Artist to Artist Interviews
Todd Pendu Vs. Vaura
Q: Vaura has been talked about as a NYC supergroup of sorts in terms of its members coming from some well known bands in the metal community including Gorguts, Kayo Dot, Dysrhythmia. It’s amazing to have so many great musicians come together like this and create something so different from any of the bands they currently play in. How did this formation come about?
A: It was pretty organic. I was searching for ways to expand on the kinds of atmospheric music I’d always loved and I found myself really excited by a lot of the ways that heavier bands seemed to be pushing everything I liked further. The darkness was darker, there was a lot of focus on intensity rather than restraint. I met Kevin through our friend Lev Weinstein (of Krallice) and we found that we had a lot of common ground both in terms of how we had developed as players and music fans over the years, and in terms of what recent music we were inspired by. He was friends with Toby who had been delving into a really creative re-invention of certain aspects of dark postpunk with the recent Kayo Dot stuff. I’m a huge fan of Mick Karn, and his sound reminded me of a non-fretless Mick Karn and I don’t think he had even listened to any Japan. Charlie and I went way back with Religious to Damn and had always talked about him playing drums if I ever got a heavier band together. So it all just fell into place, really.
Vaura Mixtape Tracklist:
1. Numinous – The Enormity of Evil Divine
2. Death Grips – Full Moon (Death Classic)
3. Oranssi Pazuzu – Komeetta
4. Spaceghost Purrp – Get Yah Head Bust
5. Circle of Ouroborus – Warpath
6. Rihanna – Skin
7. Pinkish Black – Passerby
8. Odd Future – Splatter
9. Peste Noire – Cochon Carotte et les soeurs Crotte
10. Britney Spears – Get Naked (I Got a Plan)
11. Krieg – And The Stars Fell On
12. The-Dream – Panties to the Side
13. Ke$ha – Animal
Q: A lot has been discussed previously about the music of this album, but no one has yet to talk about the lyrics, yet I get the sense that you’re lyrics delve into esotericism and occultism and that makes me curious. Do you write all of the lyrics?
A: Yes, I write all the lyrics. And your sense is definitely correct, but with about a million qualifiers. I’m what some people call a vulgar materialist. I don’t even entertain notions of “energy” unless they’re scientific ones. And certainly no religions, cults, or notions of soul and afterlife, etc. interest me as guides for life. But the occult and esotericism did become very personal and useful to me around the time I was writing the lyrics. It all becomes interesting to me once I completely divorce it from the meaning it’s supposed to have to an expert. A highly personalized system of symbols and ideas that speaks to me and gives a sort of aesthetic, non-verbal element to life. Or, in this case, to the piece of work being created. With Vaura and with this record, I had become pretty interested in the literal notion of occultation. The hidden, the poetic. I always liked Anton LaVey’s notion of religion as a psychodrama. It feels like one of the most honest ways of talking about the service religion provides. I like his idea of just inventing one for yourself, rituals and symbologies. The themes I dealt with on this record and the overall approach lined up with my discovering that all of that might have a place in my life and work. ‘Selenelion’ is in many ways a personal psychodrama.
Q: One thing that stands out immediately when picking up the record is the titles of the songs and the album title itself, Selenelion? It has the feeling of a “Conceptual Album”, a term so many people shirk at, how do you feel about that? Is this album exploring any particular concept?
A: It started with a concept, but I tried not to demand too much of the concept. Instead I tried to let the concept serve as a jump off point for this journey. The record plays out like a story I guess but not because it’s intended as a narrative. It’s because I chose to let these images and entities and symbols intervene and act as metaphors for the ideas. It got to the point where the initial idea was barely recognizable by the end. But it started with the notion of a secret island. I was looking at these images of “lost” and “secret” places on the Internet feeling this fascination but also this simultaneous sense that my seeing those things was in that moment destroying what made them erotic. There’s an unmistakable eroticism to hidden things. So I guess it started as a lament about the accelerating visual-ness of the world making life less erotic. But rather than talking plainly or politically about that I chose to sort of dream about it. Let it turn into a fantasy more than anything. If occultation is to make something hidden then it’s also to make something more erotic. So in that respect, too, the occult played a major role in how I thought about everything when making the record. Right down to how the vocals are mixed. When we were mixing vocals I was consistently pushing Colin to toy with various effects to obscure the lyrics, because I could understand them too well.
You could read the record as a sort of Orphean afterdeath journey into sex and oblivion if you wanted. I’m not sure if it’s a dream or if it’s about some shadow island where ghosts roam around. Even though the images and the places existed pretty vividly in my mind, I chose not to nail that stuff down. It’s not really important, and it’s better left open. It’s worth pointing out that after I started imagining this world, I saw the Traum photo series by Alexander Binder which ended up becoming the artwork for the record, and was completely amazed. As I told him, it was uncanny how the imagery he had created of this death-infested, yet blindingly bright rainbowesque island universe fit with my ideas. He was super generous with his work and I developed a relationship to those photos as well, as I was writing.
Q: Interesting that you use the terms eroticism and occultism almost interchangeably, at least in the sense that you see an overlap… I also find there is a direct correlation between the two… Could you explain what the term erotic means to you in this context? Has Georges Bataille had any direct influence on your ideas here?
A: Yeah, there’s definitely some Bataille lurking in there. A selenelion is a horizontal eclipse, and that song is basically a sex scene. I reference the lyrics of ‘Carmina Burana’ quite a bit in it. As obvious a piece as that is to someone who’s into “dark” things, it made a huge impression on me when I first read the lyrics. There’s a real sense of frenzied bodies, and the way that fits with the chaos of the universe. Which of course is a lot like L’Erotisme by Bataille. I love the way he talks about the essentialness of the act of stripping naked and I relate to the way he ascribes an almost religious value to sex. The occult and the erotic both seem to me to presuppose a certain veil which is pulled back. Both rely somewhat on social taboo–no matter how commonplace occult imagery or practice might become at any given point, the simple fact is that having the satanic tattoos on you is not OK with most people, most places. I like that Anton LaVey didn’t think Satanism should completely become normalized. As everything becomes ultra-visible, it’s as if everything is becoming acceptable. As the Internet has made pornography totally common, things that used to be radical are now pretty whatever. So in this sense occult principles and ideas for me hold a kernel of the erotic that’s missing, namely the relationship of the hidden to transgressive unhiding. Again, the eclipse imagery…
Q: You mention satanic tattoos, which brings me to my next question…Lucifer represents creativity and light, but to so many who live in “Christian” nations, Lucifer is a frightening and threatening presence. How do you see Lucifer’s image in today’s world vs. the height of the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s?
A: Even though Satan is the great refuser of tyranny, the original freethinker and civil disobedient, there still seems to be only two Satans officially available: the evil one, and the one that awkward goth teenagers are supposed to outgrow by college. But I feel that Lucifer is actually the perfect emblem for most of the things most people actually value — even a lot of regular Christians. Ask any one of them, “What do you think of refusing the rule of a tyrannical king or dictator who polices your thoughts 24/7 and threatens you with the worst of tortures for failing to dedicate your entire life to worshiping him like a slave with Stockholm Syndrome?” Today, that refusal is called nobility, not evil and it’s essentially why Satan became Satan. We make horror films where the villains act the way God acts in the Bible. Politically, we fight against people who treat others that way.
If I detach from what black metal musicians (and fans) say about black metal and just look at it as a collective gesture, I like that it’s an anti-religious moment with strong iconography. If Yaweh was telling Abraham to murder his son, it would be Lucifer telling him not to. I have zero question as to who falls on the right side of that moral question. I find it dangerous that people who want to be good people still are willing to base their worldview around stories that glorify a man for his willingness to murder his own son. Decent people should find that sickening. In the same way they should be grossed out by the idea that original sin came from women, and that it was a sin to partake of the fruits of knowledge. Lucifer is a figure that represents freedom and enlightenment not servitude and ignorance. So when the notion of a Luciferian transfiguration comes up in the lyrics to “The Uncreated Light,” it’s that Lucifer for me. That’s about metamorphosis and psychodrama, embracing this figure because it represents what I value.
Christians are always warning that we live in times ruled by the devil but if that were true, we’d live in a better world. It’s God that hates gays, gives instructions on how to make war and take slaves and treat women as second-class citizens. You see just that sort of behavior in societies that are still really serious about God, and you hear it in the politics of the more fervent believing people in the modern world. Sure, they may not read the Miltonian overtones of my Satan, but I don’t really care. They’re often not persuadable anyway, so what’s wrong with aligning yourself with an image that disturbs them? It’s a lot of long-winded talking to explain, so that’s where the power of symbols comes in. Their principles are inverted for me, so the inverted cross isn’t just some tired symbol of juvenile metalheads as it’s now common to say. I think it’s perfectly relevant. Their God made his son into a human sacrifice so they could shirk responsibility for their wrongs. I think human sacrifice is gross, worse when it’s your own child, and scapegoating other people is worse than taking responsibility for things you do. There’s a sort of angry refusal, but there’s also a very serious and positive Angel of Light aspect to it. Of course Christians tell you that Lucifer’s light is his “great lie.” But who needs advice from an organized pedophilia racket? The world needs the Lucifer of Light much more than the God of Abraham.
Q: Throughout the album you draw on diverse and sometimes opposing concepts with roots in Astronomy, Islam, Qabalah, Satanism, Ancient Greek writings… what are some of your favorite source materials to draw from?
A: I’m pretty adversarial to religion and superstition obviously but I love a lot of things about a lot of religions and superstitions! Particularly aesthetically. For all this talk of Satan, I’d still never call myself a Satanist. I’ve realized recently that a large part of my M.O. is having it both ways. Growing up ultra-Christian, Satan was alluring, and so was “satanic music” and horror films and the occult. I find a lot of aspects of Islamic culture very beautiful. So I guess what I tend to do oftentimes is blaspheme their “proper” meanings by way of manipulation, re-interpretation, etc. I play with this stuff in different ways. En/Soph is from the Qabalah, but there’s no slash. The word as I understand it is Hebrew for infinite or totality. It refers to God, of course, so I break up the chain of words that’s supposed to mean totality with a slash. So I’m simultaneously trying to destroy the things I hate and manifest the things I love or believe in or think are good. I’m certainly aware of the argument that asks, “Why if you’re opposed to this and that don’t you completely re-imagine rather than operating within the same framework of this thing you hate.” There’s merit to that way of thinking, and there’s certainly a time to re-think entirely. But as important as it was for people to think of ways to understand the universe without reference to the Abrahamic god, it was also good that crosses became a fashion accessory that could be worn by Madonna or Billy Idol and not really mean they were devout. A lot of this stuff is really beautiful in its own way, it just deserves some new life. I guess I’m attracted to cultivating that from source materials that have both aspects–aspects that need destroying and aspects worthy of being saved. That doesn’t mean I’m forever trying to be unfaithful to anything I reference or am inspired by. I’m certainly not really doing that with the references to Borges. But I am drawn to what I guess you might call inspired heresies.
Q: This year we have had a lot of interesting celestial events already including the Super Moon, a Solar Eclipse with the New Moon in Gemini, a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to see Venus in transit, etc… Given the title of your record Selenelion, which has to do with a rare type of “horizontal eclipse”, do you also find yourself drawn to the astrological values of these astronomical events?
A: If somebody wanted to talk to me about those meanings, I’d be interested. But the interest would be sort of like finding out what Etruscans believed about the afterlife–just a cool conversation. In my view astrology is to astronomy as religion is to science. But religions and astrology still touch on things in ways that I’m aware we might find relevant to our experience. Again, I take those things on my own terms though, not as facts with fixed meanings. It works like this for me: if someone says this or that planet is in this house and it means this will happen in your life…and I like that outlook and it aligns with something I am really trying to accomplish, I might embrace that reading and maybe that constellation as an image or symbol of my goal. That image or symbol can motivate me and accessorize my real actions and intentions. I don’t believe the planets determine anything, though.
This definitely can be interpreted as disingenuous: “You’re so anti-whatever, so if you don’t believe Satan exists/astrology works why do you use that imagery?” I see it as multiple layers. Keeping multiple layers to what you do always risks people looking at the top layer and jumping to those kinds of conclusions. I think that’s the point though where you have to decide if you care whether people get what you’re doing on a cursory level, or whether you’re going to give people who are into what you do a lot to chew on. I also think that we’re living in really interesting times because a lot of people seem really confused as to whether they want to embrace the way that digital technology has revealed our capacity for complexity. It’s a capacity that was always there, I think but the Internet has laid that bare. Somebody’s favorite evil-as-shit metal musician in 1983 may have totally loved Madonna when it came on the radio, but they didn’t Tweet that. People’s identities were expected to be really fixed and specific and I think people managed that stuff a lot more — kept the taste that didn’t neatly fit their identity a bit more on the DL. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, though.
Today, we either can’t or we don’t manage it, and that’s at the very least interesting. Honestly it’s too much work — anyone willing to bother strikes me as lame and uptight. I know which underground metal dudes like Lady Gaga, and there are at least a few. Which is where all this message board anxiety about who is and isn’t “true” comes from. I’m really a huge fan of not hiding the layers especially when they seem contradictory. I listen to a lot of pop music, and lately to a lot of hip-hop. The truth is, being “true” in the old sense of being specific and hardcore about this one specialized thing isn’t that interesting anymore — I used to think it was good but then you realize that literally anyone can do it. All of your marching orders are there for you on the Internet. You can figure out how to be “true” black metal in under 2 weeks. Nobody wants to admit this, they think it’s something innate and special, they act like it’s noble and something you have to bleed for. No, it isn’t — you know which bands’ records to buy, you know, for instance, you’re supposed to hate Liturgy and the more you dig the dudes that killed gay people or the more into NS stuff you are into, the more hardcore you are. It’s boring and the people who go down that road are the most conformist people there are. I almost feel like today you can spot honest people by just how difficult they are to pin down. It requires both honesty with yourself about what really gets you off, and honesty in how you express that outwardly. And chances are, the stuff you like is going to change pretty regularly, because there’s so much out there to take in, so you still have to risk being called a hypocrite because you don’t seem to be today exactly who you were yesterday. We’ve always been mosaics, but that’s apparent now. I’m OK if the mosaic that is my realm of taste/influence or the mosaic that is my own personal system of iconography and belief doesn’t immediately make sense to everyone. Lemmy’s one of the originals in this — he’s always been the real shit cause he’ll talk about his adoration for ABBA with total sincerity.
People see that I’m in Vaura and then find out one of my very favorite artists is The-Dream and that appears to not make sense. But metal for me wasn’t always just about scary dark things — it was feared because of its messages about wild sex and parties, too. That’s exclusively the realm of R&B and rap now. I look at Lil Wayne and I see Ratt and Van Halen. The-Dream is a brilliant songwriter, and one verse of “Panties to the Side” is every bit as awesomely nasty as a whole metal record. It’s all the same loud, filthy party that Jesus wouldn’t approve of to me. It seems like today the enemies subcultures choose are always narcissism of small differences enemies–either people within their subculture that they deem “untrue” or some other subculture that they think is inferior to theirs. I’m more into seeing a big picture, an army of disparate styles and genres and cultures that I interpret as sharing the same values and enemies. I may love Dissection, but ‘Animal’ by Ke$ha is an anthem that glorifies the present life to the exclusion of an afterlife. The opening lyrics say, “I am in love with what we are, not what we should be” — what a perfectly simple rejection of the way religion teaches you to hate yourself for who you are. And the song itself is essentially saying, “hey I’m horny for you and that’s not gross, so if we just hook up right now, tonight, like the animals we are, maybe we should just embrace being these weird, interesting beasts, that has it’s own cosmic beauty to it.” That’s like Sagan 101, to a catchy melody. If somebody is unmoved by the song or the production then that’s absolutely fine — just don’t tell me that it’s somehow the “enemy” in some sort of subcultural ethics/aesthetic way. Get better, bigger enemies.
Q: Everyone, of course, is talking about 2012 and the connotations to the end of the world or an apocalypse… what is your view on this in relation to the album’s lyrical content?
A: The record definitely deals with possible apocalypses but it’s not about an end to the grand narrative of life on Earth. If anything maybe the lyrics are about an apocalypse of hiddenness. The Aleph by Borges is a story about this catastrophic seeing of everything in the universe at once and The Zahir is about total obsession to the exclusion of paying attention to anything else. To the point of madness, really. In a way I feel like this is where we are, seeing everything while at the same time missing a lot of significant things.