INTERVIEW: Razor Skyline

By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Razor SkylineIn today's jaded times it is often difficult for a band to be fresh, unique and original. Since everything has been done many times over, artists face the monumental task of trying to stand out in the crowd while also vying for our hard earned consumer dollars. By some cosmic force of beneficial fate, members of The Razor Skyline manage to creatively work in cohesion while living great distances from each other. With the advent of technology, it has become possible to tweak sounds lyrics and other assorted elements at the push of a button to another band mate, without losing the creative edge, momentum or originality.

The third full release from The Razor Skyline, The Bitter Well was released in April by Cop International. The official release date for North America is June 17th, 2003. The album features 10 songs recorded by M.O. (Nerve Factor, Deathline International) and the gun. It was also mastered by Paul Stubblebine, the engineer who has mastered albums by legendary bands such as Joy Division, New Order and The Clash. The cover for this release was created by the infamous Chad Ward whose other incredible artwork can be found at www.digitalapocalypse.com. As with all Chad Ward album covers, the viewer is ensnared and drawn to its dark beauty. All of his work somehow captivates viewers in a myriad of ways. It is a fitting high quality graphic to present the latest evolution of the band.

When musicologists look back to this point in history, The Bitter Well will be heralded as the artistic embodiment that addresses these troublesome years. They will share this spotlight alongside their contemporaries, Regenerator, who brought us a snapshot of the world immediately preceding the 9/11 tragedy and the ultimate aftermath with War! It was an ironic and sad twist of fate that Regenerator took a fictitious scenario of world upheaval and watched as it alarmingly unfolded before the eyes of the world, not realizing just how close to reality their art coincidentally came.

Unlike Regenerator, The Razor Skyline didn't resort to a fictitious theme with an eerie penchant for psychic prognostication. The Bitter Well charges headlong with topics that embark upon the daily extremes of internal and external wars around us. With this release we are asked to be mindful of political, corporate and religious hypocrisy, inane vanity, shattered dreams, misguided rebellion, disillusionment, self doubt and self affirmation.

Vocalist Karen Kardell punctuates the dramatic effect by delivering a multifaceted array of singing intonations. Her delivery takes us through the paces that can best be described as cinematic. Kardell plumbs the psychological depths to deliver sweetness as well as malevolence. The sonic thrust of energy pours out of her with such intensity that it is liable to give some listeners goosebumps because she makes you FEEL what she is singing about. Newest band mate Onyx, as well as The_gun, expertly wrap Kardell's vocals with delightfully delirious dark electronic music and samples. This CD would be very much at home with even the staunchest elder goth. Thankfully, the band remained true to the dark music fans while also providing up to the minute electronic cuts destined for the underground dance clubs throughout the forthcoming summer and beyond.

At the risk of sounding cliché, The Bitter Well is clearly The Razor Skyline's magnum opus. Long-time fans will be greatly impressed with the growth of their musical artistry and timely lyrics on this release. Without a doubt, this CD is able to please old and new fans with equal fervor.

Right after The Razor Skyline put the finishing touches on "The Bitter Well," an opportunity presented itself to discuss this work, which is as follows:

1. MV: For those who are new to the band, give us a list of your previous recordings and compilation appearances.

The_Gun: We’ve put out three full length CD’s – Journal of Trauma, Fade and Sustain and The Bitter Well. Our compilation appearances include a number of COP International compilations, all three Diva X Machina comps, Newer Wave 2.0, Sound-Line Vol 5 for Side-Line magazine, Hex Files 3, Silicon Warfare, Songs for Marius, Only Sorrow(*), Sex Death and Eyeliner, The Broken Machine, Trinity Vol 1(**) and most recently the Dark Awakenings 3 compilation.

2. MV: Who are the musicians in your current lineup and describe their various functions?

The_Gun: The band consists of Karen Kardell, Onyx and myself. Karen is the vox and writes the majority of the lyrics, Onyx plays electronic drums and I write all the music using synths, samplers, drum machines and guitars occasionally lending my voice for a background shout here and there.

Onyx: I help write the drum beats and did both some lyrics writing and music writing on a couple of songs. I am mainly the one Karen and The_Gun come to when they want an opinion on how something sounds. I can give lots of feedback having been a DJ and having a feel for what people may or may not like.

3. MV: Similarly to The Azoic, The Razor Skyline managed to work from different parts of the country. Is this still so or have the band member's moved within closer proximity?

Onyx: Sadly we still all don’t live in the same city. Karen lives in Seattle and The_Gun and I live in San Francisco. It does make for some interesting music writing though. There are times were The_Gun gets some music ideas and records them and then we call Karen and have her listen to it on the phone. Or we lay it down on MP3 and email it to her and she then lays down the melody line and lyrics. When we have a few songs we decide to get together and record them properly.

4. MV: Your incredible track Hanged Man was featured on the Sex, Death & Eyeliner compilation and accompanying video a few years back. Did this showcase of your work help reach a lot more fans than anticipated? As a whole, how do you feel that compilations hurt or hinder artists?

The_Gun: It’s hard to say to what degree the SDE video and soundtrack introduced us to new fans. However, it never hurts to be on a compilation. There are times when that may be your only chance to get introduced to new fans.

5. MV: Many people I spoke with over the last couple of years discovered your music from the Sex, Death & Eyeliner compilation and video. Many attempted to purchase The Journal of Trauma as well as your other previous work, but seemed to have difficulty finding it. Has this since been resolved? Where would be the best place to direct fans to obtain your music?

Karen: www.amazon.com.

The_Gun: Unfortunately, we have little control over how and where our CD is available. When people tell us they can’t find a particular CD, we always let the label know. However, what they do with that information is up to them.

6. MV: Do you go into creating a CD with a thematic concept in mind for the entire album or do ideas evolve as you create the songs?

The Bitter WellKaren: Generally, lyrically speaking, the concept seems to evolve as I’m writing – we do seem to end up with a thematic focus on each album: Journal of Trauma dealt a lot with rage at oneself and others, Fade & Sustain explored love and redemption and I think The Bitter Well is concerned with politics, society and their impact on the world and each of us as individuals.

The_Gun: We always have the name of the CD before we start writing the music, so that may or may not help influence the direction a CD takes, but we don’t consciously try to take the music in a certain direction.

7. MV: How do you feel your music has progressed from the first release to the current one?

Karen: I think the music has grown tremendously. The_Gun’s writing has continued to progress and become more challenging. We are exploring different styles and really had a fun time playing around with varied elements on the new album.

8. MV: For those of us who have yet to sample music from the current release, describe its theme, sound, approach and uniqueness.

Karen: Theme: The destruction of modern society. Sound: Harsh to lilting with more of an emphasis on darker elements. Approach: In your face. Uniqueness: A pretty good variation of music and style.

9. MV: Beyond entertainment, is there something more cerebral that you want to convey to your fans and listeners with your music?

Karen: I write as a cerebral outlet for myself, so I would have to say that I certainly hope the listener will be able to explore some of the themes and ideas that I introduce. I try to be challenging and hope to mentally stimulate people to thought and action.

10. MV: Whom do you see as your typical fan? Where do you think they fall as far as gender, scene preference and age group?

Karen: I think we have a pretty wide variety of fan that is mostly within the gothic/industrial scenes; however, those who have heard the music that are not necessarily part of those scenes seem to like it very much as well. I think with more exposure we could actually have a much wider fan base genre-wise.

11. MV: From my own knowledge, some of your fans are Wall Street types of both genders in their late 40's and early 50's. Would this come as a surprise to any of you?

Karen: Actually that’s very cool. I think it’s wonderful that the band appeals to so many different people. I have always had a wide variety of friends in my life, so it’s not surprising that other types of people would be interested in our music.

Onyx: REALLY? I had no idea. Most of the fan mail we get is usually from a much younger age group. I am glad to hear that though.

12. MV: Your CD covers convey a heavy dosage of artistry. How does the concept for the album artwork come about and does this impact the music or does the music impact the cover art?

The_Gun: We usually find an artist we like, give them an explanation of what the theme of the CD is and some songs to listen to off it and see where they go. We’ve been fortunate in that the artwork the artist presents us with is generally great and gives a whole new dimension to the theme of the album. It just seems to happen on its own with very little influence by us.

13. MV: The band recently reported a marriage within the fold. Who was it and where was the honeymoon?

Onyx: The_Gun and I were married on April 19th 2003. We spent 10 days in Maui and just came back in time for our CD release.

14. MV: There is a lot of rumbling within the music world about online file swapping and the damage to the music business. Have you found or been informed that any of your work is on such sites other than MP3? If so, has this helped or hindered sales?

Onyx: Funny you should ask. When we finished mastering the new CD we burned a few copies and gave them out to a handful of people. I had a friend tell me that he was able to get a copy of the album from an underground European music swap site. This was at least a week before the CD came out in Germany. I personally don’t care about music swapping on the internet and I have often found our stuff on Napster, Audiogalaxy and Limewire. I have had a few emails from people who said they heard our music from Napster and went ahead and purchased the album after that.

15. MV: Overall, has MP3 been a decent showcase and exposure tool for you as musicians or has the proliferation of similar sites still made the internet exposure for underground bands even tougher?

The_Gun: I would say that in general MP3 has been a good exposure tool for the band, but it can be a limited exposure. People will know us by one song that they’ve heard on the net somewhere, but they don’t own any of our CD’s and don’t know any of our other songs.

16. MV: Since underground music isn't within the mainstream pop category, how do think potential fans discover your work initially?

Karen: I do think outlets such as MP3 are useful, in addition to internet news groups and advertising. I also think word of mouth certainly helps things a lot.

The_Gun: At the clubs, either by one of our songs getting played by the DJ or by us playing a show. Also by making appearances on compilations.

17. MV: Are there any tours planned?

Karen: Hopefully, we’ll be doing something on the East Coast as well as more West Coast shows.

18. MV: Overall, where do you think the underground music scene is moving towards?

Razor Skyline LiveThe_Gun: I think you’re going to see a resurgence of bands using guitars and bands with female singers. Collide, Hansel und Gretyl, Diva Destruction, Voudou, Sunshine Blind, Luxt, Tapping the Vein and Nocturne are all making things happen this year. I think that people are burning out on synthpop and are ready for something different.

19. MV: There have been scattered reports throughout the globe of a resurgence of goth and goth-electronic music making a dramatic entrance into mainstream clubs. Do you foresee this as a growing phenomenon or merely a passing niche type of fad?

Karen: It would be nice if it was a growing phenomena, but after being in the underground scene for over 20 years, I’ve seen the infiltration of goth music into the mainstream briefly, but it always seemed to then go back into the shadows. I think it was just too dark for the average person in the past. However, with the current events taking place in the world today, more and more people I think need a way to express their sadness and rage – goth music may be one outlet.

20. MV: Your work on Fade and Sustain was less dark than Journal of Trauma. Your current release The Bitter Well contains artwork as well as a title that seems rooted in an element of darkness. Does this release bring you back into a darker music territory or does it veer into a different type of genre hybrid?

Karen: I think we definitely go back into darker territory, but with a renewed purpose and sense of communication. We veer into hybrids as well and there are some lighter songs, but I think the overall album is pretty dark.

21. MV: Where would you like to see the direction of underground music heading?

Karen: All the way to The Grammy awards.

The_Gun: I’d like to see underground music get back to the days when bands were interesting to watch, when there were more than two guys and a keyboard on an empty stage playing the song the same way you heard it at the dance club the night before. If I’m gonna shell out 15 bucks to see a band, it would be nice to see them make some effort to entertain me.

22. MV: Name some of your musical inspirations, some of your current favorite bands and what it is about their work that you admire and/or enjoy.

Karen: Some of my current favorite bands are Evanescence, P.O.D, Foo Fighters, and Coldplay to name a few. I’ve been getting back a lot in touch with my rock roots and it’s nice because some of these bands are now enveloping a bit of a gothic quality into their music. Although I love 80’s wave, most of my inspiration has come from punk and 70’s artists such as The Doors. I loved Skinny Puppy(***) as well. I find a lot of energy and darkness in this type of music. Stevie Nicks is one of my favorite artists of all time. I consider her the original goth girl and her lyrics still rank to me with some of the best.

The_Gun: I’d agree with Karen on Evanescence and P.O.D. as far as current bands go. I also like to listen to more old school electronic bands like Kraftwerk, Clock DVA and Front 242 and 80’s bands like Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls and Billy Idol.

23. MV: Here's the part where you get to provide additional comments for our readers that may not have been covered in the interview. Feel free to utilize as much space as needed.

Karen: We really truly appreciate all our fans and love hearing from you. We hope that we have made an album that you will enjoy and hope that those of you who have not heard us yet will give us a listen.

(*) Reviewed in Legends #112.
(**) Reviewed in Legends #133.
(***) Legends has reviewed their Remix Dys Temper in issue 87 and Doomsday Back + Forth Vol. 5 in issue 121.

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