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Cruxshadows | Ethernaut | interview | Rogue | goth | rock | Lollipop
Ethernaut (Dancing Ferret)
An Interview with vocalist Rogue
I'm sitting inside DV8, one of the world's smallest clubs, listening to an independent group, Memo, finish their set with a remarkable cover version of Depeche Mode's "Walking in My Shoes." Rogue, lead singer and original member of The Crüxshadows paces back in forth through the crowd of the tiny bar, restless, but poised and confident. He critically examines the crowd he has to work with. He knows what will be his strongest contingent, and who will require coaxing.
At the bar, Rachel McDonnell has just turned down a drink from a very intoxicated fan, and in the rear of the bar, perched over a pool table, Chris Brantley, sinks shot after shot, quietly observing. Stacey Campbell is perched at the bar in a spot that places her strategically near the stage, but out of reach of eager bar attendees while sipping fervently at her soda.
They are The Crüxshadows, professional and in relatively good spirits, despite having received little or no sleep from the previous show in San Francisco some 650 miles and 18 hours earlier. Setup for The Crüxshadows is finally completed, and the lights dim. A low thrum settles over the sound system. Rogue is off-stage, at the rear of the bar, alert and draped over a video poker machine, patiently waiting for his cue.
Finally, into his headset microphone he recites a short paragraph that sets the stage for the beginning of "The Trojan War." Remarkably, many of the 55 people in the club are completely oblivious to his presence. The crowd is a far cry from the large European shows they've performed with audiences in the tens of thousands. Two small flashlights in his grasp, Rogue paces through the crowd singing "Into the Ether," the opening track on their new full-length album Ethernaut.
Conversations end abruptly. All eyes gravitate to his slender, towering frame as he stands on a chair in the middle of the club. His hair brushes the tiles of the ceiling.
The club miraculously comes alive. Experience from hundreds of shows and thousands of rehearsals is clearly evident as Rogue systemically breaks down the fourth wall by directly engaging the audience. Stealthily, he seeks out those who are still not paying attention, and gently turns them toward the stage. He smiles, stares into their eyes, and waits until they are forced to smile back.
This has been my first introduction to The Crüxshadows live.
Eight songs into the set, the band finally takes a well-earned pause. Rogue recounts a few charming tales about their time in Europe. A humorous comment follows about their pleasant but exhausted state before they finally break into the home stretch of their set.
They bid us good night, but the crowd, now in rapture, and dancing frantically with the group, begs an encore.
The band finally consents. Beckoning, Rogue invites the audience to join him on stage. An orgy of sound follows with a giddy audience streaming over the stage. Afterwards, they pack up their substantial equipment, drive to the hotel, and hopefully gain some treasured sleep. Sometime near noon, the band will get up again and drive another 300 miles in order to make it to Seattle in time for another performance later that day. This is the life of The Crüxshadows.
I saw your Portland, Oregon show at DV8. You guys gave an incredible performance despite the limited size of the venue. Do you approach a large show differently from a small show?
Yes and no, and probably not in the ways you might think. With a smaller show, attention is distributed much more towards individuals. The larger shows, it's more directed towards the crowd as a whole. We've played shows for everything from a handful of people to our largest show, which was about 14,000 people.
The thing is - and I think what is key to The Crüxshadows music - is to make the music and the performance very personal to the people in the audience, and that's the challenge, whether it be in front of thousands, or fewer than a hundred. There are a number of vehicles we use for that, and one of them is going out into the audience and breaking down that barrier between stage and audience. In smaller shows, it's even possible to bring people up on stage and make them more a part of things. That simply isn't possible at the large shows.
It reminds me of the approach used in the Broadway musical Godspell, where the lead actor enters from the rear of the audience.
Right. I know the play you're referencing, though not terribly well. Interestingly enough, I really got my start in entertainment in the theater. I was a child actor and belonged to an acting troupe and toured around the country. Musical theater is really where I got my education on what to do on stage. It's fair to say that interactive theater has an impact on the way we do things. I wouldn't say it's a primary influence by any means, but I would say there's a little bit of it in there.
What would you say to someone who is putting together a live show?
The big mistake that a lot of people make - and that we did starting out - was to attempt to reproduce the studio on the stage. Its just not possible: Too many devices, too many wires, too many complicated setups... Whatever you can't actively play, pre-record it. Put your drum tracks and bass tracks down and use them as backing tracks. Then try to streamline other instruments. What we do is sample instruments that we used in the studio, and then play them via the sample.
I've noticed your tours are incredibly frenetic. What steps do you take to preserve your endurance, and how do you handle the stress that comes with constant touring?
It's difficult to handle the stress. There's an awful lot of it. We're constantly having to move, constantly having to deal with this venue or that venue, or this problem or that problem. At the same time, we're trying to manage a career on an international level, and there's a lot of stuff we have to sign off on, a lot of stuff that we've got to initiate. It's really a 30 hour a day job. It can be really stressful, and it can be really hard on you physically. Something has to drive you to do this to begin with. And when it gets hard, you have to focus on "Why am I out here and what am I trying to accomplish?" Not to pull yourself apart or wish yourself out of where you are, because if you're out of where you are, you're probably not pertinent anymore.
I have to add that I think touring and really staying in the public eye and staying in people's hearts and minds and constantly releasing new discs is important. People often ask how we tour so much and still put out some sort of CD every year... And that's the thing, you just have to be driven to do it. You have to say, "This is something I want to not only succeed at, but continue to succeed at." At the end of the day, you have to stop and see the effect you've had on people, on your fans, and if that has the capability of motivating you, then there you go. If it doesn't, you're in the wrong business.
I understand Rachael McDonnell used to perform in the Florida State University Symphony? Is that where you met her?
I was taking a class at the FSU music school at the same time she was there. I was a number of years ahead of her. She was a freshman when I was graduating. We had the similar tastes in music and struck up a friendship. I play violin as well, though she's a better violin player than I am, but we have that commonality. I was the only electric violin player around so, I don't how to put it, maybe she was drawn like a moth to a flame. I mean, she kind of got sucked in. And she's been a member of the band for many years now.
And Chris Brantley?
Chris was a friend of mine who worked as a roadie for The Crüxshadows. He toured with us, sold merchandise, carried equipment, and stuff like that. The other two original members of the band kind of bailed out at one point, and I was like, you know, I have too much invested in this, too much energy, too much work, too much sweat put into this, and I'm not about to let these guys pull out and take it all away from me. So I made arrangements to obtain all the interest in The Crüxshadows from them, and then I turned around and said "Okay Chris, you're in the band if you want." He originally didn't feel he had the capabilities, but I did, I knew it would work. He's now the longest member of the current lineup.
Your guitarist Stacey Campbell?
Stacey joined the band a little over two years ago. It's worked out very well. Chris is really my technical, more computer-oriented person. Rachael is my musical knowledge person. Stacey is willing to go with the direction and flow that we create, and do it the way we want. All the previous guitar players had their own ideas about things, and I was constantly butting heads with them. As a result, I wouldn't feel comfortable putting too much control in their hands. But Stacey is very willing to do things the way I ask of her, and in so doing, gets things opened up a little bit more. She gets to play beefier parts that are more upfront because I know she's not going to try to reinvent the direction.
When I was in music school, one of my composition professors gave me the nickname Mozart because everything I do is mathematically sound. You know, it all works on paper... That's one of my approaches to music, I don't do a lot with dissonances and the different things that the jazz era opened up. I think of music in terms of counterpart instead of chords. Going back to the Classical and the Baroque eras, we ironically have the most in common with the Romantic era, but our approach is not anything like the Romantics. Thematically, yes, it's much the same, but not on a nuts and bolts level.
Is your new album, Ethernaut, Book Four in The Angel Cycle?
Ethernaut is part of The Angel Cycle, but it's one of those things that I haven't stated in the past. I've kind of left it obscure. A lot has been made of The Angel Cycle, the irony being that the theme of all this music is tied to a dream that had such a profound effect upon me. The reality of it - and I think it's one of the things that sets us apart - is that we're not a band that formed thinking "Hey, we're going to sound like this band," or "Gosh, I really want to be so and so, so let's make a band like theirs." We came at it from a comepletely different perspective.
There were obviously bands that we liked, because on some level, there are an infinite number of people who have an impact on you. But what had more of an impact on us were historical figures, philosophers, stories, myths, and different things that spark different emotions. That's where a lot of what we do comes from. We rely more on themes than trying to walk in the footsteps of other bands.
As far as The Angel Cycle is concerned, that was a dream I had in stages... I don't know that I've ever told a magazine or newspaper about this... I dreamt a different stage of the dream each night for about five nights in a row. At the end of those five stages, the whole series of the dream repeated about seven times in a row. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I had an epiphany in an artistic sense, and I've felt since that moment that this is my inspired thing to do, that what I was making was necessary for someone, somewhere.
It's been a real desire of mine to put positive energy and ideas into our songs, to have a positive influence, and I think maybe focus more on the idea of hope, especially in a genre that deals with a lot of negativity.
Has the band been miscategorized as Goth?
I don't think that we're necessarily miscategorized as Goth as much as Goth is mis-categorized. I see Goth as being the sort of modern Romanticism. It's music about introspection. It's thinking about who and what and where you are, and what that means. It's about asking a lot of the difficult questions. It's about the individual and the emotions, the feelings and thoughts that an individual has. That's Romanticism.
Classicism, on the other hand, is about everything having its place, people having their part to play in society. A lot of music, especially in political music, might have something to say about things on a political level, but they're really dealing with social issues, with issues that deal with groups of people. And then there is also a lot of music that's about partying and good times, let's get our groove on... Whatever the catch phrase of the hour might be with that kind of music. It really sort of glosses over the hard issues.
I don't think Goth is about depression or being evil or any of those things. I think it's about looking at things in an introspective manner. That's the key with our music, and why our fans are so loyal to us. We've really had an interaction with them on a deep, personal level. That's why it's so important to me in a live setting to interact with people as people, and not just as a crowd.
Many of the references, both lyrical and visual, in The Angel Cycle seem similar to concepts introduced in the Otherland novels by Tad Williams. Have you read his work and has it influenced you?
I haven't read them. Work I've read that's had an influence on me is Paradise Lost, and the writings of Kahlil Gibran; absolutely my favorite author. His most famous work is The Prophet. The thing I love about Kahlil Gibran is that he hits you with truth that you have to think backwards in order to go forwards to realize. It's very Eastern in its thought processes, but very Western in the issues it addresses. I find it incredibly inspiring.
Role-playing games and video games seem to be of great interest to the band...
I think the people who create video games and RPGs get their inspiration from the same places that we do. Its kind of like talking about The Lords of the Rings: If you're familiar with myths and legends, you realize that Tolkien incorporates these things right into the world he created. In the same way, we've sort of created a world, and we use lots of myth and legends, things that really have universal significance, things that have something to say about people's lives no matter when they are living. Effectively, these stories exist to uncover some degree of truth.
In essence, video and role-play gaming thrust you into a world where things happen that might not be able to happen in the world that you live in. Creative people who are moved on different levels are drawn to these kinds of things.
Are there more Angel Cycle albums?
Yes and no. The Angel Cycle, for reasons far too complex to go into, is really a living, breathing thing. It's less like creating a piece of art than it's like giving birth to a child. In that sense, it has sort of discovered a life of its own. These elements continue to grow and spiral out from where they started, having an impact on one thing after another, and those things keep tying themselves back to the source. It's much more alive than a simple piece of fiction. It's strange, because I've tried to put The Angel Cycle into a fictional narrative, and I got to a point where the limitations created by doing that just didn't work. The Angel Cycle works when it's alive and the additions come.
What do you think about popular music?
There's a lot of people's music that I like. In fact, I think that anybody who's made music on a level strong enough to reach a national and international audience is definitely doing something right. Whatever your reasons for liking or not liking them, you have to admit that they do something right.
As The Crüxshadows becomes more popular, I've gotten to meet a lot of these different bands. The thing that moves me the most to really love a band is to discover that the people who made it are sincere about the music that they've made. When I find that, then I love the band, and I love the music, because there's something real there. What I hate is thinking something is real and profound, and then meeting the person who made it and thinking they're such an ass that they obviously couldn't've meant it the way I've interpreted it. The reason music is so popular is that musicians really make the soundtrack of our life. We associate different points of our lives with songs. It really is a commonality that ties human beings together.
What aspirations do The Crüxshadows look forward to achieving?
There are some things on the horizon... We've been talking about playing our first shows in Moscow, Israel, and Japan. We're discussing finding a license agreement with a label in Russia. There's lot of really exciting things going on. Our hope, really, is to make a dent in the world. I think Socrates once said "If you change the music of a people, you change a people." That's probably very badly butchered, but the sense is there. I think we can make a difference in the lives of people. I've been amazed at the kinds of things I've seen thus far. I've had a grown man tell me that he wanted to commit suicide, so he went to the store and bought a bunch of CDs that he thought would be the most depressing. He put them all in his disc changer, got himself all depressed, pulled his gun out, put it in his mouth, and pulled back the hammer. As he did so, the disc changer switched to the next song and it was our song, "Sympathy (for Tomorrow)." And he said to me, "I listened to the words, and I thought 'Oh my god, I'm sitting here waiting to blow my brains out but I am too afraid to try. How can I do one without the other? I started listening to your songs and you guys have made a huge difference in my life." Maybe there's something at work here that's bigger than any of us in the band. That's my hope, to create something that's better than ourselves.
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