Already reviewing their recent album "When The Wolves Return", I was able to talk to both Steve and Donna of Ego Likeness, pairing together history, peronsal projects, and information on their latest release.
You both have a long, long history together, with Ego Likeness being alive for sixteen years and your personal relationship for eighteen years. When was it that you two first met? And how did you get along when getting to know each other?
Donna - "We met at a club in 1997 or so. It was a weird and fast courtship. I won't say much more than that, haha!"
Steven - "True story, before we met, I would walk by her and she would tell her friends, 'I'm going to marry that guy.'"
And, when was it that you both decided that Ego Likeness would become a project? More importantly, when did you decide to form it into a full time project?
Steven - "We were in another band for a while, and were both unhappy with how by-the-book goth it was. I started writing the material that would eventually turn into Ego Likeness, based on taking what Massive Attack was doing at the time and making it more noisy and dirty.
Eventually the other project withered away, and we were left with Ego. We established early on with our first full length, 'Dragonfly', that we weren't going to limit ourselves to any one style or genera. I would always tell people we were trying to fuse Skinny Puppy and Fleetwood Mac."
You both juggle multiple personal and collaborative projects on a near constant basis, always working with hardly ever any down time. Has it come easier over the years to keep up with all this work, or do you find it overbearing at times?
Donna - "Yes and yes. The longer we do this, the more we get our 'systems' in place, but the more we do, the more there is to do and it can certainly be overwhelming. I just experienced this in a big way by getting the album ready to go, doing two consecutive tours, then coming home and organizing and overseeing a 40 person cast and crew video- all in the course of 2 months. I'm ready for some downtime, but there isn't much on the horizon. Ultimately, that's a good thing, but still...
Steven - "The trick is maintaining perspective. In the end, our job description is: make stuff, then drive around the country, and show it off to our friends. When you look at it like that, you feel like a bit of an asshole when you complain. We are so lucky to live in a time where we have access to the technology to do what we do. In 1992ish, I had a band and we spent 5K just to put out a six song demo on cassette. Now, you spend a fraction of that on a good computer, and some gear, and you can do it all yourself. Of course, you also have to be willing to invest the time and energy it takes to learn how to use that stuff.
I seem to have wandered off topic, to answer the question, yeah, sure it's hard, but so what? We have both spent our lives learning to do what we do, Donna went to school for piano from the age of five and later, opera, and I was showing art in galleries at sixteen, it's the only life we know. I can't even imagine the amount of work it takes raising a kid, or living in the corporate world. All of the hard work has paid off in more things to work hard for, and hopefully that will never change."
Steven, one of your latest projects would happen to be Stoneburner which came to life in 2012. I find the tribal-electro sounds to be pretty wicked; when and how did you really come up with this idea?
Steven - "I've always loved that style of music, blending organic and electronic sounds. I have a bad problem with ideas, I have too many of them, and the ones that stick around become very insistent. For some reason I became curious what music in the world of Frank Herbert's 'Dune' would sound like. I couldn't let the idea go, and eventually it became kind of a challenge to see if I could write something that worked. It's interesting, when you tell people it's 'dance music on Arrakis,' everyone knows what that sounds like even though they haven't heard it. And in the end I think I got pretty close with the first two albums. I'm in the middle of finishing up a third called 'The Mouse Shadow,' which will be out in October. This one takes the sound of the previous two and pushes it in more of a epic symphonic direction."
Now, another question I have for the both of you is that with all your side projects do you ever hear an overlap of sound from one project unto the next? For example, does your work in Ego Likeness ever seep into projects such as Stoneburner?
Donna - "I've hijacked Stonebuner songs for EL before. Steven would play something he was working on for Stonebuner, and I'm like, 'Noooo! I want it!'"
Steven - "I vaguely remember her doing that, but I don't remember for which song... Anyway, I often use rejected Ego songs as jumping off points for other projects. For every one Ego song that gets released, there are probably ten that we don't use, so there's plenty to choose from.
But in the end, I think that all of the projects, Ego Likeness, Stoneburner, ::Hopeful Machines:: all sound different enough to warrant their own identities."
Now, let's talk about your latest album that's soon to come out, "When The Wolves Return". How do you think this album is different from the rest of your discography?
Steven - "Well, the song writing is better, which is the goal with any new album. I think It's more cohesive as a whole, all of the elements come together in a very seamless way. And the lyrics are just immaculate. Donna really out did herself this time."
I understand that most, if not all of your albums come with a loose concept or story. Is there a fable wrapped up inside "When The Wolves Return"? And, if so, could you tell us the tale in a brief manner?
Donna - "Not since Dragonfly have we done anything as personal as 'WTWR'. There is allegory weaved throughout, as with most of our albums, but it's insanely personal. That makes it a lot scarier to see it go out into the world, but it was what we had to say, so we said it.
Steven - "I don't actually agree with that, 'Breedless' was also very personal, but we didn't know it at the time. We didn't see it until after it was finished and out. In the end 'Breedless' was a letter written by our subconscious saying, 'You are fucking up your lives, and here is exactly how you are doing it.' 'Breedless' was about things falling apart. Wolves is about the fight for survival and coming to terms with the things you have done, and who you've become."
Musically speaking, the instrumentation, both electronic and not, was on spot. What gear did you use to record "When The Wolves Return" and did you have any difficulty putting the tracks together?
Steven - "Heh, the entire album was written on my laptop sitting on our futon with the TV on in the background. I do all the song construction in Reason, and then record anything coming in from the outside world, guitar, vocals, in Cubase. The guitar was run direct through a cab simulator into the soundcard, and the vocals were recorded in our living room. We have a very nice mic and preamp that goes a long way to bringing out Donna's vocals. The songs were mixed by Wade Alin (Christ Analog) who did a fantastic job.
As to putting the tracks together, yes, writing Ego albums is always very hard. It's no exaggeration when I say we went through about a hundred demos while we tried to figure out what this album was going to be. Hell, we had an entire other album written, that we scrapped because we didn't love it. A few songs survived and ended up on Wolves, but most ended up in the recycle pile.
The biggest problem when writing isn't really finding the songs themselves, but figuring out who we are at any given time, and how that relates to what we are putting out into the world."
Donna, vocally, you dominated this album completely. What sort of tone or emotion were you taking when you went in to record this album?
Donna - "I did so much of this album under a great deal of anxiety, pain, and stress, sad to say. Yet it turned out to be the thing I'm most proud of. I wasn't aiming for anything other then to get it out. A hundred times I thought, 'This isn't going to be any good. I'm exhausted, my voice is exhausted, my brain is exhausted, and everyone will hear that.' I really just closed my eyes and jumped with this one and trusted Steven and Wade (Alin). And I think I got lucky."
Steven - "She doesn't give herself enough credit. But I understand why, we've been through a lot over the past five years, and most of it was soul crushing. When you have spent so much time lost and busted it's hard to feel confident about what you are doing. That said, it's worth noting that almost all of the vocals you hear on the album are first or second take. She's that good. As a producer, I'm very lucky to work with someone who is as skilled in writing and singing as she is."
And when the album was finally done, after mixing and mastering and all that other fun production stuff, were you guys proud of what you accomplished? Or did you look back on it and think you could have done something better?
Donna - "There are always small technical things you think you could've done better, and should do better next time, but no...this album is exactly what it needed to be. And Wade did an incredible job on the production. We couldn't have hoped for better."
Steven - "When we got it back, we both looked at each other and more or less said 'I don't care if anyone else likes it, it's exactly what we want it to be.' Which is something that has never happened before. Are there things I would change? One or two, but they are just my own little neurotic things and have nothing to do with how anyone else hears it. Otherwise, I stand by our statement. It's exactly what it should be."
I always find it interesting to hear how an album has been received by critics and audiences alike thus far. I know that I gave out a positive review of the album already, but what about others? How has reception been so far?
Steven - "So far it's been positive across the board. I'm sure someone will hate it at some point, probably because it's not genera enough for them. But fuck those guys, we've never written for genera, which has hurt us from time to time, and I'm totally ok with that."
Now, aside from the latest album, I'd like to talk to you both about your other, personal projects. I know you are both avid writers, with Donna releasing "Isabel Burning", poetry collections, and "Driving Through The Desert", and Steven respectively putting out "Red King Black Rook", and has put out content for Weird Tales Magazine. Do you find inspiration to write out stories from the same sources you pull inspiration to write out music?
Donna - "Absolutely. It all comes from the world and our experiences. There's no primary source for me. I use whatever I can get."
Steven - "I take in as much information as I can, I read constantly, lots of contemporary fiction, and of course horror, sci-fy etc. Not to mention tons of quality content filled video games. All of which influence everything."
Do you have any writings currently in the works? And, if so, would you be able to tell us about them?
Donna - "Yes, I have about five things sitting on the back burner. I was waiting until the album was out to get back to them. I'm not talking much about them yet, though, in case things change."
Steven - "I'm always working on something, currently two Stoneburner albums, I'm vaguely working on the next ::Hopeful Machines:: album, and always a ton of visual art."
Do you find it easier to write out fiction then to write out music? Or does that all depend on what kind of mood you're in?
Donna - "Fiction is always easier for me. With lyrics, you have a structure and finite amount of time and space to say your piece, so you have to make sure you get right to the point without hitting every cliché or overused rhyme or formula. Novels, novellas, and poems give you much more space."
Steven - "I don't think linearly, so creating anything long form is very difficult for me. I work best using small blocks of data, and rearranging it until it makes sense."
Steven, I also know that you create some awesome paintings and the like. How often do you find yourself painting and making visionary treats? And how do you value your work for when you put it up for sale?
Steven - "I work on art all the time. My output is just stupid, hundreds of pieces a year. As to value and cost, most of the work is priced to move as fast as possible. Because if it doesn't sell, it just sits here taking up space. Though I do occasionally do larger pieces that I price in the thousands. The majority of our income is from art sales, so I have to keep it moving."
You've had a good and steady relationship with photographer and multi-media aficionado Kyle Cassidy for quite some time. When did you first start working with him and why do you always choose to go back to him when in need for videos or a shoot?
Donna - "As people who have worked together for a long time often do, we have a knack for getting on the same page very easily, with little explanation. Plus, he's amazing."
Steven - "It's interesting, I've noticed that in any given area, there are only a handful of people actively creating interesting stuff. And given enough time, your paths just cross naturally, and you kinda bounce off of each other until it makes sense to do something together."
I also saw, much to my and many others' delight, that you will be shooting two videos shortly for both "New Legion" and "Crossed". If you could tell us, what style are you going for with the videos? And when do you think they will be released?
Donna - "'New Legion' was shot this past Sunday (June 28th). We have a few 'fill-in' shots to finish up and a ton of editing, but we are hoping to get it out not long after the official album release. 'Crossed' shoots in August, and will be pretty unique, if we can pull it off."
Among everything else we've mentioned, is there anything else that either of you are currently working on? Be it other projects, writing, art, videos, or even planning tours?
Steven - "Like I said, I'm spending a ton of time on Arrakis, writing two Stoneburner albums, one dropping in October and then January next year. We have a bunch of great shows coming up, and will doing our second full US tour in 8 months in the fall. And we already are planning our touring schedule for next year which will include another full Ego tour and a separate full Stoneburner tour."
Lastly, I would like to thank you for your time and for being such an awesome and creative band for the past sixteen years. Cheers!
Steven/Donna - "Thank you!"
We have our own recording studio. That's our job. But few musicians can afford the services of the studio. There are so many projects in Russia, but they are of poor quality. We try to explain to people that if they will not support the artists that no one can create. But now it's useless.
Sleetgrout, Jun 19 2014
I've been writing for Brutal Resonance since November of 2012 and now serve as the editor-in-chief. I love the dark electronic underground and usually have too much to listen to at once but I love it. I am also an editor at Aggressive Deprivation, a digital/physical magazine since March of 2016. I support the scene as much as I can from my humble laptop.
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