One of the most frustrating opinions for me to hear is that electronic music is somehow inherently repetitive or non-creative. Naturally, there are people who say this about every genre but with electronic music, it seems like a more widely accepted, and even mainstream, thing to say. Of course, this is just a result of Sturgeon’s Law: shit floats to the top and discovering the stuff about any genre that’s worthwhile is hard. When you first start exploring it, any genre presents you with the stuff that’s blandest, that rises to the top of a sorting algorithm, that’ easiest to get into. That’s especially true the bigger the genre becomes, as it creates more content and, inadvertently, more shit.
But if you take the time to dig deeper into it, electronic music has just as much exploration as other genres, if not more than some. Hell, that’s what this column is all about, right? Piercing the veil of the surface of electronic music (whether you want to call it IDM, synthwave, retrowave, what have you) and looking at the creative nuggets underneath. Burial Grid is one of the tastiest nuggets that I’ve discovered over the past few years of more intense listening to electronic music. The artist hangs around in multiple spaces, drawing as much from horror soundtracks as he does from ambience, IDM, EDM synthwave, and even “deeper” stuff like techno and house. We first wrote about the project when My Body Dissolves as I Watch and Dissolve was released.
Since then, Burial Grid has taken many twists and turns, diving deeper into the horror genre and creating some freakishly dark and compelling releases. The latest one is We’ve Come For Your Flesh, which sees Burial Grid exploring its grittiest, most “stalker” like version yet. The album veritably reeks of weirdness, contorting around its main beats in all sort of strange ways. There are growl-like vocals, deep, bottomless synths, and contorting wave-forms aplenty. It sounds like a chopped up nightmare, redressed and brought to light for some bitter, cold medical examination. Naturally, all of that made me want to finally interview the man behind the project and that’s what we have right below; a series of questions exploring questions of death, musical influence and community, plagues, and more. Dig in and don’t forget to play We’ve Come For Your Flesh while you read; the gibbering horrors scratching at the door are the correct soundtrack for this interview.
Hello to the artist known as Burial Grid. How are you doing? Has time fully unwravelled for you yet? Do you still feel a tenuous link to Earth or have you finished shedding your skin in time for the Ascension? Put otherwise, how are things for you inside our global madness?
Haha I’ve been, in some ways, pretty fortunate throughout the pandemic, at least. I co-own a gardening/landscaping business with my lovely partner Alisa, and we were able to continue working through this thing, without being under the constant threat of infection-by-customer or languishing at home in front of a computer all day. But the pandemic is such a narrow band of our incremental collapse, which I know is what you’re really asking about. It’s just become too overwhelming. You know things are bad when it’s easier to discuss a raging, deadly, vile pandemic than it is to zoom out and look at the big, failing picture.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about We’ve Come For Your Flesh, your latest release. Even without reading into the background of what spawned this album, it’s immediately obvious that it’s very different both to your 2019 My Body Dissolves As I Watch and Dissolve and Negative Space. Can you walk us through those differences, from your perspective?
The red thread that runs through all three albums is grief. My Body… was approaching the subject matter from a more death-positive angle. Death as life’s frame, the death of our egos, and the idea, based on near death experiences and texts written by mediums that the moment of death is one of euphoria, ultimately. That it’s a liberating experience. Negative Space on the other hand was much darker. The author, BR Yeager and I have been best friends for 20 years and he initially based the novel on the suicide of a very close mutual friend. It was a loss that was very difficult to be positive about in any way. Reading and scoring that book represented a type of catharsis I didn’t quite know that I needed. We’ve Come for Your Flesh was written while my dad was dying of cancer. He was experiencing visions of ghosts and what he described as demons. Researching the phenomena of deathbed visions, I learned that just about every culture has names for various entities that visit the dying, not to torment them, but to strip them of their worldly baggage and prepare them to accept death peacefully. While it’s ultimately a very positive album, the subject matter of demonology begged for more of an old doom and sludge metal presence to the album, almost in a tongue-in-cheek way.
It’s safe to say that your work has always been horror-adjacent, even straight up “of” the horror genre. Have you always liked the genre? What potentials or perspectives do you find in horror?
As a little kid I was petrified – totally and completely – by horror films. I remember refusing to enter our local video rental joint because they had a cardboard standee of Leatherface on top of a pile of skulls. My mom would have to call them before we arrived so they’d move it to the back room. It wasn’t until I was 13 and saw The Thing that everything clicked. From that point forward for the next few years each weekend I’d rent 5 or 6 horror movies and eventually started to ravenously collect them. I think that horror as a genre has the potential to tap into our widest range of emotions. It’s dependent on the work. Blood and guts can be hilarious or revolting. While death and violence, as in a Cronenberg film for example, are presented as they truly are – the destruction of the human body – it can be incredibly heart-wrenching. Fear itself is a tool that can be harnessed and used to manipilate in a destructive way, whether it’s through organized religion or a fascist enterprise. But it also has the power to motivate and elicit change. There’s something about the recontextualization of societal and political fears into a more bite-sized 90 minutes or 400 pages of subtext that sometimes sinks in deeper than reading Common Dreams, and I’m not sure why.
What about synthwave and the associated explosion of retro that comes/came with it? Do you see yourself as part of that community?
I’ve been more of an observer and fan than an active creator for the most part. I learned early on that it’s pretty difficult for me to adhere to genre conventions. Not in a condescending way – I mostly am just not talented enough haha. Years ago when I first released music that was a bit more “synthwavy”, there were a lot of gatekeepers who pointed out that I wasn’t using enough EDM-style snares, or the key of the song was all wrong, or it was “too weird” to be considered for playlists. Shit like that. It’s been sad to see it become so self-cannibalizing, which is bound to happen with any genre, but there are still plenty of artists pushing things in wild and new directions. And as a community, it’s more nurturing and positive than I think any other musical one I’ve been a part of over the last 25 years.
Back to We’ve Come For Your Flesh, it’s quite clearly a “plague album”. Can you tell us more about how COVID impacted your working process and the music you create? Do you think those differences will stick with you or was this a purging act of them from your system?
Weirdly enough, I think it had a relatively small influence on the album. I mean, our everyday backdrop has involved a lot of terror, anger and disgust, hopelessness… that’s bound to bleed into any art that’s been made lately. Ordinarily during my work season, I have very little free time and have to set much of it aside to see friends and family. Since that wasn’t happening, I spent almost all of my free time working on the album. The only thing that changed for me is that I learned how much having a social life is the result of pressure to see people and how relieving it was to not have that stress in my life. That sounds REALLY bad. But I think as the possibility of hanging out with people becomes a thing again, I’ll certainly and enthusiastically take advantage of it, but more wisely and selectively than I used to.
Another big part of your work, even before this album, is death. Do you find that music allows you to approach death from a different direction? Or does music, in your eyes, also fail to communicate the uncommunicable tragedy of demise?
Something that has always frustrated me about lyrical music is that it has a tendency to tell you what to feel within a medium that is designed to give bones to intangible feelings that language often can’t broach. It’s the inverse of music in film, which is using melody or sound to dictate a set of feelings that visuals are supposed to be conveying. Obviously I love lyrics and am hugely inspired by film scores. But death is such a monumental, complicated, slippery topic that brings with it so many unnamable emotions, it just seems like music, particularly if it’s instrumental, can really plumb the depths of it in ways that a lot of other art might not be able to reach quite as well.
Can you walk us through some of the gear you used on this release? Previous releases have some, um, esoteric instruments listed and this one seems to include a whole smorgasbord of different synthesizers.
Haha no “penis/brick” on this one, sadly. For this one I pretty much stuck entirely to hardware synthesizers (Waldorf Blofeld, DSI Prophet 08, Korg Minilogue + Wavestation + MS20, Arturia Microfreak, Kurzweil K2000, Yamaha RefaceDX, and Novation KStation) an old sampler (Ensoniq Mirage), and Ableton Live with a very small handful of effects plugins and some old guitar pedals. I’ll use anything that I can get my uh… hands on though.
Lastly, what’s next for you? Obviously music is somewhat unruly, but do you see yourself continuing any of your previous directions or setting off towards something new?
Going to be slowly assembling a remix album over the next year or so with contributions from some folks I admire. Plus I actually have a 16-track album completed to be released on double-vinyl at the end of the year. It’s called Shores of Quiddity/Waves of Qualia. All I can say about it is that it’s entirely instrumental and is in no way about death haha.