Young, Proud, and Running Out of Time: An Interview with A Pregnant Light

A Pregnant Light LP Cover
This and most other images in this article courtesy of Ashley Sheridan (https://ashleyksheridan.wordpress.com/)

It’s no secret to readers that I’ve been obsessively following Colloquial Sound Recordings for the past number of years, especially A Pregnant Light, the project of label head Damian Master. Through the years, A Pregnant Light has released a series of demo cassettes, splits, a compilation CD, and even a 7″single. In November, years of work culminated with the debut LP, My Game Doesn’t Have a Name. Mixing elements of genres from hardcore to post-punk to black metal with a touch of pop sensibility, the act has been a polarizing force for fans of metal. I’m clearly a supporter, and it seems that many of my readers are of a similar mind.With the actual release of an album after so long, I decided to have a chat with Damian about his music, life, and death. Read on for a peek into the mind of one of extreme music’s most daring artists and information on how you can win a copy of the new record for free.


 

After three years of demos, you’re finally releasing your first full-length album. Some of the demos have been longer than others, so what distinguishes this release from the prior works? It seems you’re constantly in motion. Do you revisit your old stuff?

I am always tweaking my workflow and trying to make things streamlined while maintaining quality.  In short, technically, what makes this different is that where as I usually just dream up a batch of tunes, record them and put them out, with the full-length, I had been gathering riffs and concepts for a long time.  Some riffs are over ten years old on the album.  Stuff that was in the back of my mind, and I always thought deserved a bigger platform than a demo.  I think a ‘demo’ can be almost anything or any length.

It’s just like, you do it, and put it out.  The art is in the doing, the process.  It’s like weightlifting.  Eventually you’ll be strong enough after pushing this small weight for a while to get a big one over your shoulders.  This album was hit with “a severe editorial hand” if I can steal a line from my bio, written by John Serba.  I cut so much.  So much was rearranged.  An entire song was scrapped last minute.  I wanted to make something that was digestible and listenable, but demanded repeat listens, while having a running time that allowed for variation and some more ‘breathing room’ than a short, two or three song thing would allow for.

I did put the brakes on a lot of my other stuff and just focused on the record, which I think is a path I would like to stay on.  “Work on one thing at a time until finished” is a Henry Miller rule that I am trying to follow.  I have so many projects, it’s hard sometimes to just stay in one frame of mind for so long, but I think it’s increasingly important.  I want to start focusing on making full-length records.  With all my projects.  For me, I think when I buckle down and focus, that’s when the real good work gets done.

I do revisit my old stuff.  Especially APL, because I don’t think there is anything that’s like APL.  So, I can’t really go elsewhere for inspiration.  If I am in an Aksumite mood, I will enjoy our stuff, but to a certain extent, it’s like ‘I should just listen to old Voivod, it’s way better.’ but with APL, I sort of created this strange hybrid.  And unlike Aksumite, it’s intensely personal, so it’s nice to reflect and take notes.  My releases are like the tapes that quarterbacks watch on Monday morning after the game.  Once the thing is done, I can sit back and observe my mistakes, what I did, right, how I want to change things, etc.  I don’t obsess about it, or, not like I used to.  A thing is a thing.  No matter what it is.  A song, a painting, a meal, a walk down the street.  A thing is just a thing sometimes.

I see you mentioned groundbreaking author Henry Miller, yet in past interviews you’ve mentioned you’re not the biggest reader. Do you draw inspiration from him as a creative force or do you simply find his attitude and work ethic inspiring?
I like his work a lot.  I really want to be a better writer, so my goal is to read more.  So I’ve been starting with him.  He’s been on my list of authors to check out for a long time.  I also stumbled upon his Work Schedule 1932-1933 commandments.  That was a huge inspiration.  I like product.  I like ideas too, but I think product is something that almost everyone loves.  I just want to give the world good product.  I don’t think I’ll venture out too far from music, but music is a great product barrier to work within.
Your debut LP My Game Doesn’t Have a Name just came out and has received a large amount of press already, likely opening up a new fan base. For listeners who are just discovering A Pregnant Light from this release, which earlier offering(s) do you encourage them to seek out and why?
 
“Large amount of press” is relative.  I’m beyond grateful for what I have gotten.  It’s more than I’ve dreamed of.  I’m so happy to be put in front of new ears.  This LP is sort of the beginning of a new phase.  It’s totally not a big step from Stars Will Fall or the 7″ or new tracks on Before I Came.  I would rather listeners devote time to listening to the new LP and reading the lyrics and enjoying it.  There is a lot there.  In every song.  I don’t know if this answers the question, but I think some of my best riffs are in Deathmyhangingdoorway and my two favorite APL songs are on the St. Emaciation demo.
a pregnant light

I’ve noticed the more public you’ve become with your identity as the musician behind A Pregnant Light, the more the music has evolved and shifted. Was this coincidental? What has driven you from intentionally veiling your identity to being public about your ambitions to become a dominant cultural force with your music?

Hmm.. well, no.  It’s all a part of the larger conversation of my work. As my work becomes more and more real, and personal, and the metaphors fall away (literally!), it became glaringly obvious that I needed to be me.  I didn’t also want to inform people’s perspectives of who I am by leaving gaps there.  I wanted people to understand where I’m coming from.  Also, the whole “anonymous spirit” thing has really run it’s course.  Every idiot has a bedroom black metal band now, and I never really subscribed to the whole Satan/corpsepaint aesthetic in anything I’ve ever done, so it just felt like a good time to draw a hard line and cut myself off from the posers.

When you put yourself out there (and really, I’m not all the way out there), there is no hiding behind some silly guise.  You have to speak frankly and clearly, because these things are being attributed to you.  For some, they can’t handle it.  They like their musicians to be these murky figures in the distance pulling their art from the ether- what they don’t know is that most of the people who promote that kind of image are probably so embarrassing in their personal lives, they don’t have the strength to be seen. I make mistakes, I mess up, I confess to it all.  It’s part of growing as an artist.

I have no interest in anything else.  That which makes me a better artist gets watered, everything else gets drowned.  Also, I just can’t stand these plastic lifeless people making music that are so spineless and afraid to stand up to people, for fear of being disliked or something. I don’t advocate saying whatever you want, or being a jerk just because something snippy comes to your mind, but look at how soft the world has become.  It’s shameful.

As one of the most openly personable and human musicians in hardcore and metal today, what drives you most to stick to your own path instead of falling into trends, images, and other typical traps of the underground? Your commitment to individuality has been the only consistent element in your career to date and it’s been interesting to watch you confidently weather everything from indifference to fanaticism to hate from the music communities in which your music often circulates.
 
I just don’t see any point it trying to be something I’m not.  I don’t even like who I am that much, but I like myself more than I like a lot of others.  Nothing is worse than corny people, trend people, or the kind of people that define themselves by some image they think is cool, one they didn’t even create.  People will tell you all day “I’m not trendy” or “I stay true to myself” but if that’s the case, then sadly- there are a lot of really boring, horrible, one-dimensional people out there that cannot afford their own personality so they substitute in a prefab one.  My commitment isn’t to individuality, and I don’t seek out being unique.  The reason I get to stand so tall in the face of both praise and detraction is that my music isn’t a pose or mask. I’m confident in what I do, because it’s coming from a real place.  It’s all there for you.  Some people are freaked out by how real it is, especially when it’s circulated in a scene that values a sort of homogenized anti-identity identity.  My favorite bands and artists have always been forthright with who they are.  Black metal or not.  That’s why I put myself on the cover of the record. Who else would go on it? People can take cheap shots at it all day and call it vain or a glamour shot, but it’s just me in my basement where I write and record my music.  The back photo was taken when my friend and I walked to go get ice cream.  I am who I am, and that’s all you’ll get from me.  If someone doesn’t like it, they can slam me on the internet all they want.  That’s their only power.  I only care about the people that like/support APL.  Those people are the dearest and best people.  I never take their support lightly.  Everyone else can walk off a pier.
A Pregnant Light 108

Over time, your personal beliefs have become a greater part of your work as A Pregnant Light, yet you never seem to directly discuss matters of faith. The number 108 is regularly associated with your music (and your personal social media selections) and holds significance for many faiths, do you incorporate any lyrical or sonic nods to this number or any other buried references? You seem to be pretty straightforward with many other things, so I’m not sure if there are hidden elements.

Well, again, you’re asking about a specific, thing- the number 108 has a lot of meanings.  It’s a semi-perfect number.  Only Christ was perfect on this earth, so semi-perfect is the most I can aspire to.  I believe in God and I believe in the devil.  I put my love and trust and faith in God and I know that good will conquer evil.  That’s my hope, that’s my faith.  Now, just because I choose the side of good over evil, doesn’t mean I’m some weakling, brainwashed, religious nut.  Not at all.  I have taken a stance.  This music subculture worships itself, not Satan.  They use Satan as a metaphor for the worship of self, and really – that’s the worst, most annoying, and asshole thing you can do. To traffic in dangerous symbols and concepts, while focusing inward.  It’s a waste.  But at any rate, there are no really hidden references to the thousands of meanings and references that the number itself contains.  If you research the number you’ll find it has many many meanings and representations.

I suppose it’s just a nice way in three characters to sum up that I’m working on a larger conversation.  It’s meant to provoke thought and establish my position as not being evil.  For the record, I’m not evil, but I’m all the way pissed off and angry.  I’m frustrated and tortured by many things.  I’m closer to a dog than a human most days.

A couple of A Pregnant Light’s demos have been splits with artists who appear nowhere else, if discogs and google are to be believed. How did you come to work with Deeper Wells and SADOS and how can you explain the kinship formed to create such releases? Was it purely musical and aesthetic or were there ideas in common as well?

Deeper Wells is Kevin who runs the Waterpower label, that focuses on noise and power electronics.  I think another dude is in the band too.  I know Kevin.  They have a handful of releases, actually.  They’re great!  Check them out!!  Sados is the side project of a dude that lives near me, he’s more involved with the stoner rock scene in Grand Rapids, of which I have less than zero affiliation.  At the time of the release, he bought some CSR tapes and said he had this project and I liked his stuff.  To his credit, he hasn’t even talked to me since then about doing more or whatever, so I assume he doesn’t care.  So, good for both of us.

The Sados split was just a way to get the song out there, and keep the process of learning how to do a label.  I think the Deeper Wells split is cool, because at the time, we both had these little clusters of dedicated supporters so we thought it would be cool to introduce ourselves to each other’s supporters.  I think splits are kind of annoying.  I may do another one at some point, but it seems like splits are generally one-sided, like- a smaller band piggybacks on a more popular band, or, it’s just two or more bands no one cares about.  A good split though, where both bands rule… those are just about the best.  Super fun releases.

You’re rather fond of large personalities and egos, like Morrissey, Kanye, and Madonna, yet you also make your obsession with the decidedly humbler Daniel Higgs well known. This balance in musical icons seems fitting for a project so public yet so personal. What is it about these two wildly opposite attitudes that you appreciate and seek to embody?

Is Daniel Higgs humble?  I think he’s just working on a different level than a Morrissey or Kanye West.  I don’t really know.  He’s a mysterious guy.  Very spiritual.  He seems to not be focused on the things that people care about.  ie., his tattooing or his now-defunct band Lungfish that no one cared about when they were active for over 20 years.  Ultimately, I am probably closer to a Kanye West or Morrissey than a Daniel Higgs, though musically, I probably have more in common with Higgs.  Spiritually as well.  I’ve heard Higgs is a wildly funny and generous person, but also a serious man.  He’s an artist.  As are Madonna and Morrissey, but I really can’t figure out why I’m drawn to what I’m drawn to.  I just like it.

I want to take a bit from everybody and make it my own.  I want the humor and bite of Morrissey, the high-level aspirations and goals of Kanye West, the spiritual song-servant-ness of Daniel Higgs and the ability to reinvent and reinterpret myself that Madonna has.  And of course, I would be happy listening to those four musicians forever.  Endless inspiration.

A Presley Light

Your music is clearly a document of your influences, but run through a filter of punk and hardcore upbringing. With this in mind, why do you think people are so eager to draw parallels to black metal? I’m aware the first handful of demos bore strong influences from the genre, but A Pregnant Light has always had qualities that set it outside of that paradigm, whether it was the drumming on The Feast of Clipped Wings or the Johnny Marr-esque guitar textures of your more recent output. Is this something you’ve welcomed or something you’ve had to shake off?
 
I welcome anyone saying something about my music, because it’s my music.  It’s the music of Damian Master.  Like, I’m not a dude who liked hardcore, and started a hardcore band inspired by the hardcore bands he liked.  I have so many influences and I don’t really feel beholden or tied to them insofar as that I have to play in a band that only emulates them.  How many people started bedroom black metal bands after hearing Burzum or Darkthrone?  A million or more. And most of them are hot trash.  How many “blackened punk” bands started when they heard the stripped//reductionist sounds of Bone Awl.  So, so many. And most of them suck.  Everything I’ve done is very connected.   Any branch can easily be traced back to the trunk of the same tree.  Everything I’ve done in APL has appeared elsewhere in previous bands as far back as when I started playing music over 15 years ago.  I can’t control what anyone says or thinks about my music.  I don’t welcome or shake off any genre tag.  All arguments probably have some validity. It’s not my work anyway.  It’s the work of the dying breed of actual music writers to define and tag what I’m doing.  I’m busy with other stuff.

This is possibly a throwaway question, but when are you going to collaborate with Prince? I feel like he would make the ideal mentor for you as an artist.

It’s not a throwaway question.  I would love to.  He is more talented across more instruments and disciplines than I am at my single best anything.  Plus, the whole purple thing…

As APL, you’re in a unique position of being without a real genre tag or community. Nothing really sounds like your music. As liberating as this is, do you feel like an island or a pioneer? Do you see yourself leading a flock or would you prefer to remain separate from the works of others?

Wow… yeah.  This has recently become a real problem.  I think my music has the ability to cross-over and have listenership in indie rock, and punk, and metal, and hardcore, and post-punk, etc., but how do you explain APL?  I never, ever, ever in a million years started off wanting to blaze a new trail.  I’m just the sum of my influences.  I try to reign it in, so it doesn’t sound like a mish-mash of annoying genres like Mr. Bungle or something.

It will be interesting to see if people try and copy my style.  I think my style is just the bastardization of a lot of my influences.  It’s strange to think that someone could hear APL and be influenced by it in writing their own music.  As much as I do have a big ego, that kind of blows my mind.  Not that it’s happened, but actually, I do get messages and e-mails now and then from people who are influenced by me and want me to listen to their stuff.  Ultimately, my game has rules, but doesn’t have a name.  And it’s not really liberating, it’s rather stressful.  It would be nice to have a peer group or community to be a part of.  It’s very lonely.

10505393_652598008160043_6755640034208863777_n

You have many different projects in which you’re the only member. Given the diverse offerings you’ve created as A Pregnant Light, is there a specific purpose to separating projects like Purple Light and Bodystocking or even Secret Creation? Do you view these as ways of clearing your head or do they serve an equally important purpose for you?

The short answer is it would be obnoxious to have vastly different styles of music released under a single moniker.  APL is my real heart.  That’s my work.  That’s my life.  I like Aksumite too, to a strong end.  The goal isn’t to confuse people or make them feel stupid for liking one thing, and not the other.  Or to create a discussion about how one moniker shifts from genre to genre, it’s all me.  All of it, and there are certainly people who equally enjoy Bodystocking and Secret Creation, but it’s nice to be able to give people something packaged with clear language and intention.

As a multi-instrumentalist, you seem to actually comprehend each of your instruments instead of being an artist with one primary instrument and a basic familiarity with others. Do you continually seek out new forms of musical and instrumental growth or were you musically inclined from an early age?
 
I just always want to play music, so I seek to get better at everything.  I will always most likely be most competent on guitar.  I did ask for bass and drum help on my new LP because I had the best drummer and bassist in arms reach, so why not?  The new album is like a Morrissey record.  It’s me, my songs, my music, my vision, but I have a few old friends backing me up making my dreams come true.  I have zero naturual musical ability.  In my family, no one can play music or sing or anything.  This is something I’ve worked at.  Interestingly, my grandfather is a good writer, but writes for his own enjoyment.  It’s not like my friend Tim who played bass on the record.  Has a musical family.  The dude can just play anything at the drop of a hat and he’s instantly genius. I’m jealous!  He’s so good! I have to work super hard to get on his level, it’s just second nature to him.
 
Early releases from A Pregnant Light had no published lyrics. Are these private simply because they’re meant for your own purposes or do they remain unknown because they’re part of the past and you see no point in publishing them this far out?
 
They aren’t really coherent or tell a particular story.  When Aspinwall recorded the vocals for Beach Pneumatic, he came in with four or five lines for each song and just sort of howled them out in sparse, separated, emotive ways.  That’s what I did with the old stuff.  I didn’t want to answer a bunch of questions about phrases that were picked just because I liked the way the sounded.  I’ll publish the old ones eventually.  The stuff I can find at least.  I have a manilla envelope full of lyrics of everything I’ve ever recorded on CSR under my little vocal area in my home studio.  The thought of going through that 2″ thick folder sounds horrible.
V for Victory
Do you feel that your work as A Pregnant Light is more of the artistic nature or is it something you simply must do to keep afloat?
It’s the music of Damian Master.  I briefly considered releasing the new LP under my name rather than APL, because they’re the same to me.  I create because I have a desire to create.  It’s a compulsion. Hard to explain for someone who doesn’t have it.  It’s not one of those “I have to make this music or I’ll die or have a nervous breakdown.”  Not at all.  That’s a really corny thing to say.  If I had to stop for whatever reason, I would stop.  For me, it’s just a part of who I am.  It’s what I do.  It’s really more simple than people think.

It’s become apparent that you share a deep sense of understanding and artistic respect for Z. Zsigo of Cremation Lily. How did this relationship form and manifest? It seems that many of your creative works come from similar places, and Strange Rules is one of the only labels to release your works outside of Colloquial Sound Recordings.

He’s a great friend, and we talk almost every day.  We have an iPhone app that lets us message without international rates.  I think I heard about his stuff first through Kevin from Waterpower (See, all is connected!) who reissued some stuff for stateside sale, some old Cremation Lily stuff.  Keep in mind at this time, Zen was doing tapes in editions of 13 that were not selling out instantly.  Now he does editions of 100 that go in moments.  So, we just sort of started out at the same time, roughly.  Started talking, he bought some stuff from me, and me from him and it just blossomed into a friendship.  We share similarities in our backgrounds, and he sort of moonlights in rock bands, and I moonlight in noise bands, so we’re just close pals.  It’s also nice to meet someone who is doing the same thing you are (to an extent), and just connect.  Iron sharpens iron.

Zen is the only person I bounce things off of.  Like if I have an idea or tune or something, I’ll send it his way, and similarly, he will do that for me.  It’s been a real pleasure to see Cremation Lily grow.  Sometimes he’ll send me a track like “this is what I’m working on” and then it will come out and be vastly different or greatly improved or something, after we chat about it.  It’s amazing to see that growth.  I do the same with him.  CSR doesn’t really fit in anywhere, and neither does Strange Rules.  I think we both do what we do and we do what we like.  I don’t want to speak for Zen, but I know that if we want our labels / projects to be known for anything- it’s quality.  Although CSR/SR may drift around a bit while staying in our respective lanes, we are known for quality.  Cremation Lily forever.

spine

Finally, I feel it’s important to ask a slightly personal question. You’ve been rather open about the fact that you had a life-altering spinal surgery that nearly killed you. Would you be willing to discuss your experiences during this process and how they shaped your views as an artist and a human being?

It did kill me, but I was resuscitated. It took six months before I could stand up or sit down without it being a production.  I still appreciate the help getting my boots laced up or taken off.  Bending is not now, nor ever will it be my strong suit.  I am better though.  Far, far better than I was before.  Believe it or not, it changed nothing.  I came out and went in believing the same things.  When I was in the midst of my reaction that led to my near permanent-exit from this earth, I felt aware.  At peace.  A comfort knowing that it was out of my control and that my soul and body were in fact very separate from each other.  In short, when you hear all these stories on the Lifetime channel made for TV movies about near-death, and you hear about the white light, the peace, the feeling of being above your body.  I felt all that.

In fact, one of my first thoughts after regaining consciousness and after a lot of sleep was, “man, that was kind of corny.”  Those things we consider to be “touched by an angel” cliche, I felt those.  Maybe my mind was processing things I had seen or heard about and reflecting that experience back to me as I was in a traumatic situation- but I think the more likely answer is that, if these things are reported across a variety of lifestyles, persons, cultures, etc… maybe they’re true.  It’s like mythology.  Like how dragons appear in so many different cultures.  Maybe it’s just how humans as a species process things, but also I think it’s possible that such things existed at one point.  So, I came out more resolute and focused on my work; although the healing process was quite intense and knocked me out of commission for six months.

The first thing I did post-surgery was write and record “Ringfinger” and “Lilajugend” for the CD comp.  I had to take two weeks off after those tracks just from physical exhaustion.  I have some nerve damage in my right leg that will likely never go away.  It’s collateral damage from my entire central nervous system being asleep for 13 hours while being operated on.  It’s a risk I willingly took, and the leg pain, while problematic, is a far better master than the back, shoulder, neck and spine pain I was in.  Screaming, and playing drums just took it out of me.  I already felt like I was in a car accident, but then after those songs I felt like I was in a car accident in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and the ambulance was hit by a train.  The surgery was as intense as surgeries get.  More intense than brain or heart surgery, because with those, they have more control and ability to monitor what’s going on.

If I really took away anything (and you can edit out as much of the above as you want), it’s that if I died right then and there, I would have been a bit upset I didn’t get the record out.  I spent too many years wasting time or not focused.  It’s not really a big, dramatic, thing… I mean, it was, but it’s corny to talk about it- it’s just this big desire to do something cool while still being alive.  I’ve wasted enough time as it is.  I should have put out 6 records by now, but every day is a learning experience.  As corny as that sounds.


 

Many thanks to Damian for taking the time to answer my questions and have a thorough chat with me. Now it’s time to get to that record giveaway.
Whether you’ve been walking in the purple light with Damian since The Feast of Clipped Wings or you found out about A Pregnant Light from this interview, here’s your opportunity to snag a free copy of My Game Doesn’t Have a Name on vinyl. Damian has something of a reputation for posting selfies with the “V for victory” pose and now he wants you to join in. To enter the drawing for a free record, simply send a picture of yourself in the pose to apregnantlight@gmail.com and you’ll be up for consideration. The winner will be determined by Damian himself, so get your best look on and send it in to win one of the year’s finest albums. You have until December 19th, 2014 to enter.
v for victory