Chupacabra’s music comes from the heart – that is, the part of the individual that is between the mind and the gut. Working without an established template, the songwriter finds and applies sounds in a unique organization specifically to reflect a profoundly idiosyncratic perspective on existence. This is a risky move: Most musicians are content to operate within an established paradigm, adapting to the constraints and handicaps offered by the genre that produces music with which they most closely identify. To abandon paradigm altogether and strike out on one’s own, neither with nor against the current but out of the river itself, is quite bold. But for Chupacabra, it is completely natural. Take a listen to this musical example of what Jung called “individuation”; the process that unifies the unconscious and the conscious, completing a powerful circuit through which ancient genetic memory is filtered and refined by real-time intelligent planning and analysis.
First, where are you from? Does your locality influence your music in any way?
I was born in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, but my family moved to the small rural town of Tølløse (population: Around 3000) soon after I turned one, and that is where I grew up. It is also the town where most of ‘The Abject’ was conceived and recorded. I’ve been living in Copenhagen for the last 10 years or so, but I still prefer to go back to ‘the middle of nowhere’ whenever it’s time to do creative work.
My hometown has been a mayor influence on my music in two ways, the first being the most obvious one: Namely that I began my initially crude audio-experiments as a direct way to counter the feelings of boredom and alienation that went with being an outsider and general weirdo in a small-town environment as a teenager. The other is more subtle: A certain feeling that haunts the streets, and fields and forests surrounding the town, that I can only describe as vaguely nostalgia-tinted desolation. This general atmosphere is very inspiring to me, but it is hard to be more specific about why or how. It just is.
The music-video for ‘Of Human Hatred’ (co-created by Nanna Abell) is filmed in- and around Tølløse. I is in part an attempt to capture some of this feeling through visuals, and merge it with the music in an intuitive, non-linear ‘pulse’. It can be found on Youtube:
How did you come to appreciate music, and what motivates you to create your own?
My older brother introduced me to hip hop in the mid-90s, and it had a huge impact on me. Of course I couldn’t understand much of the lyrics, being only 8-10 years old and not a native English-speaker, but that didn’t really matter to me. What impressed me was the fact that certain albums had an entirely unique atmosphere and ‘feel’ about them. The effect could be almost hypnotic at times. I distinctly remember listening to ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 chambers)’ by the Wu-Tang Clan over and over, eyes closed, drifting off to endless atmospheric city-scapes in my mind, guided by nothing but the gritty sound of beats, layered dissonant samples and rhythm of recitation. It was magic.
As I grew I gradually got into different musical styles: Mainly metal (by means of a horde of horrendous nu-metal-acts like Korn, Slipnknot, Mudvayne etc.). Through the internet I discovered the more serious stuff, and by the time I was 15-16 (around the time I started Chupacabra) I was heavily into the Norwegian black metal-bands, mainly Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone and Emperor. These bands had the magic as well, albeit in a wholly different form: They resonated with me in way that I would definitely call spiritual, stirring emotions and mental imagery to life that I had no idea existed or were even possible, and yet at the same time felt oddly familiar – like an experience suddenly triggering a memory long forgotten.
Later still came an interest in industrial bands like Skinny Puppy, Einstürzende Neubauten, SPK, GGFH and Carbaret Voltaire, classical composers like Brahms, Nielsen, Wagner, Sibelius, Beethoven and so on, and even some jazz, like the works of Ornette Coleman, or ‘On the corner’ by Miles Davies.
What have always fascinated me are the artists who have the ability to create (and destroy) entire worlds through the pure suggestive arrangement of sound (lyrics being only of periphery importance), and the magic of exploring these worlds as a listener. My main motivation as a musician is to discover the potential worlds within my own peculiar way of arranging sound, and to invite others to explore these worlds on their own.
Why the name “Chupacabra”?
When the project was conceived back in early 2002, I initially went with the name ‘Till what’s left is gone’, but due to its excessive length (and excessive clumsiness as an acronym (TWLIG!)) the need for a ‘new’ name soon addressed itself. I chose Chupacabra without giving it much thought, having come across the name in a soft-porn’ish danish men’s magazine (‘M!’) in an article about conspiracy-theories, urban legends and modern myths. I found the story of the Chupacabra very strange and oddly funny, and I liked the sound of the word itself: Sort of flamboyant, exotic and mysterious (ABRACADABRA!). It stuck.
As time went on, the name gained a meaning of its own however. Like other folkloric creatures such as Aliens, the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, Sasquatch and so on, the Chupacabra inhabits a grey area between being and nothingness: Some people claim to have seen it, but there are no positively verified accounts, while others claim the very thought to be ludicrous and absurd, even though an outright falsification is impossible as well. On one hand it isn’t a ‘real’ creature like a cat, dog or man, but on the other it’s a real story, in the sense that it engages the imagination of enough people to keep the folklore alive to a degree, that even leads some people to believe – maybe even know? – that they’ve experienced actual encounters with the being.
As such the Chupacabra lives in a world that is analogous to the ones, that can be invoked through music. When I turn out all the lights, put on my headphones and spin ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas‘, ‘Too Dark Park’ or the third symphony of Brahms I of course do not physically leave this world – but I still experience something that lies beyond the plane of everyday existence, and even though it isn’t a ‘realistic’ experience in the sense of going to the mall, taking a dump or watching a Ken Loach-movie, it is still undeniably an experience, and as such, something real (the question of what the experience ‘technically’ consists in is another matter, of course). Furthermore, the sensations and realizations derived from a listening-experience are something that I can take back with me to the everyday world as inspiration and spirit, and in that sense make something real of it.
This process is what the name Chupacabra has come to symbolize for me. (As those ‘in the know’ can probably tell, my understanding of mythology and art owes a lot to the writings of C.G. Jung).
Do you draw from any stylistic influences or do you simply generate music from your imagination?
Stylistically, I rely on my imagination and whatever means I have to make the music happen. Other than that, it’s all subconscious. Maybe some of the vocal-layering in ‘Unto the Pure’ and ‘Angel’s Trumpet’ is inspired by the Beach Boys.
It is typical for metal songs to express a human-emotional reaction, as well as a physical situation, and ultimately these interactions together, to describe an event in a sort of historic-narrative way. However, your music is more like an event itself: Rather than a recounting an experience, one simply experiences. Is this intentional or just how it happened to come about?
It depends on where you draw the line between intention and intuition.
Chupacabra is always intuitively composed in so far as I never think about what I desire to express, but rather try to step back and let the music come on its own accord. In other words: It isn’t about me, or what I want to ‘say’ – it’s about the music, and what it expresses (or perhaps gives expression to): How it moves, rises and falls, pulsates, streams, murmurs, loves and loathes. Sometimes this is linked to a certain mental image, or ‘scene’, but more often than not, I follow a far less tangible chain of amorphous feelings and ‘shapes’, and it usually takes me quite some time to figure out, exactly what a track means to me, even if it has been finished for a while.
That being said, the process of composing isn’t random at all: I invest a great deal of time and deliberation in augmenting individual sections, crafting undercurrents of dissonance, harmony, tension and resolution (‘sub-plots’), and I always make sure that there’s a certain melodic continuity – if ever so subtle or obscure – running through a track from start to finish. There must be flow between individual sections, and there must be a set of thematic focal-points in order for the music to remain interesting and engaging. There needs to be some sort of order or logic to the musical process. Whether this is immediately apparent, or only reveals itself upon repeated listens doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s there, as I believe that this is ultimately what separates good music from the not-so-good.
To sum up my approach, I try to make intention and spontaneity work together, but in a way where intention – or conscious will – is always subservient to the intuitive principle. In praxis this means a step-by-step approach to composing and recording (which I do at the same time), where I turn off my mind when it’s time to start off a track, or begin a new section, and just come up with something – a rhythm, melody, chord-progression or even just an ambient texture – that resonates with me at the time, and then turn my mind back on, go back and start fleshing out accompanying voices, rhythm etc. to deliberately underscore and enrich the direction taken. When a section feels satisfactory to me, I step back and listen to the totality of the track in progress (many times) until I catch a glimpse of some sort of bigger picture or general direction emerging through the sound, and when I have obtained a feel for this, I turn my mind off again, and let this ‘general feel of direction’ serve as a basis for further spontaneous sonic exploration. This procedure is repeated until the track let’s me know that it is complete – and the final picture is always vastly different from what I thought it would be in the beginning, or at the intermediary steps.
I believe that it is this approach, that ultimately gives the music the character of unfolding experience, that you speak of – perhaps because the process outlined above is somewhat analogous to the process of experience itself: The interaction of the ordering faculties of a willful mind (ie. a mind ‘charged with intention’) and the more mysterious movements of reality beyond the mind, coming together to form the totality of the world as we perceive it. Either way, the end result isn’t a clear cut product of intention or intuition, order or chaos, but rather an attempt to strike a balance between two opposing forces. Likewise with the compositional method itself. It arose organically: Part order, part chaos – part intention, part chance.
Your choice of instrument voices creates an engaging fusion of tones and timbres. Do you work from a template or do you hand-select each voicing as you see fit?
I hand-select each voicing in accordance with the feel of an individual track, but that being said, there are a lot of overlaps between the melodic voices used across on the album. Furthermore, all the voices derive from the same source, so I feel that there is some continuity to the sound, even though it is pretty varied.
The percussion throughout “The Abject” is uniquely employed. Rather than keeping the backbeat for the rest of the music to play over, it emphasizes or augments critical moments in the rhythm, denoting shifts in feel or punctuating crescendos. Why use a traditional rock drum set sound for this?
Interesting you should ask this, since it is something that I’ve asked myself as well.
The biggest strength of the rock drum-sound is also its biggest weakness, namely ‘the bounce‘: It is very easy to create a satisfying groove with rock-drums, but with it also comes the perpetual temptation to just lock into that groove, and exploit it for all it’s worth, thus forgetting to develop melody and harmony, and as an end result produce music that is superficially appealing and ‘catchy’, yet substantially hollow.
When I began work on ‘The Abject’ (back in 2005) I knew from the beginning that I wanted to have at least some ‘big beats’ on the record, and I still believe that they play a meaningful part when they appear momentarily on some of the tracks (during the chorus of ‘Unto the Pure’, for example, as an anchoring counterweight to the somewhat foggy, airy layered vocals). But soon I realized that I often found it more interesting to break up the groove, and let the rhythm dissolve into augmentation, as it made room for a more free-form approach to melodic and harmonic expression not having an incessant enslaving ‘bounce’ running in the background at all times.
So to answer your question, I choose the rock-sound because it was the best vehicle for a certain type of beat that I knew from the beginning that I wanted to employ, but during the work I gradually realized that there were a host of other rhythmic possibilities perhaps better explored by other means. I choose to stick with my initial decision though, because I still felt that it served its purpose, but it is not at all unlikely that future Chupacabra-material will include exploration of wholly alternative rhythmic expressions.
What is the purpose of the voice sample in Unto the Pure? Reciting the names of men who achieved infamy for how many people they killed reminds the listener of the insensitivity to bloodshed that a psychopath may become accustomed to, but this notion seems to run counter to the more melancholic and introspective sensitivity of the music itself.
It started off as an intuitive thing: I liked the sound of the sample over the ‘rolling’ piano in the beginning of the track, as a way of building up to the melody ‘tightening’ into rhythmic chords.
The voice on the album is not the voice of the original sample, by the way. The wording comes from Bob Larson, the wildly alarmist American Christian radio talk-show host cum entertainer, whom some metal-heads may know from his mid-90s interviews with Glen Benton, or from the voice-sample in the end of Zyklon-B‘s ‘Warfare‘. The original sample (which stems from the same set of interviews with Boyd Rice as the one used by Zyklon-B) was delivered in this urgent tone of pure outrage, that I simply found to be extremely funny, and that was probably why I chose to use it initially.
As the track fleshed out musically and lyrically, I became more interested in the actual content of the words, however. More specifically the ‘but to others’-part: The notion that these men, Manson, Hitler and Dahmer, all universally recognized symbols of evil, could also be understood as symbols of certain, perhaps forgotten virtues from an alternative perspective to that of ‘most Amerikans’.
This tied into the lyrical theme of the song in a strikingly ambivalent manner, the concept having its origin in a quote from the New Testament: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Titus 1:15). For what is purity? To be like ‘most Amerikans’ and self-assuredly condemn certain people as defiled and evil, thus – to paraphrase Manson – to see yourself as virtuous through the branding of others as the opposite? But then, all things clearly aren’t pure to you, as your own perceived purity depends on being unlike the defiled ‘others’… So what does it really mean to be pure, in the sense that all things are pure? Is purity, on the other hand, to become like the infamous, and go beyond the confinements of normal morality, because ‘everything is permitted’? Or is this to become completely defiled in mind and conscience to a point, where everything you say, do, touch and feel becomes corrupted?
How can all things even be considered pure in the first place? Does the very notion of purity not entail some concept of defilement, from which it differs? And so on, and so forth…
It’s a paradox deeply embedded in the Christian religion (whose central deity, Jesus himself, was condemned as a criminal and sentenced to death, ie. branded as a defiled spirit while he was alive), and the track turned out to be a meditation on this paradox, hence its introspective nature.
I overdubbed the sample with the more neutral, but also somewhat eerie informal voice, first of all to avoid any risk – if ever so slight – of ever running into any copyright-related problems, and second to replace the alarmist intonation of the original with a more open and less suggestive one.
Toward the end of the album, the instrumentation takes on a somewhat haphazard, unstructured character, though it graciously never devolves into outright cacaphony. Are any of the leading melodies there improvised or are they all carefully arranged to achieve that sensation of chaotic interaction?
I assume that you are primarily thinking of ‘Plateau Sigma’, so that’s the track I’ll specifically comment on.
With the process of composing outlined above in mind – striking a balance between intuition and intention – this track is clearly the one where spontaneity reigns the most unrestricted. Furthermore, there is no beat at all, so the melodic voices are set completely free to dance and wander as they please. I think this is what gives the track its slightly haphazard feel: It isn’t exactly improvisation, but it’s not exactly calculated either. What I did was allow individual voices to take turns formulating the spontaneous melodic lead, with the others falling behind in more deliberate (or thought out) supporting roles. Thereby, an effect of a ‘non-material flow’ was achieved, where the musical momentum isn’t ‘locked’ in a particular voice, but can rather manifest itself in one voice at one time, withdraw, and then reappear in a different incarnation, creating a sense of a constantly shifting point of equilibrium.
It is not unlikely that this technique will be explored further on future Chupacabra-material, though it is still too early to say exactly how it would be utilized (and to what end).
What do you hope listeners will take away from hearing your music?
An experience. Wonder.
And you can check into Chupacabra on Facebutt.
The artist behind Chupacabra is also currently working under the moniker Intet, and plans to release a full-length album of a more ambient and beat-oriented nature called “Selv” sometime in early 2017.