Drab Majesty Talks Chorus Pedals, Casio Synths, and the Selfless Act of Songwriting

The songs of Drab Majesty are paeans to the past—not just that of gothic new wave, with all its gauzy textures and drum machine hits, but to some spectral, primal state of mind. Andrew Clinco, the songwriter behind Drab Majesty, often refers to his "occult studies," his being a vessel for songs and ideas outside of himself.

Drab Majesty - The Demonstration

In the interview below, Clinco explains his creation of Deb DeMure, a genderless alter-ego he takes on to get rid of any identity of "pseudo identity" that might stand in the way of the songs and his conveyance of them. Of course, one can’t channel darkwave music without a collection of old synths and chorus pedals, so Clinco was kind enough to talk through his rig and pedalboard, too.

What’s the story of Deb DeMure?

The story in short form is that drums were my main instrument, and I decided that I wanted to pick up a harmonic instrument because of the influence that a member [Emma Ruth Rundle] of the last band that I was in—called Marriages—had on me.

So I kind of was secretly playing guitar the whole time I was drumming in Marriages, and then I just started to glue these nails on my hand and fingerpick. I started to approach guitar like the drums, in this rhythmic way, and then it started to turn into something really beyond my expectations of what the sound could be.

I never thought to make darkwave music or goth music. I like pop songwriting, but then the implementation of pedals and all this stuff. Meanwhile, I was mostly interested in folk music fingerpicking on my acoustic guitars, and then I would start adding effects to electric. Just effects I had lying around, like a couple chorus pedals. It just started to take on a life of its own.

The songwriting just kind of manifested. I really started to feel fairly removed from this whole experience. My guitar ability was developing really fast, but I really don’t have much technical understanding of the instrument. So it became much more like this, perhaps like a muse I'm communing with, and it feels very divinely inspired.

Drab Majesty "Too Soon To Tell"

I don’t take credit for the songs. In my liner notes I say "received by." I’m just organizing the sounds, basically, and that’s what prompted me to create another character that was responsible for this. Also, the music itself—we like to see ourselves as vessels and creative in the live performance, in which we remove our identities and remove our genders. We are just conveying the songs without any identity, really, or pseudo identity.

Where do you think these ideas come from?

They come from a deep log of a collective unconsciousness. We’re familiar with harmony in ways we don’t understand. When you have concordance and you have discordance that our bodies respond in frequencies. When you're hit with noise, you feel a certain way. When you're hit with harmonious sounds, you feel this other way. We’ve known this for a long time.

Sound created a lot of things. Just being able to pull from that and, like, the guitar being this kind of divining rod, so when I’m playing I don't know what notes I’m playing. I'm in all these weird tunings and you know, the hands just moving and it's totally an arrangement of "yes, yes, no, no, yes, no, okay," and that’s it. It’s just ones and zeros. It’s just decisions that aren’t really informed by any type of technical understanding.

And it just arranges itself. I think I’m responding to a deep lineage of past-life understanding of harmony.

Yeah, makes sense. What are some of your influences now or before the Drab project kicked off?

Like I said, I was doing a lot of folk stuff, like fingerpicking stuff on acoustic guitar. I was listening to a lot Sun Kil Moon—Mark Kozelek and his project Red House Painters was a big influence for me. Vini Reilly of Durutti Column and Maurice Deebank of Felt… I love that arpeggio style of guitar picking.

That’s an interesting juxtaposition with the type of music that you make.

I think any song should be able to go back to the acoustic guitar and should translate. So I do really like the acoustic guitar. I like John Fahey a lot. He’s a big influence of mine. And Nick Drake. It’s funny—once you take a Nick Drake song and you put it through this pedalboard, you get something way trippier and a whole different sound, but it’s still the song.

What’s the ideal creative situation for you?

Oh, the ideal I always thought would be amazing would be in a mobile home while someone else drives it and being able to write a record driving through exotic places or across the country. I feel really inspired when I’m driving, and I can't really make a track in the van—it sucks. You don’t want to have you guitar and computer and all that. But a mobile studio that's actually moving has always been a dream.

In November, I’ll be going to Athens for two months and staying near the Acropolis and hopefully writing a new record there. I think being completely detached is really ideal.

What’s the biggest challenges that Deb DeMure faces?

Not knowing how to solder. Yeah, that’s a pretty real challenge. If it goes wrong, I don’t know how to fix it.

Drab Majesty "The Foyer"

How did you start loving music?

My father’s a guitarist. He toured with Henry Mancini for five years, and I always grew up listening to jazz and seeing him play guitar and picking up his guitar. He’s a right-handed guitarist. I’m a left-handed guitarist. I was teaching myself to play right-handed guitars upside down. But then I was actually given a left-handed guitar when I was seven. And then I just ditched the guitar when I went to music camp when I saw all these drummers and how cool they were. So really, this is like my first band that I’ve done since I've re-approached guitar.

What’s it like with the production technique that you’ve learned over the years? It’s kind of like a go-to routine for you.

Definitely rely on stereo guitars. Getting mixes really wide. I split out to two Peavey Classic 50s. Then this delay is my last piece in my chain and goes to the Peavey Classic Chorus 212. I split the signal real wide and always use two amps. Sometimes I use three. The center amp is totally dry and the two on the side are super loud. Like right here is a ping-pong delay left and right, so it shoots left and right out and those bounce between both amps.

What are some must-have instruments or software when recording?

Everything kind of ends up like in [Ableton] Live to record, but I don’t really use many plugins—I'm more of a hardware guy. I like weird, quirky synths and beat-up pedals.

What kind of synths do you like?

AC: I have a Casio CZ-1000, and the CZ-101 is great. I have a Poly-800 I use all the time. These are real cheap-o synths. I do have a Roland Super Jupiter rack with a programmer… it’s a spaceship powerful thing. That's probably the most coveted thing I have. But then I have cool RadioShack stuff that I use and throw it through a Strymon Timeline and then you can have a whole other synth.

What piece of gear is like a total signature for your sound?

Piece of gear, well there was, for a while it was the Boss CE-2. But now I’ve switched it out with the Dimension C. So probably the Dimension C or the CE-2 mixed with an Ibanez stereo flanger. Those two together do some cool stuff.

The stage production—how does this come together?

It always kind of morphs from tour to tour. We had the last tour we did in Europe, like three months of black robes and blue hair, blue wigs and it kind of just—if you go to the first video that was made, there’s like an attempt at this look, and it’s like a very logical progression of when we started doing full, like incandescent white faces, and then that made a shift and it was kind of more ornate stylings. Now, kind of getting a little more austere on this tour and this all-white look, which in a lot of ways I think is in response to like the totally desaturated black goth thing that we kind of got bored with.

Like what’s the antithesis of black?

Yeah, sure. Like black is all the colors white is the absence, you know, the prismatic spectrum. We're just into white on this tour. These garbs are made of anti-paparazzi fabric. It’s retro reflective material. It’s made out of glass, little glass particles. So when you take a photo with a flash it destroys your photo.

What human questions are you typically trying to answer with your art?

If I’m not moved by the music that I make then probably no one else will be. So I think if I can make something that touches me I think that’s a good way to offer it out to the world, and people can connect with that.

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