Opening for Peelander-Z at Club Dada on Hallowe’en, local favorites Urizen entertained the audience at the Deep Ellum nightspot with their heavy hard rock tempered with 8-bit Nintendo-style synth sounds. Dressed in science fiction-inspired “space suits,” and, initially, beaming lights from their goggles, the band beguiled the crowd with visual antics that included:
- Kinetically performing while wearing cardboard box helmets
- Foiling their arch-nemesis, an evil scientist (or is he a mad doctor?)
- Aiding an 8′ tall cardboard box robot defeat a giant inflatable one-eyed goo monster
Guitarist and singer Thomas Drinnen, keyboardist Daniel Drinnen, bassist Rustin Luther, and drummer Julio Escamilla are currently working on their third full-length release, with eleven of the planned fifteen tracks near completion. They announced a contest on their blog asking fans to guess the title, and say they have a winner, but prefer to withhold the title for the moment.
Urizen have just sent exclusive audio for Mercury Photo Bureau readers only! The excerpt from The Final Conflict, still in rough form, features a temporary sequenced percussion track and no vocals; we hope it will whet your appetite for the forthcoming album!
Brothers Thomas Drinnen and Daniel Drinnen agreed to an email interview last week.
Mercury Photo BureauPutting aside that Daniel and Thomas are [each other’s] brothers, how did you meet? … and when did Rustin enter the picture?
Daniel DrinnenThomas and I were living in Colorado back in 2001, where we had a band, but no drummer. In one of the weirdest twists of fate of all time, we drove all the way from Conifer, CO to Arlington, Texas to see a Dimmu Borgir concert and just happened to get there several hours before doors opened, right as a young local drummer named Julio was getting dropped off by his dad. We talked, hung out, snuck into the back of the venue so Julio could shake Nicholas Barker’s hand, and eventually started talking about music and bands and how we needed what Julio was offering. After the show […], Julio “auditioned” by mailing us a tape (a cassette tape!) of him playing Dimmu’s Kings of the Carnival Creation on drums. We recorded our parts on top of it, sent it back, and before long […] we were picking him up at a bus stop in Denver in the middle of a gay pride parade (not relevant, but worth mentioning).
As for our buddy Rustin Luther, he and I started our relationship by textually bashing and developing a hatred for one another on an old local metal forum called XtremeDFW.com (RIP). Rustin has been a musician in DFW for years and years, and somehow our online bickering turned [into] shared shows between our respective bands and eventually a very healthy working relationship between us and him. When two of our bandmates quit on us in late 2011, Rustin was the first in line asking to fill either of their spots. We all finally sat down in April 2012 and decided to bring that a**hole into the fold on bass, and it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Not only is he a great musician and onstage performer, but his former profession as a trucker and his resulting ability to drive for twelve hours straight makes him indispensable on those long road trips across the US!
MPBDescribe the band’s sound for some not familiar with the minutæ of metal music. Assume I’ve never heard of Dimmu Borgir or Solefald. [Sidenote: This would be a correct assumption.]
DanielWe’ve always struggled with this part, and not in a
we’re too unique to be labeled, maaaan … kind of way. Just in a
we’ve got a whole bunch of influences that don’t really fit together but still manage to work kind of way.
The easy description? Really heavy rock with electronic and orchestral influences.
The more complicated description? A mixture of heavy metal, hard rock, electronic, symphonic, and Nintendo-inspired sounds with clean vocals and lots of harmonies.
My favorite description? The balls of Rammstein strapped to the bodies of Devo with the brains of Type O Negative performing the live show of GWAR … with a robot.
Thomas DrinnenThe Solefald comparison is still so bizarre to me because none of us have [ever] listened to Solefald! […] They certainly wouldn’t show up on a list of influences. As for our sound, well, that is a bit tough to describe without a long list of influences[, which would definitely include] Dimmu Borgir.
Having been a part of the metal scene for many years, I have to say that I’m […] hesitant to call us metal […]. We have distorted guitars and some of our songs are undeniably metal, but it seems that we never quite fit in with the other bands in the metal scene. That notion does hold a bit of sadness for me considering that metal was an all-consuming interest of mine for years and years and, at times, I feel like we were rejected by the scene that really jump-started my passion for music.
[Putting it plainly], we are a no-holds-barred kind of band. If we like it, we’ll touch on it. We get inspiration from everything: bands we like, video games we like, movies, books, sports … just anything. Some of the elements we like to use include:
- clean vocals with multi-part harmonies
- distorted hard-rock/metal guitars
- any style of drums that fits a given song
- choirs, orchestral instruments, pianos
- video game sounds
- spoken-word style “voice acting” passages
- acoustic guitars
- sound effects
- humor, seriousness, action, depression … nothing is off limits!
MPBYou’ve put a lot of thought into the band’s promotional materials. The lighting and makeup for your promo photos is astounding, for an unsigned band. Who’s in charge of the look?
ThomasUrizen is just about as DIY as it gets. Daniel and I both know our way around a camera and have been using Photoshop for longer than I’d care to admit! As with almost everything we do, we just come up with an idea and figure out how to do it. That includes the promo material […].
DanielThomas and I really have the most control over the æsthetic of the band, which has changed a lot over the years, and will continue to change for as long as we’re pursuing this crazy dream. We’ve always been blown away by Rammstein and the way they’ve been able to present themselves a thousand different ways over the years and […] look amazing every single time. It’s very inspiring to see that it’s not only possible to reinvent your look several times over, but that it’s possible to do it without any […] limitations on what a certain type of band is […] “supposed” to look like. We’re always trying to keep things interesting for ourselves, and hopefully that carries over for the people who are watching us!
MPBThe song lyrics are not the usual rock & roll suspects. They’re mostly narrative, first-person; they tell stories about isolation and the end of the human race and delve into philosophical and existential topics. They also might, to some, seem like parody. one song (The Lonely Resident) employs a meter commonly associated with doggerel. I count two instances of the word “concurrently” and several clauses beginning with “nor” in various lyrics. Not common in rock lyrics, and indicative a certain grandiosity in the writing. Who writes the lyrics? Should I take them seriously?
ThomasI have written all of the lyrics so far. […] I’m very, very serious about the lyrics that I write, but that doesn’t mean that the tone of the lyrics will always be serious. Different subject matter calls for different kinds of lyrics. My biggest lyrical inspiration is Randy Newman […]. That might come as a surprise to some that only knows him from Toy Story or the asinine parodies that have been done of him, but I think the man is an undeniable genius. I often list In Germany Before the War as my favorite song of all time. It is just a masterpiece. The pacing of the lyrics … the absence of words at times … the musical choices. I just love it. [For the record, we agree whole-heartedly; if you haven’t heard this song, stop reading right now and use the link to buy this song on iTunes! — ed.]
The existential leanings in the lyrics are no accident either. Most of my favorite books are existentialist fiction. I especially like Camus and Kobo Abe. I’ve also read a lot on […] Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and absurdism […]. ’though I wouldn’t say that I subscribe to any philosophy or religion exclusively, my overall philosophy in life [hovers] around these kinds of [subjects].
And as for The Lonely Resident, the clue is right there in the title. The pacing and some of the music in that song was strongly influenced by […] The Residents. Listen to The Lonely Resident, then look up [The Resident’s] Picnic Boy […] and I think you’ll be able to hear the inspiration!
MPBTell me about the Boxmen.
ThomasThe whole Boxmen idea began with the Kobo Abe book The Box Man, and […] took on a life of its own. None of the songs referencing Boxmen are actually about the book, more just inspired by some of what I took away from reading it. A Boxman isn’t really anything too specific … in fact, as the lyrics say in Boxmakers, “we are all Boxmen” … in one way or another. I’d say that I kind of use the Boxmen idea to write about some of the more modern issues that we face as humans.
The song Boxmen was […] about how we sit behind these computer screens and start to feel like we’re actually seeing life through them, but it’s a bit of a farce. The thing is, it’s a safe way to view the world. You can have anonymity to be a d*ck if you want to. You can “travel” the world in just about the lamest way possible by watching videos and looking at pictures. You can stream live shows and get virtually none of what makes going to a concert great.
[…] It’s only really bad when you [accept] the internet versions as an […] analogue to the real thing. The moral of […] Boxmen is […] that you have to leave the safety of the computer screen […] and actually get out and experience life firsthand … dangers and all. The internet can be an amazing tool. It unites people and ideas [and] it makes it easier than ever to spread knowledge, art and information, but it can also be a huge detriment to the […] quality of your life [by becoming your] biggest excuse [for not doing anything with it]. The song works for whatever the distraction might be, not just the internet, but when I wrote the song that’s what I had in mind. Balance, of course, is really the key.
We plan on having more songs about the Boxmen in the future […].
MPBThe science fiction aspects of your presentation are right there to seen, but do I also detect a bit of steampunk in your performances and lyrics?
ThomasI’ve always wanted […] someone […] more well versed in fashion to work on our look and stage attire. As it is now, it’s still […] up to us. Unfortunately, a lot of what we do is very limited by our extreme lack of money. Let’s just say that [much] of our stage attire and props have origins at thrift stores and garage sales. Maybe in the future […] we will actually be able to have someone help us make some cool custom outfits.
DanielI’d say the steampunk style has probably influenced our look and performance, though mostly indirectly. I think our biggest æsthetic influences for stage attire are GWAR and Mad Max; we’ve always had this desire to look like some sort of cobbled-together warriors, but to give it more of a sheen than we’ve seen in the past.
MPBWhat’s the story behind the giant robot and the space slug goo monster? It seems to reference the tale of Ulysses and the Cyclops, but one online source mentions Cerberus.
DanielThe origin of the Robo-Goo battle is definitely not as … inspired … as some might hope. It came about more out of utility than anything else, asking ourselves,
What cool stage performance […] can we do [nightly] with a limited budget?
The robot we currently use is […] the second version we’ve had. The first was a lot more primitive; [it was] basically a big wooden box with giant PVC pipe arms. The Goo Monster came about because we wanted something giant and inflatable, and it was something that we could reasonably construct.
Since then, however, we’ve built quite a bit of lore around the two and why they battle, but […] that’s all explained in our forthcoming album, so you gotta wait for that business!
MPBI don’t recall seeing the “custom-created silicone conjoined twin creature” mentioned in your band bio at the Dallas show. Could you tell me about that? [Sidenote: It turns out I did see this; I just didn’t get any good pictures of it]
DanielThat’s just fancy speak to describe my Kuato-inspired [Sidenote: Kuato, a character in the 1990 film “Total Recall, is a deformed humanoid conjoined to his brother’s stomach.] stomach buddy, Danuato.
Our good friend, Jeremy Zick, actually sculpted Danuato freehand out of clay, and he and Thomas made a mold from that to create a silicone version, which was then painted, stuffed, mounted, and bearded hair-by-hair by my very patient wife. He’s 100% one-of-a-kind, and I love him like a brother. A conjoined twin creature brother.
MPBIs there an overall narrative to the mad scientist, the Boxmen, the robot, and the science fiction creatures? Apart from Boxmen, do any other songs reference the stage theatrics?
ThomasWithout giving too much away, a lot of this will be addressed in the next album and the accompanying stage show. The mad scientist is more of a means to an end right now; that character will change in the future to match some of the subject matter on the upcoming album. We would ultimately like to have these […] rock-opera style shows to accompany our music in the future. The problem right now is two-fold, though.
- Money. We don’t have much of it. We can’t really do the full production that we’d like […] with the amount of money we make. A lot of what we build is […] dependent on […] what clever way we can [use] cheap materials to make something cool. I spend a lot of time […] walking through Wal-mart and Home Depot looking at prices of materials and [thinking] of something cool I could make out of the cheap stuff.
- We aren’t really headliners just yet. We’re still building a name for ourselves and we play a lot of shows [opening for bigger bands]. Some people take a competitive tone [to opening], but we take that rôle very seriously. We want to make the whole show as good as possible, and that usually means that, as an opener, we need to bring a lot of energy and get the crowd primed and ready for the main attraction. As such we don’t play some of our slower songs and we don’t usually have the hour or two that it would take to really tell a complete story. As our popularity […] continues to grow, you can definitely expect bigger and more coherent live shows!
MPBThe band name appears to come from William Blake. Tell us about naming the band.
ThomasDaniel and I have been playing music together since high school. Our first band was called Dunwich Horror[…]. Dunwich was a theatrical black-metal band, and a lot of the first Urizen songs began there.
In 2001 I went away to art school in Kansas City. One of our assignments was to […] learn about [an artist] and […] make three pieces of art inspired by [him or her]. Right around the same time, I bought an album by a band called Ulver. The album was based on one of Willam Blake’s illuminated poems, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I was listening to this album a lot at the time, and when the assignment came up I decided to focus on William Blake. Naturally, in doing so, I came across the character of Urizen again and again.
After a year of art school, I decided that I really wanted to come home and pursue music instead. We would ultimately change our sound from black-metal to the more avant[-garde] metal style […] [featured on] autocratopolis, and, in making that change, we decided we needed to change the name of the band as well … and thus Urizen was born!
I started liking the name for a few reasons: First, I just liked the look and sound of the name (and was somehow oblivious to the idea that people would have such a hard time pronouncing it). […] I am a big fan of Ulver and I liked the idea of having a name that started with a U like them. […] I really liked the quirky nature of the name as it pertains to the character […] in Blake’s lore. Urizen […] represents the repression of […] art and creativity in [Blake]. He is the blind tyrant, Blake’s less than flattering representation of God. [Naming] a creative project after this character seemed both humorous and appropriate for us. […]
MPBWhat’s the strangest thing to happen to you during touring?
DanielNothing too wild […], but some things [stand out]:
- It rained so much when we played in St. Louis that it flooded the basement of the club (where we were playing foosball at the time). [We found] our room similarly flooded when we got back to the hotel. [Then] we discovered that there were no empty rooms for us to transfer to.
- All but one of the lugs on our rear passenger side van tire broke off during transit […]. We drove on this one-lugged tire for about seven hours before we noticed it, [but] we had no choice but to continue driving on it anyway […] Somehow we didn’t die.
- At a show in San Antonio with The Protomen, we littered drummer Reanimator Lovejoy’s [Sidenote: Drummer for The Protomen; has a reputation for climbing on top of things during shows.] kit with […] explicit hardcore gay pornography before [The Protomen] came back onstage for an encore. We later found our van plastered with the same porno pictures […]. I suspect Reanimator kept one or two for his own personal collection, ’though.
MPBWhat’s next for Urizen?
DanielEach year has been better than the last for us […]. I have no doubt that 2013 will be even better. It’s already shaping up to be […] a juggernaut. [We’ll be releasing] our new full-length album, which we’ve been working on for […] some time, and are extremely proud of […]. We’ll be on the road as usual, with an awesome west coast tour in February with Random (aka Mega Ran), dubbed the NES in the WEST tour. [Sidenote: The name is a nod to Urizen’s love of 8-bit sound, inspired by old Nintendo game consoles.] [We also have] a convention in April […], and much more on the horizon. There’s no stopping us now! Bigger and better; onward and upward!