t’s just so damn great when you find someone who is ready to smash any appalling preconception about heavy music. Damian R. Master is the mastermind behind the purple metal – a microcosmos where sensuality meets black metal, evil does not match darkness and Johnny Marr can be much more influent than any metal entity you might consider the greatest ever. Master has been doing music constantly, pouring his soul and distinct approach into a myriad of projects – most of them living through Colloquial Sound Recordings, label founded by him in 2011 -, but A Pregnant Light is his own and pure lilac harbour, where no one has the ability to interfere. Having just released “My Game Doesn’t Have A Name”, APL‘s very first full-length, we’ve talked with one of the most thought-provoking metal songwriters in recent years – who’ve almost died on a surgery table amidst the process of creating the LP.
P.S.: This is the first of two interviews with Damian. Expect the second soon!
In “Circle Of Crying Women”, you wrote these verses “Digging through the trash in my wake / You’ll find nothing / So stop looking / The secrets are here / In the songs I sang”. You’re obviously not particularly fond of metaphors, which leads me to ask if you actually feel more comfortable by exposing yourself lyrically rather than obstructing everything with tons of complex prosaism?
When I was looking at making this record, I was writing and thinking about the voice that I have, the musical voice that is – I was thinking about all the things that I feel. So much of the music world takes these really amazing thoughts and experiences and then cloaks them in metaphor. Sometimes the metaphor becomes very distracting. I don’t think there is any level of me that is comfortable with expressing myself lyrically. I just wanted to cut away the metaphor and express my raw thoughts.
There are not many projects where I picture the musician actually writing for his own pleasure, almost self-indulgently. APL is one of few. But then a question comes to surface: why do you feel the need to show it to the outside world? If it is so personal, why throw it out there? Don’t you get upset by having people misinterpreting it or having a dude like me, a stranger in another continent, asking things like these? It’s almost like I’m knocking on your door to ask you how your life’s going.
First of all, I’m beyond humbled that anyone, especially a stranger from another continent cares, and I’ll never be upset answering their questions. I suppose in some ways, you’re very right. I’ve been asked this before, by friends, or other people, even myself – why should I put this out there? My thoughts aren’t totally clear, but part of it is ego. I want to be praised for the hard work I’ve done. Part of it is desperation. When I was a young boy, and listened to music, I loved the kind of music that seemed like it was speaking just to me, or that it understood how I felt. Part of me thinks that I’m not really a unique snowflake, and that there must be someone out there like me, and maybe I can give them a voice.
I’m not offended when someone misinterprets things, because I’ve left things open to interpretation. It is personal, and much of it, as you said, is devoid of metaphor, but there are still deep corners of my life on which no light has, nor will ever be shown. I was thinking the other day about when famous authors or writers die, and their personal letters get published. It seems like it’s at odds with the work they did in their life. Not quite exploitation – but close to it. Some things, even though they’re mundane, should be left for yourself.
This lack of mystery APL has is your way to deal with modern, internet times, where hiding behind an artistic name doesn’t make as much sense as it did years ago?
No, I don’t think so necessarily. I think now it’s harder than ever to hide, so I can see how someone might think it’s easier to just “have it all out there.” But when you open yourself up to that sort of eye, you open yourself up to a lot more barbed or personal criticism. I think the whole anonymous thing got really blown out of proportion amongst people in the underground. It used to have this real air of mystery to it, but now, anyone can find you out – and they will, and it just doesn’t look good for anyone. My best bet is to be upfront. Even then, just because people know my face and name, they don’t know everything about me. I’m still relatively safe.
«I have come to terms with my darkness, but I do not let it consume me. Darkness is a very destructive force. […] Rather than be consumed by it, and be a slave to it, I have bundled it up and control it to my advantage.»
At the same time, being APL the clearest project of all those you play in, there is this paradox in it: your most intimal outlet is the one that more people can listen to and share. I can pick up “My Game Doesn’t Have A Name” and show it to almost everyone I know but if I try to explain to a friend how good “The World Is A Gutter” by Quincunx is many will frown on it. Is your goal to make APL as musically accessible as possible?
It’s a very nice side-effect of the direction that I’m heading, but no, it’s not my goal to make APL as accessible as possible. I think a lot of people decry the pop influence, but really don’t understand what true pop music is. I think if people think something is catchy they think it’s pop. By that standard, Dark Angel and Voivod are pop to me! I certainly hope that my record speaks to as many people as possible, but it’s never a goal. Who knows what the next APL record will sound like? I’m always changing and tweaking my sound. My next record may be totally inaccessible. Maybe it’s time for the snake to bite his tail and for me to end where I began.
«I think it’s funny because people are shocked at the amount of music I’ve put out through the last three years alone on Colloquial Sound Recordings and are surprised, but to me, it seems like a half-assed attempt. My goal is to be more creative.»
But the trick on “My Game Doesn’t Have A Name”, I think, is that it sounds simple, straight to the point, but there is still complexity present. All those guitar tracks living together give to each song a considerable depth. It’s the feeling that I get when listening to “Barbarism Begins At Home” – there is so much stuff going on that it actually demands attention. A pop song is something, at first sight, disposable, but The Smiths turned it into so much more. APL has this touch of channeling complexity into simplicity. Do you agree?
YES! Absolutely. Johnny Marr is my favorite guitar player, and to say that he influences me is a massive understatement. He had such a depth and knowledge of the instrument (guitar). Of all the music I’ve listened too, it feels like everything I want to do stems from, in some way, the way that Johnny Marr plays guitar. I will say this, and it may sound a bit crazy, but I have always like The Smiths, but I’ve also always liked Minor Threat, but it seems that something about the way I play guitar, or approach the instrument is intrinsically linked to how Marr plays guitar. It’s hard to place yourself in that pantheon, because so quickly I would be struck down, but maybe Marr and I are just cut from the same sonic cloth. We have very different influences, but we play similar. Have you seen that picture of Johnny Marr and Ian MacKaye together? With a vegan cupcake?!?! Genius!!!
Still, even being flooded with light, APL has its darkness. Listening to “Purple Light” I feel invaded with hopeful sensations but when the record ends I have no doubt that “My Game Doesn’t Have A Name” is, at the same time, dark. How do you distinguish such concepts as evil & darkness and hope & inevitable finitude? Not many people understand a man who accepts his darkness but refuses evilness and actually believes in God and in afterlife. It’s not common, especially in heavy music, where so many, gimmicking or not, are plain atheists and boring Devil enthusiasts.
Well, I cannot answer the question any better than you’ve so eloquently put it. Well done. I have come to terms with my darkness, but I do not let it consume me. Darkness is a very destructive force. It’s not something to be toyed with. I know that the paradigm I represent is not only absent in much of heavy music, but almost any genre. It’s funny because, depending on who someone is talking to, or how the question is framed, I could either be considered “heavy music” or “crossover genre” as in, enjoyable to a wide spectrum of people – but really, I’m just speaking my heart. And I think it resounds many different ways with many different people. Just like the darkness I feel. Rather than be consumed by it, and be a slave to it, I have bundled it up and control it to my advantage.
Your back surgery near-confirmed-death experience delayed the album completion. When you were finally back home and started once again picking and chaining all the pieces together did you look at them differently? Did that sudden break actually change anything in what you were planning for your record to be? Like “I will now make it my own statement about beating death as well”?
No, I had this vision in my mind. The only thing that the surgery did (the surgery date ended up getting bumped up dramatically, but that’s another story) was make me realize that time is the only luxury any of us have. Time and health. Without those two, you’re without anything of value. For the most part. The thing about beating death is that, you never really beat it, you can only delay it. I decided to use the extra time that I bought myself by doing something very meaningful. I spent too many years wasting time. I think it’s funny because people are shocked at the amount of music I’ve put out through the last three years alone on CSR and are surprised, but to me, it seems like a half-assed attempt. My goal is to be more creative. Have greater quality, and make good art.
«I love the energy of punk and hardcore bands in a live setting. So many metal bands just stand there and occasionally headbang. Boring.»
APL has this sensual essence as well. My favorite track is “You Cut Me From A Magazine” – that combo between harsh-clean vocals works wonderfully. I don’t exactly know why, but when the song hits that “Save it for a day” part it gets so carnal. Like, I want to call my girlfriend now so we can get things going immediately. And then you have this tremolo riff working on the background while the overall atmosphere is so damn sexy. It creates this complex game between powerful masculinity and female vulnerability. Maybe I’m extrapolating, but, yeah, you’re the only who can make me write “sexy” and “black metal” on the same question!
Well then, my friend. My goal has been achieved. Honestly! That makes me so happy. I think sensuality is a topic that’s not really explored in “black metal.” It’s a topic near and dear to me. Anyway – I love your response. This question has made my day!!!
APL is definitely a challenging project with all these stuff I mentioned above. Your music approach ends up mixing things that most don’t want or don’t have the balls to put together. Do you think musicians are lacking this kind of courage? Not only sound-wise, but masking themselves with all sorts of intricate poetry and imagery?
You know, that’s a great question, but I don’t want to speak on why I speculate others don’t embrace the things I do. I have in the past and people always take it personally. Maybe I’ll just say this one thing – if you’re a true creative, a true artist, you shouldn’t be afraid to do anything if it comes from the heart. Do you know why I think there is so much boring or mediocre music out there? It’s because people are playing music because they think it’s cool to, or they have the ability to. I guess I have sort of speculated on others now, but at any rate – I have too much on my mind to worry about why others do or don’t do things.
But you do reject uniqueness. APL is not driven by uniqueness and singularity, right? Man, I love that Frank Zappa bit you said a couple of months ago in another interview. I wish more people thought that way.
Haha. Yeah. Well, I reject uniqueness as a goal. Like, when someone sits down to make something their goal shouldn’t be uniqueness, it should be quality. It’s hard to volley these accusations, because APL really is pretty unique, but if you were aware of my cosmology, as a few close to me are, you would see that APL makes perfect sense. The average listener just doesn’t have the roadmap to my life, and that’s okay by me. I think APLdoesn’t need a rosetta stone to decipher. And thank you for backing me up on this, Frank Zappa is awful.
You asked the help from two friends to record “My Game”. When you take APL to live setting – and, hopefully, you’ve already started to be invited to – you’ll have to share this personal project with other people constantly. Do you think it can affect its aura? Considering that APL started by using your frustration with other projects as its fuel.
I think it will affect the aura in a very positive way! I think it will add a raw, visceral element to the music. The dudes that helped me out come from a hardcore / punk background so I can only see that being amplified in a life setting, and personally that sounds really exciting to me. I love the energy of punk and hardcore bands in a live setting. So many metal bands just stand there and occasionally headbang. Boring. I think because I’ve done so much on my own now and have reached some small level of success ( I say that with tongue-in-cheek but also humbly, because I am well loved, but not famous!) I have the ability to pick and chose who I want to involve and how. Plus, I’m a bit older now, so I can see through people more I can see why they’re doing what they’re doing. I have a couple of friends who made some very disparaging comments towards APL in the beginning, but now that people like me, they want to play in the live band. Yeah right.
At what point of the APL ladder are you now? Do you consider this album to be only the beginning? Being a constant writer, are you considering the option of starting to release full-length after full-length regularly? I bet you don’t lack material to do it. Or will there always be room for going back to demos?
I would consider this to be the first big step on the ladder. I think the full-length format is very taxing but very rewarding. It’s expensive too! I would like to keep the full-lengths coming. I have a lot on my plate right now, with some other bands. When I was doing the APLrecord, I pushed all my other projects to the side to focus on that, so right now, I’m playing catch up with some other projects. I think I’ll go back to demos for sure, but I also think this is probably just the first of many full lengths.
Last and decisive question: why purple?
It’s beautiful, sexy, powerful, strong and sensual. Just like me!