Is coming back from thirteen year hiatus an easy thing to do? Genghis Tron proved this year with their new album – „Dream Weapon” that it may be hard, but also worth it. I’ve talked about all the emotions around it, changing influences and lineups and band-personal life balance with their guitarist – Hamilton Jordan.
[MOŻESZ TO TAKŻE PRZECZYTAĆ PO POLSKU]
Let’s start with a bit of history, because it’s been a very long time since your previous album, and I wonder, how did your world change since then? Because you announced your hiatus on MySpace, I think, and now you are coming back in completely different surroundings. So how did your music world changed since then?
Yeah, I think the fact that we announced the hiatus on MySpace is a sort of symbol of how much things have changed. You know, my personal world changed and it’s the same for my bandmate, Michael [Sochynsky – synths]. He and I sort of wrote the songs primarily before Nick [Yacyshyn – drums] and Tony [Wolski, also known as Adam Vallely of The Armed – vocals] became involved. You know, for both Michael and I, we sort of stepped away from music for a long time and focused on other things. It was a huge change. I think he and I were both often thinking about music and thinking about what we would do next with Genghis Tron. But we weren’t spending much time actually creating music. So it was interesting to kind of step away from the music world for almost a decade. And I think one way that that affected that album is that when we came back, when we started working together again in 2018, we, I think in a good way, maybe had sort of lost perspective on any sort of expectations that we might have for ourselves or that listeners might have for us. I mean, to be honest, we sort of assumed everyone had forgotten about our music and we didn’t know if our record label – Relapse Records – would be interested in putting out another album.
For Michael and I, we knew we would always want to do it, but we thought maybe for the rest of the world Genghis Tron is a thing of the past. We just were able to really explore songwriting from a place… I don’t want to say an honest place because it’s always honest, but a place with sort of no expectations about how it’s going to be perceived or if anyone’s even really going to care that we’re doing it. So it was sort of like when we just started the band in 2004, because in 2018, just like in the very beginning, we didn’t know if anyone would ever pay attention to what we were doing, so we were just writing the music that we wanted to hear in a very simple way. All that distance from it, almost kind of purified the process again and kind of gave us a clean slate.
But I do have to say, during all that time, the music was… Although we stepped away from the world of making music and touring, you know, Michael and I are both serious fans of music. We’re always listening, always consuming music, always, you know, going to concerts, even if not as frequently as we used to. I was always listening to music, always thinking about it and always sort of coming up with little ideas, even if they were in the abstract and even if they rarely turned into songs. So my head was always in it to some extent. And yeah, in those 10 years too, you know – some new interests, new influences sort of crept in that I think affected some of what we were interested in doing as well.
So it wasn’t hard to get back to being like full time creative?
I mean, it was hard, I think, for a couple of reasons. One, just a very simple reason – I went long stretches of time without picking up my guitar. I just would go months and months and months without touching it at all. And I think the same with Michael and synthesizers. And so I think in a very literal way, we just sort of got rusty and we’re not as familiar with our instruments, so we had to reacquaint ourselves with our songwriting tools. And in another sense too, our personal lives got more… You know, when we wrote Dead Mountain Mouth or Board Up The House, we were twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four. Just, you know, either in college and university or we had just finished. We didn’t have many responsibilities and so when we wrote Board Up The House, the three of us all lived in a house together and just worked on the album for a year.
And now Michael and I live in different places, we have jobs and families, so it was more challenging to find time to write and record. We just don’t have the same time to put it into the band that we used to. But I think that, you know, in a way this has its benefits because it made us be very, very deliberate, very carefully planned, very serious. For me, it might mean waking up a couple hours early before work and working on a demo a couple of days a week, sort of making time for it because it’s a passion and it’s something that we really had to carve time out of our lives to find. So in some aspects it was more challenging because of that. But I think there were benefits from that, because we had to be really devoted to the project. And it took a long time. There are pieces of Dream Weapon that go back as far as 2008 or 2012. But most of the album was written between 2018 and 2020. But it took two years of hard work to write the songs.
It’s a bit of commitment to start working with the record label again and maybe touring and then all that stuff. Weren’t you afraid of that?
I’d say in my heart, I always knew that we wanted to write another Genghis Tron album and that we would be able to write something that we were proud of. I felt that most of the time. But from day to day, there are times when I definitely had some fears about are we even doing anything good? Do we even know how to write music anymore? Can I still play the guitar? Even if it was just me coming up with an idea and sending it to Michael. I mean, Michael is my closest friend and we’ve been making music together for 17 years. But still, sometimes I’d say: „Do I even know how to write things anymore that Michael are going to like?” And then again, some of the same fears around. Is the record label going to be interested in this? It was especially in the beginning, when we only had a couple of demos. For the most part, I felt confident in them, but there was just that little bit of doubt in the back of my mind. But then the more we worked together and the more the songs came together, the more and more confident I felt that this was something that we’d be really proud of and and that we could do something really… You know, create an unique artistic statement that would be something that that we’d be proud of.
What was the impulse for getting back for real?
You know, it was just sort of waiting for the right time. I mean, we always wanted to do it. When we announced the hiatus in 2010, I think at the time maybe we thought it would be one year or two years or something like that. That it wouldn’t be very long because we all agreed, even Mookie, who is no longer in the band, we definitely were going to do another album. We just thought maybe we need a couple of years to do some other things and then we’ll come back to it. But those two years turned into three years, four years, five years. And all that time, although we were busy with other things, every year we would talk several times and we would say: „We’re going to do this, we’re going to do this”. The desire to do it was always there.
One important thing is that, I’ve been living in California for nine years with my wife and we left California, moved across the country to Michigan, which is closer to where Michael lives and changed my work situation. At that time I revisited Michael for a weekend and Michael and I was not even planning on it, but we started working on music – on what would become the song called Alone in the Heart of the Light on this album, which is track five. I had this little melody, I played it for Michael and he really liked it. He came up with some chords and played it on top. And we just said: „OK, we really like this. If we’re ever going to do this again, we need to start it now. Now is the time.” So I think it was sort of being together in person, being in the same room, working on music and rekindling that feeling. We sort of realized that it’s never going to get easier to do this and we need to grab this moment and start the fire and turn it into something bigger.
Dream Weapon sounds different than the previous albums. What was the inspiration behind it? Have your influences change?
You know, I would say there’s some new, some different influences here and there, but – it’s funny – in general, Michael and I didn’t realize how different it would sound until we were finished with it. To us, when we were working on it, it didn’t feel that different from anything we had done before. I mean, we knew that there were no really fast, crazy metal riffs or no blast beats, no screaming and things like that. We realized that those changes were there. But I think, because we were so close to it, we didn’t realize how many people would hear it and think that it sounds like completely different. So it was not a conscious decision. We knew that we wanted to do some different things like push melody a little more to the forefront.
One thing we really wanted to explore is more repetitive rhythms and more hypnotic rhythms and maybe some more psychedelic atmosphere. And as we were writing the songs and putting them together, we realized that if we really want this atmosphere to come through, the instruments need some more room to breathe. So you can just hear the dynamics more and you can hear the tones more carefully. And so I think because of that, we did make an effort to have the arrangements be a little less claustrophobic. We didn’t have any sort of decision early on like: „no screaming”. But I think when the songs started to come together and we listened to them, we were just sort of saying it wouldn’t make sense on top of a song like this to have someone just screaming their head off the whole time. It just wouldn’t really work. So it’s not like Michael and I said: „We’re never going to do that again”. But just for these songs, it didn’t feel like the right thing.
But overwhelmingly, my main influences are sort of the same that they were 15 or 20 years ago. I still listen to so many of the same bands that I liked when I was 19 or 18 or younger. But some new things came in. I think Michael would say especially that around 2015, 2016, he started getting pretty deep into German krautrock and stuff like that. And we’d always been listening to bands like Can and Neu! When we were writing Dead Mountain Mouth and Board Up The House we were listening to them on tour but it didn’t really find its way into our music. And I think as we listen to more music like that in the last five or six years, it maybe became a little more tempting to explore some of those repetitive arrangements or some of those textures and rhythms and things like that. But we’re always seeking out new music, finding different things…
For me in the last few years, I’ve been probably more than anything else, listening to a lot of Peter Gabriel and King Crimson and a little more proggy type stuff. A lot of big tom drums and I think that definitely influenced some of our thinking with the drums arrangements and things like that. So, yeah, we’re always sort of trying to do something a little different with each album. But I don’t think we realized how different this one would be in some aspects. But to us it still feels 100 percent like Genghis Tron. To me it has the same sort of melodies that we’ve always had, a lot of the same sort of rhythms. You can just hear them more easily because there aren’t as many layers of… Well, there are lots of layers, but the arrangements aren’t as claustrophobic and tight.
You have also changed your lineup. How did that happen? How did you meet Nick and Tony?
I’ll start with Nick. We’ve wanted to have a drummer for a very long time, I’d say, back before the hiatus, we already were talking about how we would love to have a drummer for the next album. So that was something that’s been in my mind for a long time. And mine especially because on the previous albums, I was the one who would program the live sounding drums – the drums that were like, you know, fake live drums basically. And Michael would program the other percussion, the electronic percussion, the stuff that sounds more like, you know, Warp Records, Aphex Twin type stuff or more hip hop sounding beats. Michael would do that and I would do the live drums. I was after one EP and two albums of doing the programmed drums. I just thought, why are we still doing this? Like, I love drummers, I love drums. We weren’t trying to be a drum machine band on purpose. We just did it out of necessity because we didn’t know any drummers in the very beginning. But as we progressed and as we were touring more, we were meeting more and more drummers.
That’s a long way of saying that we always wanted a drummer for a very long time. And the first time I saw Nick play was in 2017. When I was still living in California. I saw him play his set with his band Sumac and I was just blown away. I thought he was so amazing and I thought to myself then, if we ever do another Genghis Tron album, I want to ask this guy to be on it. So when we had two songs demoed, I asked Kurt Ballou if he would introduce us to Nick. Kurt is the producer who recorded our album, and he’s recorded Nick’s bands as well. And so he introduced us and we sent the demos to Nick and he said yes. He said, he wanted to play on them.
And as for Tony, you know, when Michael and I started writing in 2018, the plan was that Mookie, our original singer, was still going to be involved in the album. And he said he wanted to do it, he was interested and he liked the demos that Michael and I were writing. But then after about a year of working on the album in 2019, all three of us realized that he just didn’t have either the time or the interest or whatever to really contribute fully to it. And we all knew that writing another album would take a lot out of our personal lives and take a lot of time. And basically, Michael and I were ready to do it. And Mookie, I think, for whatever reason, just didn’t have the time or the energy to put into it. So all three of us sort of agreed at the same time that it would make more sense for us to do it without him. And he gave us his blessing, so to speak. He said: „You guys should finish this album and it’s OK if you work with someone else”. So then I started looking and just sort of coincidentally, after I moved to Detroit, I had already met Tony.
He was just a friend of mine. This was when Mookie was still in the band. And then, I sort of knew that Tony was a singer, but I wasn’t super familiar with his singing. But I just said: „Well, maybe he can help us come up with stuff”. So I sent him a couple of demos and he sent back a couple of ideas. And Michael and I were just really shocked at what he came up with because it wasn’t anything like what we would have expected to hear. And then we were like: „Wow, but this fits the music so well”. It really felt like a big change for us. And it was unusual at first – working with someone different because we had worked with the same singer all the years before that. But the more and more we worked with Tony, the more we realized that he was so perfectly suited for the songs on this album. And he was just coming up with stuff that emotionally hit me in the right place and just felt like a really good fit. That’s how it all happened. We got very lucky because they were the only two people we asked to be involved. They both said yes, and they both contributed really amazing things that helped take it to the next level.
Did you or Tony come up with the lyrics?
It was a collaborative process, actually. When we demoed the songs, Tony would just sort of sing like kind of made up words or, you know, vague phrases that don’t really mean anything just to focus on getting the melodies right and then getting the sounds of the words right. So he would do that for all the songs and then he had an interesting idea, which is that Michael, Tony and I would all listen back to it and sort of try to come up with lyrics that we think we fit into the sounds and the phrasing and the number of syllables. So all three of us came up with different ideas for each song, and then Tony would go through them and take pieces from everyone’s different ideas and sort of, you know, meld them into a cohesive thing. So Tony was ultimately the decision maker when it came to the lyrics. But he did it with input from Michael and I. And also Michael and I had some ideas about what the themes of the album would be. And that was some guidance we gave to Tony as well. So it’s really cool. I had never been involved with writing lyrics on any Genghis Tron material before. It previously was all Mookie. And so it was a new challenge for Michael and I to be thinking about our songs that way. I’ve only ever written music, never words. So it was a challenge. But I liked the collaborative process and Tony had a pretty cool idea to do the lyrics that way.
You’ve mentioned the themes behind the lyrics. What’s the concept here?
Yeah, I’d say it’s like a loose, loose concept. It’s not like a super detailed concept album or anything. But I would say the loose concept is sort of a meditation on the end or what things might be like after there are no more humans on the earth. It starts from the premise that there will come a time when humans won’t be around anymore. And that’s likely, you know? That may have something to do with our own bad decision making as the race or for whatever reason – that time will come. And it’s about all of the feelings associated with that. Of course, there’s sadness, there’s fear. But if you can sort of forget yourself and your ego and step back and just think about the planet as a whole, there is something also sort of beautiful about it as well, about the fact that yes, humans may expire, but the earth will live on in some way and the earth will change and things will be different. And so it’s sort of about imagining that and walking through some of the different feelings and thoughts associated with it. It’s mixed feelings. It’s, again, certainly sadness and fear and some anxiety, but also some idea that there will be some peace too.
Was the current situation an inspiration for that?
You mean the current situation in the world today? Yeah, definitely. I mean, this was a theme on Board Up The House as well in 2008. And I would say the whole theme for this album was sort of inspired by a song on that album. The last track on Board Up the House is called „Relief” and a lyric in that song says: „All will be forgotten, all will be well”. And Mookie called the song „Relief” because he had the idea that there will be some relief for the Earth once humans are eventually gone. Ever since Board Up The House, that always stuck with me. And back in 2008, we had concerns about that and the concerns only deepened, I think. And that song and that one theme were like… Well, that was the theme of this one song on Board Up The House, but there’s a whole album’s worth of material there. And so we just wanted to dig in and explore that more.
You’ve mentioned Kurt Ballou before. I think he’s one of the few constant things around Genghis Tron.
Did you consider anyone else to produce that album?
Yeah, we did at the beginning. Michael and I talked about it. We talked about who could we work with? And there are lots of talented engineers out there and lots of people whose work we really admire. So we did explore that. We thought about it, but we didn’t have to talk about it for very long before we decided that we really wanted to work with Kurt again. And one reason, I’d say the main reason is exactly what you’ve mentioned – that he’s a constant for us. He’s been a constant presence, and we’ve always been really happy with how things have been with him. I mean, he was a great engineer in 2005 for our first album, in 2007 when we recorded Board Up The House and we knew he’s only had 13 more years of experience. He’s going to be even better. And he’s a friend of ours. There had been enough changes, you know – different vocalists, drums for the first time. Michael and I haven’t been in a studio in 13 years. So we really liked the idea of working with someone who we knew would be comfortable with us personally and where we just knew it would be like a good environment that we were familiar with. And I’m so glad we did because, you know, recording the album is challenging, especially during Covid. And, you know, it was really great working with Kurt again and having this sort of familiar presence in the room and someone who’s just a friend and he’s always good to hang out with. And it was a good, really good three weeks spending time with him.
What’s next for you? Another thirteen years of waiting?
(laughs) Yeah, that’s the one thing I can say. I really, really don’t think it’s going to be another 13 years. I mean, Michael and I are still busy in our personal lives, but now that we’ve made music again, it feels so good. I missed it for so long. I never want to go that long again without recording music. I mean, it’s my favorite thing to do in the world so I can feel pretty confident saying that there will be more Genghis Tron music and that it won’t take 13 years to release. It might take four or five, but it won’t take 13. And as for touring, we have no touring plans yet. It’s something we’re thinking aboutut, but to be honest – we’re all busy. Nick and Tony have other bands and everyone has personal lives. We all live in different places. So in theory, we would like to tour. We’ll just have to see if it’s going to be possible and when. It might be a while. But it’s something we want to make happen. And I can tell you, I would love, love to go to Poland for sure. I don’t know if this will mean anything. Probably not. But I live in a heavily Polish neighborhood here in Michigan.
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