Rites of the Damned / An Interview With Elay Arson

When Elay Arson last released an album it was the solo work of Daniel David Larson. Bloodbath made a name for the artist as a new talent in dark synthwave. Fast forward to 2017 and Elay Arson has grown into a duo, with Larson adding guitarist Devin Harrison. The result? One of the best records of the year, hands down. Rites of the Damned sets the bar of metal infused synthwave, and it sets the bar very high. Double bass drums? Check! Dueling guitar solos? Check! Head banging induced by tempo changes? Check! Amazing synth hooks? Check! Seriously, I could go on for ages on things they’ve done right on this record. The leap from Bloodbath (which was already a great album) to Rites of the Damned is mind blowing. Beyond all that you also have guest vocalists, remixes, and over 80 minutes of music.

Now that I’ve introduced their new album, how about we talk to the duo behind it. I give you, Elay Arson:

For anyone not already familiar with Elay Arson, what can you tell us about the band?

Daniel: We are a metal influenced synthwave duo from Colorado Springs, Colorado. I (Daniel David Larson) do the synths, drum programming, bass guitar and production and my partner (Devin Harrison) does all the guitars. I originally started this project as a way of getting back into music again at the end of 2015. Right now we have 2 albums with this project. The first one I did by myself in 2016 called ’Bloodbath’ and the second one ‘Rites of the Damned’ was made in a short 3 or 4 month span as a duo. For our live shows I play bass, Devin plays guitar and for Colorado shows we have a session drummer on my custom made Roland kit, Mason.

Devin: We’d fall somewhere between metal and synthwave. Heavy and brooding.

What have been the advantages of expanding into a duo?

Daniel: Devin comes up with stuff that I’d never think of and I’m able to flesh out songs faster. Despite living down the street from each other we barely saw each other during production, but we communicated most days via Facebook Messenger. For me knowing that someone else can do something to a song makes it so much easier to find a stopping point for me, I’d send stuff over to Devin, and he’d record guitar and I’d mix it together and we knocked out the album a lot way faster than I could have alone. There really have been no downsides to it, we work very well together. However, we are never going to try to make an album this quickly again. It was hectic and we missed our deadline for having physical releases out by our July 21st show anyway.

Devin: Daniel and I bring different things to the table. My weaknesses are his strengths, and vise versa. We complement each other really well.

Rites of the Damned has just hit and it’s absolutely amazing. How do you feel about the record now that it’s out?

Daniel: Well first of all thank you for calling the album amazing! I’m relieved mostly. It was an insane production schedule and I’m happy to have it finally done. I’ve been making music for over 15 years now and this is by far the best I have ever made. I still want to improve and put something out there better than this album already, though. Devin and I have been talking, we might start writing again in a month or two.

Devin: I feel good about the record. We put ourselves on a short timeline, but the music didn’t come out sounding rushed. Everybody that contributed did an amazing job and Daniel’s mixing really brought the tracks to life. The end product surpassed my expectations by a mile.

What was it like adding vocalists to some of the tracks?

Daniel: It was new for me. Every vocal track had to be approached differently for the 3 songs on the album with vocals. Justine and I made a song from scratch together, I sent Becca a demo of the song I wanted her to do that she was later featured on and Reapers gave me a mostly finished song to work with. For me it was all a challenge to get the mixes perfect on those tracks because I’m still not used to mixing in vocals; so much so that Becca helped on the mix of her vocals on our track together. I’m not going to shy away from vocals in the future, but I still expect Elay Arson to be mostly instrumental songs.

Devin: It was new territory for me. As a wanky guitar player from a progressive metal background, the vocals took me out of my comfort zone. When they’d get added, I’d go back in the songs and strip out guitar parts or record new ones so I wasn’t clashing or competing with the vocalist. I learned a lot from the process.

Your dark goth metal sound fused with synthwave is very unique (I especially enjoy the tempo changes). What inspired your musical direction?

Daniel: I initially wanted to do something really heavy and intense, but I think ‘Rites of the Damned’ came out more solemn and angsty than I initially intended. Like I always want to be like Perturbator and Carpenter Brut, but I never really sound like my synthwave heroes. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve with everything, including music, and I tend to express how I feel very earnestly whether I want to or not. I try to write with a general concept in mind, but I almost always end up someplace I didn’t expect. In some spots I just wanted to try some tempo changes in spots to alter a mood and I like to insert triplet patterns or complex fills to get out of the box a little. When I write it’s just usually a single 4 bar melody line in my head and a one rhythm or drum pattern and I pick a key and I figure out the rest around that. I tried experimenting with a lot of time signatures outside of 4/4 too. My favorite song on ‘Bloodbath’ is “Sun” which is in 5/4 time, and I wanted to try that again on ‘Rites’ so “Fear Disappear” is in 6/4. However, in the future I would like to get better at aiming for a musical direction and hitting it dead on.

Devin: Daniel built the frames for the songs, so the form and the tempo changes were all him. I’ve always loved tempo drops and odd meters so those parts ended up being some of my favorites as well.

What do you find yourself listening to when you aren’t writing your own music?

Daniel: If I’m in the car more often than not it’s usually nothing followed by classical music and podcasts. When I’m at home and am not in production mode I’m listening to tons of other synthwave acts, death metal, doom metal, industrial, pop and rock from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, 2000’s electro. Nothing terribly obscure save for a handful of the synthwave acts. But If I’m in the car or in the middle of production on an album I barely listen to anything really.

Devin: Pretty likely something weird. My favorite new find is Igorrr’s Savage Sinusoid

What is it like working with Kill All Music? They seem like a fun label.

Daniel: KAM is cool as heck! They were the first people to take a chance on me or give me any opportunities with Elay Arson. They made a brilliant cassette tape for me with ‘Bloodbath’, they do a lot of work promoting all their artists. We had a 74 email long chain just making ‘Bloodbath’ and some of those emails are super long, from both of us. 

They have a brilliant sense of humor too. Coutoux’s album Hellicoprion on cassette literally comes with a waiver because it’s so brutal. Their attention to detail is great, but they do a lot of stuff above and beyond, especially with their physical shipments. I’m more grateful than anything else to work with them or have worked with them. I just wish I’d given them some notice about ‘Rites of the Damned’, I kind of surprised them with that one. Oops.

Devin: As a new addition to Elay I haven’t had any interaction with the label yet. They seem like a great group of people though.I’m looking forward to working with them.

What have been the hardest obstacles to overcome in your musical journey?

Daniel: I have a litany of diagnosed mental illnesses since my time in the Army, and that makes it hard to do just about anything in general. But creatively my biggest obstacles are self-doubt as to my abilities and trying too hard to force something that isn’t working when writing. I’ve been doing better at ignoring those things though. Logistically it’s the fact that my “go to” for when I’m feeling burnt out, frustrated or exceptionally depressed, is I go to sleep for long periods of time.

Devin: Keeping motivated. Music has always been fulfilling, but it can be very challenging to earn a decent income as a career musician. I spread out to different projects and teach guitar lessons to compensate. The dream would be seeing Elay grow to the point where I could focus all of my energy into it.

Any advice to new artists trying to make a name for themselves?

Daniel: Be willing to suck at what you do and keep doing it until you get good at it. Find a DAW you like and stick with it. Music is subjective but that’s no excuse to eschew the principles of good songwriting or music theory. Compare and contrast your music to others occasionally as a quality check, but don’t beat yourself up if your compositions or production skill isn’t as good as your favs yet. Always be networking and collaborating, listen to, share and promote other people’s work when you can. Reach out to people, you cannot and will not make it alone. Eventually, if your work is up to par, other people will start to notice. Most importantly, be patient. Art, music especially, is a long and difficult path.

Devin: Work hard on your music. Reach out and network as much as you can. We’re in the same boat with the other artists out there trying to make a name for themselves, but that seems to be helping.

Anyone you’d like to thank or shout out?

Daniel: Ariel ZB, for taking a chance working with a nobody after hearing the (solo) 6 song demo I made in April. Devin for joining me and shredding guitar like a manic. The people that contributed to ‘Rites of the Damned’ Florian Millot, Becca Starr, Justine Ruppert, Carbon Killer, Vernian Process, Xyntec, Reapers. The comedian Asterios Kokkinos for allowing me to sample his voice for Digital Cyber Demon and use it as a song title, Simon Bondar for coming up with the new Elay Arson logo on the cover of ‘Rites of the Damned’. Topher at Kill All Music. Aaron a Colorado Goth Fest. NewRetroWave for featuring us with our first submission. My graphics people that have made some stuff that’ll make some rad T-shirts when we can afford to produce them: BrearART, Bo Bradshaw, and Morgan Beck. And everyone that has reviewed and or purchased the album.

Devin: Yes. My family and friends for being supportive  in my personal life. Our talented contributors. And of course Daniel for bringing me on board.

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