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You Shriek speak about evolution, philosophy and the future
May 17 marks the release of You Shriek’s ‘Somewhere Between (Heaven & Sorrow)’, an electronic masterpiece so significant that it will and is making a huge dent in the global music scene. To understand the majesty of You Shriek, I caught up with frontman Raziel Panic.
‘Somewhere Between (Heaven & Sorrow)’ is You Shriek’s third full length studio album. If you’re a fan of You Shriek, you’ll know that originality resonates through the electronic goth shaped machine. Razi explains how the latest addition to the You Shriek catalogue distinguishes itself from previous releases, “The sound is more open and clear than the last album. Even the moments of intimacy with solo instruments have a way of engulfing you as you listen. The poetry is sometimes less impenetrable, too. There are more direct, literal stories on this one, less verbal impressionism. That was a conscious effort on some songs. Where there’s guitar, the tones and performances have a much closer feel… less of the buzzy sort of distortion, favouring dynamics and touch to deliver impact. And the vocal parts are more deliberately constructed in some places. Not at the expense of direct, simple ‘first-takes’ but in the addition of deeper layering and harmony. That was always part of our sound, but on this album I had the time and means to take it as far as I wanted.”
Despite the common similarities and hypnotic poetry, every release brings something fresh and mesmerising. Speaking on originality, “My motivation and pleasure in music is to find genuine inspiration. Sometimes that comes from reading, or looking at art, architecture, the natural spectacle, or from just working with new musical gear. Sometimes it doesn’t happen for weeks at a time, and that makes the process excruciatingly slow, but this is what I have to work with. I’m not quick enough to be trendy, and perpetually behind the fashion enough to present an odd juxtaposition of current and classic.”
It’s common knowledge that You Shriek have been influenced by many artists from Bauhaus to Neubauten. However, scratching further under the surface the make-up is much more complex, “I’ve always been interested in the sciences, humankind’s progress through technology, and how those verge on and interact with philosophy. My earliest memories of learning for pleasure were at these Saturday courses for children at the Boston Museum of Science, and I’ve carried the experiences with me my whole life. I have the utmost respect and reverence for pop astrophysicists like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson- and not just for their geeky charm and wit, but for their tireless and patient work to help usher our entire species out of the murky ignorance that some would fight to maintain.”
Musing further Razi adds, “I don’t know exactly how that figures into my work, honestly, but having a passion unrelated to my creative obsession can only be healthy.”
There are some bands that strive to put out a message and fight misconceptions. Razi comments on striking a balance between intellectual musings and making bloody good music, “I don’t make an intentional effort to push ‘reality’ or evidence-based argument through my lyrics. For one, this is an appropriate place for the imaginary and for fantasy. If we can’t embrace fiction and the impossible here in the creative arts, then there’s no place left for it. The second reason is that nobody likes being told that their pet magical belief is fresh bullshit. Or from the other side of that dialogue: I haven’t developed a talent for ‘gently’ disabusing the true-believer of his faith, ‘in an entertaining manner’. When I set up a story, I want to draw on something universal which strikes the listener as something personal. I’m sure I end up with themes based mostly on what I believe, but a good song about the scientific method is pretty much bound to be witty or wry or outright comedic, and I’m not skilled there either. Push too hard for a serious angle, and I’m making college lectures instead of music.”
You Shriek refuse to simply keep things musically interesting as the lyrics and poetry play an integral part in the composition of the finished piece. Having said this, You Shriek have been known to put out purely instrumental tracks, Razi contemplates the prospect of an entirely instrumental album, “I find writing lyrics to be sometimes taxing and not entirely pleasurable work. So, I do enjoy making tracks without words, for sure. But a whole album? I don’t think that’s within the definition of this band. We do have instrumentals on most of our albums, and there is the ‘Caesium Fallout’ EP, which is also wordless. I think they all draw upon a familiar You Shriek melodic lexicon and palette, so even without trying to maintain an identity, I bet they sound similar enough to the vocal songs.”
As a great lyricist Razi wouldn’t rule out the possibility of writing fiction or poetry in the future, “I don’t have it in me now, and just making enough words to finish songs taxes my capacity, but I could imagine dedicating a few years to becoming good at that. I could also see ‘a few years’ being considered a naive and insulting underestimate by some of the people I enjoy reading, but I’d be eager to work as hard as The Greats have been known to; at least as hard as I do with lyrics.”
Razi’s hard work is evident when listening to the evolution of You Shriek. Whilst Razi refuses to comment on exactly how the sound transformed he points to advancements, “I’m better at putting an appealing melody over a strong chord progression, and I think it’s fair to say that in the studio I have more skills to make things sound the way I intend. There must be a path from one album to the next, but I’m not able to get far enough away to discern it.”
Of course not all music is as layered as You Shriek. Razi recognises the function of simplistic tastes as he candidly points out, “We need crap songs so that people of refined taste have something to eschew!” Elaborating further he suggests, “Music serves too many purposes for too many types of people for a universal rule set to stick. I believe that getting involved in uncomplicated pop music is an entirely different endeavour from trying to craft some other types of music. Confusingly, still under the rubric of ‘music’ but otherwise distinct. There is music made by assholes and idiots, just as sure as there are like-minded fans. But after all, there is a very talented person involved somewhere in the process if ‘The Masses’ are hearing it. Maybe it’s a killer mix, or a fantastically original beat… or the melody is clever and appealing. We shouldn’t be too condescending when our entire species is wired to prick up their ears at a small range of tones, sounded in a repeating, predictable pattern.”
Following on from this in a similar tone, Razi talks about growing up with bands that simply get up there and play music without so much as a thought on how they’re dressed and what they’re wearing, “When I was coming up, I used to get bent out of shape over local bands we’d play with who didn’t see fit to put on a decent shirt and some boots, rather than the sad tennis shoes and flavourless department store t-shirt their mom laundered for school that day. Image is part of performing. That’s inescapable, but the other side of that coin is, bands can suck just as hard whether dressed up or not. If you’re beautiful and done-up, we’re going to look, and maybe look again, but that sort of prurient gawking sure isn’t the same as artistic respect.”
Razi’s twenty plus year career has been a colourful one and hindsight is a wonderful thing, “There are three or four opportunities that I could have made fruitful, and there are several people and situations I should have run away from screaming, but retrospect is too easy! The question just spins over and over in my mind, as I imagine all the ripple effects on alternate realities. I really can’t guess if fewer miserable yesterdays would result in a better today, you know?” With this in mind he offers young musicians some cautionary advice, “Do it only because you have to. Keep doing it even after you’re numb from how much it hurts.”
Whilst Razi says he’s “really slow on the take-up of new artists” and admits he finds out about bands after they’ve broken up he points Dominion readers towards a couple of artists to invest in, “I just fell in love with the song ‘Private Machine’ by the defunct Swedish electro pop band Thermostatic. The song ‘Ways to an End’ by Mirrors is lovely. Ah, here’s one: a musician that I’m continually blown away by is Stretta. Fantastically modern, minimalist, somewhat mathy classical modular synthesizer compositions. ‘A Funneled Stone’ is the work that turned me on to him. Monumental.”
Regrettably music and life are full of ups and downs. Sometimes the low times can lead to dark thoughts Razi admits he’s experienced this many times, and confesses “doubt and frustration are never distant, but making music is inevitable.” In the case of You Shriek he adds, “The band has a certain momentum on its own, and its history means something outside myself. I’m very, very lucky that each time I’ve felt emotionally done-in by this project, someone has written or come up to me after a show and said the very sort of thing that I can grasp to pull out of it.”
Whilst there are no immediate plans to tour Razi promises “we’ll get back out there soon.”
On current projects, “A year of public interaction leading up to this album release has helped foster relationships with a lot of great musicians. I’m not performing in any other bands these days, so I have free time to regularly shoot ideas and remixes and recordings back and forth with a half dozen or so other people. ‘Remote collaboration’ is the new jam session. There will be new remixes and some tracks from other bands with my voice or guitar out soon.”
Finally, I leave you with why you should stop what you’re doing and pre-order ‘Somewhere Between (Heaven & Sorrow)’ immediately, “With all the care and time and emotional energy I put into crafting these songs, I sincerely hope that I reach people. I achieved most of the artistic goals I’d set out for this album, so now it is up to you to put on some headphones, turn up the music on our site, and fall into the sound. And if you don’t feel anything, there’s plenty of other music in the world. Probably more than ever, and easier to get. You Shriek songs might require a second or third listen, but if they resonate, it is going to be deeply.”
So what are you waiting for? Pre-order this now!
Thank you to Raziel Panic for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview.
For an alternative article on You Shriek, complete with trippy videos please read this fantastic news article by Cassandra. It really is more than a news article: You Shriek Videos and Brief History
For more information please visit the Official You Shriek website.