Boxmen!

Urizen at Club Dada, Dallas — Hallowe’en

The Interview

Urizen Interview

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:

  1. Kinetically per­form­ing while wear­ing card­board box hel­mets
  2. Foiling their arch-​nemesis, an evil sci­en­tist (or is he a mad doc­tor?)
  3. 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.

Breaking News!

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!

Urizen — The Final Conflict (rough demo excerpt)

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, TX 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.This would be a cor­rect assump­tion.

Daniel
Daniel — Urizen at Club Dada, Dallas, Hallowe’en 2012

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.

Thomas (I)
Thomas (I) — Urizen at Club Dada, Dallas, Hallowe’en 2012

[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?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-​inspiredKuato, 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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’sDrummer 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.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!

— Chris J. Zähller

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About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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