Saturday, October 15, 2022

DJ Interviews: Lukas Szrot of Infinite Singularity

 Here's my interview with Lukas Szrot of the band, Infinite Singularity

How'd you get started in music?

First of all, wanted to extend sincere thanks for the interview opportunity. Honestly, haven’t done this in a while.


It began the first time I heard the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon when I was a toddler. Growing up my family moved around a lot looking for work; my parents got laid off at the same time and we ended up in Texas. Despite having sold most of our belongings back then, my dad had this prized vinyl collection and this old stereo, so when I was little, I got the chance to hear a lot of classic rock, full albums, on vinyl, in the living room. That one always stood out—atmospheric, intense but understated, not a single note wasted or out of place. I learned a bit about chamber music growing up Catholic, and singing hymns every Sunday—always liked, again, the atmosphere and the often-understated intensity. But I think I first got into jazz looking for that Pink Floyd-esque sound somewhere else again, but later took up piano, and then classical instruments in band and orchestra; then I got a guitar in high school and took the inspiration and music theory home to start working on music of my own. So, I’d say family, church, and later school, even if I really diverged from those earlier influences later.


Who are your inspirations or influences?

I got into rock and metal in my teens, starting with some of the ‘90s staples like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. Again, it was the atmosphere plus intensity, with powerful vocals, innovative soundscapes—I didn’t like most grunge rock, but there were a few bands that stood out. I remember seeing The Crow: City of Angels and hearing Deftones for the first time—I was instantly hooked. This kind of sent me down a rabbit-hole looking for more and more intensely expressive music during my teens; by the time I was working on my first solo album in my late teens I was listening to bands like Emperor and Dimmu Borgir—the black metal coming mostly from Norway at the time—along with Swedish melodic death metal (melodeath) like In Flames and At the Gates. But when it came time to record my own work I didn’t want to scream through the songs, and I was already drawing on all those classic rock, jazz, classical, grunge, and nu-metal influences from before. So, I’d say extreme metal became the catalyst for Infinite Singularity as a project, but these influences were meshed with all those other influences—classic rock, jazz, classical, alt-rock, and nu-metal—as well. I would also say the journey didn’t end there—I listen to all sorts of music now, looking for those key elements, in my mind: atmosphere and intensity.


In saying this I want to clarify that I don’t consider Infinite Singularity to be progressive rock or neoclassical metal, in that these labels have been taken on by bands that really place technical sophistication front-and-center. The goal of Infinite Singularity has never been to be technical in this sense—to string together a lot of notes or complex passages—I favor a more parsimonious songwriting style despite having a lot of more technical influences/acts whom I claim as influences. I loved Slayer and saw them more times live than any other band; I also loved Children of Bodom, their guitar playing was powerful and influential but Infinite Singularity has never been about replicating that highly technical guitar solo sort of approach. Favoring the single guitar approach instead of two guitars like most rock and metal bands has been about keeping the guitar from taking over the soundscape; pushing for a guitar sound that holds the music together but doesn’t dominate, but also isn’t just crunching along on the low E string.


Silence, the second Infinite Singularity album, is by far the most technical of the three Infinite Singularity albums to date, but it’s more technical in terms of having layered synth atmospheres, timing changes on the drums, and using a six-string bass guitar, as opposed to building a soundscape “top down” based on, and in support of, distorted electric guitar. Drawing on the classical music of the nineteenth century in particular—the really sweeping, haunting, romantic stuff like Brahms, Dvorak, or Mussorgsky, reflecting this love for atmosphere, Infinite Singularity has really tended to center the chamber strings, synth, and ambient sounds more so than guitar. There’s also this love of bass guitar that I think comes from some of my earlier exposure to jazz as a kid, but which was really built on by hearing bands with strong bass presence: from Rush to Primus to Mudvayne (perhaps Mudvayne especially). I guess I gravitate toward some of the more symphonic metal sounds from acts like Wintersun, coupled some of the goth rock sounds from bands like Charon, Sentenced, Poisonblack, or Type O Negative. And maybe this band is over-cited as an influence, but I have to give a lot of credit to Tool in terms of sound and musicianship even if the goal has never been to sound like Tool. I think of Infinite Singularity as avant-metal or even dark alt-rock more so than something “pure” metal or rock.


What advice would you offer aspiring performers?

Three things come to mind, I suppose: the first is that everyone has stage fright to some degree. Seriously. When I was a kid I was so shy I would burst into tears if more than three people were looking at me at the same time. In my teens and early twenties I started reading poetry and singing karaoke to build myself up for an original-music performance. After a while, you feed off the fear, but I don’t know if it really goes away. I’ve been on stage over a thousand times as a musician and became a teacher and lecturer in my later years, so being in front of people has become a normal part of my week. I went skydiving in 2013 for the first time, and I remember watching the doors open once we were at altitude, looking down from above the clouds and getting ready to jump. I imagine performing is a lot like skydiving in that you’re never as scared as the first time, but that rush of adrenaline never really goes away either.


The second thing I would say is take care of yourself. I don’t mean in a purely selfish sense. Music is an intense world, physically and emotionally. Lots of familiar occupational hazards like drug abuse and mental illness that get a lot of press. In my experience it’s easier to avoid some of those pitfalls if you try to find some balance; getting enough sleep, making time for family and friends, giving yourself time to wind down after a big show or a few dates in a row if you can. If alcohol or drugs start to become a problem, or you’re struggling with mental health issues, get help before it gets out of control—a couple of therapy sessions now might save you a months-long hiatus or a stint in rehab later. I mean, you don’t want to miss opportunities in a field this demanding, but you also don’t want to self-destruct. In a world in which musicians have, potentially, more freedom and independence than in the past, it may, ironically, be easier to take it slow and steady. I learned some of those lessons too late; and reflect on them in more than one place on the new album, Monsters. I loved music but pursuing it without regard to other aspects of life eventually made me miserable and turned me into a person I no longer recognized. It took a long time to dig myself out of that hole. Even now I still sometimes wrestle with self-doubt and finding balance. But in that sense, it’s been good to start all over again here and now, in the fall of 2022.


Finally, and this might seem a bit pretentious or self-indulgent, but be careful with compromise. Any passion you’re turning into a career is going to involve compromise, difficult decisions, as a rule. Collaborating, joining a band or ensemble, is great because everyone can bring something unique and inspired to the table, but this also means you’re not going to get to do your thing on your terms anymore. When you build an audience, they might come to rely on consistency or enjoy specific songs of yours—compromise. Get a manager, agent, record label—they’re going to want certain things from you that they think will make your music more marketable: compromise. Get into the studio, working with producers and engineers as well as likely other musicians: compromise. Going on tour, booking various venues with other bands also means playing to a specific crowd in a specific place at a specific time: compromise. Pretty soon it can feel like there isn’t much of you or what you initially set out to do left anymore; it’s surreal and profoundly disheartening to slowly not recognize yourself in your own work anymore. This connects with the point I made about taking care of yourself—being tired or sick can weaken your will, make you less self-reflective. Lead you to agree to what’s comfortable and easy in the shorter-term even if it’s really not in your long-term interest as an artist, and that can also send you down those self-destructive paths.


How do you set yourselves apart from other bands or singers?

Infinite Singularity as a project set out first and foremost to combine extreme metal and neoclassical music, and to try to do it without falling into the games of image and schtick that end up trapping many artists in the long run. Exploring that motif has meant songs with so many different influences: there are ambient pieces that have gone over well, even making it into an independent horror film score some years back. There are more intense rock and metal songs that have attracted some attention, and then there are the long, weird songs that are constructed in a more neoclassical departure-and-return approach instead of the verse-hook-verse-hook standard. Artistically, trying to push boundaries, not just finding and repeating a past formula for success—it’s what the journey was originally about.


The new album, Monsters is, I think, a pretty accessible take on that soundscape, with lots of shorter, more focused songs that really do favor a more standard organization and composition. More dark-alt and post-punk elements and influences. It builds on lessons I learned performing for over a decade as a singer/songwriter of the band According 2 Legend back in Texas, as well as in various bands as a session musician, as a solo artist; and working as a live sound engineer, booking agent, and venue owner. What I also think makes Infinite Singularity different is in the approach as well as the goals: trying to hang onto something a bit sparser and more understated even as the musical arrangements become more complex.


Dynamics are the most important part about a song, I think, and that’s something that’s sadly disappearing from modern music. You have the well-publicized “loudness wars,” with artists, producers, and engineers trying to compress every iota of volume into the songs, making everything sound louder and louder to be competitive, but also more and more similar in the process; more and more one-dimensional. Second, something modern music is losing is timing and tempo changes as metronomes and loops have become more standard issue. I practice to a metronome and record songs with one most of the time, and I certainly don’t begrudge artists who use loops, samples, or drum machines to create their sound (I sometimes do, too). However, being able to slow it down or speed it up at the level of single phrases or notes, as one often hears in a live classical performance, just creates so much more feeling and intensity. As a project, Infinite Singularity aspires to preserve some of the more organic things, musically, that were prevalent in classical music but are slowly fading away.


Any new gigs or albums in the future?

Monsters was just released in September. A completely re-recorded version, Ruins Revisited: 20 Years Later, is due out around Halloween, along with the original version of Ruins, for the first time on major streaming platforms. Then there’s Silence, the second album, which will be available on major streaming platforms for the first time on December 21.


As far as performing, that’s an open question. Infinite Singularity has never been about live performances, because performing live risks becoming too much about an image or  a product rather than the music or art form. It’s reclusive music, to be enjoyed in a quiet place, alone or with a small crowd, for thinking, brooding, reflecting. That being said, performing at its best is a really powerful experience, and I really enjoy authentically connecting with audiences and with other artists. Not going to write off the possibility of getting on stage again, even if it’s likely to be a small venue, maybe with just a slab piano or an acoustic guitar.


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