Dysrhythmia is a three-piece instrumental, progressive metal band from New York City. They’ve been together for over 10 years – producing aggressive, complex – and frankly scary metal. I interviewed their primary songwriter and guitarist Kevin Hufnagel several months ago and am only now getting around to posting this. The timing is good however, since they’re embarking on a European tour in a week – here’s hoping the publicity is well-timed.
Yet again – I find this podcast veering out a bit from the mission statement to bring you “bands like Rush”. I won’t make you giggle by trying to argue for a Rush/Dysrhythmia similarity. Aside from dwelling in the same major genre of progressive rock – Rush and Dysrhythmia have little in common. The bigger point I make by including bands like Dysrhythmia in this podcast is that Rush fans who appreciate complex and challenging song structures, virtuosity and music that “grows on you” are going to appreciate lesser-known bands like Dysrhythmia. Expect more bands like this in the months ahead.
Ben: Why don’t you just start just giving where you guys are at now, where you feel you sit artistically and what your aspirations and a little bit about your history.
Kevin: Okay. Well, the band started with me and our original bass player whose name was Clayton Ingerson in August of 1998. We had pretty much written an entire album’s worth of stuff with just guitar and bass before being able to find a drummer during that summer where we got together for the first time.
So then, in March of ’99, we found our drummer, Jeff, who’s been going ever since then. Clayton left the band in 2004, and then Colin Marston joined on bass and we’ve been with him every since.
So, that’s been about 11 years now and we have five records, five full-length studio albums, and a couple splits and EPs and things. We’re already working on the sixth one. All three of us in the band do a lot of other things outside of Dysrhythmia musically.
Ben: Yeah? Like what?
Kevin: Our bass player, Colin, runs a recording studio full-time and he’s in a black metal band called Krallice. He plays in Gorguts who are an old death metal band that just reformed, and I also play in that band now too.
Ben: Gorguts? That’s some name.
Kevin: They started off as a brutal death metal band, but their third record was called Obscure. It came out in 1998. It was a huge influence on me as a guitar player because it’s a really weird record. You should check it out, actually.
Ben: Yeah, I will.
Kevin: It’s very interesting. It kind of goes beyond the metal in its ideas and stuff. It definitely takes aggressive music to a different planet. Gorguts, that was a band that had been around for a long time and really made a name for themselves in the underground, and then disappeared for a while. Now they’ve sort of re-emerged.
Strangely enough, the main guy behind that band was into Dysrhythmia and needed to replace the bass and second guitar slot in the reformation of the band, so he hired us. Me and Colin were already huge fans though. That happened about a year and a half ago we joined.
So, we’re working on a new record with that band. Colin and I also do another band called Byla which is more like ambient guitar stuff. Our drummer, Jeff, has a really cool progressive dark jazz trio called Zevious. So, we’re just all over the place.
Ben: Do you think Dysrhythmia is your main gig?
Kevin: That’s always been my main thing. But, I find that these days it’s healthier to do other things basically outside the band. It keeps it fresh, basically. I think, for a while, especially when we first signed to Relapse in 2003, the first record we put out with them was called Pretest. And that year, we toured probably five or six months out of the year.
So, that was a lot of touring. We were kind of on that path for a while; tour, tour, tour. Let’s tour. This is the only way to get people to really find out who we are. We did it that way for a while, but then you kind of get burned out. You kind of get tired of the music itself and each other.
I find it healthier these days to do other things too. I feel I need a way to balance it all. I think that’s why the band is still around now, going on over 11 years.
Ben: You took some time in between.
Kevin: Yeah, we give each other the freedom to do other things. I’m still totally, and we’re all still, totally into Dysrhythmia. We’re going to Europe in June. Things are still happening. We’re working on new material. It’s great, actually. It’s not like we’re going to hang it up or anything.
The band keeps growing still; very slowly because it’s the kind of music that’s just not going to catch on with a mainstream audience, but the audience is still slowly going upwards.
Ben: What’s the audience like? It is a real specific niche you guys are in. What do the critics call it; prog metal, alt metal? What’s the stupid term?
Kevin: I don’t know. People always debate about whether we’re a metal band or not. To me, metal is probably my first real love musically. So, I feel like there’s a part of me, anything I do musically, even if it’s an acoustic classical guitar piece or something, there’s always been a metal influence in there somewhere because that’s just a huge part of me.
But, actually, the goal with Dysrhythmia was never to be a “metal band.” But, over the years, the records just keep getting more and more intense, and more and more aggressive. And I think our live performances are a little more intense than listening to the studio records. It’s aggressive, but I still don’t think of it as really metal, though.
Ben: Yeah, I hear you.
Kevin: None of are concerned with trying to figure out what it is and calling it anything. It depends. It depends on the person’s background. People that listen to lots of prog rock that hear us will say we sound like lots of other prog bands that they listen to.
Our fan always come from more of, let’s say, in the punk and stuff. They hear Black Flag and stuff. It all depends on the person’s own background. Everyone hears something different, which I think is cool.
Ben: It’s true. I hear that. I’m a musician myself. I’m just trying to start out, versus you. I was still picking my naval in 1998 trying to find my way. It’s like when you have a baby. I don’t know if you have kids; I have two kids. I can’t tell my own resemblance in them.
I can’t tease out the influences in my own music, so I rely on other people. And it’s exactly right. I get things out of left field when I ask people, “What does my music sound like?” That’s true. It’s really what they relate to about their own tastes in your music.
Ben: I’m curious. You guys have been around a long time. Forgive me if this is prying, but I’m just curious for my own self, and maybe the fans would be, when we were arranging this call, you said your job at the hospital. I’m curious, you were saying you have a European tour coming up. One of your band mates runs a studio full-time.
I’m curious, do you guys spread your living across different musical endeavors plus stuff to plug the holes, to keep the living going; day jobs, etc? How do you guys manage the long-term? What’s your long-term goal and is where you’re at now it?
Kevin: Yeah, we all have day jobs. Colin’s really the only one that gets to actually do what he loves to do. That’s his real job. Me and Jeff have jobs. We’re just office drones or whatever. But, these jobs have let us, for years, come and go; go on tour for a month and a half, and then come back and still have a job.
Ben: Well, that’s great.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s great. To me, I’ve got to do what I love to do. I don’t care about – I could be making more money if I just stopped this band. I’ve been a temp for the past five years now living here in New York. I could’ve easily taken any of these jobs that were pretty well paying, and just worked there full-time, and gotten the benefits and all that stuff. But, I wouldn’t be happy, really, if I wouldn’t be able to get to tour, and take time off to make records and all that stuff.
Like I said, even with all the other music projects we do and everything, somehow – I don’t know how – but we’ve all been able to just balance all of those jobs, our personal lives, and other bands; just everything and still get by.
Ben: Where are you at in your album release cycle? You’ve got something new you were going to go on tour to promote?
Kevin: Yeah, we’ve already started working on some new songs and we’re hoping to get probably at least two of them ready to be performed by the time we leave in June. The way we work though, we’re not too concerned about putting out an album every year, even every two years. It takes as long as it needs to take.
For us, too, even after a song’s written, we’ll play it live for two years at least before recording it because even though the songs are very structured, and thought-out, and composed and rehearsed a lot in the rehearsal room, when we go out and play them live, lots of things happen spontaneously, especially with our drummer, Jeff, where he just kind of will change things around the spur of the moment just with what he’s playing on drums and stuff that will make the song even cooler.
I don’t know. I’m always afraid of recording songs too soon because there’s so many times you record a record and then, afterwards, you’re like, “Oh, we could’ve done that and that would’ve been so much cooler in that song.” Now, we really let the material…
Kevin: Yeah, mature. That’s a good word for it. Before we go out and record it and stuff. Realistically, I don’t think we’ll put out another album until 2011 or 2012 probably.
Ben: Oh, wow. That’s kind of counter to things these days, is it not?
Kevin: It’s crazy right now how business is changing and with the Internet, just how accessible music is in general now. People are being overwhelmed with too many options. I feel like with our band, the people that like us already, they’re not going to forget about us in three years or whatever until our next record comes out. They’ll still…
Ben: They’ll be there.
Kevin: That’s the thing with this kind of music. It’s such a select audience, and a select face and aesthetic that these are the kind of listeners – it’s not like pop music where it’s like, “Britney Spears was cool a couple of years ago, and now I’ve grown out of that.”
It’s okay to take time between records I feel like. For me, it doesn’t matter. I just want the material to be as strong as possible. For me, I feel like that takes time to get to that point because, like I said, we need to segregate a time for our other bands too. Of course, that will slow down Dysrhythmia’s progression as we are recording records with other bands and stuff.
Ben: Right. You’ve got to give yourself space to keep it fresh when you re-engage, right?
Kevin: I think so, yeah.
Ben: You said you guys are very structured in the rehearsal phase. Do you guys actually right stuff down, sketches? What’s your compositional process like?
Kevin: It’s probably not as complex as people might think it is maybe when they hear it. We actually don’t really write anything down. Actually, only recently have I actually started writing down my guitar parts, but just basically half-assed tabbing it out just so I don’t forget it.
But, as far as composing the music, a lot of the songs are starting with me and I just work by myself – and always on acoustic guitar in my apartment playing acoustic guitar and, eventually, I don’t know. Music is mysterious. Who knows where it comes from. Ideas will just happen. If they’re exciting ideas, then a song will just sort of write itself sometimes.
So, usually, I work on it first and I try to get a pretty strong structure together, and I bring that to practice and show it to Jeff and Colin. Usually, Jeff will sort of start playing along with my ideas first and we’ll try to get some drums worked out. Colin likes to work on his own with the bass part.
So, usually, we’ll demo guitar and drums for him, and he’ll work on his bass parts on his own time. Then the next weeks, I’ll have some bass parts written. We’ll hear them and then we’ll… you know.
So, basically, it’s like I start the songs, but then it’s extremely collaborative after that. After we start on a song, everyone’s free to change things around and make suggestions. I’m always making suggestions for drum parts even though I don’t know how to play drums, and Jeff will even tell me the change in guitar chords even though he doesn’t play guitar; stuff like that.
Ben: That’s healthy. That’s good. I’m curious though, if you base the song so much on playing live from when you start rehearsing to when you finally get on tour and then you feel like recording it, when you bring it into the studio, are you really just all about capturing the performance you’ve worked through over time or do you layer stuff on?
Kevin: That’s a good question because going into the studio and doing it live – well, it’s pretty much the way we first did every record. But, on the most recent one, Psychic Maps, we did that and then we also felt like we wanted to add more on top of that. So, that’s kind of what we did with the newest record.
Some of the guitar we redone, which was kind of a first for us, but almost all the bass and the drums was live together; the same take. But, I wanted to do more with the guitars this time. I wanted to add more. I just wanted it to sound a little bit fuller and layered. There’s a lot of, actually, acoustic guitar, especially on the first four songs on the record. It’s just a texturing underneath. I just like that sound of chimey with the guitar underneath a heavy, heavy guitar sort of thing.
Ben: It’s a different attack. Blended together, it’s a nice mix. I understand.
Kevin: And also, I think that had to do with the fact that this record was recorded in our own studio, so we didn’t feel quite as pressured for time. We could be a little bit more relaxed and experimental this time.
Ben: I understand when people hear the music, they bring to it and relate to it based on what, personally, their music they like sounds like yours, but what was your guy’s favorite bands, artists, musical influences?
Kevin: Pretty different between the three of us. I think that can always make or break a band when everyone’s into something else. Obviously, there’s stuff – there’s some common ground there that all three of us like. But, mostly, I feel each of us brings our own influence, our own musical history, what we like and we grew up listening to into the bands.
Our drummer kind of came a little bit more from a jazz background. Since playing with us, he’s become a very hard – he hits the drums really hard. So, he’s got that great balance of aggression and finesse.
Ben: Yeah, that’s excellent.
Kevin: Yeah. Before he started playing with us, he wasn’t aware of too much heavy music or just stuff like that, so we kind of…
Ben: Shocked him into it.
Kevin: We’re all like super nerds musically, always trying to find new stuff to listen to. It’s definitely cool that we all share our discoveries with each other; like, “Oh, have you ever heard this record? You should check this out.”
But yeah, basically, he came from more of a jazz background. Our original bass player, Clayton, was way more into BC, hardcore, and old punk rock and stuff like that. So, he kind of brought that influence to the band, but it’s definitely not there as much now obviously since he’s not in the band, because Colin has more of a metal influence, especially more like extreme metal; death metal, and black metal and stuff like that is stuff he’s more into. I study classical guitar, I study jazz and I love so many different kinds of music.
Ben: Did you go to school for it or just self-study?
Kevin: Yeah, I went to school for it.
Ben: Where did you go?
Kevin: I went to University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Ben: Oh right, wow.
Kevin: Yeah, I studied jazz guitar there. And I didn’t know anything really about the jazz guitar before I went there. That was sort of the purpose was to learn about it. But, it sort of had a backwards effect on me where it didn’t actually make me want to be a jazz guitar player. It’s so awkward. I took from it what I could, and then just applied it into my own style. But, I definitely didn’t want to go down that one path just playing little jazz clubs, playing standards and stuff like that.
Ben: Not too much. It’s kind of the rut. I was the same way. When I went to college, jazz guitar was my thing. I quickly turned – well, my teacher bent me to classical guitar and then when I came down with carpal tunnel syndrome, I became a composer. So, fitting into that kind of rut is kind of a boring avenue. I relate to that.
Kevin: I feel like if you want to write your own music, I don’t know, jazz is not the first style I think of.
Ben: Unless it’s free jazz you mean?
Kevin: Yeah. Obviously, if you’re a free jazz musician, and you’re constantly making your own music and improvising.
Ben: Right. There’s absolutely zero market for that kind of stuff. That’s interesting. I haven’t heard all your discography, just what’s available on MySpace and your website, but do you bring all those instruments into the recording studio or are you just keeping your chops up on the electric mostly?
Kevin: You mean just with Dysrhythmia?
Ben: Yeah, the classical guitar.
Kevin: Like I said, Dysrhythmia, all our records are fairly stripped down. We’ve never had any guest musicians on any of our records, and there’s never been any other instruments other than guitar, bass, and drums on anything we’ve ever done.
A lot of records are pretty straightforward. There’s not much overdubbing or anything. But, like I said, on the latest one, Psychic Maps, there is a lot of acoustic guitar, especially on the first four songs.
And it’s not even really playing too much different than what the electric guitars was already playing. It’s just sort of like an additional texture. I’m really into textural guitar playing and stuff. That’s something I explore on a different project and not so much on Dysrhythmia, but I wanted to start to incorporate that more into Dysrhythmia. Fans like My Bloody Valentine and Slow Dive.
It’s kind of like 90s bands from England, bands that took the guitar into a way more abstract, textural sort of realm. I love that kind of stuff too. I think it’s interesting to take that kind of influence and put into more of a slant of progressive metal, rhythmic-oriented style too; the contrast of complex rhythms, and then to sort of an ambient walt of guitar I think is an interesting combination.
Ben: I’m curious about the instrumental bent, why no drive to do lyrics or make a lyrical statement?
Kevin: Definitely a conscious choice. At the time the band started, I guess they were just like a lot of bands where I felt like they would be better if they just didn’t have this annoying singer. Honestly, that was the motivation because it wasn’t like there was a lot of other instrumental bands we were influenced by or anything.
Nowadays, there’s lots of instrumental bands. Most of them are more like post-rock sounding; that sort of other style of instrumental. It’s more repetitive. There’s a lot of them today, but I feel like when we started, we weren’t really influenced by too many other instrumental bands.
So, I guess the idea was just, “Wow, a lot of these bands have annoying singers and went to music school, so let’s do something where we just not even bother with a singer.” I just like the whole idea of just how interpretive instrumental music is. It can really be anything since there’s no words there.
Ben: That’s true. Do you want to name any of those bands that you found annoying or just the student bands that you grew up with that seemed to tack on a singer to an otherwise solid rhythm section that was kind of gross?
Kevin: Well, it’s weird because some of the bands where I thought I don’t understand what the vocalist is adding to, but the music’s cool. Now, 11 years later, now I like these bands with the way they were with singers.
But, I think maybe the first time I heard that band Dillinger Escape Plan, I didn’t understand why they had this guy that was just shouting over this really cool music. I was like, “This would be cool if this guy would just shut up and I could see all this crazy music that’s going on.” But now, I understand. That’s part of the craziness is someone going mad on top of that mad music.
Ben: Have you ever thought of – there’s the idea of some guy or gal singing a big vocal line on top that just is disjoined from the music. But, I hear you with that and in my own music, until recently, although I’ve started to do more prog rock format where I’m signing a straight verse using the voice as an instrument instead, maybe even wordless. Have you ever thought about doing something like that? Has that moved you or no?
Kevin: I think, at this point, I don’t ever want to add vocals to our band.
Ben: Don’t jinx it?
Kevin: The idea was never to have a vocalist anyway, but at this point, I feel like we’ve established ourselves so much as an instrumental band that I don’t understand why we would ever do something with vocals at this point.
Like I said, also because we have so many other music things outside of this band that we do and some of them involve vocalist. It’s kind of like any ideas I have for vocals and stuff, I’ll do with a different band.
Ben: That makes sense. That’s one reason why maybe you need to have some space, so if you have those ideas you can exercise them with a different group and keep the Dysrhythmia idea pure.
Kevin: Yeah, each band sort of has its own – I don’t want to say concept, but its own different musical goal. I guess it’s more why we keep doing these other new projects. I’m annoyed by bands that do too much; too much genre hopping in one band where you can tell that these like a lot of different kind of music.
I’m all into diversity and stuff, but sometimes it just goes a little overboard where I feel like these guys should start another band if they want to have songs that sound like this, then sound totally like this. But, that’s my own personal taste. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but that’s just how I am.
Ben: I hear you. It’s schizophrenic. I like the idea of keeping things separate stove-piped, if not between musical efforts, at least between albums or musical statements.
Kevin: Well, actually, I think it’s cool when bands will sort of reinvent themselves from album to album. I think that’s different than within one album; like a band like Voivod or something. I think it was really interesting how throughout the 80s, they just got so much more advanced with each record and kept changing their sound, but still being unique. It was an album to album kind of thing; it wasn’t within one album where it happened.
Ben: Who? Voivod?
Kevin: Voivod, yeah; from Canada. They’re one of my favorite bands. Actually, that’s the band that all three of us in Dysrhythmia love. That’s one common band we all like.
Ben: Well, that’s good. That’s an unusual one for a jazz drummer or former, repented jazz guitarist. Cool. So, do you guys have any events coming up, or dates, or gigs that you want to plug? You mentioned the tour in June, but anything sooner than that?
Kevin: No, I don’t think there’s going to be really anything sooner. We think we’re just going to – the June tour starts on, I think, June 6th or 7th. All the dates are up on our MySpace page, and that lasts about a month.
Before that, I think we’ve pretty much been turning down any kind of show offers just so that we can just try to finish up some of the new songs first because any time we have a show, every rehearsal is just practicing what we’re going to play; practicing the old songs instead of working on new stuff. We’ve mostly just been working on new stuff right now. So, no shows coming up before June.
Ben: Well, you guys are holding fast then. That’s impressive. So, are you typically in the place where you turn stuff down; shows? Do you have a demand that’s greater than what you guys typically can supply?
Kevin: Sorry, say that again?
Ben: That’s an enviable position to be able to turn down shows.
Kevin: Well, these are just local shows in New York City or whatever. I feel like with touring, in general, but especially playing local shows, I feel like if you’re a band that’s been around for a while, I feel like playing too many shows or playing every show that you’re offered, people can get sick of you. It’s like, “Oh, they’re playing again.”
Ben: Right. I guess so.
Kevin: I kind of like to spread it out more now where maybe we’ll play in New York twice a year. That way, it’s more exciting for us and it’s probably more exciting for anyone that comes to see us every other month somewhere.
Ben: It’s more of an event. That makes sense.
Kevin: It’s so weird how my attitude towards that has changed in the past five years. I used to want to play every show we were offered, but nowadays not so excited to do that.
Ben: It can burn you out; not only you, but the fans if you don’t have anything new to say.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s the thing. It takes us a while to write new stuff, and I don’t want to bore people by playing the same songs. That’s the thing about us. We have a pretty loyal fan base that comes to see us every time we play. I know a lot of times when we play it’s going to be a lot of familiar faces, so I don’t want to bore them with the same set list. So, got to keep writing new stuff to keep it interesting.
Ben: That makes sense. Where can everyone find you on the web? Can you plug your site, etc?
Kevin: Well, MySpace.com/dysrhythmiaband. That’s where you can find out about tour dates and stuff. Our official website is actually down now, so that’s worthless.
Ben: I noticed that. What happened? Did you guys ditch it?
Kevin: We’ve had that site forever. I didn’t really want to renew it, honestly. I feel like I don’t know anyone that still goes to our website anymore. I feel like everyone just – it’s all blogs and Facebook. Even MySpace is dying now. But, people just are going through different avenues now to discover music or see where a band’s playing.
Ben: That’s kind of true.
Kevin: Yeah. And our website was never very interesting to look at. It was never very expansive. It just basically was all text about where we were playing or whatever. Maybe I’ll start up the site again, but for now it’s down. People can just Google Dysrhythmia if you can spell it right.
Ben: Well, your Wikipedia entry shows up right next to cardiac dysrythmia which is good.
Kevin: Yeah, I guess you’ll get some medical documents and stuff.
Ben: Oh, that’s cool. It’s a unique name at least. If you’re looking for music, there’s only one out there. You guys have got it covered.
Kevin: There’s another one too actually.
Ben: There is?
Kevin: Yeah. Well, there was. They eventually changed their name. But yeah, at one point, there was another band. They were from Wisconsin or something. They were playing regularly in Wisconsin, especially in 2003 when we were touring a lot. People were emailing me saying that they went to go see them, but it wasn’t us.
Ben: That’s confusing.
Kevin: Yeah, they eventually changed their name.
Ben: Cool. Well, Kevin, it’s been great talking to you. I appreciate the time. I’ll post the interview and the transcript, and definitely links to your site and your music, and let you know when it’s up.
Kevin: Alright, great. Thanks, man.