Tradition Be Damned
CoC chats with Kevin Hufnagel of Dysrhythmia
by: Jackie Smit
One of the unwritten laws of modern-day music (even in the supposedly open-minded realms of metal) is that a vocalist's primary role lies in being the band's centre-piece -- the gatekeeper, if you will, for the group's identity. Very rarely will this law be broken, and even more rarely will it be ignored successfully. Enter Dysrhythmia: a surge of pure, undiluted, unconventional musical expression, intent on turning every norm and tradition on its head -- and judging by the hypnotic dirge of their Relapse debut _Pretest_, pretty damn good at doing so. Operating sans vocals, their mixture of math-rock, ambience, noise and dense, cascading, almost film-like overtures is unique and powerful enough to convey the band's intended message without the traditional, force-fed assistance of lyrics. The prime force behind this, one of 2003's most surprising efforts, is guitarist Kevin Hufnagel -- a man who knows all too well about having to prove oneself to a cynical audience.

CoC: Instrumental acts -- apart obviously from people like Marty Friedman, Joe Satriani and so on -- aren't a particularly common thing in modern-day metal. What sparked the idea among yourselves to do something this unconventional?

Kevin Hufnagel: With the exception of one band, I've always played in unconventional-type bands, and half of them have been instrumental, so I guess this is the kind of music that interests me most as a musician. I enjoy the challenge of creating a piece of music that can stand on its own, convey emotion and be interesting and memorable all at once. I think our band has nothing to do with a lot of other "instrumental metal" like the artists you mentioned. Our music is more concerned with dynamics, rhythm, tension and flow, rather than writing simplistic song forms to solo over, if you know what I'm saying.

CoC: Relapse Records is the first label to sign you to a deal exceeding distribution -- did you find yourself confronted by a lot of scepticism from other labels when you approached them?

KH: Dysrhythmia never really submitted our music or recordings to any other labels. I would hear from friends in other bands, who were signed, that they would play our music for their labels and they would all say "tell them to call us when they get a singer". It's really awesome that Relapse decided that they wanted to work with us and it was certainly something I never expected.

CoC: So how did the deal with Relapse come into being?

KH: We played a show in December 2001 here in Philly with Dillinger Escape Plan and everyone from Relapse was there in the audience. We went over very well that night with the crowd and they were impressed by us, especially being a local band, I guess. There were also a few people at Relapse who were Dysrhythmia fans already for a few years, so that's how we got noticed.

CoC: On your website (www.dysrhythmiaband.com) you mention several musical influences, which include avant-jazz and indie rock. Outside of music, what would you cite as the key influences in the writing and construction of _Pretest_?

KH: A lot of times everyday life works its way into our songs. I think living in a major city like Philadelphia, the tension of city life and seeing all the urban decay in parts of town influenced songs like "Bastard" and "Annihilation" parts 1 and 2. I'm also a huge movie buff and watch tons of obscure films and extreme cinema. I don't know how much that really influences our music, consciously, though.

CoC: Because of the absence of a vocalist in your band, do you feel like Dysrhythmia still provides you with an adequate platform to express attitudes and emotions that are personal to you, or just general things that you want to get off your chest?

KH: Yeah, I do. Playing is a great release for me, it's a way to vent. I don't consider myself very good with words, personally, so expressing myself through my instrument is important and essential to me. Sometimes a song title might clue you in on what the song may be about or inspired by though.

CoC: So what are the key feelings that you feel you've expressed on _Pretest_?

KH: Certainly a lot of pent-up frustration in songs like "Catalogue of Personal Faults" and "Bastard". More melancholy feelings in a song like "Touch Benediction". Songs like "My Relationship" and "Running Shoe of Justice" are more upbeat-sounding, they make me feel good. <laughs>

CoC: You've just come off the Contamination tour, where you played with bands like Mastodon and Cephalic Carnage. What was the reaction like for Dysrhythmia, given that you differ quite vastly from the aforementioned acts?

KH: The reaction was extremely positive for the most part. I think a lot of people were pleasantly surprised, and we were not what they were expecting at all.

CoC: Do you feel as though you need to adopt a different approach to performing live, because you don't have a vocalist?

KH: I think it's cool that there isn't any one person standing out front and centre. When we're performing it's very intense and we aren't reserved at all in a live setting, and I hear we are fun to watch too.

CoC: _Pretest_ often sounds to me as though it could have been pulled from a movie score. Is that something the band have considered doing?

KH: I never thought about that with this band. I occasionally record experimental / ambient guitar music on my own -- though recently not as much as I used to -- and I always thought that kind of stuff would lend itself very well to a visual medium. It would be awesome if someone decided to use some Dysrhythmia in one of their films.

CoC: So if you were offered the chance, what would the ideal movie be for a Dysrhythmia score?

KH: I don't know... <laughs> Maybe a Japanese Yakuza film or David Lynch if he remade "Howard the Duck".

CoC: Tracks like "Annihilation" 1 and 2 create an almost thematic feeling, which runs throughout the album. Is this just a case of reading too much between the lines, or is that what you had in mind when you did the record?

KH: There's definitely no theme running through the record, although if that's what you thought from listening to it then that's cool. Originally we had the idea of starting the record with "Annihilation" 1 and ending with 2, but the way we do it live, with the two of them segueing into each other, sounds so good we decided to keep it that way.

CoC: What are your aspirations and ambitions for Dysrhythmia?

KH: I try to keep them very simple. Most importantly, I want to continue to grow musically as a band, to explore some different territories, and keep it fresh and interesting. Of course I want to keep expanding our following. This means lots of hard work and touring. I can see our efforts starting to pay off slowly already, but at the same time I would love to see it grow much further.

CoC: Well Kevin, thanks a lot for the talk. Any last words for the Chronicles of Chaos massive?

KH: Come see us live. Cheers!

(article submitted 22/7/2003)


ALBUMS
9/30/2009 D Cairns 6 Dysrhythmia - Psychic Maps
5/18/2003 J Smit 7 Dysrhythmia - Pretest
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