Aos. I’d like to Welcome ‘The Black Queen’ to ‘Architect of Sound‘. ‘The Black Queen’ is Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan) Joshua Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv, Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer) and Steve Alexander (Who’s worked with Nine Inch Nails, Dillinger and many more). Tell me how did ‘The Black Queen’ come about?
Greg: Steve and I were already friends, we had known each other fairly well for three or four years at that point. I ran into him in May 2010, at coincidentally enough, a show in LA where a band of Billy Howerdel’s was playing that night. A bar/club here in LA that was called Spaceland at the time. I didn’t know, I was just going there to catch up with Steve. During that conversation we both brought up that we had been working on a lot of more melodic song sketches and ideas. Not long after and we were demoing and fleshing out ideas together. Then I ran into Josh at a Dillinger show in Denver, where he was on tour, on a day off, with Puscifer hilariously enough. We all lived in LA, we started hanging out, fast forward four and a half years and here we are with a record.
Aos. I have listened to the first single ‘The End Where we Start’ and more recently ‘Ice to Never’. Great work guys! There is a real Electronic 80s Depeche Mode feel to the band – great drum beats and cool Synths. What are the influences behind this band?
Steve: For me I’ve always been really into music, movies, art, and video games with a lot of detail or that combined different worlds. I fall in love with things I may not understand upon first viewing or listen. This always intrigues me and why I’m willing after many years to try a food I may have passed on as a kid.
(Steve ON MUSIC): I grew up listening to a lot of metal as my mom and dad were metal-heads. Next to their stacks of Iron Maiden cassettes we had Sade, Whodini, RUN-DMC, Janet Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, King Crimson, etc.
(Steve ON MOVIES): Visuals are very important to us and how certain directors can always keep their stamp even when shifting between genres. Personally, my favorite directors are Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, John Carpenter, & David Lynch.
(Steve ON VIDEO GAMES): Super Nintendo and Playstation 1 got it right. The soundtracks and scope of the games still feel amazing. Squaresoft, Konami, & Capcom were the 3 game companies you could rely on for super high quality, pushing of the envelope gaming immersion. I took a lot from video game sound effects. Character themes were very important to me because the technology only allowed for a limited midi type soundset, whereas big budget movies could afford orchestras. Hearing a simple violin sound in Final Fantasy when paired with a 16-bit character gave them a personality.
Greg: I think that was a real strength of Steve. Realizing early on that we all shared a lot of these weird reference points across the board, not just in terms of music, and then always being the one to get us to think using not just musical references, but all of them. This part feels like this scene of this movie. Greg your vocal approach here, or Josh the mix of this song, feels like this guy’s approach to cinematography, go a little bit further into that. Which also feels kinda like this board of this video game, so let’s play that level for a while instead of working on the song. Which at first sounds insane, but once you begin to think that way it opens up a lot of possibility. Artistic synesthesia in a way. Now I think like that more often than not.
Josh: We all freaked out over Symphony of the Night, Chrono Trigger, 80’s New Jack production, Chuck Schuldiner, William Basinski, Tarkovsky – many really wide-ranging things across all media. I think I also remember a conversation about Blood Meridian and how none of us ever wanted to read it a second time. There was such an unusual amount of common ground, even from people of pretty varied ages and totally different geographical and social upbringings. It was lucky.
Aos. What can we expect to hear from the forthcoming album ‘Fever Daydream’?
Greg: It’s a pretty bipolar record. I would say most everything on it is either extremely up or down. I think all three of us are usually either really excited and elated or scraping the bottom in terms of existential loneliness/hopelessness, which I would maybe love to not always be swinging between; but hey – hopefully it made for a record or some songs that someone can get something out of, because it truly is everything that the three of us had to offer over a very long time period. We labored over every single detail of this in a way that I think probably redefined all of our previous definitions of obsession.
Josh: You will hear a side of Greg mostly unknown hitherto, Steve’s 16-bit melodicism and obsessive attention to detail, and my anal-retention and consistent musical frustration.
Greg: Josh is like the slow wizard character who you have to wait for but then he annihilates the whole screen.
Steve: I think if you are familiar with Greg and Josh’s output you will hear each of their musical personalities. When I’m added to the mix, you can start to hear new influences and overlaps. We all spent countless time working apart building the pieces for each song. Putting together each song was like opening a giant Lego set without an instruction manual. There are many details that become characters of their own and move throughout each track. Sometimes a theme becomes loud and proud other times it decays and ultimately dies.
Aos. Can you tell us a little bit about the Instrumentation used to create ‘The Black Queen’s’ sound on ‘Fever Daydream’? What type of Instruments do you favour? Synthesizers? Drum Machines? Software?
Josh: I like to write at the Rhodes, but sometimes I write on the Jupiter 6. Steve covers the bases pretty well, though – we literally used too many things to list – software and hardware – it would take forever for us to remember them all.
Steve: Each song’s creation was different. I like starting with a guitar, keyboard, or sometimes will start with sound design to establish a mood and build around that. Some of the best stuff Josh has ever written starts from playing a Fender Rhodes in a room without a computer nearby. There are no secret weapons. Josh and I know our gear well. Depending on a part we may reach for an analog mono synth or a plugin that does something no analog could. As far as drum machines we built many drum sound banks by hand over a lot of time. We also love to use things that are tried and true. Roland TR-808, LinnDrums, etc. Josh and I programmed/built some of our own plugins in Max/MSP and Reaktor as well.
Aos. The video of ‘Ice to Never’ really gripped me. I love the 80s feel to the video and the VHS elements in the video also. I believe the video was directed by Rob Sheridan. What was it like working with artistic director Rob Sheridan on this video and shooting it downtown Los Angeles?
Steve: We wanted to do a video locally, since “The End Where We Start” was filmed on a frozen Lake Michigan. We came to Rob with an absurd sounding pitch. “What if I walk around downtown LA with a boombox and by the end I walk into the ocean.” He liked the freedom the idea presented and we started filming right away. The process reminded me of how kids who get a video camera for Christmas, film little clips with their friends. There were no rules, we could try anything, no one could tell us no. Rob also can come up with an idea that seems impossible but will spend how ever long it takes to create it. We filmed a lot of extra footage some of which we will release in a limited VHS format. What was super important to Rob and us was to make sure the details meant something. We wanted an intro and outro sequence that we haven’t ever seen before. We also wanted to play up the spontaneous elements of the video. The guy dancing and the drummer were not planned. The whole video seems like someone could have found it on the shelf of a thrift store 20 years ago or 20 years from now.
Greg: Rob was also great because we have a lot of the same reference points. He and I are the same age, and we all grew up into a lot of the same things. It’s nice when you work with and get to know someone who feels like they would have been one of your good friends when you were a kid. When you meet someone and you’re not only like “yes!” professionally but also personally. A feedback loop of excitement. I think we’d always prefer to work with people who, when you are working with them, kinda take on the role of a temporary member. Not just a contracted artist. Also, and completely coincidentally, he was living and working out of the same building in Downtown LA that we had lived in in 2014 during the bulk of this album’s writing and recording. So we ended up filming and working on a lot of the “Ice To Never” video in the same building that we recorded it in. As far as downtown goes, I’m pretty sure we would all claim DTLA as being pretty aesthetically important to the vibe of the record. When we were recording we were living in a really desolate part of it, a place most human beings dare to tread. Where you’re more likely to see garbage blowing down the street at night than a person walking down it. And that external bleak desolation was helpful. Having a compound of creativity and hopefulness in the middle of emptiness and filth. Gives you incentive to keep the light on so to speak.
Aos. (For Greg Puciato) Coming from a heavy metal band like ‘The Dillinger Escape Plan’ to being apart of the current electronic style band ‘The Black Queen’. Do you find you are able to express yourself vocally and emotionally differently with this current style of music?
Greg: Well yeah that was, for me, the purpose of this. It was born from necessity. I don’t think of something and then create it, I just create, or emote, or find myself emotionally longing for some sort of expressive outlet, and then because of that the outlet creates itself. And then I was extremely lucky to have found this combination of people that were at a place in their personal and musical/creative lives where we would find something like this together. A fertile ground for everyone. It’s very rare. To find such an intersection.
The last Dillinger album was just a volcano of catharsis. And really it was just a lot of the same things I had been dealing with on every album, except exponentially monstrous from the passing of time. Patterns repeat and fold over onto themselves in time, getting more out of control and toxic if you haven’t gotten to the bottom of them, like a giant cancer. And as it was being written, and recorded, and then in the aftermath, the void from all of that being processed and expelled left me with a lot of space for other things. Musical influences I previously couldn’t fully explore, and emotions that previously were smothered by weeds. A lot of things in my life have been heavy, and a lot of those things kinda reached a zenith in the last few years, and like I said the processing of all of those things really created a big bang of sorts for me creatively.
Again, like I said, I don’t think that it’s the style/genre of music or art that creates the emotion, I think that being honest and brave with yourself emotionally, and doing real inward work as far as journeying and discovering, that creates the art. Regardless of your creative outlet. Or at least it does for me.
Aos. (For Josh Eustis from Telefon Tel Aviv, Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer) Being in such groups as Telefon Tel Aviv, Puscifer and playing Live on the Twenty Thirteen tour with Nine Inch Nails (I watch you (N.i.N) guys play Belfast, Northern Ireland on 21.08.13) Do you find these experiences have helped you as a Musician / Performer? How is this experience (working with Greg Puciato and Steve Alexander) different from the ones i have previously mentioned?
Josh: Yeah, for sure it made me have to step up my game. The guys in NIN are ridiculous musicians, so I had to put in double effort to keep up. Same with Puscifer. I’m always kind of the odd man out in those kinds of bands, which I enjoy, but it also definitely made me actually practice a lot to be able to do those things live. Being in Telefon Tel Aviv, however, requires me to be able to play almost nothing; it’s all made in the brain, not the hands. Greg and Steve are different in that they don’t require me to have to PLAY guitar or keyboards or whatever – I definitely did on this record – but they require the absolute peak performance my mind can offer, which is difficult, always difficult. But they give me free reign to take things where I think they should go, which is great. I feel really happy that my friends put that much trust in me.
Aos. Can we expect to see a tour from ‘The Black Queen’ after the release of the album and if so whereabouts do you have in mind?
Greg: We’re talking about all of this now. We’re never going to be a band that beats the street and plays a ton of shows. I just think we’re more interested in the creative side. But we do want to play. I think it’ll just be a little more rare than a rock based band. So…shows? Yes. Tour? Maybe? A lot of it? No. All of this feels very personal to us and I think we’d all like to keep that, to keep this…close. And not spread it too thin. When we play I want to feel a special connection with the people there, even if it’s simply because we don’t do it that often.
Aos. What kind of show can we expect from ‘The Black Queen’?
Greg: Magic Mike 3.
Josh: None of us will show up for our own show.