Stabscotch

Stabscotch

interview by Francesco Nunziata

As it happens in the game of the same name (where someone, usually drunk, puts their hand on the table and spreads their fingers out and uses a knife to stab quickly between them), Stabscotch's music goes seamless from one genre to another with ferocious contempt for danger, while remaining anchored to a background that is, at the same time, noisy, metallic and arty. We stumbled across them for the first time in early 2017 when, rummaging through the undergrowth of the most experimental music, "Uncanny Valley" jumped out: a colossal babel of styles and genres assembled with the attitude of mad scientists but absolutely aware of the collapse of the humanity. In short, a real masterpiece! In a few days will be released "Twilight Dawn", their fourth album and another important one, full of new sound solutions and linked to an art-rock vision that is among the sharpest and most creative of the moment. To find out more and to try to understand their secrets, we had a long chat with the singer and bassist Tyler Blensdorf and the guitarist Zack Hubbard, the core nucleus of one of the most important bands of the moment.

Listening to your new album, "Twilight Dawn" (album that collects in two opposite tracklists the Ep "7 Is A Cycle" and "Drama Dragon"), I was surprised by the new sound solutions you adopted, also thanks to the presence of the sax and the violin. Tell us how these two albums were born and what direction your music is taking.

Tyler: “7 is a Cycle” and “Drama Dragon” reflect black magic and white magic, respectively. “Uncanny Valley” and “7 is a Cycle” is the exhausted exercise into black magic whereas “Drama Dragon” indulges in white. Thus, our next album, “Prison Jar”, will be concentrated on white magic. As with all things they both have shades of their opposite spectrums, but we felt the urge to go forward with something indescribable for us. what u hear on drama dragon and what's next is exactly that. our trajectory is seeking power of all kinds, so naturally that involves constant upsurges from us.

Could you elaborate on this distinction between black magic and white magic? Musically speaking, what distinguishes them?
Tyler: I think to articulate that further through text alone defeats the purpose of acutely conveying it through our music and symbolic iteration. I will add that the concepts we’ve developed are from original experience, but have also been exhaustively connected from all kinds of perspectives and teachings across the world. which testifies to its very real presence, its not a fantastical idea to us but tangible and happening. If people feel connected to the stuff were creating, I think they can piece it together if they listen to the sub conscious enough.

twilight_dawn_02Dominick Grand on sax and {arsonist} on violin helped you on “Twilight Dawn”. Plus, you also have a new drummer: Tom Good. How did you get in touch with them?
Tyler: Everyone we worked on the release are good friends of ours, and in the future they will be involved going forward to various degrees. Because of our pace and motion as a group, we imagine our dynamics like a satellite group - the core nucleus (Hubbard and I) drive forward the band while other people orbitally participate to various degrees depending on the logistics. For instance, we would love Tom to drum for us full time but isn’t possible due to location. So it goes for the rest for other reasons. There's layers to how deep they can be involved and when, and in a perfect world we wish they all could be involved as intensely as we are, but that's not really possible at the moment.

Stabscotch still seems to me like a very mysterious band. There aren't many of your photos around. What motivated you to make music and, therefore, to form a band? Have you already had experiences with alter bands?
Tyler: For Hubbard and I, this is our first endeavor in making music. Our music comes from a stream tapped from a sub conscious source that is tethered to ulterior forces of the universe. We create in response to this, like a water wheel channeling a river.
Zack: I expect that level of mystery will change soon. We have not been able to work to full capacity since releasing Uncanny Valley, but that has changed very recently. We have ambitions to expand Stabscotch through what we are now capable of doing creatively as we continue to find new ways to push forward.

How would you define your music?
Tyler: I still don’t have a great answer for this. To me, I classify musical creations in the way it is created. I have three general archetypes for music by how its made – auteur setups, band setups, and MC setups. Auteurs are completely autonomous in the music, image, execution, etc. Band setups are a small hub of resonating minds that communicate and grow something like an army of ants. MC setups which are more contemporary have a musical shadow platforming a character who leads the image and cultural energy of the project. All of these are present in all forms of music, and I feel I can hear it in the in the creation. To me, that’s where true similarity lies between music projects.
Zack: This is a difficult question to answer. We operate as a rock band through the core instrumental arrangement of guitar, bass, and drums, but do not choose to align or think of our output with any sort of genre classifications. Even that core arrangement of instruments has become flexible. What we do will always evolve.

Your lyrics are often very cryptic and rich in poetic images and graphic explosions, which makes me think of the desire to give them a strong literary imprint. What are the issues that interest you most?
Tyler: I’m not sure what you mean by issues if you’re implying a political or social contingency to our content. nothing about our music will ever be political, period. It is social in the sense that I’m very inspired by the flux of social hierarchies that are guiding our culture/evolution as a species. Obviously, things like technology are related to this. Regarding my lyrics, I would describe their origin similarly to my first statement about why we make music – I’m just channeling something more powerful than I’m capable of understanding, but I feel it.

uncanny_valley_01Are you aware that you have realized, with "Uncanny Valley", one of the most important rock albums of the last years? 
Tyler: This goes back to the point I made on how I classify music. I think the term “rock” originally classifies the band setup I articulated earlier, so by that definition there are plenty of so to speak “rock bands” making incredible stuff to this day. We are cognizant of all the terrific things people have said about our music, and I am deeply grateful for those that gain something from our stuff. I will say the last few years we’ve been very frustrated with our ourselves following up with our output however – the trajectory for the next few years we have planned we realized months before “Uncanny Valley” was even released, in late 2016. People may think our silence is because were taking breaks or disinterested, but it’s the complete opposite – we have too many things we want to put out. We’ve been working endlessly on realizing our material, perfecting it, trying to overachieve and break our ceiling of capabilities constantly. This is considering the entire process – recording, producing, playing, mastering, the visuals. So were grateful for anyone who is sticking around leaning anxiously to what’s about to pop out from all this, because its certainly beyond anything we’ve ever heard I can tell you that.
Zack: Before releasing “Uncanny Valley”, we deeply believed in the album in a way that transcends any external validity. With that said we were unsure of how it would be received on a greater level. The feedback we have received has been incredible and we are thankful to all of those who have supported it.

What is "Uncanny Valley" about? Is "Uncanny Valley" a region of the soul or what?
Tyler: We envision “Uncanny Valley” as an intoxicating journey through the titular area. It’s a flash baptism to those who are not in tune with the ulterior influences and sciences of experiencing. It is our scaffolding for the process of enlightenment we want to achieve. It’s rooted in black magic.

I still have a curiosity: does that title have something to do with Masahiro Mori's theory of "uncanny valley"? In short, did the music on that album represent the unease that man feels before robots when they become too similar to humans?
Tyler: Some people have asked us this, and I suppose yes and no. No in the sense its not specifically connected to the theory and experiments with robots that went with it, but I think the sensation that arises from it is overlapping. When you feel this warm flood throughout ur body when confronted by something ostensibly unreal or shouldnt be there, like its peering out of a deeper layer of reality - I think thats a strong power of “Uncanny Valley”.

Why did you choose to release "Uncanny Valley" only on tape?
Tyler: Its just the format of the label our friends at visual disturbances release things on. We now have a prerogative in producing unique and representative physical formats for our future releases, like what we did for “The Witness”. We would like to publish stuff for vinyl and etc in the future once we get more money, but even then we would like to do something with those that makes it individual and important and not just out of doing it for the sake of demand or band virtue.
Zack: When we released the album through Visual Disturbances, that’s what they had to offer. We have recently discussed releasing the album in new unique forms, but nothing is currently scheduled.

I find the cover of "Uncanny Valley" very fascinating. What exactly does it represent and who made it?
Tyler: It’s a visual representation of what the visual manifestation of uncanny valley might look like. Its created from multiple found materials such as organic byproducts and manufactured waste, but a lot of the color you see is from chemical compounds I synthesized in lab. I designed it, I cant remember the labor dividends we split among us at the time. I definitely remember foraging for mushrooms with Hubbard and James [Vavrek, the drummer] in the woods though.
Zack: Many of the bright colors were chemicals Tyler synthesized in his lab. Other materials are objects found in the forest in Bloomington and canvas written on with charcoal. All of the objects were arranged on a canvas, then we took a photo. For a short period of time, the cover was a living thing.

2_08I feel like "Open Sesemji", the first song of "Uncanny Valley", is a kind of your manifesto, especially if I think of these lines: "This place that I have chosen ill call it my home / this place that I have chosen ill call it my throne / I speak for the walls / swallow the fog / just till ur gone / THIS IS THE SHAPE TO COME".
Am I wrong?
Tyler: I think thats correct, more specifically for “Uncanny Valley” but as a trajectory for the band in general yes.

In "Uncanny Valley", the visceral tension, the continuous alternation of reflexive and other absolutely explosive moments and a highly dramatic narrative design seem to want to reproduce the tensions to which today's man is subjected in front of an increasingly complex and problematic reality. From this point of view, it can be said that "Uncanny Valley" also has the merit of embodying the Zeitgeist of the last years. Do You agree?
Tyler: I don’t think reality is becoming increasingly complex or problematic actually. I think our exposure to all the information in the world is more accessible and thus we’re overloaded more, but I actually believe as a species we’re always slowly stepping towards order despite entropy. The experience of “Uncanny Valley” is not contingent on any specific timeline to us, I’d say its more the opposite – tapping into a place that has and always will be present under the veil of our normal lens of reality. If anything, maybe the musicality of it is what testifies to the Zeitgeist of our culture of saturation, diffusion, etc. So the tools used to enable the experience are modern, but the source is eternal.
Zack: I think all music in some way or another is a product of the reality surrounding the artist and their ways of making sense of it. In making “Uncanny Valley”, I think the reality you’re referring to is channeled but we do not specifically refer to that Zeitgeist.

Is it fair to say that "Uncanny Valley" represents a radicalization and improvement of what you proposed on your first album, "Eldritch"?
Tyler: Yes and no. “Eldritch”’s intent was sincere, just not as clear as what we developed from “Uncanny Valley”, it took time. We still love the songs from it, hate the production and sloppiness of it. We’ve envisioned rerecording and remixing it in the future.
Zack: In some ways. I believe when we made “Uncanny Valley”, we had a deeper and more unified understanding of what we’re doing. We also have a better proficiency in the tools we needed to do it. With that said, listening to “Eldritch” still provides a meaningful depiction of our ideas as a band.

Also in 2017, after "Uncanny Valley", you released "The Witness", an electroacoustic & droning sonic experience. What are the reasons for this change of musical direction?
Tyler: “The Witness” was recorded in between recording “Uncanny Valley” as some peripheral exercises we did to realize deeper the experience of “Uncanny Valley”. It tapped into something really guttural and made something pretty unique so we put it out. That release is special cuz I don’t think we’ll ever be able to reproduce something like that, it was so dependent on the energy we were conjuring in the house we made “Uncanny Valley” in for those months. Its interesting to think about.
Zack: “The Witness” was produced using similar sounds and loops that were captured in “Uncanny Valley”, but through improvisation and different tools. It was an interesting way to dabble in the same energies of “Uncanny Valley” while experimenting with a different way of producing them.

trasferimento_01Tyler, would you like to tell us about your solo project, Dizayga? What does this name mean?
Tyler: Dizayga is the embodiment of my raw psyche, it’s the loudest subjective voice in my head. I consider Stabscotch to be something more outside of myself that I contribute to, like we’re all listening together to achieve a greater whole and go further. Dizayga is more a channel I summon the deepest part of my psyche out of, which in itself is responsible for the contribution of Stabscotch. Dizayga is more an exploration of the science/spirit of the subjective psyche, whereas Stabscotch is achieving more objective phenomenon.

In some ways, "Anthrocide: Exit by Accented Figures" is even more radical than "Uncanny Valley". What prompted you to record it?
Tyler: Similarly to “Uncanny Valley”, its the blackening of the Dizayga embodiment, the nigredo process. It will develop and go further on its own bouts. I’m pretty much always concurrently working on other projects as I do Stabscotch, and Dizayga is certainly one of them. This year, I’ll have another individuated project under my belt coming out. But I have many other contributions, pseudonyms people arent really aware of. I’d say at any given point the past few years I’m working on about 3-5 projects at the same time, that includes engineering now like Silent Gallery.

Zack, you are instead the mind behind Silent Gallery project, and last year you recorded "Neon Winter", a less angular album that moves between psychedelia, avant-prog and math-rock.
Zack: Silent Gallery began as a way for me to continue making music in a lull period where we not fully capable as Stabscotch. It is simultaneously a way for me to experiment with my ability to craft guitars in a unique way, proliferate as a multi-instrumentalist, and portray something meaningful. What the project attempts to depict is inseparable from my own experiences and the way I observe reality, but it taps into the raw feeling of these experiences themselves in a way I believe is felt by all. It is a level of subjectivity that that is unable to be spoken on or articulated, but also transcends the individual.

"Twilight Dawn" was released by Mr. Snow Productions!, which released other extremely interesting albums, including that of Dizayga and Silent Gallery, and also that of Bob Wilson & The Brown Eyes. Who is responsible for this label?
Tyler: Mr. Snow is. I met them shortly after “Uncanny Valley” came out, they hit me up about our music and we resonated a lot on how good creation should be put out and building something from it. I’m starting a somewhat permanency as a sound engineer for the label, with Mr. Snow handling money, distro, etc. But they helped unlock visual arts out of me more with their style, which I got really into once we starting sharing stuff. They help me out with graphic processing and most other things I’m not that skilled at.

3_05Many music lovers and music critics keep saying - some guys have been saying it for almost thirty years, to be honest - that rock is dead. What do you think in this regard?
Zack: I believe that when most people talk about rock music they consider it in the context of bands that have already come and gone. There’s an expectation for rock to sound in a specific genre classified way, but I don’t believe that is the case. I personally consider “rock music” to be any music composed through a specific arrangement of guitar, bass, drums, plus whatever else you would like to throw in there. With that said, I believe that combination of instruments has boundless space to expand, it just will not sound the way that it has always sounded.

Where does the inspiration for your music come from: records, books, daily life or what else?
Tyler: All kinds of things. If theres anything unique to point out with my subjective inspiration is my training as a scientist. I think a lot on how significantly its impacted my creative process and lens of the world.
Zack: My inspiration comes from the intersection of all of these things, other forms of art, and the way they are transmuted to visceral experience.

Which are the bands and artists you feel most connected to musically
Tyler: Coil. During the development of “Uncanny Valley”, they really helped surge us the ambition to achieve sound that enables a sensibility outside of the music. They perceived themselves as magicians using sound as a tool for their exercises, and I think in a contemporary sense we equate that to ourselves as well. Their music and particularly on creating and the living world has impacted me beyond description.

You're from Bloomington, Indiana. Are there any other local bands you want to recommend?
Tyler: No and let me clarify the locational thing circulating online – we are originally from (town in) Indiana, went to school in Bloomington Indiana where Stabscotch was formed. We haven’t lived there for years, in between then and now, we have lived distantly and variably and now officially live in our grand homebase of Pittsburgh, PA. At the time of living in Bloomington we did spotty punk setups for house shows during the “Eldritch” era, and we have no nostalgia or association with whatever scene may be in Bloomington, IN. We’re very fond of the environment from that place though and think about that often, same with growing up in Indiana. We’re very proud to be making powerful stuff from Midwest roots without any nepotism or bullshit trustfundarian child money.
Zack: We have not been connected to Bloomington for years and are not aware of what’s currently happening there musically.

What are your favorite albums of the last decade?
Tyler: No, we decline answering that, I don't find that important and I also don't think I could properly answer that. I don't think of best albums of the year, etc. Sometimes just going outside and listening is a more deepening experience than sitting at home listening to albums. All well mention is we're very proud to be in a place like Pittsburgh now surrounded by a lot of extremely talented friends making some really incredible stuff. a lot of the ppl we worked with on this are based here. People should be conscious of all the sounds they take in every day on a full basis. Ur conscious isn't just shut off while you're experiencing things and revealing the tools u can use to express that mundane or non creative things, it's all doing something underneath. If ur privy enough to enjoy music u should be considering that. Once u become aware of that then u can start to see flashes of the source of Power. If anything I just view albums as a deeper expression of those experiences and revealing the tools u can use to express that.
All well mention is we're very proud to be in a place like Pittsburgh, now surrounded by a lot of extremely talented friends making some really incredible stuff. A lot of the people we worked with on "Twilight Dawn" are based here.


84552847_3707962012610425_7253398811672838144_o_01Will you ever come to play in Italy?
Tyler: We would love to, and would love to do shows for that matter. We’re currently tapped out in terms of resources and time to develop a really good live show though, so its not in the works right now. If we ever went to Europe though, Italy would be a priority, I have a lot of family there too. We’re currently aspiring to create a “live” sort of experience right now, more to come.
Zack: We are currently in a somewhat of a reformation period. Tyler and I are the only ones capable of producing content and playing right now, so we do not even have the setup to play locally. We would like to change that, but there is no timeline for live performance.

What do you do for a living besides playing?
Tyler: I’m a chemist.
Zack: I currently work in clinical research in addition to working towards a master's degree.

As you said, “Prison Jar” will be your next album. Will it be released this year?
Tyler: No. Maybe next year, just all depends how much we can get resources and time to finish it. The ideas are all there and have been for a long time. We're always battling logistics.

Discography
 Eldritch (autoprodotto, 2014)
 Ziggurat (Ep, autoprodotto, 2015)
  Uncanny Valley (Visual Disturbances, 2017)
 The Witness (autoprodotto, 2017)
  Twilight Dawn (Mr. Snow Productions!, 2020)
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