF TRAVELLED DAYDREAMS making the boxes, and scorching the dowels, and constructing the photo packs proved to be time consuming and difficult as well. Even when I did the THE NIGHT OF OUR SORROW HAS FALLEN… EP that took a lot longer and had its difficulties too. Initially I thought it would be a quick edition of only 25 but binding all the books with various materials as pages and making the photo negative art pieces to go in each one took longer than I thought it would.
Do you manufacture all copies or assemble them as batches after orders reach a certain amount?
Typically I do them in batches once I fulfill my pre-orders. I have done some that I would finish all the copies before I would send them out. But because of the time factor it is not always practical to do that. I use my ‘free’ time between releases to finish up editions and record new sounds.
Where is your fanbase mostly located? And isn’t it hard and expensive to ship releases with that kind of packaging, especially with the constant increase of shipping costs in the US?
My fan base is mostly in Europe and the US. Although I have some fans in South America, Australia and even Japan. It is hard to ship this stuff internationally because of the shipping costs. I try to make it as inexpensive as I can often breaking even or at a slight loss.
Germany has a few of my most avid fans who have shown unconditional support. There are a few fans in the states with the same kind fervor. Come to think of it, most of my fan base is very dedicated, which is great.
And which takes up more time, as following you online it looks as if more efforts you put in the physical representation of the work and the rest is just somehow appearing, which surely is an illusion we’d like to wipe off? I mean that all we see is how you assemble the physical part of the releases and how you record the music itself can’t really be captured and music and coming up with is a hidden process I’d like to enlighten a bit.
It is hard to say which takes more time. I record often and as much as I can. That process is quick but then there is editing, mixing, mastering that takes a lot more time to get the tracks into their proper forms. The physical is easier to document as a work in progress. I can snap a picture and write a caption and get it up on the web with my phone as i’m working. Sounds are not that easy to share and to show as a work in progress. Sound happens in time and if the mood is conducive and everything is flowing it would be very disruptive and damaging to stop and upload a tid bid of a drone or some other noise effect.
I try to play everyday and often I try to record daily too. Sometimes though I just practice and try to flesh out ideas of sounds and don’t record these sessions. I take notes on settings and effects used and think about how these sounds get at the emotional and thematic idea i’m trying to express and sometimes how that might fit into some of the visual aspects I’ve been thinking about and working on. I improvise and experiment as I record. None of the music is ‘written’ per se. It is all very dependent on intuition.
ADC is a project with a very physical and very… analogue feeling, however across the internet you’re publishing a lot of digital/mobile photography, is it only because of convenience and the fact you simply have no time to get into analogue photography as well?
I don’t really think of it as a more digital or analog project. All the music is recorded digitally and as far as the photography is concerned, it is more an issue of cost than anything else. Digital photography is cheaper and a lot more convenient to do. As long as the imagery conveys what I need it to convey I have no preference for digital or analog. It really is about doing what I can with what I have. At this point for me to have a dark room would be a huge expense which is not realistic.
Traditional photography has its characteristics that are unique to the medium. Although digital photography has come close and is inching ever closer. I have a collection of film cameras that I would like to use again so maybe someday I will have the means of setting up a dark room and doing more analog types of photography.
A Death Cinematic PCCA exhibition.
What about poetry, your latest project is a poetry book, but put in a very limited edition, will this be only literature or will be accompanied by music as well?
I write poetry all the time as I do recordings or work on making the editions. The words are all part of the context for the themes of each release.
The latest project is called Deadmen and it is a very small edition of small format hand printed books of images and two poems. This will not have any music along with it but I would say that it is a very necessary piece of the whole A Death Cinematic/Simple Box Construction project. There will be more non music editions coming out in the future. In fact there were a few I started several years ago but I have put them on hold because some of the musical editions took so long.
I will be revisiting those very soon. To me they are just as important to get the message across. They help to complete the picture and fill in the gaps for the larger themes that I have been trying to express.
Have you been asked to assemble packaging for somebody else’s music/art and would you do it?
Indeed I have been asked but usually the cost and my time restraints prohibit it from going much further then the estimate I give. I have no rules against doing it. It just doesn’t seem practical as I work on my own stuff.
Most of my daily hours are spent working for someone else. The simple box stuff I do after-hours on my own. This doesn’t allow me to commit to working solely on someone else’s project.
I perceive your work as that of the old craftsmen who’d spent hours in their neat and staffed workshops, have you ever considering sharing your skills and knowledge with other people so you expand your activities or just teach somebody something you love?
Although I try to keep my studio clean and neat, I’m afraid it isn’t as clean as I would like it to be. My workshop is staffed only by me. I have not really thought about teaching anyone any of this. Not because i’m against it or because I don’t want to share but because it has never come up. I have not thought of what I do as something someone would want to learn or had an interest in it on that level. Most of this stuff I make up as I go along. There is a lot of time I do thinking, experimenting, and failing. A lot of the the process happens internally so for someone to hangout to learn might find themselves bored waiting for me to actually do something worthwhile of learning
I’ve been following your work updates for years and I’ve always wondered how many hours a day do you sleep, and do you sleep at all?
Unfortunately I do sleep although it is not very much. I try not to sleep but my body and mind won’t allow that. It is very seldom that I voluntarily go to bed. Usually I just wake up realizing that somehow I went to sleep. It is really beyond my control at this point. Now sleep comes to me at very inopportune times. The most I sleep is about five hours in a night. This is not always a continuous five hours either. I do have insomnia most of the time which does allow me to make things as long as my motivation holds up.
If we are to put A Death Cinematic in numbers what would that look like? Years, releases, hours a day in the workshop, followers, shows?
Seven years, 12 musical releases (not counting singles or compilations) and 5 non-musical ones (not counting singular artworks, only editions), hours of day in the workshop – not enough and one live show.
Tell me more about A Death Cinematic live performances? How is that different from the work in the studio / workshop, how do the people respond and how you feel about it?
Well, I have only done one live performance thus far. Although I do have some lined up for later this year. I have been doing more practicing for a live setting and I can say that there is quite a bit of a difference in how I record for an album and how I play live.
The biggest difference is the ability to multitrack while recording an album. When I do that I can lay down preliminary tracks and then go back and build on them as the ideas grow. Often when I work on a track and come across a new melody or some new setting on effects that might not fit into the current track, I will start a new track and put it aside. This allows me to work on a number of pieces simultaneously and spend more time building the sounds.
In the live setting without multi tracking I either have to have the whole track laid out or work in the dark. It is a more immediate approach and I rely on layering in real time which can sometimes get out of control and I can lose the sound or the theme I was going after. Or I make a mistake or a poor choice and hit the wrong effect which could completely ruin the mood and movement of the track.
Also the tracks played live tend to be longer as I try to make a single musical set without stopping and starting. As I play it takes more time to flesh out the idea and musical landscape. I also don’t play any of the recorded tracks from the albums live because I don’t know how to. They all have been improvised and captured at various moments and emotional states. They were not meant to be recreated.
Each approach has its merits and both rely heavily on intuition and improvisation but in different ways and approaches. I plan on working on a very large release of live recordings from the studio which I did as some practice sessions for live shows. The initial ideas for this have already started to materialize.
We already made a bunch of lone-wolf references, but have you collaborated with other musicians and artists (both studio and live) and do you feel tempted to do this more in the future, or your own ideas are currently sufficient for the development of A Death Cinematic?
As of now I have not truly collaborated on any music with other artists. I do look forward to it and I have been asked by some musicians that I respect a great deal but because of time and other things I have not been able to commit to these projects. I hope to do something soon where it is a musical collaboration other than the traditional split release.
Veins like trenches… and the new world were collaborations with other artists. Veins… was a collaboration with Nathan from the now defunct Winepress Records where he did a visual piece for the track and we put it our as a limited DVD-r. And the new world was a collaboration with Matt Finney who wrote and read the poem on that track.
A Death Cinematic at its core will always be a solo project and I will keep going on it until I do run out of ideas but working with others is something I am very interested in.
Speaking of the future, what can we expect from A Death Cinematic which is already planned, or already in the works?
There is always a ton of stuff planned for simple box and A Death Cinematic. I fear that I might not get to all of it.
Once the Deadmen book comes out I will be working on the next full length album. All the music is recorded but it needs to be mixed and mastered. I have already started on making the covers.
I have finished a couple of tracks for a compilation and some for a split that will be out later this year.
I am also looking forward to doing more live performances and getting back to some of the visual editions that have been on the back burner for the last few years.
There is also some other big projects that I have brewing but am not quite ready to give out any information since they are still in their infancy. But as soon as things start to get closer to getting worked out I will divulge more details. These include some film work, more just visual editions and the live recording studio sessions
I will also try to keep and maintain the Simple Box Construction site. I always wait too long between updates and then it turns out to be this huge project to get it updated and current.
What else is there in your life that you have to find the time for?
Family for sure. Reading, although I read everyday there is still a ton of stuff I want to read. That is a never ending list. Listening to more music, again I do it every day but there is a ton of stuff that I want to check out. Having a job is a big time suck that keeps me from getting things done but it does provide the necessary income to live.
If you had to abandon music / art what will you change it for and what can be a reason to do this?
I really would change it for nothing. To give it up, something catastrophic in my life would have to happen. I just don’t really picture my life without the creative output. Although I would like to travel and see more of the world but I wouldn’t do it instead of making art.
The last is on you, feel free to share whatever you want, and whatever we may have missed.
Well then, I would like to use this space to thank all the fans and my family for being there for me and their support which has enabled me to do the things that I do. I am forever grateful.