Hello Dave, and welcome back to Brutal Resonance! The last time you were here we interviewed you regarding your other project, The Derision Cult. Now we’re here talking about your chill electronic project Sys Machine. When did this project start? Where did you get the idea for it?
Dave: Ha! Yeah, lot of plates spinning! I spend a lot of time playing with various synths, loops doing science experiments. If I got enough of them together that sort of fit as a cohesive theme, I’d throw up an EP. I really enjoy projects like Eco-Hed, Micronaut, Amish Rake Fight and all these otherwise-industrial artists making more ambient music. It shows another side of their musical personality and in a lot of cases, I feel like those extracurricular activities made them better musicians. That really inspired me to try some soundscape things. But up until last year, it was just me tinkering away on a computer in the basement. Last year, I had some of those tracks and I wanted to try putting some vocals on them, but I thought a female vocalist could do it a lot more justice than what I’d done. So Kim from Bow Ever Down entered into the fold. I spent the summer playing with the tracks and sort of working on this along with the Derision Cult stuff and then chatting between Kim and Gabe, we started thinking about remix possibilities and that added a whole other dimension to the project. Then Greg Rolfes from Eleven12 did the artwork and we were really off to the races. John Norten from Blue Eyed Christ mastered this and did a fantastic job. It is definitely the best sounding thing I’ve ever been a part of.
And where does the name Sys Machine stem from? Is it just a catchy title or is there something more to it?
Dave: Ha I’d love to tell you there’s a really clever backstory with a dramatic arc, but it’s probably one of the nerdiest backstories ever to be committed to Brutal Resonance. It’s a play on the MS Dos file extension .sys which is basically the extension of all your drives and configurations that make your machine go. So, when I started it, I wanted to call it something that sort of conveyed (if only to myself) that the tracks are sort of the drivers for the electronic side of my stuff. So yeah—it’s literally me likening the project to device drives and config files on a computer! It’s funny because, particularly with Graceful Isolation, it’s really gone beyond that and is a real expression and collaboration among a lot of folks. But the name is sort of interesting, so I kept it.
Your debut EP as Sys Machine came out in April of 2020 as far as Bandcamp tells. Tell me a little bit about “Detachment Stage”. Was it hard transferring from industrial metal to this?
Dave: Sys Machine really started life as a way for me to practice my programming and synth chops. I’d get a new synth or some plugin, or even just try a new workflow and the science experiments that came out of that would be what I’d put out. It wasn’t really a hard transition stylistically. With Derision Cult, I feel pretty deliberate—in that I set out to make something sound a certain way playing a certain way with guitar driven songwriting. I rarely, if ever do the Sys Machine stuff with a guitar as a starting point. That in and of itself puts everything in a different setting. Detachment Stage was sort of another science experiment. Prior to sitting down to do it, I started getting curious/interested in the ASMR craze on YouTube and how those recordings are made. I started playing around with binaural mixing and so forth and that’s a big part of how those tracks came to be. I also made them in a really short period of time set against some crazy world events which I think probably contributed to the EP. I didn’t really take time to second guess things.
And what was “Detachment Stage” about? You use a few Italian words to title the tracks. Was this just a stylish choice or was it influenced by something else?
Dave: Yeah, Detachment Stage is really interesting to look back and think about for me now that we’ve had a couple years away from that period when I made it! As I mentioned I did it over a really short period of time—a weekend really. I did it the week Covid really broke out in Turin Italy (if you recall that was the first place in the Western Hemisphere things got really bad). A really good friend of mine is a professor at a college there and was live blogging about what was going on. At the dawn of the pandemic, none of us had any idea what was in store. My heart really went out to people there…. I love Italy. I used to spend time in Rome for work back in my agency days and my wife went to school in Arezzo. Italian people have always been really kind and welcoming to me when I’ve been there, so it was really heartbreaking to hear the stories coming in about Turin. So, the song titles were kind of my nod to them at that time. That was also right when everything was about “15 days to flatten the curve” where lockdowns first became part of reality and anxiety levels were off the charts. So that’s where the name Detachment Stage came from. I’d been wanting to play around with binaural mixing and ASMR and I thought making some calming really warm sounding synth tracks would be a good counterpoint to how the world felt that week. So, if you listen to it with headphones on there’s some tracks that should cause some tingles. THC definitely helps with that I’ve found!
“Graceful Isolation” came out late last year in December of 2021. You partnered with Kimberly of Bow Ever Down for a couple of the tracks. How did you meet Kimbely? What was it like working with her?
Dave: Kim is awesome! It just so happened she had done a track with Microwaved that I liked a lot and Gabe from that project is a good buddy of mine. He made an intro and I showed her what I had been working on. When I first thought about working with a female vocalist, I was thinking about projects like Collide and Atomica- both of which are things I’m a huge fan of. Kim caught on to that, but pretty quickly she came back with approaches that took them to a new place. A good example of that is Poison in My Skin. She added a really dark element to it, just the lyrics along, but then the chorus’s repeat really drew elements like the organ out. Then we handed that to Assemblage 23 and his remix really played on that theme!
Graceful Isolation also contains a slew of remixes from the likes of Assemblage 23, MissSuicide, Microwaved, SpankTheNun, and more. How did you go about picking who was going to be on the album?
Dave: Remixes in general are really new ground for me. If I’d done remixes of my stuff, it’d be either me doing it or Gabe from Microwaved. Gabe and I were chatting about the tracks, and he suggested that I should see if some other artists would be interested in them since they’re pretty minimal and leave a lot of room for interpretation. Kim does a TON of remixes, so she was really encouraging as well. From there, between the three of us, we just started making a list of people we thought would be fun to have involved. Over the course of last spring and summer I got busy reaching out and seeing what’s what with everybody’s interest and availability. It’s a new pretty obscure project so I really had not idea what kind of responses I’d get. I don’t think my batting average was too bad at all. I didn’t really give people any instructions, I really wanted them to do whatever they felt would be cool. They don’t need notes from me to do what makes them tick. The end result is some pretty wild interpretations. Now Graceful Isolation spans a bunch of genres within a genre.
What is the overall theme on “Graceful Isolation”?
Dave: I called the Track Graceful Isolation because nobody was in the same room when we made it! Kim is in Maine, I’m in Chicago. The remixers are from all over the US and Europe. When I listen to the tracks Kim wrote, I hear a lot of themes of walking away from bad situations and being stronger for it. Her album that also came out last year called Let it Burn really touches on a lot of themes like that too. It’s funny because I didn’t really think about this until well after the album was out- but there was almost a bit of telepathy going on because when you listen to Kim’s tracks, that sense of walking away from something and being stronger for it are kind of esoteric in nature – they could apply to a job, or a relationship, or just a bad place. Mine is more about substances, but’s a variation on the same theme. I quit drinking last year after a long and storied career as a beer and whiskey guzzling Irishman. I don’t have any great rock bottom stories or anything like that—I’d just reached a point where I’d grown out of being that guy. But anybody whose given up drinking or smoking or whatever your vice happens to be knows it’s pretty daunting. I really wanted to say something about that feeling and also what I’d say to myself leading up to pulling the trigger on that decision having a few months on the other side. I think mine and Kim’s tracks are a lot alike in the sense that they both deal in being better off walking away from something.
Between both this project and The Derision Cult, what else do you have going on for 2022? Any other releases, singles, EPs, etc.?
Dave: Well Sys Machine will take a while to fire up again, but Kim and I are talking about ideas! My main focus this year is on the next Derision Cult project. I’m really excited about that. I’m working with Sean Payne from Cyanotic and Conformco on it. So far, we’ve got demos we’re working through, but I’m really excited about that. He’s bringing this sort of old school Wax Trax feel to my thrash metal-ish things and taking the production to a whole new level. I’ve also got some other collaborators we’re talking to that- if it all comes together- will really make that a cool project. My dream scenario would be to have that available by the end of the year. In the meantime, I’m playing guitar on a few things here and there.
As a quick mention, you’ve also released a huge collection of songs from 2016 to 2020 titled “Beta Versions”. Do you consider these to be demos? Or do you feel fonder of them?
Dave: Yeah! So, I’ve been doing some housekeeping on both Derision Cult and Sys Machine. 2021 really felt like a new beginning on both projects. I put real effort into promoting them – especially Sys Machine and I’d spent the past – shit 8 years tinkering away by myself just doing my thing. Those Eps to me kind of represent what it took to get to this spot. I didn’t necessarily want to wipe the slate or throw it all away, but I thought it was kind of silly to have 15 of these EP’s and what not on Derision Cult that people getting into what I’m doing this year would be sort of overwhelmed. So, I made it easy for people if they want to check out all those things and that’s what Beta Versions is. It adds up! There are 47 tracks there of various instrumental and sometimes vocal electronic tracks. I did the same thing with Derision Cult for everything before 2020 called Prior Machines and that’s 95 tracks and remixes I did over a 6-year period. The artwork for both were done by Greg Rolfes of Eleven 12 design. It’s funny you say demos because I don’t necessarily think of them that way in the traditional sense, but I think that’s kind of what they are compared to where I’m at now.
Lastly, I’d like to thank you for your time and I wish you the best of luck! I leave the space below free for you to mention anything else of note.
Dave: You can check out all the videos for Sys Machine, as well as Derision Cult and all my acoustic stuff on my YouTube Channel. I’m adding stuff there quite a bit on the acoustic/alt-country front too if you’re so inclined.
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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