DYSRHYTHMIA’S KEVIN HUFNAGEL: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
For some it may take a few listens to get accustomed, but once given a chance, the realm of progressive metal can be a many splendored thing. Dysrhythmia have always seemed to take the reigns of this beast naturally; bending the genre to their every will, having it hesitate and wait or pounce and attack each tempo change, each surprise note. Indeed, Dysrhythmia has proven their near flawless and seemingly effortless capabilities in their craft time and again from album to celebrated album. The trend then, undoubtedly, continues with their newest offering, Test of Submission, a release that will likely be gracing many a “Best of the Year” list in the months to come. I recently got a chance to pick the brain of one of the masterminds behind the band, Kevin Hufnagel, and the outcome garnered some interesting bits of info; the inner workings of the band and their upcoming tour, as well as some insight into a few of his many other projects. Read our entire chat after the jump.
It’s been three years since Dysrhythmia’s last album, Psychic Maps. How do you feel the band has progressed since your last release?
The thing about our band is that we aren’t one that intentionally tries to drastically change styles from album to album. There is balance we are always striving for with every release; of darkness and light, tension and release, melody and dissonance. If I look back at our catalog, I can say we finally started to achieve this, with more cohesion, on the Barriers and Passages release. We are going on fifteen years of being a band (with Colin [Marston, bassist] coming on board nearly ten years ago), so at this point we have an almost telepathic way of playing and writing together. The main element that I think specially demonstrates our progress with Test is the production. With Psychic Maps, we knew we wanted to make a record that was sonically more dense, in contrast to the more live, stripped down sound of the previous albums. We achieved that, but something about it sounded a little too claustrophobic. Going into recording Test we knew we wanted to explore further with overdubs and embellishments, but make the sound more “open” again as well. I believe we’ve finally struck the right equilibrium of everything we’ve been trying to archive up until this point.
Test of Submission has been out a tad shy of a month, now. Are you happy with the feedback you’ve been getting so far on the new album or is it still too soon to say?
Well, we are happy with the album, and that’s all that really matters, ha. No, it’s probably still a little too soon to say. No one’s totally trashed it, yet.
In another interview, you mentioned that you usually go on tour and play the entire new album before recording it, but that this wasn’t the case with Submission. Why did you choose to do it this way and did it make recording a more challenging task or was it a welcomed change?
It had already been three years since the last record, and our lives we’re just too busy to try fitting in a full tour before then spending another three weeks recording and mixing the album. Some of these songs have been around for a few years though, and we were playing them on past tours in 2010, and for a lot of more recent regional shows. Recording is always a challenge either way.
Conversely, how do you think this change will impact the upcoming tour?
We’ll probably play the songs better than the record. So, come see us live!
Without lyrics, it can be hard to discern if there’s a overall message to a track or album. Is there a theme to Test of Submission?
There is no conscious theme. However, we spend a good deal of time thinking about album flow and the order of tracks while writing. I like the song titles to clue one into what might’ve been running through my head while we were creating these songs, or what they said to me after we finished them. I sometimes think of instrumental music as being like looking through a stranger’s photo album.
Where do you draw your inspiration from in your songwriting?
I’m inspired by the other people I play with. I get excited when I come up with a song idea knowing that when I show it to the other guys, they will add something to it that I never would’ve thought of, thus making the idea that much stronger. This creative exchange is what amps me the most.
You and Colin are both well respected and notoriously talented musicians in the metal scene. How do you two generally come together to work on a Dysrhythmia track i.e. is it more of a back and forth thing or he writes one song, you write another, etc.?
I’ll use our new record as an example. For six of the eight tracks, I wrote the songs from beginning to end on guitar, then presented them at rehearsals for feedback, and to begin working on drum arrangements with Jeff [Eber, drummer]. Colin usually likes to write bass parts alone, on his own time. However, being a drummer himself, he enjoys contributing drum ideas, while Jeff and I work together. Once the drums are more or less worked out, Colin takes a demo of the song and writes bass parts to them, and presents his ideas at the next rehearsal. For the two songs Colin wrote on bass, it was the same process, but with our roles reversed, except I’m not a drummer, but I like to pretend I am.
Do you find it helpful working with some of the same people on multiple projects, or more challenging having everyone switch gears?
I find it more helpful. We know each other already, we can count on each other. It’s not hard to switch gears for me. Writing for Gorguts isn’t TOO extreme of a change from writing for Dysrhythmia, for instance.
Do you ever feel you’ve maybe taken on too much with so many “irons in the fire,” with the various projects you have going on?
The only time I feel that way is when it comes to touring or playing live. Never with writing for so many different bands or solo projects. Scheduling can be an issue, sometimes one band has to turn down a good offer because the other has a prior commitment. What ultimately matters to me though are the recordings, because those will be around forever, and I have to feel satisfied with them. If I felt the music was suffering with any one project because I was too busy with another, then I would leave that project.
Speaking of projects, are there any artists out there right now you’d like to potentially collaborate with?
I’m always open to collaborations. There are so many good musicians here in New York, that I don’t have to look far for someone to play with. In the realm of well-known artists, I would love to work with PJ Harvey, or Dead Can Dance.
Any other projects in the works that you can tell us about?
Not too much, mainly just focusing on what we already have going. I’ve started a collaboration with musician Nick Podgurski on his Feast of the Epiphany project, though this might become something entirely new. I’ve always been a big fan of his drumming in Extra Life, and the FotE stuff he’s been writing lately is really intriguing. We also share the same bizarre, eclectic tastes in music.
Apart from the upcoming tour, is there anything else in the works Dysrhythmia fans should be keeping an ear/eye out for?
Yes, the next Dysrhythmia is going to be a split release with the instrumental band Loincloth. For this album, we will be switching drummers. So, essentially it will be two different, new bands. This is a one time only thing. It was born out of our mutual appreciation for each others music, and in particular, the drummers in our respective bands. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to write music with Steve Shelton, ever since first hearing Confessor’s Condemned back in the day. Never thought it would happen.
Finally, are you able to speak at all about what’s going on with Gorguts? There have been whispers of work on a new album for some time. Can we expect a new Gorguts release in the future?
There have been major hold ups for the past few years due to contracts/music business politics unlike anything I’ve experienced before. However, that roadblock seems to have been lifted recently, and now the band is in the process of signing to a new label, with the goal of releasing the record in 2013.
Dysrhythmia’s Test of Submission is out now on Profound Lore; buy it here. The band will play a record release show at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn this Saturday, September 22; get tickets here.