The Music of Gray Scale

Written by Alexander Greco

September 29, 2020

Going by the moniker of Gray Scale, Gray is a rising musician from Atlanta, Georgia. Her style blends a mix of stripped down EDM or Electronica with a mellower, more somber R&B sound. However, Gray’s music also steps outside these and other related genres, into a very unique realm where Gray expresses moods and emotions dredged up from the depths of her mind, and exorcises demons in song-form. With her background in percussion and her hands-on production of her music, Gray is emerging as a highly talented and unique musician.

For this article, like the previous one with Daniel Blake, I try to step back a bit more than I usually do and let Gray do a large portion of the talking in her own words. However, there are a few parts I step in a bit more.

Background

While being raised in a music-rich environment, Gray herself began music with school band, and eventually transitioned into DJ’ing. Over the last few years, Gray has begun releasing singles, albums and EP’s. With these, she has grown various new skills musically.

“I was always a band nerd growing up. I taught myself a little music on my own but then joined the middle school band, high school marching band, and college marching band….

“I was on the drumline for 9 years, playing bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals, and being a drum major. In grade school, you are required to be in symphonic band, so I also know classical percussion techniques. Other than that, I am a very mediocre, self-taught piano player.”

When I asked about any influences or experiences Gray had that has shaped her music and musical career, she explained a bit about the environment she grew up in:

“I live in Atlanta, so we have a thriving music scene, especially Rap music. Because of my father’s friends, I was raised around the music industry, constantly in and around music studios and recording sessions, and around mostly rappers.

“I have anecdotes to why I am so particular about so many different aspects of my art. But as an example, I have had terrible experiences with audio engineers. I actually graduated college with the intent to set out and be an engineer. But after college, I was shut out and denied internships and opportunities to learn. I have been told ‘you don’t really want to do this’ to my face and been blown off. So that’s why it is important for me to now mix and master on my own.”

I then asked Gray a bit about her vocals, and then about her process of recording, mixing and producing music. To my surprise and admiration, I found out that Gray had been recording and producing music almost entirely on her own.

“Vocals are actually very new for me. I’ve only been doing them for a little over a year….

“[Deciding to sing] was a mix of wanting to connect with people better and also being underestimated (again). I was making beats for artists to use and I had one artist tell me ‘your music isn’t really for vocals, I only imagine it as background music.’ And I set out to prove her wrong. I also have such a logical brain that I remember learning in college Music Appreciation class that humans have an immediate and automatic connection to another human voice. So, the moment they hear it, their attention is snapped in. I wanted to bring that to my music.

“I hate the way my voice sounds, I’m no different from anyone else. I am not a trained vocalist and I can’t do anything spectacular. But mediocre voices can and do excel when everything else is around them is done properly. There are countless examples of this today. I keep telling myself that if these mumble rappers are out here ‘singing’ and winning awards in ‘Melodic Rap’ and having millions of fans, then I can do whatever the hell I want with my music and still have some fans somewhere.”

Gray Scale

So, next, I wanted to know a bit more about Gray Scale as an artist, where she got the name from and where she wants to go with her music.

“I actually had a sweet sixteen and I made everyone wear black, white, and gray while I wore orange. I called it “Club Grayscale”. My dad and one of my brothers DJed it. But the party ended up being very fun and very memorable. So then when I started DJing other high school parties, I just took that name since my own party was such a success.

“I started DJing when I was in high school and that was the stage name that I chose for myself. I continued to DJ in college and also began working at the college radio station, so I kept the name in use. Once I graduated and decided to become an independent artist, I saw no need to use a different name, so after 10 years, it’s still here.”

X: “What’s the intent behind the music you’re making?”

GS: “The concrete intent is to definitely have my music land on television or a video game. Anywhere within the sync music realm

GS: “The deeper, more ethereal intent is what any artist is striving for, and that’s to convey a message to the masses.”

X: “What kind of television series or video game would you hope to hear your music on? Like, if you could choose what TV/Web series and what video game series you got to make music for, what would they be and why?”

GS: “I personally love the young, sexy sci-fi shows with vampires, elves, and other mythical creatures. I would love to hear my music on Shadowhunters (which is about demon slaying descendants of angels) on Freeform, The Originals (vampires) on The CW, The Magicians on SyFy, or something like The Shannara Chronicles (elves and dwarves) which started on MTV and then moved to Spike.

GS: “There is an escapism that these shows offer me, and I used that same feeling to create some of my songs that aren’t talking about a specific man and the situation around him. Not to mention I follow the artist Ruelle and the types of moves she makes, because when I started this, she was the Billboard Top Synced Artist for the year. She has had placements on every single one of those shows, and on other big names in sci-fi like HBO.”

X “And do you have a message or messages you want to get out to people?”

X: “Yes. So many. There is so much in the world to worry about and speak on that it’s overwhelming. But I will just have to take it bite by bite. I don’t have one main platform or message. Dark Mind is about depression and Life Less is my commentary on predatory capitalism and its effect on the environment. But there are many more to come.”

Style

Delving more specifically into Gray Scale’s music, Gray’s music has a unique array of sounds that sets her music apart, but is still centered, focused on a particular vibe and manages to carry that particular vibe in different variations across her different songs.

Gray’s music employs sounds and styles from a variety of genres of music, and her musical toolkit seems to have grown rather impressively over recent years. Primarily, from what I can hear in Gray’s sounds, she employs styles and sounds from EDM or Dance Music, Hip-Hop, R&B, and a lot of the instrumental style of Electronica and Production-Instrumental music

The first key note to talk about is the rhythm of Gray’s songs. Being a percussionist for much of her life, Gray’s expertise in rhythm definitely comes out strong. While every song varies rhythmically, Gray often uses a hip-hop or dance style rhythm. This employs things like syncopated beats, or strong backbeats—something that’s also employed in a lot of R&B music.

Now, while Gray’s music is a bit stripped down compared to the endless piles of layers of stacks of music in EDM and other Electronica, she does layer her sounds quite effectively, adding things like piano, various forms of synth and more natural sounds to the mix. Keeping with our discussion of rhythm, Gray’s background sounds often either support or inform the rhythm quite well, while in other songs provide the rhythm.

As far as the mood or tone of Gray’s songs, there is definitely a melancholy tone to much of the music. In some songs there’s hints at a bitterness, in others a sense of listlessness or loss. Many of Gray’s songs are about relationships that have soured, whether romantic or personal, and others are about personal or internal states of mind or being Gray has experienced.

And this mood certainly comes out in Gray’s voice. She manages to express her emotions quite clearly, and, made especially impressive since Gray is the producer of her own music, manages to meld her voice with the instrumentals and the tone of the instrumentals very well.

Vocally, Gray steps towards a more R&B style, though taking her tone to a darker and more somber place than much of R&B often is.

The one criticism I might have in some of her vocals is that there are a few parts where I think I can hear a lack of confidence in her voice. Of course, I cannot know this, I can only go off of what I hear, and this is something I only heard in a few particular parts of her music. But, Gray is relatively new to vocals, and while her tone and the articulations of her voice are spot on as far as I can tell, sometimes her voice lacks a stronger force behind it.

That said, her vocals in “Retrograde” did possess a more confident timbre to them, so she is definitely capable of providing that extra umph to her sound. All the “pieces” are in place for her to evolve into a strong vocalist, and I think she might just need some more time to step into this role as a vocalist and become more comfortable with it.

Recent Releases

X: “And can you tell me about the EP you’re coming out with soon, Becoming? What is the intent behind this EP? And how will the music with this EP compare with other music you’ve made?

GS: “Becoming is the first time I am doing a fully lyrical project. I have released a few lyrical singles, but most of my body of work up until this point was instrumentals. Becoming is about constantly changing, and so it is parallel with the fact that when I first came out as an artist, I never would have even thought about writing lyrics, let alone singing them for other human beings to hear, yet here I am releasing a full EP doing exactly that.”

X: “Is there anything new to your style, your songwriting or your sound you’ve been developing with it?”

GS: “Besides lyrics, I took time to really school myself on the engineering side of the music. It has been almost a year since I’ve released new music and I have spent that time digging and grinding in to mixing and mastering more than anything. I have invested hundreds of dollars on new equipment and software. I have spent hundreds of hours watching tutorials, reading step by steps, tweaking and critiquing my mixing and mastering process. One of the songs on Becoming is a track that I originally released last year, but I have now taken the time to re-record, re-mix, and re-master it for this re-release.

“It is not just important to me, but it is crucial to the success of any musical project to have solid engineering. I am still not perfect, but I am in an unrecognizably better sonic space than I was in before, and so my music sounds exponentially better now. It sounds like a completely different artist than 2 years ago.”

X: “Now, since the article will be coming out after Becoming is dropped, and there won’t be any spoilers, are there any songs you’d like to give deeper insight to? Whether it’s the background of the song or why you made it, or even how you made it and what the process of making the different songs was like, what are some things you’d want people to know about the songs?”

GS: “I just think I have started to carve out my own styles. So if you have been a fan of my music, it’s going to be easy to pick out your favorite tracks. But for anyone’s first run in with me, here is the run down of some of the songs on the new EP.

“If you liked my previous single Retrograde, you’re going to like the first track Missing It. Both are about boys putting me in emotionally compromising situations and therefore have a little bit more of an Alt-R&B style.

“If you liked my previous release of Beast, then not only are you going to be pleased with the remixed/remastered 2020 release, but you will probably also dig Tormented. Both are dark, bass driven songs with spooky subject matters and some heavy drum passages.

“Lastly, if you liked Hope Like Water and my other orchestral pieces, I released Dark Mind as a orchestral song, just to play around with the composition of that piece.”

Parting Words

Being able to talk with musicians like Gray Scale, as well as other artists and creators has been quite a joy. I love getting to pick people’s brains on things, delve into their thoughts a bit, and connect with someone who’s talented, driven and experienced in their particular field or craft. Talking with Gray has been no different.

While Gray is still relatively new to music, her work so far has been quite excellent, and I think as she pushes forward, she will find—and we will find—her ability, her personal expression through her sound, and her toolkit of music creation will only expand. From there, I can only hope that the range of people who appreciate her craft expand as well.

Before I end with some parting words from Gray, you can find her music on all common platforms, you can find Gray on Instagram as @gray_scale_ and on linktree with https://linktr.ee/gray_scale_ .

And so, with these parting words, thank you for reading. I bid you adieu.

X: “Do you have any advice for musicians–or creators in general–who are largely independent/self-reliant and self-taught?”

GS: “It is tough being on your own. So, remember why you got started and why you’re doing it. That always jumpstarts my motivation. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it. I am pretty bad at this but I still keep a small clutch of people/mentors that I go to for questions or just to talk and get new information from.”

X: “Any advice maybe for someone who is just starting to get their toes wet and might need some wisdom from someone further down the path?”

GS: “If you’re just starting out, try everything. It’s the time to experiment and to get out of your comfort zone. None of your plans are set in stone, so play around with your options when it comes to sounds and instrumentation, visuals and graphics, marketing, everything. You never know what will end up working because you don’t know what works at all, so there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The Music of Daniel Blake

Written by Alexander Greco

September 23, 2020

Photo Credit: @visionofele on Instagram

Born in Arizona, but currently residing in Los Angeles, Daniel Blake is an eclectic musician with roots in classic rock, old school and 90’s country and blues, and contemporary folk. Having released a number of singles, including his most recent, “Freeway”, and his EP, Circle Mountain, Daniel is quickly gaining recognition, with his music already being featured on a number of television shows and a Spotify-official playlist.

Daniel’s music immediately struck a spot in me, as it possessed the same calm yet haunting expressiveness of some of my favorite artists, Ben Howard, Bon Iver and Adam Granduciel, and the same simplified, emotive style of contemporary musicians like All Them Witches, Wild Child and Josh Abbott. Blending styles from across blues, folk, country and rock, along with the ambiance of synth and keys in the background, Daniel’s music echoes in your mind with calming yet soulful songs of love, life and a roaming freedom.

When Daniel and I first started talking, he communicated in a handful of 3-5 word sentences, and I thought, “Fuck, I’m gonna have to wring the answers out of this guy.”

However, despite Daniel’s laconic first responses, once he did open up about music, his answers were some of the most detailed I’ve received in interviews (even beating out a few writers I’ve talked with) and Daniel’s passion and experience with his craft became crystal clear.

And so, while I usually include much of my own thought in these sorts of articles, with this article, I let Daniel do much of the talking and step back more than I usually do.

Without further ado, here is my article/interview with Daniel Blake.

Background

We began our interview discussing how Daniel became involved with music and how he eventually arrived where he is now.

Xander: “So, to start off with, how did you get into music? How did you start singing and playing? Have you had any formal training in music, or are you self-taught? Have you been a part of any other bands or musical projects, and, if so, what were those like?”

Daniel: “My dad played music at church so there were always a couple of guitars lying around the house.  I eventually learned a few of the basic chords (G,C,D & EM) which gave me something to build off of.  I later took some lessons at a local music shop but wasn’t too involved in music at school.  I had tried forming a couple of punk bands when I was in Junior high and High-school.  However, they never amounted to much.  mostly just recording 15 minute instrumentals we would listen to while driving around town.  I didn’t really start singing until I was in my 20’s when I started singing at church.  From there I started messing around with an old 8 track recorder we had lying around the house.”

X: “How have you developed over the years? And how have you arrived where you are now in your career?”

D: “When I first started out I really had no clue what I should be doing. I pretty much just started recording music and uploading it to Soundcloud. It was sort of nice to work at my own pace to learn about the best ways to use my voice. I eventually had to step out and present it to the world, which is when the journey really began. It was difficult to find a venue that would allow me to do a set so I had to start at ground zero. Basically playing anything available which at the time was mostly open mics.  Like anything else, one door always leads you to another door until one day you look back and say, ‘man, that’s a lot of doors!’ haha.”

Influences

Next, Daniel and I delved into his musical influences. I knew about a number of them, and his songs possess the unmistakable echoes of voices and sounds still reverberating from the dawn of folk, country and classic rock (Dylan, Cash, Neil Young, etc.). I called Ben Howard the moment I heard his first song, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he listened to Iron & Wine. Still, Daniel’s catalog of influences was quite broad, and I enjoyed hearing about all the artists who’d left a mark on his music.

X: What other musicians, musical groups or eras of music have influenced you? How did early influences like Tom Petty, The Beatles, Van Morrison and others affect you? What about their music do you enjoy? And are there any contemporary artists you resonate with or find any inspiration from?

Credit: @ojodeloba

D: I love old country music (Hank, Willy, Waylon & Cash).  The songs remind me of my grandpa and his friends sitting around in a circle, telling stories and teasing one another.  It sort of feels like home I guess.  I’m also a big fan of a lot of 90’s country/blues music too (Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Brooks & Dunn, Bonnie Raitt, SRV, Dire Straits…).  All of these artists are a piece of me in one way or another.  The common thread for all of these artists is great songs.

D: However, there is something much deeper (especially for groups like the Beatles).  They constantly evolved and experimented with different ideas. they pushed the envelope and opened the world up to new sounds.  Every song didn’t need to be a love song.  It was okay to create something just for the sake of making something new.  As far as contemporary music goes, I feel like I may be a little behind, haha.  However, I have definitely been influenced by artists like David Grey, Ben Howard, Band of Horses, Iron & Wine & Postal service.

After this, we discussed Daniel’s influences in a more general sense.

X: Are there any cultural, social, religious, or other kinds of influences on your music or your songwriting? Are there any personal experiences that have shaped your music and songwriting, or even your outlook on making music?

D: I think that if you are an honest writer it is impossible to write something that does not somehow reflect the issues that are going on in the world.  At the same time, I really try to zoom in on a moment and tell a story.  It’s sort of like painting.

D: If you try and paint the whole world it would be impossible to include enough detail to really give anyone a sense of what it’s like to live here.  However, once you zoom in you can start to see more and more detail.  If you were to paint a doorknob you would be able to express all of the reflections and metal fibers.  People could determine if it is on a wood door or a glass door.  If it’s night or if it’s day.  Whether it’s on the inside or the outside of the building.  All of the clues on and around the doorknob help to give you a sense of the environment, just like the subject matter of a song.  I basically try to say it without saying it.

D: There are a few moments that really stick out as playing a major role in the way I approach songwriting.  I remember driving home from work listening to the radio when a Red Hot Chili Peppers song came on.  I realized that I don’t understand most of the lyrics.  However, the overall sound (melody/production/cadence) all flowed together in such a way that it didn’t seem to matter.  This memory stuck with me for a really long time. The foundation for any great song is always a strong melody and production.  This however sets up roadblocks that you must learn to navigate around.  In fact, it forces you to write better lyrics because you need to figure out ways to say what you want to say within the constraints that you have setup for yourself.”

Songs

Next, Daniel and I spent some time talking about his some of his specific songs, as well as a bit about the recording process for his recent releases.

X: Can you tell me a bit about your latest release, Freeway? What was the inspiration for it? How was the process of recording and producing it?

D: I’m originally from Phoenix, AZ.  Throughout the years I’ve made dozens of trips back home to visit family.  Whenever I would get to the middle of the stretch; I would look at the small clusters of housing developments and trailer parks.  I imagined what it would be like to grow up in a town like that where you constantly see cars passing by on the freeway.  I imagined that the freeway could become a symbol of hope, especially for a couple of kids growing up in broken homes.

D: The recording process was a lot of fun.  I worked with Bill Lefler; who had produced all of my previous work.  My good friend/guitar player Paul Redel came into the studio and laid down probably 100 different guitar tracks.  I stood at the doorway and watched as Paul would play a lick and Bill laid on the ground turning knobs on the pedals.  Each take was completely unique, magical and a mess at the same time.  From there, Bill had the task of sifting through all of the takes, cutting and pasting things together until it started to sound like something completely out of this world.  During an unrelated session, Bill had hired a horn player for something else he was working on at the time.  The horn player had finished the session a little early so Bill asked him to mess around with a few takes on Freeway, which sort of added a whole other element to the song. 

X: Can you tell me a bit about your other releases, like the Circle Mountain EP, Here With Me and The Ones You Love? What have been some inspirations or motivations for these songs and others?

D: I had eventually come to the point where I realized that you are extremely limited without having any music out in the world.  When you first start out in this industry you have a lot of unrealistic expectations about the way things work.  You imagine being greeted by some A&R rep the second you step off stage who signed you to a label.  The sad truth is that there are very few stages you can step off of if you don’t have any content, not to mention the fact that A&R reps typically go after people who are doing pretty well on their own.  I realized that the next step would be to release my music out into the world, even if it didn’t receive much attention.

D: I spent several months trying to record my music at home when I finally threw up my hands and decided I needed a producer which–was the smartest decision I ever made.  I met my producer Bill Lefler through a friend of a friend.  I was impressed with the artists he had worked with in the past and quite frankly I felt honored that he would be willing to listen to some of my homemade demos.  Bill really sold me on his enthusiasm.  He appeared to understand what I was going for and was excited to share some of the ways he thought we could get there.  We initially agreed to do the first track on spec; which is another way of saying “if you don’t like it then you don’t pay for it and move forward with someone else”.  However, it didn’t take much time into recording the first track that I realized Bill and I would be working together for a long time.

Credit: @ojodeloba

D: At the time, I had about 20 songs I had written which gave us a lot to work with as far as options.  I was open to Bill’s opinion because I wanted him to be excited about the songs he was working on.  I also figured that eventually all of the tracks would be released, each at the right time.  We decided to do 5 tracks and picked four that we were both excited about.  We left the last slot open for something new I would write based on the feel of the first 4 tracks which happened to be “All I Need”.  Overall, the experience was really great.

D: After releasing Circle Mountain, the EP had caught the ear of a music supervisor who asked me to record a cover of the Dido song “Here With Me” for the TV show “Roswell New Mexico”.  This was a major milestone in my career as up to this point I could only dream of having a song on TV.  “The Ones You Love” was a Christmas song that was mixed in with the other demos I had originally sent to Bill when we were working on the first EP.  I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to release an original Christmas song for the simple fact that there are too many covers floating around and Christmas songs typically get re-visited every year.  Bill liked the idea of doing a really stripped-down version to sort of give it that “Carpenters” sound.  Again, the recording process was a lot of fun and is something I will always cherish. 

In Parting

The last thing Daniel and I talked about was probably my favorite part of the interview. It’s really goddamn hard to make it as an artist, as a musician, as a writer, and so forth. While so many of us look up things like, “What is ‘so-and-so’s’ morning routine?” or “What does ‘Person X’ do to get motivated?”, I don’t think enough people take the time to listen to the actual advice and experience of people who’ve made it further down similar paths that we’re walking.

So, I’ve been trying to talk with people I interview more about what people actually need to do to be successful. The sad truth is that recording a beautiful song, writing a deep piece of fiction, or painting a stunning landscape is only the first step in an endless marathon to success. Luckily, with this knowledge, you can start learning what steps to take next.

While Daniel’s response here is more geared toward music, a lot of what he says can certainly be translated to other creative industries.

X: A lot of people who read the magazine are independent artists, musicians, writers and so forth who are trying to break into their respective fields, or are even just starting, and so I’m sure a lot of people would love to hear from someone who is a bit further down the path from where they are.

X: What do you think is important for aspiring musicians to know about the business? Do you have any advice for musicians trying to start their career? What are some things you wished you knew getting started? And do you have any advice for marketing music, getting your name out there and picking up traction with your music?

@ojodeloba

D: It’s a very difficult question to answer because no two artists’ paths are the same.  However, there are a few things that I think are key to being successful in this industry.  First off, it is extremely important to be a part of the music community.  Seek out local open mics or artists hangs and make as many friends as you can.

D: When you’re first starting out, the friends you make in the music community are often the only ones standing in your corner, pushing you to keep going.  It’s also a good way to expose yourself to any potential opportunities that may come up (“oh, you need a keyboard player? I know just the person”).  You will learn about the best producers, mixing engineers & mastering engineers.  You will learn who curates which events or which events are simply a waste of time.

D: Secondly, I think it is extremely important to have a balanced perspective of the world.  Understand that this thing you are trying to be successful at is un-relatable to 99.9% of the people in the world.  At the same time, you need these people more than they need you.  Don’t use your platform to complain about all of the struggles that come with doing this thing you chose to do.  Instead, make great content that can provide an escape for these people.

@where.is.rachel

D: Lastly, I would say that you need to work harder and smarter than everyone around you.  Figure out a way to make the best content possible.  As an indie artist, you are pretty much self-funding all of the services that would come with a record deal.  No one says, “This guy looks like a complete hack but I know he’s indie so I’ll give him a chance.”  You want people to look at the work you put out and assume you are already signed.  You may need to work a full-time job so that you can afford recording/marketing/PR fees on top of food, gas & rent.  The hard work doesn’t end once you have a mastered track.  In fact, often the hardest part is getting people to listen to your beautiful track.  This is in part why it’s so important to make as many friends who are proud of your work and are willing to pass it along.  Everyone you have in your corner (friends, curators, producers…) are all advocates for the work you put out to the world.

And here we’ve arrived at the end of my interview with Daniel Blake. It was great getting to hear from Daniel about his experiences creating and recording music, and he definitely gave some solid advice for anyone looking to make a name for themselves in their respective creative fields.

There’s one thing he said that stuck out to me: “Understand that this thing you are trying to be successful at is un-relatable to 99.9% of the people in the world.”

I could probably write an entire article just on this sentence.

If you’re out there trying to make it as an artist, musician, writer and so forth—if you’re out there trying to do the impossible—you might find yourself living a life that no one around you understands. As Elton John said, “It’s lonely out in space.”

Most people will never even put in the initial effort to try. Just taking the first step forward will set you aside from almost everyone else in the world. From there, the path forward is difficult. You’ve already set yourself apart from most other people in the world, and now you have to set yourself apart from all the people who’ve already set themselves apart.

But, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to at least put in the effort and say, “I gave it what I had.”

And, even if the path is an isolated one at times, know that you are not alone. Know that there’s others out there walking, hiking, crawling and climbing similar paths.

­-

I definitely had a great time hearing from Daniel, and I always love getting to sit down and enjoy new music. You can find Daniel’s music on Spotify (“Daniel Blake”), and you can find him on both Instagram and Linktree as @danielblakemusic. Give him a listen, and expect to hear more great songs from him in the future.

The Art of Maury van Loon / Fall~

Written by Alexander Greco

June 29, 2020

The more I delved into the artwork of Maury van Loon (artist name, Fall~), the more I was reminded of two books: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter, and House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski; and I was reminded of two specific concepts from those books: consciousness as a feedback loop of infinite, mirrored reflections, and unconsciousness as a labyrinth, with our conscious egos/identities as the trapped Icarus.

Maury’s artwork really clicked for me when I saw in them these mirrors and this labyrinth.

And Then the Bubble Burst
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Making almost exclusively black and white ink art, though with a few notable pieces that include color, Maury mixes elements of surrealism and abstraction with influences from anime and similar art styles. Her artwork has wide range of content and subject, but the primary focus seems to be on identity: our identity in relation to others, and our identity in relation to ourselves. Maury does this with portrayals of faceless or featureless individuals, depictions of bodies disassociated from their faces, mirrored counterparts of either twin-like or dualistic individuals, and of people falling into vast or disintegrating spaces.

However, as Maury discussed more and more about her creative life, I discovered her interests and skills to be far broader than only visual art. In addition to surreal ink-work, Maury is active in music—including work on film scores—currently studies Japanese Language and Culture, and has worked off and on for a few years on a fantasy story. Though our interview focused on Maury’s artwork and the underlying themes of the artwork, our overlapping interests opened up a number of topics we only scratched the surface of.

“[…] I would currently describe my endeavors as an artist as ‘illustrator’, but I have a degree in music composition, and I’m currently studying Japanese which sometimes makes me feel a bit in Japanese I would say barabara, which means ‘in pieces’, as if I’m holding a handful of different identities and I am not just one person.”

Still, though Fall~ has a wide range of interests, art has been and remains a central part of their life.

Us
April 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“I have been drawing since as long as I can remember. It has always been a form of expression, as I had (and to a certain degree still have) trouble grasping the meaning and reality of my being. I think I started with illustrating, since it’s a very low-key form of art. Basically I can draw whenever I want, wherever I want, because I only need a pen and paper.

“I do believe all different forms of art have their own ‘language’ of expression – music or film can take you on a whole different emotional journey – and I am more than only an illustrator, as I have done a degree in music composition with a specialization in film and I’m currently doing a degree in Japanese Language and Culture with a specialization in Japanese film and animation. But making art is the one that seems most consistent throughout my life.”

Here, I completely agree with the idea that every form of art has its own sort of language, but I would also go on from that and say that every artist has their own variation of that language, with Maury being no exception to this. So, what is the language she speaks with her art?

We Live Inside a Bubble
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Maury speaks with sharp contrasts of black and white, swarming lines like black static, and blurred clouds of grey. Maury’s syntax is the human form, floating or falling into teeming mouths of the abyss, or into the vast emptiness of space. Faces especially are key in this language, whether they are emotional, blank, expressionless, hollow, or replaced with disconnected, celestial objects.

Many of Maury’s pieces depict twisting, knotting throngs of arms reaching out to or out from the piece’s subject, or other similar serpentine forms. In many pieces, there is a symmetry to them, either a mirroring of images or some other geometric translation, and many pieces also possess a yin-yang type of duality, strongly influenced by the black and white contrasts. In others, there is an almost anti-symmetry, a chaos of lines or ink static.

Circles are a consistent motif, some being the subject’s head, some being in or through the subject’s head, others being in the subject’s chest or abdomen, and others surround an individual or individuals. These circles—often comprised of circles within circles (sometimes within even more circles); and often ringed with jagged lines or objects, or with twisting, looping, knotting forms—recall the forms of the labyrinth, particularly the Classical Cretan labyrinth and the Medieval Chartres pattern.

However, the best example of this Labyrinth is not in any of the pieces with primarily circular patterns, but in “Lost in Thought”, which really shows this maze-like nature of the mind.

Lost in Thought
June 2020
A4 paper. Pen.

“This piece is about how far you can become separated from your true self, by trying to fit in or please people around you. It’s a recent piece, but it reflects back to a time when I truly lost myself and now I regularly evaluate my choices and how far I stand from things that matter for me, instead of trying to become the ideal of society (or rather, how I think society would like me to be). The further you get, the harder it becomes, so the line between body and brain becomes this maze-like thing and at some point, you will get stuck and lose (like in the Nokia 3310 snake-game).”

So much of Maury’s artwork relates to identity: either finding or rediscovering oneself.

How is it that the most difficult thing to find on this planet is yourself?

How is it that so many of our own thoughts can be so much harder to understand than the endlessly complex machinations of the external world?

How is it that our own minds—the place we ought to feel most at home, the place we ought to know better than any other landscape, the place we ought to feel safest can be the most frightening and cruel of landscapes; can possess the deepest jungles of the uncanny and unfamiliar; and, in times of great uncertainty, in moments of overwhelming depravity and in the darkest architectures of our Dreams’ wild cinemas, can our own minds be venues of such tremendous violence, disorientation and disassociation?

Let Us Catch You
February 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

There is also a recurrent theme of falling, though the movement of many subjects is ambivalent (in many pieces, individuals could potentially be perceived either as falling or rising). Paired with this theme of falling/rising, there is often an impalement or explosion from the abdomen, and in a few, there is another body emerging from the abdomen, implying something like a birth or a rebirth (similar in some ways to the emergence from a cocoon or chrysalis). This also carries on the ambivalence of rising/falling, as one body seems limp and lifeless, while another living body reaches up above it.

On this theme, Maury explained:

“It contains this sense of loss and despair, living in a world that doesn’t feel quite right. A world where you don’t seem to belong. When you long for something, someone, anyone, and reach out, but you can never really grasp it. Is it just an illusion meant for someone else? Are you not worthy?

“It’s a sense of the fear of not being in control yet at the same time it’s the realization and acceptance you’re not in control and that it’s completely fine. Maybe it’s not falling, but letting go.”

A number of pieces possess the motif of a wave-like object/figure which seems to be just about to crash onto the subject of the piece like crashing water of an ocean. This might be the internal ocean of the unconsciousness crashing down on the conscious ego, but this might also be the minotaur stalking that unconsciousness, overpowering the conscious mind.

The piece “Shadowself” puts a face to this crashing wave or cave minotaur, and Maury gives it a name.

Shadowself
March 2020
A4 paper. Pen and ink.

“My official artist name is Fall~ and the right character in this piece is the visualization of Fall~. It represents the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts that want to break out.”

Does this make the figure on the left Maury?

Is this Maury studying Fall~?

And Fall~ studying Maury?

And if Fall~, as depicted here, is the “Shadowself”, the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts attempting to break out, does that mean the Minotaur stalking Maury’s mind is Maury’s own creativity? Is the Shadowself (Fall~) a rejection and repression of creativity—of ideas, talents and expressions not welcomed by society—and the projection of negative attributes onto oneself?

A loathing of something you love—of something that makes you unique—until it becomes a monster you must reconcile with?

But Maury, rather than flee as Icarus did, confronted this minotaur in her artwork, and it became Fall~.

Here, I think I’m actually reminded of Gandalf and the Balrog’s fall in the Mines of Moria, prompted not by the wizard fleeing, but by his confrontation. This fall—this confrontation—not partially parallels the Icarus myth (Moria being the Labyrinth, the Balrog being the minotaur), but also has the ambivalent duality of rising and falling. The two’s fall eventually led to a rise back up from the depths, where the battle finally concluded on top of a mountain peak. This of course led to transformation, metamorphosis and rebirth.

These complexities of identity, self-identity and self-transformation do not end here, however, and Maury had quite a lot more to say about both one’s self and one’s ego, as well as one’s self in relationship to others.

“I think one’s identity is relative and thus continuously changing. Without people around us and memories to mirror who we were, who we are, and who we do or do not want to become, there is no ego. There is a certain human connection to it, whether through a shared experience, a longing, or a realization that you have gone so far from your true self. By exploring these areas through art, I can identify, acknowledge and express things that are blocking me, but also things I couldn’t or wouldn’t say out loud.”

Here, I asked if this fluidity of identity was something inherent in being human, or if it was a contemporary issue of modernity, and also if there was any way of truly getting to know one’s self. Maury replied:

“It’s probably part of human nature, but I do think modernity has amplified our sense of self and our capability to manipulate our self-image. One reason is that we are now encouraged to become individuals and have our own opinion, and this seems to go hand in hand with a sense or a wish to be unique and different […] On the other hand, there’s social media and textual communication, which allows you to have a big control on how you represent yourself in your use of words, your looks, your identity. With which sub-culture do you associate yourself with?

“Maybe we have become a lot more self-centered, but maybe we also have become a lot more dependent on the approval people around us. We’re more fluid. And because upbringing and environment have such a huge influence on the development of oneself, I don’t think you could ever purely be your true inner self. Maybe if you live in a shack up a mountain in Farawayistan. I try to keep myself in check by really trying to listen to my belly-feeling (inner-universe 🙂 ) to feel if choices I’m making feel right for me and feel right for my moral-compass, and if my moral-compass is still moral enough, so I can keep going without self-doubt or regret.”

How do you go about defining yourself? And where do you plant your flag in saying, “This is ‘I’; this is what ‘I’ am and what ‘I’ believe”?

So many, if not all, of our own ideas and beliefs are ideas have been circulating throughout cultures and societies across history—evolving or adapting with each new age or era and growing into new ideas or spawning new fields of knowledge. So much of what we call our own mind are collections of ideas passed on to us through our parents, through school, through our friends, or through televisions, computers and phones. So much of our behavior is either instinctually or chemically influenced, or they are behaviors we’ve picked up from those around us, people we see on TV, characters in books, comics, movies or shows.

How much of “you” can actually be found amidst this carnival of “not you”? And how much of the “not you” has influenced and altered “you”?

Beyond this, “who we are” can be such a fleeting reality. We’re one person at one moment, then we’re angry or sad or scared the next moment, and suddenly we’re practically a completely different person. We may even change how we act depending on what we wear, who we talk to, where we talk to them. How different of a person are you if you’re having drinks at a bar compared to drinks at a friend’s house, or how different are you when you wear denim jeans and sneakers compared to shorts and flip flops, or when you’re at work compared to when you’re at home?

How different of a person might you be just based on the colors of the walls around you, the smell of the room you’re in, the expressions and body language of the people nearby?

Maury further explores the influences that others have on us and our sense of self, particularly the painful and at times frightening aspects of it, in the piece, “Kings”.

Kings
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“’Kings’ kind of represents all the people around us that we feel are judging us (often with no good reason). It could be that guy in the train, or the woman in the store. They gang up, stare, judge. Them against us. There is a sense of power and arrogance in it, hence that they are self-proclaimed kings. I think it is also influenced by the growth of the importance of individualism, in which many are prone to believe they themselves are the most important, rather than the wellbeing of the community.

But obviously this judging only happens in my head, because 99% of the people you pass in the streets don’t even notice you, let alone care.”

An often overlooked or undervalued aspect of understanding someone’s creations is understanding where these ideas have grown from—the inspirations and influences of someone’s art, music, writing and so forth.

In addition to anime, Maury mentioned a number of other influences, including film and music.

“I have this peculiar habit of intensely loving only a few artists so much that their work is on repeat rather than exploring a quantitative amount of artists. My current repeat playlist (named “repeat”) consists of #2 by Nils Frahm and a handful of tracks from the Westworld soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi. I especially love films that are thought provoking, or take me on a journey and preferably have an amazing atmospheric original score. Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy kind of has become a yearly tradition, and I have become so familiar with the lines that I bought the Japanese dubbed version to use it for my language studies haha. Anime is also a huge influence, especially visual, since the Japanese seem to apply a lot of shots and poses that I find beautiful and my computer is full of screenshots that I use as reference.

“In the end I love the feeling these works give me, this feeling of inspiration, or they maybe even make me feel alive and that I’m allowed to live. That there’s more to life than only living. And that’s what I want to give back to the world. If the inspired-me can inspire someone else again, who then can inspire another and so forth… That would be enough.”

In discussing her favorite anime, Maury said:

“One of my favorite anime films is Ghost in the Shell, because it’s full of layers. As humans we are watching a drawn representation of human-like cyborgs, so there is this double sense of artificiality. The director Oshii Mamoru also uses a lot of visual symbolisms and mechanisms that confuse the spectator. This is even more noticeable in his other animation film Angel’s Egg in collaboration with illustrator Amano Yoshitaka, who also worked on the Final Fantasy series (which I love 🙂 also the soundtrack!). The themes in Angel’s Egg are about loneliness and purpose and faith, and it’s set in a very dark world where this girl wanders through a deserted town with an egg, until she meets a man of whom we never truly know if he is friend of foe. It’s on YouTube with subtitles if anyone’s interested.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist has been hugely influential, which I prefer over Brotherhood because I think the original is more dramatic. Although, both soundtracks are wonderful. The hands that are represent in my work definitely find their origin in this series. The parallel universe/time travel theory of Steins;Gate also had a very big impact on my own way of theorizing an approach to life choices. They have a timeline that breaks up in several timelines, and made it really visible. Nowadays, when I look back at choices I have made and how they lead me to where I am now, I imagine the choices being forked roads and every path is another Maury leading a different life.”

Welcome to My Mirrored World
Winter 2018
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

The influence of both Ghost in the Shell and Fullmetal Alchemist can be seen in Maury’s works, “Welcome to My Mirrored World” and “Let Us Catch You”.

Maury mentioned that a shot from the 1995 Ghost in the Shell anime film inspired “Welcome to My Mirrored World”, and though I don’t know specifically which shot this was, the scene I immediately thought of was one where the protagonist is rising to the surface of a body of water, and her reflection creates a sort of mirrored, parallel reality before she breaks the surface of the water. With “Let Us Catch You” and several other pieces, we see the inspiration of the long, tendril-like arms related to Truth and various scenes where certain types of Alchemy are performed in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Though we didn’t discuss her art process in as much depth as we discussed other topics, Maury did explain how she comes up with many of her ideas, as well as part of her process of using recurring motifs in her art:

“There are two ways. Way 1: I live life. Life gives emotional friction. This emotional friction finds a visual representation that I doodle in my book of ideas. Way 2: I watch film. Film merges with random thoughts and memories of other things and I doodle it in my book of ideas. When I feel creative or a necessity to deal with my thoughts and emotions, I open my book of ideas, pick a pre-sketch and start drawing the composition. A lot of times inspiration and this feeling of necessity happen in the same moment.

“Often, I already know what kind of textures I want to use, or I decide to use several, for example I make one with a universe background, while the other will get a tree growing out of somewhere. For this reason, I create a template for most of my designs so I can easily make several versions with the help of a light box. I kind of see it as a puzzle. I have several reoccurring textures and motifs which I keep switching around in new compositions. Sometimes new ones are added or old ones become obsolete.”

Along with discussing her art, Maury and I talked a bit about her music, film projects she’s been involved with and a story of hers she’s been working with off and on for a few years.

“I would love to compose a score for a Japanese animation. That’s definitely in the top three of my bucket list.

“During my music degree at Plymouth University I worked on the feature film Jannertown with director Guy Brasher, which was such an amazing experience. His film is presented in several chapters that all have their own genre, but everything is connected. So musically this meant working with several themes that could return in various ways ranging from elevator music to futuristic synth music and orchestral superhero music.

“More recently I have worked with Pim Kromhout on a performance theater act inspired by the painting “Golconde” by René Magritte. The act consists of four very tall men with umbrella’s and there is music coming out of the umbrellas. Although the four men look the same and the music sounds as one whole, every man has his own tune that symbolizes his individuality. Unfortunately, it’s on hold because of Covid-19.

“[…]

Chaos
2016
A4 paper. Pen, ink, coloured pencils.

“My art and my music come from the same inner-location, which I at some point started to see as a fictional world. In my art there are returning characters which were initially just personifications of emotions, but at some point, influenced by the endless amounts of binge-watched/read-stories, I thought I could try to make my own story. And I got as far as plotting the whole first part of a trilogy, including strange dimensional travel laws, gods and prophecies, geographical maps. It was supposed to get a soundtrack too, with themes for different locations and characters. There was a lot of longing and tragedy.

“Unfortunately, I’m not a very good reader, so I failed to read back what I had written and then I lost track of all the complexities and now we’re three years later. But with all the free time Covid-19 has given me I’m actually taking a different approach in telling the story in a visual novel style. (trying to.) (also giving me a temporary meaning in this meaningless existence.)

“The story is set in an unchanging world. Characters that do administration of administration of administration. They look like barcodes and every minute of every day of every day is planned out for them. The world has long ago reached a form of perfection and so they are in a state of preservation, because if there would be any change, Being would change to Becoming and he would carry the world back to Chaos. (this works better in Dutch). While this barcode-species called ‘Others’ are supposed to be like robots, the main character has this inside-universe that makes her set out into the world and then things happen and she meets all kinds of people and discovers all sorts of secrets.”

The fortunate and the unfortunate aspect of Maury and I’s discussion is that we had a huge overlap in interests and so much to discuss. There was a lot Maury had to say that I could not fit into the article, as well a lot I wanted to say about Maury’s artwork and a number of topics related to her artwork that I could not fit in. Nonetheless, it has been a pleasure going through her artwork and hearing her thoughts on many things.

Whaleoplane
March 2020
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

Maury’s artwork spans across philosophical and psychological themes and subjects, but her artwork stands on its own even without these underlying themes. The stark contrasts of black and white captures your attention, pulling your mind into a reeling labyrinth of shifting identities, crashing emotions, and the enveloping hands and faces of a comforting, conforming throng of people. With every day being another trek through a maze of faces, words, beliefs, motivations, personalities, relationships—and all the twisting, knotted, overlapping, intersecting crossroads between them—how long can we avoid the minotaur we’ve kept imprisoned inside our minds?

How long until the walls come down? And all the thoughts, emotions and beliefs we keep bottled inside come surging out?

Maury’s art is able to show both the tension between ourselves and others, and the tension between ourselves and our own minds: the mazes and the mirrors we navigate every day.

If you would like to see more of Maury’s work, you can find her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/fallsomnia or @fallsomnia and @fall.in.progress. Her primary website is www.fallsomnia.com and her music can be found on www.soundcloud.com/fallsomnia. Please give her art as well as her music a look/listen, and if you enjoy it, be sure to follow her.

Praying to our own Beat: The Music of Clarissa Rodriguez

Written by Alexander Greco

May 13, 2019

Released Saturday, May 11th, Holy Kerouac’s first EP, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, is a nostalgic walk through our old emotions, dreams and hopes, and a bittersweet reconcilement with the world we live in now—the world that threatens what we once held sacred. Holy Kerouac is a solo project started by Clarissa Rodriguez, a member of Solace Sutra, and is Clarissa’s expression of deeper, more personal emotions and sentiments. The EP is about hope and hopelessness, the sacred and the absurd, and the journey to find meaning in meaninglessness.

When I interviewed Clarissa, she told me that this EP was more personal to her than her work with other musicians. It’s all at once an homage to her literary heroes—Ginsberg, Kerouac, and others of the Beat Generation—an exploration of sound and emotion, and an entirely self-made creation. From the music and lyrics to the recording and mixing, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird is entirely a product of Clarissa’s imagination, design and effort. It’s three songs that say, “This is me, this is who I am, and this is what I have created.”

The first song, “Delirium” is a somber and dark track about depression and anxiety. It is at once a lucid, simple and arid song, and a distorted, dissonant and chaotic song; a song about clarity and a song about confusion. The song seems to be saying that what is most clear with our lives is how unclear our lives are. The simplest explanation of our lives is that they are complex. At our most lucid, we see how insane we are, and our rationality does little more than reveal our irrationality.

In this song, Clarissa combines steady, solid percussion with digital sampling, electronic distortion, and poetic lyrics to form a landscape of rumbling, rambling emotion. Clarissa’s lyrics borrow concepts and language from the poetry of the Beat Generation, though Clarissa seems to have identified her own, unique voice across this EP. She couples this with the beats and ambience of lo-fi, and the subtle psychedelia of

 “Delirium” is dreamy, haunting, and bittersweet. It is an homage to our past, a march toward our future, and a photograph of our present lives. It’s a remembrance of what we once were, of a life that felt sacred, and a questioning of who we are now, what is sacred anymore. It is the confusion of facing unsolvable dilemmas, asking unanswerable questions, and bearing arbitrary crosses.

The second song of the EP, “Oh, Little Bee”, is easily my favorite song on the EP. I kind of can’t get over this one.

Everything from the flow of the song (the rhythm, the pulse, the starts and the stops, the rises and the falls), the subject matter of the song, the layering and harmonization of the upper, mid, and lower range, and the haunting use of distortion, reverb and chorus effects.

The song stands on the edge of self-love and self-loathing, and drifts through old memories and spectral emotions. It explores the dissonance between our dreams and ideals, and the realities of our life. The song ebbs and flows between the tumbling events of our strange lives, and the breath-taking epiphanies that define our hopes and fears. The staticky reverb of Clarissa’s soulful croons ring like a choir of doubting angels, and blossoms in your ears like a moaning congregation.

I think this song best epitomizes the sentiment of this EP. It mixes the holy with the fallen. It mixes something pure and angelic with something broken and confused. There is a somber certainty mixed with an ironic doubt and cynical self-deprecation. It approaches the proposition of Ginsgberg’s Howl, that all is holy and nothing is holy, and asks, “Then what am I?”

And yet, there is a sense of bittersweet hope in the song. There is a feeling that perhaps the absurd can be sacred. Perhaps broken lives can give birth to powerful lives. Perhaps a cure for our doubts can be found in doubt itself.

The last song on the EP, “Picture of Health” has an almost bluesy feel to it, though it still uses elements of synth/electronica, lo-fi and pop-punk. Once again, the pacing of this song is half of what makes it great to listen to. The delivery of each line is impactful, and the steady rhythm of the song matches the relaxing melancholy of the upper-end.

The song is about the day-by-day journey of survival. It’s about the endless march we all take through our lives, and the dim hopes we cling to as we “get by”. It’s about the vast deserts of purposelessness we must cross as we search for some oasis of meaningfulness. It’s about the beating drum of our personal marathons, the reeling listlessness between one moment and the next, and the stumbling crawl of modern life.

Though the EP is short, it is dense with haunting vocals, a unique blend of lo-fi and pop-punk influences, and the enduring sentiment of the Beat Generation. Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird is a glimpse from the bottom, a glimpse from the lowest of lows. It is glimpse from the bottom, which stares at the distant ideals of the divine far above us, and searches for the path forward, a path toward the divine. It is a beacon of light amidst the grey fog of suburbia.

Clarissa comes from a diverse community of musicians, which is reflected in both the style and the quality of her first EP. Not only has she been influenced musically by local artists like Mallgoth, 49th Octave, and the regional art-collective known as Gulf Coast Ghost, but she’s also been influenced by the attitude and the work ethic of these musicians. Clarissa told me she’s inspired by the urgency, the creativity and the personalities of musicians she plays with, and her music is influenced by the widely-diverse genres of these artists.

If you haven’t listened to Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a sign of good things to come, both metaphorically and literally. Clarissa is still working on her solo project, Holy Kerouac, and expects to have a full-length album coming soon. While this EP was sad and somber, Clarissa’s next album will introduce more energy and hopefulness.

Until then, go give the music of Clarissa Rodriguez a listen. It’s worthy of a few play-throughs.