Darkwave Interview

Zsolt, first of all I would like to wish you happy Holidays and a happy New Year!
I thought it might be interesting to interview you. I would like to ask you about your project “Darkwawe”, which I find interesting and valuable!
Instrumental metal is quite rare in this country, which can make the world of Darkwawe even more interesting. What is your opinion on instrumental music? What is it that can make it better or more interesting than the usual guitar-based music with vocals?

First of all, I would like to wish you happy Holidays and a happy New Year too – and thank you for the opportunity to talk about my music!
Experimenting with instrumental music has always been a risky business. As both the receptive and cognitive activities of human consciousness as well as music itself are essentially organized along vocal/verbal information, instrumental music represents a departure from both the foundations of music evolved from the sounds of human speech and the essence of human communication and information exchange, i.e. the conscious content conveyed by spoken sounds. Although musical instruments have already been used since the Middle Ages, their function was mainly to amplify or replace polyphonic vocal parts and to provide musical background for dance. Therefore, there hardly exist any surviving sources of purely instrumental music from before the 15th-16th centuries – experiments of this kind proliferated only from that point on. As the great risk (but also the great potential) of instrumental music is that it forgoes the transmitter functions of verbal information, it chooses another route by trying to act directly on emotions and the less easily evocable segments of the mind. This is certainly a serious challenge, but it is also an invitation to a different kind of musical experience, in which the listener may gather radically new experiences and sensations.

I think that instrumental music can be taken onto a higher level than the music performed with vocals, provided that the performer does a correct job. To do so, one obviously needs to master an eligible level of guitar skills. Consequently, you started doing something that is not very easy to achieve. How big did you consider the challenge when you started this all? What was the most difficult task for you? How quickly did you learn the electronics and stuff – because you do everything by yourself!

I think that there is no superior or subordinate relationship between vocal and instrumental music: when I told you that instrumental music is a kind of detour to the listener’s emotions alongside music performed with vocals, I meant it in a strictly juxtapositional way. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Good song lyrics or a decent vocal performance can add an awful lot to any piece of music, whereas a badly composed or performed instrumental movement can be immensely depressing, platitudinous, and boring. The choice between these two possibilities (both for a performer or a listener) is determined partly by personality (emotional and mental characteristics, upbringing, personality traits, past experiences, etc.) as well as circumstances and feasibilities. In fact, in the instrumental metal genre all the attention is focused on guitar playing, which can be a heavy burden. On the other hand, my commitment to instrumental music is not some kind of conscious, premeditated choice, but a kind of gradual understanding that this specific genre can provide the framework in which I may express my thoughts and feelings in the most honest way. Initially, I also tried to put lyrics into my music (I admit that sometimes I still write poems, which were originally intended as song lyrics…), but somehow I never felt that the lines of my poems belonged here, in this music. Something always got lost in the process of putting them together, and the final result felt artificial and mannered. Strangely enough, this is what proved to be the hardest part for me: I found it difficult to let go of experimenting with these lyrics, which were so important to me. Honestly, it was much harder than building the whole technique up from point zero. As I am not a technically inclined person, it was one of the greatest and most exciting adventures in my entire life to put together a very simple but fully functional home studio and (of course) to learn the basics of it. The learning process is still going on even now, years later: in addition to constantly updating my equipment and the software background behind, I recently started an online mixing-mastering course, which I hope will result in a sound far superior compared to the sound of the albums I have done so far, thus enabling me to better exploit the potential of instrumental music.

So, the task is to reach a certain level that expresses more than the music with vocals – a more noteworthy level that doesn’t make you feel like you need a voice there…

I think that good instrumental music defines itself precisely by not trying to compensate for some perceived or real deficiency (the lack of vocals) with some kind of extra performance, but by creating a complete and unified whole in itself in a creative, positive way. Obviously, most of us have been socialized in a way that the direction and dynamics of a song are basically dominated by the vocals, and the instruments can emerge from the accompaniment only during the intros, solos, etc. I used to translate it to myself as “having a pretty definite idea of what usually happens” in a metal song – and this idea is based on our previous observations and experiences. However, these expectations are not always fulfilled in instrumental music: in the absence of the information and structure conveyed by the vocals, the instruments are given a great opportunity to come forth and represent a force that can transmit feelings and moods in a different way, e.g. without words.

Now I’m going back far away in time. I read in your description that you picked up your first guitar around the age of 8 or 9 and got hooked on it. What immediately occurred to me here is that a lot of time has passed since then and it was not that long ago when you started realizing Darkwawe. Weren’t you involved in making music of this kind before? Is this the first project where you started to present your guitar skills? Why did you waste your time until now? Have you ever wondered how much different it would have been if you’d started it – for example – 10 years ago?

Of course, I think about it a lot, but unfortunately (as in everything), reality has overridden what could have ideally happened. The fact is that I’ve been playing the guitar for a long time, and of course I’ve tried several times to put together some kind of a band and a demo recording – but for all sorts of reasons these attempts never turned out the way I would have liked. On one hand, I lived abroad for years due to my job (which obviously made it necessary to re-prioritize certain aspects of my everyday life), and I tend to put off making major decisions, too. On the other hand, it’s also true that I work more easily and freely on my own, even if it requires a disproportionate amount of energy and effort compared to sharing tasks with others and playing in a band. This (of course) presupposes the availability of the technical background for home recording, which until recently was not readily available – simply because of its cost. Although I could work with an early version of Cubase (the software I use to record, mix, and master my music) already in the early 2000’s, the storage capacity of an average personal computer back then simply didn’t allow me to make recordings of any decent length and quality. Then the price of computers and technology dropped drastically, so a few years ago I could put together a simple but fit-for-purpose home “mini-studio”. Obviously, it would have been better to start recording music earlier, but I’m not dissatisfied either, despite the many years of delay: I’m just quietly happy that I could finally realize the dream I’ve been having since my childhood.

So, you first appeared in the summer of 2021 with the album “Hexapla”. Listening to it, one can get a largely diverse thrash guitar playing, but still, a progressive overall musical picture! Furthermore, I feel a kind of melancholic, sad mood in it – in some places one could even call it a ballad. One can also get abruptly eruptive, catchy melodies from you. The overall picture changes a lot even within a single song. Furthermore, there are symphonic and electronic parts, too. Sometimes we gallop, sometimes we mourn. What exactly is it – what do these waves contain?

Thank you for seeing it that way – “waves” is indeed an apt term for those complex emotional states I try to express in my music. Hexapla is conceptually composed of six distinct, yet coherent moods, and it seemed to me a good idea to pick up the title of the monumental work by Origen from around 200 A.D. to describe it (however, obviously without the specific theological content). The author has juxtaposed the translations of the Christian New Testament – the most controversial text in the world at the time – from six independent translators: the title “Hexapla” represents the essential unity of the six texts (in my case, the six moods), while the six song titles represent the names of the six translators: the diversity that can always be find in unity. Musically, I have tried to build up the album primarily on old school thrash basics, but without tying my own hands too much. I’ve always been attracted to multicolored musical entities that stretch out genre boundaries and at the same time show unsettling characteristics – for example through that melancholic mood you just mentioned, or by the monumentality of epic, symphonic interludes. I tried to summon something like that in these six movements: I wanted to take my listeners on a wild but emotionally diverse and captivating journey. The images of the journey may sometimes be saturated with colors of bitterness and sorrow, but they also hold the promise of certain release and hope. As Virgin Black – a band I hold in very high esteem – once poignantly summed it up: “All is lost but hope”.

Hexapla was followed quite quickly by its remastered version, which resulted in an overall much better quality. Since it was happening in such a short time frame (less than 2 years from recording and less than 1 year from release), the question arises why it wasn’t released in this form? What exactly happened?

When Hexapla was finished during the summer of 2021 – after about one year of work – I felt that I had brought out the most of my possibilities. There were compromises, of course, too: I replaced the bass guitar lines with software-generated bass sounds, and I concluded that I couldn’t polish the final sound of the recordings any further. Since I’ve always considered Darkwave as a kind of continuous learning process, I didn’t mind that too much: I just drew a line and let the album go. At the same time, of course, I started recording new songs and experimenting with different guitar and bass sounds. In the meantime, I became more aware of the possibilities offered by sound engineering and found that the bass themes on the recordings of the original Hexapla were pushed too much in the background, and I also had a lot of new ideas on how to further polish the mix. If I had consciously planned the release order of each album, I would certainly have given myself some time to rethink the original sound of Hexapla. Unfortunately (or fortunately…), I know myself: I would have experimented with new mixes for years, but since I wouldn’t have possibly liked any of them, I would have had to start from point zero each time. In the case of Hexapla, I didn’t want this endless cycle to begin: by the time I reached the point of trying to rework the original recordings, the album had already been available everywhere for months. I, however, wanted to present the remastered version too, so I thought the release of the remastered Hexapla would be a good prelude to the release of Missa Innominata (the second album), scheduled for the first half of summer 2022.

We received the follow-up album “Missa Innominata” relatively quickly, on the 1st of June this year. There is a clear sense of progress in it. The themes have become even more elaborated, and you’ve eventually strayed in slightly different directions, too – but as you wrote, you don’t really set yourself any limits. Could you talk about what kind of values do you think this release has?

Thank you – I really appreciate you saying it, and I’m glad you see it that way! Conceptually, Missa Innominata (the Ancient Latin words for “Untitled” – or more precisely “Nameless” – Mass) was my attempt to touch on something that many people consider to be very traditional and deeply rooted in the European culture (especially in its sacred aspects), and consequently has a lot of preconceptions and expectations attached to it, too. For the Catholic Church, the Mass is the central mystery of the faith, and there have been several provisions on the principles according to which music (and within it, the Mass, with all its components) may be presented in the official life of the Church. Yet, thousands of composers have written masses over the centuries, and more or less all of them broke with the traditional Gregorian or folk-song-based official mass canons, reflecting the composers’ own experiences and insights at least as much as the Church’s own views and expectations. Some saw this as an opportunity for artistic freedom, while others saw it as mere sacrilege – especially if you consider that in my case it is metal, a highly divisive genre (and what is more, an extreme version of it!) that tries to peek behind the curtain of the “sacred” from the direction of the “profane”. But on the one hand, I didn’t write official worship music for the Church (being an instrumental album, it would anyway have been an absurd attempt…), and on the other hand, I believe that with respect and good will anything can (and should) be approached. Musically, I tried to achieve it by sticking to the thrash metal basics and by trying to express the original character of the different movements (e.g. the more tragic and uplifting features of Kyrie or Agnus Dei, or the more relaxed, sometimes even ecstatic character of Gloria and Sanctus) using the sound of musical instruments exclusively. To achieve this, I really had to make more decisive forays into other genres (especially symphonic music) than I did with Hexapla. Therefore, the movements of Missa Innominata contain several orchestral interludes in addition to the old school thrash riffs, and sometimes I even tried to include the toolbar of neoclassical metal, too. Despite this constant experimentation, I have tried to structure the music in such a way that it expresses the inner emotional elements that are associated with these movements for me as accurately as possible.

For my part, I am completely satisfied with the guitar playing. I, however, had to get used to the drum machine in some extent. Have you thought about a live drum sound, maybe even using the help of a guest musician? How much do you think it would change the overall picture? How successfully would you be able to work with a drummer? Or wouldn’t you want to hear a single note from anyone else 🙂 ?

I, of course, thought a lot about what I could do with the drums’ somewhat mechanical and sterile sound. But I had neither the means nor the contacts to apply a guest musician for the recordings, so I had to solve the problem again in my own way, at the price of some compromises. Working alone has its advantages: one of which is that you have complete freedom to realize your own musical ideas without having to constantly consult with others. However, it also means that the full responsibility for the finished work rests on your shoulders. Obviously, as a guitarist, I will never be as skilled in terms of drums (or even in drum programming) as a well-trained drummer who professionally masters his own musical instrument. But on the other hand, I was driven by the same motivation as when Hexapla was released: I did not want to make the release of Missa Innominata dependent on any external circumstances beyond my control. Therefore, I was happy to pay a certain price for the album release, namely that my skills and the available sound equipment could only produce a drum sound that wasn’t able to fully represent what I had in mind. However, things have changed a lot since then: I recently bought a new virtual instrument that provides a much more realistic drum sound than the previous ones did – I’m going to use it to produce drum sounds on the new album, and by doing so, I expect to considerably improve the sound quality.

You mentioned that you appeared on the charts of one or two streaming sites, which I’m sure you were very happy about. Can you describe in words how that made you feel?

To be honest, it’s hard to sum it all up in a few words, because there were so many different – even conflicting – feelings stirred up in me back then. The first one was (a pleasant) astonishment. I have no idea on what basis are these charts compiled, as the number of streams for instrumental thrash metal (being the extreme edge of a niche music…) probably doesn’t count for much. But anyway, someone, for some reason, decided that my music was worthy of attention – and it’s an indescribable feeling! An introvert like me basically has two types of fears in this regard: one is being noticed, while the other one is not being noticed. When Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings, he expressed this ambivalent state of mind perfectly: “I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.” But he possessed a desire to publish his work nonetheless, and in doing so he presented us a piece of art that almost all of us are familiar with. I feel somewhat the same: I am almost chasing myself to release new music in the shortest possible time frame, but at the same time I am also terribly anxious about its reception. Feedback, however, always helps (yes, even the negative feedback, too!), because if someone pays honor to me by presenting me his or her opinion on my music, then the greatest gift of music – communication between people on a qualitatively different level – has already come into reality.

Looking at your website, social media, and other streaming sites, you seem to absolutely focus on foreign countries. To what extent have you tried to get into the media or make any contacts for progress here at home?

There’s a great meme that explains – using the axes of a coordinate system – that for lesser-known musicians, the revenue (or any other completely irrelevant parameter on the X axis) remains close to zero, but the number of streams on Spotify by family and friends (Y axis) rises very high. I felt somewhat like this when I tried to build up the website and the social media attached to it: I had no marketing strategy in my mind as to who exactly I wanted to reach. I must admit that I’m not very good at these sorts of things. So, I didn’t try to write posts for a fictitious, targeted audience, but for real people I knew: people who had somehow connected to me from the very beginning. As many of them don’t speak Hungarian, it was evident that I have to write the entries in English. If I may say so, the small virtual community around Darkwave got organized and developed in a kind of organic way – via dear friends and acquaintances who found my music worth listening to, and sometimes even passing on to others. I am infinitely grateful to them: although I know that marketing and promotion should play an important role in my everyday life as an independent artist, still, it is an unknown, strange, and threatening area for me. Therefore, I mainly focus on the website (which serves as a kind of communication hub for me), but still, I know that I have a lot of networking and promotion duties ahead of me.

As far as I know, you are interested in and attracted to melancholic things and books full of sadness or tragedy. These things clearly inspired you, as one can feel it in the music. How can we envision your songwriting process? What are your experiences, when do you come up with the best themes? At what time are you the most creative?

Yes, I have always been deeply touched by the personal tragedies that lay in the center of human destinies, regardless that they are told by the language of literature or music. It is not really the tragedy itself that captivates me in these works, but the human heroism that – despite the tragedies – transcends the eventuality of the world and life by fulfilling something higher, thereby bringing meaning and surplus into a reality that often seems meaningless and mundane. I usually write music at night, when there is silence and stillness in the world outside and in me. At these times I pick up the guitar and try to record ideas depending on my mood. Of course, I throw out 90% of these ideas next day, but the essence always remains. Then I add the bass themes, the symphonic and other inlays, while I tidy up the drum patterns (which I only sketch out beforehand) only at the end of this process.

It’s quite easy to spot your love of Lacuna Coil, because you have a tattoo on your arm. What does it mean to you? Why are you such a big fan?

In fact, there are already two tattoos by now – the band’s logo has recently been added below the Ancient Latin introductory words of Veneficium. Cristina Scabbia once described Veneficium (a track from their latest album) as “a painful and passionate cry from the darkness” – and perhaps this phrase is the key to what Lacuna Coil’s deeply emotional, yet heavy and progressive music impregnated with tragedy and beauty means to me. These are the very elements that I always look for in music and touch me the most: Lacuna Coil have perfected this blend on their last few albums, especially on Black Anima.

What else do you like to listen to? Could you name your favorite guitarists? Would you like to show them your work and ask them to review it?

The music of Nevermore (especially their Dreaming Neon Black album), and the riff work and the overall haunting atmosphere of the early Mercyful Fate and King Diamond albums are also very close to me. However, my biggest inspiration ever is (maybe surprisingly) not a guitarist, but the late Jon Lord, the former keyboardist of Deep Purple, whose lifelong work could be summarized as a kind of endeavor towards a synthesis across genres and eras. This approach appears to me as the development of music into a boundless, genre-transcending entity – in which, of course, the central core is formulated by all one of us, according to our own personalities. Besides Lacuna Coil, my favorite contemporary bands are Once Human, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Psychotic Waltz, Voivod, Spiritbox, Draconian, Virgin Black etc., and my favourite guitarists include Tony MacAlpine, Trey Azagthoth, Daniel Mongrain, Andy LaRocque, Jeff Loomis, Steve Morse or even John Sykes. I’d give half of my arm for the opinion of any of them, but then I really don’t know what I’d have left to play the guitar… 🙂

Is it possible that you will show your skills live at some point? Do you think a live performance would be feasible?

I would actually love to play live, but I suspect that it’s not very realistic at the moment. For an independent artist, the only easily available platform for a live performance is YouTube and social media – but I must admit that playing in the absence of an audience has little appeal to me: it’s impersonal and sterile. So, I rather try to concentrate on coming up with new – and preferably even better – music, based upon my experiences with the first two albums.

If I am not mistaken, you are already writing songs for the third album! When will the new album be released? What changes can we expect?

I already have material recorded on my computer roughly for another full-length album – but this time I want to give myself more time before I come up with the final version. First, I want to polish and fine-tune the recordings I’ve already made and give them a sound that better expresses the mood I think the new material should have. Therefore, realistically speaking, I dare not promise to come out with a final version before the middle of the next year. There are two major things that will probably change: I’m already experimenting with a much thicker guitar sound than I used so far (which of course required an upgrade on my guitar pickups: I changed them to better sounding ones), while at the same time I hope that the whole album will sound heavier and more somber. This time I’m experimenting with a slightly darker, more depressing sound, where oppressive, sometimes downright dissonant harmonies will play a slightly more prominent role than before.

Do you think you will ever experiment with vocals? Is there anything else you would like to try?

Being an independent artist is a good thing because I don’t have to face the expectations and obligations that so often weigh on musicians signed to record labels. I don’t want to cut off the possibility of anything that might help me in the future to better articulate and express my feelings and moods. However, it is for sure that I am basically a guitarist and the natural process of shaping my music occurs through guitar themes and harmonies. If I ever concluded that the inclusion of vocals would help me better expressing the feelings and thoughts within me, then first and foremost I would utilize polyphonic choirs. I would also like to experiment with a more intense inclusion of the elements of electronic music.

Where would you rank yourself in terms of your guitar skills?

Guitar proficiency is a very complex concept with multiple meanings, both from the technical and emotional viewpoint. Obviously, I have always tried to master the basic techniques that are needed to play modern metal guitar music as much as I can, but I leave it to my listeners to judge, how successful I have been at it. For me, the most important thing is whether the songs I write and play reflect the emotions and state of mind I was in, when I wrote them. Obviously – as mathematicians say – a certain knowledge on the instrument is the “necessary but not sufficient” condition. It is, therefore, equally important that the music should represent our inner reality the most accurate and honest way. As Oscar Wilde once said: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” As far as I see, anyone who wants to create something truly unique in today’s music scene must first and foremost represent this inner reality in the truest way possible, because it is the only thing that is completely inimitable. Everything else is a matter of practice, time, determination, and money. If we look at guitar playing this way, I am hopefully somewhere in the middle of an ongoing process of development.

When do you consider a day successful? What kind of experience do you need to feel so?

Like everyone, I put a lot of energy into my work, but luckily, I’m engaged in something that allows me to spend both my free time and this part of my day in a creative environment (I work as a neuroscientist for the research division of a pharmaceutical company). Also, my hobbies are concentrated around the most creative thing for me: music – I go to concerts, listen to music, and play the guitar. For me, these are the activities that I can really find relaxation in.

It is possible to evoke many-many pleasant moments in music lovers with the sound of the guitar. I think you can do it and it will be worth listening to you. Thanks for your answers!

I thank you for the opportunity to talk about my music!


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