The Divine Comedy – An Interview with Occams Laser

With 2016’s Nine Circles, Occams Laser started out work on what would become one of my favorite musical trilogies. As you’ll read below, he didn’t even know the journey he was about to undertake, but that’s how music works sometimes. Dante’s Divine Comedy is something that has intrigued me since I was introduced to it as a teenager. As I grew older and discovered I had a knack for writing I decided I would work on a short story collection, with each tale centered on the individual circles of Hell. But, as we all know, life happens…I got a couple stories done and never picked it back up. Once I discovered that Occams Laser had done a musical journey through the Divine Comedy, I was sold. He finished what I set aside so many years ago, and it’s such an amazing collection of music I just had to write about it.

Purgatory followed Nine Circles, and in September of 2016 Occams Laser took us deeper into the abyss. Just like its predecessor, Purgatory set such a tone that it almost works as a visual story as well. These tracks hit hard as they take you through the story of punishment, the acknowledgement of sins, and the climb through the terraces toward redemption. As a direct sequel, Purgatory really pushed things forward and grows outward from the foundation Nine Circles laid. Even as a standalone album, it’s a marquee release and something even the most established synthwave artists would be proud of. But Occams Laser wasn’t done…

Ascension released in February of 2017, and it closes the trilogy out stronger than I could have hoped. From its epic opener, Abandoned Vows, to the closer, Empyrean Rose, Ascension stands out as a master class work of dark synthwave music. It tells the story of the rise out of Hell…the escape from Purgatory, and the dangerous road to freedom, but make no mistake, Ascension is a constant reminder that the salvation is fleeting. Hell is still there with its open maw, ready to take you back in its icy depths should you lose your way.

I’m thrilled that Tom of Occams Laser has agreed to discuss this amazing collection of songs with Echosynthetic. It’s one of those rare releases, to me anyway, that transcends genre and music in general…it’s bigger than that. It’s a true companion to Dante’s narrative poem and is a vital piece of synthwave. It’s there to be admired, enjoyed, but most of all, shared with others, because in that shared experience we get art.

And now, Occams Laser:

Echosynthetic: You’ve just completed your Divine Comedy trilogy with the release of Ascension. What’s your overall feeling of the finished product?

Occams Laser: As with most musicians you’re bound to feel a little self-critical when looking back at your own work, there are some things I might have done differently with Ascension and the trilogy as a whole, but overall I’m just really pleased to have my music out for the world to hear.

Echosynthetic: Writing one full length album is an undertaking by itself. What was the process like when planning out three?

Occams Laser: When I started writing the music for what would become the first album ‘Nine Circles’, I had no plan of a trilogy, or even of what to call the first album. It was a happy accident, mostly fueled by the darker tones of the music which led me to the theme of Hell. Almost immediately after I’d started playing with the idea of Hell I then started thinking more about how to make the music into more of a narrative which then triggered the idea of latching onto the Divine Comedy.

Echosynthetic: Why choose The Divine Comedy as your source material?

Occams Laser: Because the nature of the 3 albums is purely instrumental, I needed that extra layer of imagery to add to the project. The Divine Comedy is packed full of themes, ideas and concepts that help to flesh out the world I wanted to create. The added bonus with the source material is that each area in the Divine Comedy, be it Hell, Purgatory or Paradise; all are split into layers, for example Limbo, Lust and Gluttony, this made it simple to decide track names and to show the progression of the music.

Echosynthetic: How far down the rabbit hole did you have to go to churn out this work? It’s some of the darkest synthwave I’ve ever heard.

Occams Laser: My music has definitely progressively gotten darker, especially with the latest album. I think what I realised more than anything between the time of starting the trilogy and finishing it, is that darker music is what I’m drawn to. It’s what I listen to most of the time, and for me, dirty distorted basslines and raunchy menacing synths is the way forward!

Echosynthetic: What were your favorite tracks to write?

Occams Laser: My favourite tracks from the trilogy would have to be; Abandoned Vows from Ascension, The Late Repentant from Purgatory, and Limbo from Nine Circles. I’m sure I’m biased to these tracks, but each one was the first track made on each album and definitely sculpted the way that each album sounded. I think that is why they stick out to me, not just because Iv’e heard them so many times but because to me they perfectly embody each respective album and the tone I was trying to achieve.

Echosynthetic: The music does a very good job of transporting the listener into the story. Did you intentionally set out to write visually striking music?

Occams Laser: Having a name for a track before you even start the music was the key element when writing the trilogy, especially when trying to create an image in the listeners mind. For example, when I was creating the music for the track called Anger from Nine Circles I knew that the track needed an aggressive tone to convey the right idea. Like I said before; the source material of the Divine Comedy gave me a huge helping hand by already being rich in imagery.

Echosynthetic: The production quality is through the roof! What is your setup?

Occams Laser: My setup is pretty basic. It’s just my laptop, a midi keyboard, and a couple of monitors. I rely extremely heavily on virtual instruments (vst’s) such as the Arturia collection, which has some great emulation of classic modular and analogue synths. I usually then mix that together with a range of old drum samples and hope it all goes to plan!

I know that many musicians argue if analogue or digital setups are better, and I won’t go near that topic. For me, I use what I use because to me I feel comfortable with my setup, and comfort is key to being productive.

Echosynthetic: Where do you go from here? What’s on the horizon for Occams Laser?

Occams Laser: Hopefully this year will be the year where I finally have some live gigs in the UK…I am in talks with a few people now, so fingers crossed this will be a reality.
My other milestone, I really want to reach this year is to have my music on vinyl! I’m not quite sure which release that may be, it may even be something new.
What is for sure, is that there will be plenty more music this year, maybe not quite as many albums and EP’s as last year….my sanity may not survive!

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