INTERVIEW: Dream Into Dust

By Kim Mercil
Introduction by Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Dream Into DustAfter a brief absence to complete an assortment of side projects, Dream Into Dust launched their latest release, The Lathe Of Heaven, to the underground population. At this stage, one would have to be devoid of any dark music knowledge to not have heard of either Derek Rush or Bryin Dall, who have worked together and separately on an assortment of notable musical releases. Additionally, their collective work has been featured on many outstanding compilations over the last few years enabling their music to reach further outward towards new underground music fans.

The Lathe of Heaven combines emotionally charged lyrics and photographs while veering the listener into a surrealistic chasm of the dream-like state. The uncanny ability and claim to fame is the aptitude to take everyday natural noise elements and craft them in such a way that they take on a dark, and at times, an ominous cacophony to jar the emotional peaks of one’s psyche. Add to this Rush’s gentle crooning of charged lyrics and Dall’s infamous guitar work and one cannot come away from this recording without being in awe of the genius behind Dream Into Dust.

When all is said and done, Dream Into Dust doesn’t just create music. They turn sound into a textural element for the listener to feel and experience. It’s only a matter of time before their work is featured in horror films to add another level of the unspoken unknown on a more dynamic level.

KM:  Derek, I have known you for a good number of years now, but for the past four years or so you disappeared from the club circuit. What was your reason for this considering the club can be a good promotion spot for bands?

DR:  What I essentially disappeared from was as a club goer and sometime DJ at NYC goth/EBM dance nights.  Though you're right about there being a promotional aspect to it, I felt that not enough time was being spent on actually making music.  Besides, a lot of what we do is closer to other underground sub-genres, although some have been tangentially connected with goth or EBM.  I've always seen us as a band that fuses and moves between different styles, while still having a certain central aesthetic that holds it together.

KM:  What happened with your earlier project December?

DR:  December was basically a solo project. It grew out of extreme anger and angst and an inability to create that had lasted for several years.  The few songs recorded were all I was able to finish.  It gave me the confidence to continue and do more, but the circumstances of my life changed, and so the sound changed.  I also wanted to work with others and have more of a band situation.  Besides, too many other bands were using the same or similar names.

KM:  By recording The Lathe Of Heaven in a small ADAT studio using analog gear and a portable DAT recorder, it gave the CD a more raw sounding quality to it. Why did you choose to do this?

DR:  I don't know if I'd describe it as "raw," but it's definitely got a different quality than if we did it all on the computer.  There were some songs that had to be done that way because the sheer number of sounds and complex edits were impossible to do otherwise.  Computers are a wonderful tool, but they can take over the way you do things.  Your own process affects the music.  We used whichever method was best for each song.

KM:  TLOH was written and recorded in 01-02, with the final mixes being done in 02-03. Why did it take you a couple of years to get this album completed for release?

DR:  Our last full-length CD, The World We Have Lost, was released in April 1999.  Since then Dream Into Dust recorded another album's worth of tracks for various compilations and a picture disc.  Besides that, I did 2 CDs as an equal partner in the dark ambient project A Murder of Angels. I helped write and record a CD and lots of compilation tracks with Loretta's Doll. I produced and played on an unfinished Bryin Dall country CD, plus I helped mix tracks for 4th Sign of the Apocalypse, Thee Majesty, The Sword Volcano Complex and others.  So, I was pretty busy.  By the time I realized I wasn't spending enough time on DID, two years had passed by.  I wanted to take the time and do something representative of where we were now, as opposed to where we were before.  It's not like it actually took 2-3 years to make; the work was spread out over a period of time.  The first thing we did was start gathering sounds, processing tons of samples and saving them for potential use in songs.  I had DAT tapes of field recordings I'd made and I had Bryin do lots of free improvisations on guitar, and all of those sounds had to be edited and cleaned up.  The first piece we started working on for the album was the title track in December 2000.  There was a lot of learning the computer involved in that.  The next year was mostly writing the songs.  We played live a few times, which was a whole project in itself.

Programming and recording didn't really get underway until February 2002.  Then there were a few equipment breakdowns, including losing two complete songs and tons of sounds.  Having to do those over probably made them better, though I will admit to a certain perfectionist streak.  Disconnected probably had every single percussion and glitch sound replaced at least 4 times until it sounded right.

KM:  Why have the themes of dreams and reality been so important to the band?

DR:  Besides "dream" being part of the band name, I've always been interested in dreams.  Some dreams are so powerful I still remember them years later, more than real occurrences.  Other things that really happened to me seem like dreams.  There have been times when the waking world and the world of dreams has come dangerously close to each other in my mind, and The Lathe of Heaven is partly about this.  Then of course there are daydreams, and also things we call dreams that are really aspirations – dreams that we want to make real. Those dreams, and the struggle against their failure, are central to the ideas in the lyrics.

KM:  How do you balance the accessible and obscure that becomes Dream Into Dust?

DR:  I don't really know.  I can't say we balance it in each song.  Every time we do something there are different considerations.  There's no formula to it.  I've long had a love for strange sounds and odd approaches to music before I knew there were names for it.  At the same time, like a lot of people, I couldn't help but grow up hearing popular music.  And while a lot of it makes me cringe, there's also good songs.  These different musical approaches tend to be at odds with one another, at least as portrayed in various media.  But I don't see anything wrong with liking and being influenced by both Nurse With Wound and The Beatles.  Or even Merzbow and Madonna.

KM:  How did you come together to work with Bryin Dall of Loretta's Doll?

Dream Into DustDR:  By chance, some friends of mine took me to a show in a small club and LD were onstage making a very weird sound with an unconventional instrument setup.  I walked up to Bryin and told him I liked them because they were dark, but didn't sound like your average goth band.  After that, we'd recognize each other around town and I was also doing flyers for the clubs where they were playing.  One day Bryin called and asked me to help with their artwork.  A year later he asked me to play acoustic guitar on a country song.  The following year I asked him to play some noise guitar for the first DID release, which was followed by us collaborating as Of Unknown Origin.  By then it was pretty obvious we enjoyed working together and we continue to help each other out on various projects.

KM:  Do you find it difficult when trying to attain additional members for your live performances or recording purposes?

DR:  It's been extremely difficult.  We were delayed for months searching for the right keyboardist.  In the end, we decided we had enough of a core group to be a good trio with minor electronic backing.  It's not as full as the recordings, but it is more "live" and experimental.  I'm very happy with the band now.  Bryin and Fredric are very enthusiastic, talented and open-minded.  Still, after the next album I'd like to get a live keyboardist to broaden the sound more.

KM:  Being that you write most of the music, come up with all the lyrics, do the artwork for the CD's and all of the studio work…do you feel pressurized at times? How do you handle it all?

DR:  There is a sense of pressure, because for certain things it's just impossible to turn to someone else. I have to do it myself.  Lots of engineering and programming chores are pretty tiresome.  Bryin has been involved more and more, although he denies it out of deference to me.  But I do show him lyrics and play him unfinished mixes and I value his opinion a lot.  I also try to work his guitar in wherever I can because I could never play like him; he adds a whole other dimension to it.  I can do samples and effects. I can even do some kind of non-traditional guitar playing in his general realm.  But no one can touch him in that style, so it's great to just put it in his hands.  It would be good to get more of a band feel on certain things, and since we may play some new songs live before recording them that might happen to some extent.  But I am ultimately the one responsible for things since it's my initial vision and songs.  I think that within that framework others can make their voice heard and that makes for something potentially better than we could each achieve alone.

KM:  Listening to your earlier work it seems more experimental to me. While TLOH has experimental overtones, but it feels more grounded. Would you agree that you're in a more comfortable state of mind with your music now than before?

DR:  Absolutely. I definitely don't want to lose the experimental edge, because I think that's an integral part of what we do.  But I've become more comfortable with my singing and playing in the past few years and I want that to come through as much as the weird soundscapes.  Striking that balance is what makes DID what it is.

KM:  How closely related is the musical content of TLOH to the book by Ursula K. Leguin of which you used the title for your CD?

DR:  There are about two moments of music or lyrics when I was thinking of a specific image from the movie, but that was because I'd already chosen the album title so it was on my mind.  The album does tell a story, though I don't know if anybody would figure it out except in the vaguest sense.  But the point is, that story is my story, not the book or the movie.  The title was chosen when I realized the lyrics I was writing were pertaining to dreams, reality, madness, control, change, morality and other aspects of humanity which were covered in the book and the 1980 film.

KM:  Is it easier for you to come up with the lyrics first than the music or vice versa?

The Lathe of HeavenDR:  They all just kind of happen spontaneously, sometimes at the same time, sometimes separately, and then they become associated with each other at some point.  You never know which is going to come first.  Neither way is "easier." There's always an easy part, the inspiration, followed by the hard part, which is finishing it and making it work.

KM: The art work in the booklet of TLOH is rather amazing and can tell a story by itself. How did you come up with it? How do its images pertain to the CD?

DR:  Thank you.  The artwork evolved at about the same pace as the CD.  Once I knew the title and general theme of the album I started collecting photographs from the past 70 years with only a vague idea of the types of figures and objects I wanted.  Just whatever appealed to me, but usually with an idea that it would end up somewhat disturbing.  Then I began to put them together, working on all of them simultaneously, until one stood out as being the front cover.  All I knew was that I wanted a series of bizarre tableaus similar to old daguerreotypes, photomontage and surrealist art as well as Joel-Peter Witkin's work, except with a sickly greenish hue instead of sepia-toned.  The pictures don't tell a linear story or correspond to specific lyrics on the album.  That the final images came out the way they did is as much due to the lighting of the objects I chose as it is to whatever was lurking in my subconscious.

KM:  Do you feel it's easier to express yourself musically since "Dream Into Dust" isn't pigeonholed to any one genre? On the other hand, do you feel hindered by it?

DR:  I guess it would be easier to just do something with all the stylistic hallmarks of a particular genre.  But then I'd feel like I was cheating, just coloring inside the lines someone else has already drawn.  We're coloring outside those lines and adding some of our own.  I'm not trying to say we're the most innovative musicians around, but we're trying in our own way to stretch things a little.  Genres are a nice way of pointing the way to certain types of music, but after a while they get restrictive and repetitive.  The only way I feel we're hindered by it is when trying to deal with some media or clubs.  They may have a specific focus and discount us because we're not 100% one thing that they do, like we're not a rock band and we're not a purely electronic band.  But we just keep doing what we want to do artistically and eventually people figure us out.

KM: Outside of the band, you have your own label Chthonic Streams.  With all that you contribute to Dream Into Dust, why a label too? Did you create the label to release Dream Into Dust's material on?

DR:  When I was just starting up I got very interested in the DIY way of doing things.  Sitting around waiting for a label to pay attention to you is a waste of time.  Ironically, the first release, the December cassette, attracted a label; Misanthropy Records.  They were interested enough to release a 7" single of that project and also signed Dream Into Dust.  However, right when we were ready to put out the first DID they had massive commitments with 3 of their biggest artists.  So we agreed that anything they didn't want or couldn't release we could do ourselves, which worked out well for the 7"/cassette A Prison for Oneself.  Misanthropy released The World We Have Lost and then decided to close because they were sick of the music business.  We had offers from several labels, but didn't feel any of them were right for the direction we were going.  Rather than getting bogged down in sending out demos and such, we just did it through Chthonic Streams.   It's a lot of work, but at least you get your art out there.

KM:  In one sentence, how would you describe to someone the music on TLOH that hasn't heard of Dream Into Dust before?

DR:  One of our weaknesses is our inadequacy at describing what we do in an easy soundbite.  I suppose if someone held a gun to my head, I'd call it a varying mix of acoustic folk-pop and dark experimental electronics.   I'd want to qualify that with further statements, but I guess I could live with that.

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