Those keyed into modern progressive rock, heavy psych, or doom metal should instantly recognize Nick Disalvo’s name from Elder. On their five LPs released across the past decade and change, the Berlin- née New England-based band has attracted increasingly wide acclaim for their polyglot approach to rock music. Through a unique fusion of the heft and crunch of stoner metal with the heady atmospheres of space rock and meandering song structures of classic prog, the quartet have risen as the champions of rock music’s more intellectually present side, with Mr. DiSalvo leading their ranks.
Created over the past year of stasis, Nick DiSalvo released Hirschbrunnen, his first album as delving on June 11th. The project is a much more free-form and exploratory enterprise for his own tastes than Elder, and explicitly so. From the bandcamp description: “”Thanks” to this pandemic, I’ve had plenty of time to pick up some of the songs I’ve written over the past years and finally make an album that I’ve been telling myself forever I’d do…. experimenting all on my own, forgetting bands, fans and expectations and making whatever music I want to.” Although longtime fans of his work with Elder will certainly recognize much of the melodic language DiSalvo uses on Hirschbrunnen, it’s also very obvious just how much of a wider net he has to cast here than in collaborating with bandmates. Without spoiling anything, it becomes very obvious just how much reverence the man has for classic synthesizers and how wide his palette is outside the traditional spectrum of rock.
So, excited for this release, we reached out to discuss delving with the man himself, both as its own project and in relation to Elder. Read on to get some insight and context from Nick DiSalvo himself regarding the creation and release of Hirschbrunnen!
You’ve positioned delving as sort of a “casting off” of Elder, for lack of a better term – the project is about “forgetting bands, fans and expectations and making whatever music [you] want to.” This is a cathartic headspace to be in at the moment, I imagine. How has working on such an internally-driven project like this shaped the past year for you?
For one thing, it gave me structure and to a certain degree my sanity. I’m honestly not used to sitting around at home for so long – probably nobody is – and having a concrete goal such as making a record was great for just helping me get up in the mornings some weeks. I also wanted to be able to look back on this time and not just feel that I wasted a year of my life, but actually spent it productively and made something out of the time off the road.
Listening to Hirschbrunnen, it becomes pretty clear that although you’re not exactly doing a total 180 from Elder and Gold & Silver, there are plenty of choices here – both in the instrumentation used and the progressions of each song – that will take long-term fans by surprise. What specific musical touchstones and influences did you have going into Hirschbrunnen that you felt more aligned with here than you would writing for Elder?
I’d honestly say that it was a lack of those touchstones that defined the writing process for Hirschbrunnen more than having different ones. Elder has always proudly proclaimed being some process of evolution, but if I’m being totally honest we are also still operating within some framework of heavy rock music. Even though we play with plenty of different moods and to some degree genres, there is a definite expectation that we will retain a certain amount of heaviness and that “epic” feeling.
With delving, the entire goal was to not have a goal. I don’t really play piano, but I really wanted a lot of that timbre in this record, for example. And using sequencers and electronic elements that we would have a hard time doing with Elder was just another exercise in “song building” here. I think that Hirschbrunnen is like the music I want to listen to in my free time. I love to compose and play heavy music, but I hardly ever listen to it anymore. Weird contrast I suppose.
On a similar note, how did writing and recording Hirschbrunnen evolve your relationship with your gear? Was there any specific equipment you developed a newfound appreciation for in this process or any gear you were especially excited to explore from a less rigid perspective?
Sure. I wrote a lot of these songs from synthesizers and piano melodies as opposed to working from a guitar. I’m a Moog fanboy, and my Subsequent 37 is all over that record along with a few of their semi-modular units. I also used a DSI OB-6 for some pads and spacy sounds. And I’d be remiss to mention my favorite pedal of all time, the Meris Polymoon. In general, working with sequencers and evolving patterns from synthesizers and electronic instruments has been a rewarding and fun experience. I think they’re really endlessly open instruments when paired tastefully with guitars and drums.
As a songwriter who pulls a lot from heavy psych, kosmische Musik/krautrock, and prog rock traditions, you’re no stranger to lengthy instrumental sections in your music, and there’s instrumental Elder material like the Gold and Silver Sessions and tracks like “Sonntag” and “III.” But delving is something of a different beast, by virtue of being a project that is 100% you – no chemistry in jamming or collaboration to depend on here. How did that difference manifest itself in the writing process for Hirschbrunnen?
With few exceptions in Elder’s catalog, those songs are also more or less my compositions as filtered through my bandmates’ playing styles, so I actually don’t see a huge distinction between the two. Jamming can be fun and lead to unexpected gems, but I also often find it stressful and frustrating without a proper direction. I actually found it quite nice to have an opportunity to write a whole album and not have to run it by anyone first for their feedback or change anything. Conversely, I think my Elder colleagues might feel relief that I got that out of my system so that we can get back to working more collaboratively on the next record, ha ha.
The last few albums you’ve put out have been pretty sweeping, conceptually, with Omens reaching something of a high-water mark in that regard. Hirschbrunnen reins the scale in pretty dramatically, and intentionally so, but is inspired by some similarly existential themes. Did you find that narrowing your focus so much enabled you to reevaluate how you approach these philosophical aspects? What lessons, intellectually and musically, did you walk away from the much more introspective focus of Hirschbrunnen with?
Over the past years I’ve gotten a bit obsessive with these big theme records and by the time we were recording Omens, that had reached a fever pitch. We just had another abnormally hot summer here in Europe, and after 3 years of watching Trump and the rise of fascism at home and in the world it really felt like the apocalypse was coming – and fast.
When Covid hit, that didn’t really do much to quell the feeling of disaster on a global scale, but some parts of the whole experience of being locked down for a long time did have some strangely, um, positive effect? It was strange to just clean the slate, erase everything on the calendar and realize you’re not going anywhere for the next year or two, and I think my focus just tended to turn inward naturally. The problems facing the world haven’t disappeared, but it felt like putting blinders on for a bit, shrinking the world down to a more manageable size somehow. And specifically trying hard to see the light in a dark time and make something positive of it was a good exercise for me mentally. I’d like to step away from the big, heavy shit for a while and just look at the clouds, you know? Sometimes life feels too short to always have the weight of the world on your mind.
You and [other Elder guitarist] Michael Risberg have collaborated quite a lot – obviously in Elder, but also on Azurite & Malachite – and now he’s present on a handful of tracks on this record. You’ve mentioned before in interviews that you two have different but complementary approaches to writing guitar music. With delving being 100% your baby, so to speak, did the chemistry in your approaches play out differently than in your previous work together?
Mike really blooms in my opinion [when] he’s in a situation that requires some improvisation. Whereas I’m a very structured musician and composer, he seems to perhaps think less and feel more when playing. I invited him to the studio when the record was done to fill out a few extra spaces and it worked great, and in some ways I think this music might even be more in his wheelhouse than Elder, since it’s a bit more open and airy. He’s also great to throw at a part when you don’t quite know what it needs but something is missing. And anyhow it was just nice to have a little extra input after all, some extra spice in the mix that didn’t just sound like me.
Obviously nobody wants to see a repeat of the conditions that have been the background and general impetus for the writing of Hirschbrunnen, but do you have any plans to continue with delving now that it’s been proven to be a worthwhile creative endeavor for you in its own right?
Yeah, absolutely. This was just breaking ground on something I’ve wanted to do for some years now, and I certainly won’t stop writing and making music that is outside the Elder universe. This will be my outlet for all of that in the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it went some weird places.
Do you foresee delving’s existence affecting Elder’s sound at all? Does having a project that is completely, totally your own in this way make you feel more comfortable with “meeting expectations” when it comes to the band’s direction?
You know, I hadn’t really thought of it that way but I think it might. It’s the musical playground whereas Elder is the place for work. That’s not to say we intend on playing to anyone’s expectations, but it’s nice to scratch certain itches that might turn off a lot of Elder fans, especially when dipping more heavily into the electronic side of things. For the most part, I think the two bands will have no problem existing in their own spheres.
Are there any physical release plans for Hirschbrunnen? Any plans to play material from the album live?
The album will be out on 2LP and CD on June 11th via Stickman Records and a tour is currently in the works for Europe in November/December 2021. We’ll see if that happens, though.
Do you have any recommendations to share with whomever is reading this? Any books, movies, albums that have been particularly crucial for you in the present or past?
If anyone reading uses Spotify, I made a playlist for our friends at Robotor Records with the music I’ve been listening to the past months. You can find it here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5mQbeCnR21VYiQE3cLn7YR?si=88af4333e1674754
Honestly, I’ve been so focused on music the past year that I have really neglected books and movies. When I find myself on the couch at the end of the day I usually want to watch Futurama rather than tax my brain. I listened to a shit ton of podcasts too, my favorites of which are Last Podcast On The Left (humor/occult/murder themes) and QAnon Anonymous (dissecting conspiracy thought in the American mainstream).
Finally, in traditional Heavy Blog style, it’s important to ask: how do you take your eggs? When last we spoke, your answer was “over medium with Frank’s Red Hot.” Are you still riding that wave or have you changed it up since then?
Still riding it. Forever. Except you can’t really find Frank’s in Germany, so it’s been more Sriracha.