The Sequence of Prime’s Brandon Duncan isn’t just a musician and artist I admire. He’s someone that I’m happy and proud to call my comrade; sometimes our conversations lead me to suspect he really is my brother from another mother. His music is a whirlwind of grinding, mechanized thrash, while his art is equal parts cosmic, apocalyptic and futuristic. In honor of the release of Inter-, his latest collection of face-rippers under The Sequence of Prime moniker, we chatted over a series of e-mails about everything from the new album, to HP Lovercraft, to the multiverse. Read on for one hell of a verbal ride…
THKD: I’m listening to Inter- right now, and the thing that strikes me immediately about it in comparison to Virion is that it sounds more organic, yet at the same time even more aggressive and ruthless. Was this intentional or just a byproduct of The Sequence of Prime’s continuing musical evolution? What were your intentions going into the writing and recording process for the album, and how did they change (if at all) as Inter- began to take shape?
Brandon Duncan: That’s really cool that you brought this up first thing! The more organic approach became intentional towards the end, but when I first started working on it two years ago or so my intent was actually to write an album that was more electronic focused than Virion. I actually had several songs along the way that were purely electronic, without even any guitars. Obviously, things changed a lot over time, haha!
The thing was, when I was working on it with that intent, things just weren’t feeling right. I’d be really in to what I was doing at the time, but then when I’d set it aside and come back to it with fresh ears I just wasn’t happy with the way it was going. I eventually reached a point where I just said to myself “what the hell am I doing?? I just want to thrash!!” And that was when I scrapped about half of what I had written in the past year and half and completely reworked the whole thing in just a few weeks!
So that’s where the organic quality comes from, most of what you hear came about pretty spontaneously. Another thing that gives it that sound is that after it was written, I recorded most of the guitars, about 70% or so, in just one sitting. I had a goal of completing 100%, but after 12 hours of constant thrashing my hand and wrist locked up on me and I had to postpone the remainder for a couple weeks.
So I’d say that it’s definitely part of this particular album’s evolution, but not necessarily TSOP as a whole. By that I mean I did what I felt was right for “Inter-” and next time around I’ll do what feels right as well, even if it means writing a noise album or something, hahaha!
THKD: In what ways do you think that the burst of spontaneous creativity you’ve described benefitted the creation of Inter- and yourself as a musician? Were you at all discouraged when you realized you were going to have to scrap two years worth of work in order to really make the album you wanted to make? Were there any additional obstacles you faced other than the aforementioned wrist and finger troubles?
BD: First of all I gotta say that right now I’m listening to the new Impiety for about the 20th time. You dug into it yet? If so what do you think of it? It completely shreds my face down to the skull! If I sound crazy in my writing I attribute it to the fact that I’m going nuts to it while typing, hahahaha!
Ok to answer your questions: Honestly, I wasn’t discouraged at all. I would get discouraged while I was working on it and coming to those frequent road blocks feeling like things weren’t working. But once I stripped things down and the “magic” started happening I wasn’t discouraged, I was totally stoked! I knew at that moment that I was on to something. So it’s not like I feel that all that build up was a waste of time or anything, not at all. I regret nothing! If it weren’t for all of that experimentation and struggle there’s no way “Inter-” would be what it came to be. Does that make any sense at all? Haha. It’s like an explosion! I think of all that time as a wick, and at the end of the wick was a giant bomb waiting to go off. That’s about how I feel about it, hahaha. I think it was a huge benefit for sure and provided for a much more violent album than I would have been able to write otherwise.
I suppose I should note that I’ve mostly been talking about the music itself up to this point. Conceptually I had a pretty strong idea of what I wanted to do lyrically, so that remained fairly constant through the entire process
As for any other obstacles, really the only other thing that got in the way was just finding a physical location to record the vocals. When I recorded Virion I owned a house out in the middle of Plainville, Kansas, so I could be as loud as I wanted whenever I wanted. Now I live in an apartment in the middle of the Kansas City. Not really a location conducive to recording thrash metal vocals, haha! Luckily though I found a small studio really close to where I work, and through the grapevine was able to get a pretty sweet deal on some recording time!
Oh man, I can’t believe I almost forgot another obstacle…At one point I actually broke out in a crazy allergic reaction! I had hives all over my fucking body and I felt like I was on fire! I posted a photo of one of my arms on the TSOP Facebook page too actually, haha. But I had studio time scheduled and didn’t want to cancel, so I recorded anyway. I just pounded a few shots of whiskey and went at it, hahaha!
THKD: You broke out in hives?! Clearly that was God’s punishment for making devil music, hahaha. But seriously, I find it interesting that you bring up Impiety (I haven’t heard the new one yet), because I always imagine them as these barbarians, and then I always think of your music as being sort of sci-fi or futuristic. Do you think listening to bands like Impiety influenced you to ditch the electronics and take the album in the more organic/violent direction we’ve been discussing?
BD: You know what, I honestly had never really thought about that too deeply till now, but I think you’re probably on to something. I mean, I listen to all sorts of different music, but I’ve always gravitated towards that merciless attack of bands like Impiety, Angelcorpse, The Crown, Destroyer 666, Napalm Death, Anaal Nathrakh, Vader, etc. That’s the kind of stuff I listen to the most and always go back to after I go and explore other genres. At this very moment I’ve got the latest Ravencult blasting! It rules! So yeah, I’d say that at a subconscious level that was probably a big reason I wasn’t liking what I was originally trying to do!
And yeah, I view Impiety and bands in the same vein as barbarians too! Which is a HUGE compliment to all of them. What’s more metal than a fucking barbarian? NOTHING. Hahaha.
So I just got done reading your “Lost Art of Total Immersion” post. That is a great post that raises a lot of questions and good points! I consider myself fortunate in that I’ve never really lost the ability to have that frequent escape into music. I don’t think I could live without that “total immersion” on a regular basis. It’s really cool to know that you take that approach before writing about an album! And personally, I don’t see these non-musical elements to a release as peripheral at all. I think the total package of artwork, lyrics, liner notes, etc. is absolutely necessary to create the best possible experience. That’s why for years and years I was an absolutely die-hard CD collector. However, recently I’ve started to rip all my music as lossless audio onto my computer and go pure digital. Also, for a couple months now I’ve been purchasing music off BandCamp whenever available rather than buying physical CD’s. The great thing about it is that bands can include additional downloads with their music that include PDF’s with liner notes, artwork and any other content they want to be included. Do you think the actual physical paper/plastic/vinyl is necessary to create that immersive experience? Or do you think you could experience that same sense of escape with a “digital package” that includes music, artwork, lyrics, or hell maybe even video or interactive content included with a release?
THKD: I’m glad you brought up the digital vs physical format thing. I will freely admit that I’m pretty oldschool and have been collecting CDs plus a small amount of vinyl and cassettes for the better part of nineteen years now. That said, I think I’m finally starting to come around a little more to digital releases, especially when they’re as complete as what you’ve done with TSOP. I’m usually on the computer when I listen to music at home anyway, so it’s pretty nice to have everything right there on my desktop and the artwork really jumps off the screen. A lot of these labels sending out digital promos could learn a thing or two from the package you’ve put together! What prompted you to make that switch from collecting CDs to digital releases? Also, since you’re primarily releasing your music digitally, do you forsee TSOP releases becoming even more of a fully interactive experience for listeners in the future as the technology continues to advance? What do you think the next step is as far as making the listening experience even more immersive?
BD: Mostly what prompted me to shift to digital releases is that I just started to feel overwhelmed with the amount of stuff I own, haha! I really have way too much shit for one person, it’s quite ridiculous! So I feel I sort of reached a “peak” of the amount of stuff I’m comfortable owning and having around my living space. I’ve actually been starting to sell things to streamline down. I’ll always have an appreciation for the tangible releases though, I just don’t want any more stuff, hahaha.
Man, I see nothing but continued potential for digital releases! The possibilities are endless! I think a lot of bands and labels either don’t see the potential or they just don’t think to take the extra step to create a more complete package. I get the impression they equate a digital release as to just a folder of songs, you know? They don’t think about including additional artwork or liner notes or hell even just a simple text document with the lyrics. Which is sad because they can include as much as they want without even having printing costs! And yeah, I see TSOP releases becoming even richer with digital content in the future. I actually even have more dreams with Inter-, I’m just trying to figure out the logistics of what I want to do. I don’t want to speak too much about my plans since I don’t have it all figured out yet, and there’s a possibility I might not be able to figure it out at all, haha. But I WILL say that one thing I’m really excited about right now is the iPad. I think the iPad has a monstrous amount of untapped potential for music releases!
THKD: Let’s talk a little more about putting together that complete package and your creative process. The last time we talked, you said that your music and visual art were like conjoined twins. Was this still the case during the creation of Inter-? Did the visual and musical aspects develop simultaneously?
BD: Yeah man! That was still all the same for sure. That’s just the way I operate. Throughout the whole process I knew I wanted the lyrics to revolve around alternate realities, so I was thinking of different visuals to match it. I eventually had a vision of a slow moving line passing through the earth, revealing a reality where the world has already ended. I really like the idea that if there are alternate realities, or parallel universes, then perhaps the world has already “ended” an infinite number of times, in an infinite number of ways. I then created a storyboard of that idea with basic shapes, which I’m attaching. While laying that out I really liked the look of the middle image, with the perfect division of the earth. That became the foundation for the final artwork and a constant inspiration for the lyrics.
THKD: What inspired this interest in alternate realities and the end of the world? You’ve named a number of books in the liner notes (I’m ashamed to say that I’m not familiar with any of them) that sound like they might touch on these subjects…
BD: Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of parallel worlds, time travel, distortions of space and time, and so on. I think what planted the seed for my interest in all these things was seeing Terminator at a young age. That movie really made a lasting impression on me as a person. I feel that I am really fortunate in that my parents didn’t filter my exposure to any movies, music or entertainment as I was growing up, haha! I mean, I distinctly remember watching shit like Predator, Terminator, Robocop back when they first came out on home video! But Terminator specifically really always tripped me out. I remember watching it over and over and over and trying to wrap my mind around the whole time travel aspect. And I’m still interested in these things to this day, probably more than ever!
Another big factor is that I’m terrified by things that can’t be seen. That’s a big player in a lot of what I do. Even Virion was based on that fear – like the idea of an airborne virus that we are all breathing in but don’t even realize it. That shit scares the hell out of me, you know? It’s the same with the idea of alternate realities. The thought that perhaps there are are other “realms” within what we know as reality is unsettling to me. Perhaps there are inter-dimensional beings around us at all times, or we’re actually doing other things and carrying on our lives into countless futures. Have you ever had a terrible thought? Like you imagine yourself committing some horrible act of violence towards someone? Like even for just a second, when you’re really pissed off at someone, you just imagine scratching their eyeballs out or something? This is where it gets even more terrifying, because what comes with the territory of alternate realities is the possibility of the manifestation of realities based on thought. Like just you even thinking something like that means that action took place in a fork in time. It’s not far-fetched for anyone to commit any act of violence on another person. So many people say things like “Oh I would never do that, I could never hurt another person.” Well, I call bullshit on that! Given the right circumstances anyone will do anything, I guarantee it. And perhaps they are doing the very things they say they would “never do” in another existence.
I’d like to mention that the idea of alternate realities isn’t exactly far-fetched either. A couple times so far when I’ve told people that the album deals a lot with the idea of parallel universes they give me funny looks. Like it’s silly, or that I played too many video games or something, haha! But even well known credible sources like Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene and Carl Sagan themselves have stated and discussed in-depth the possibility of alternate dimensions or the idea of a multiverse. That’s why I chose to include the intermission with the samples from Stephen Hawking discussing brane cosmology. To add a dose of credibility to everything I’m screaming about, haha. On that note, I’d highly recommend picking up one of those books! If I had to pick one for you to start with I’d say check out “The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene. It’ll blow your mind!
I’d also like to mention that by no means am I an expert on anything, I’m no scientist or physicist or mathematician, and I probably only really understand about 50% of what I read..haha! It’s simply that I’m fascinated by these things, and I like to challenge my brain as much and as frequently as possible.
I’m curious now – I stated what I’m afraid of the most. I’ve revealed my weakness to the world, ahhahaa. Now it’s your turn. I’d really like to know what frightens you more than anything, and why? And can you think of any specific movie or anything from your child hood that might have planted the seed for your interest in the “dark side” of life?
THKD: I think I was destined from birth to be into the “dark side” of life… I’m pretty sure it all started with my mom going to see Ridley Scott’s Alien while I was in the womb. She also went on Space Mountain just prior to finding out she was pregnant, so that might explain a few things as well!
But in all seriousness, my upbringing was fairly similar to yours, my mom was totally cool about letting me watch a variety of horror and science fiction movies, she even took me to the theater to see Aliens (which scared the shit out of me), Predator and numerous others, as well as introducing me to the classic Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, etc). She also read me stuff like Poe’s The Raven, which was a revelation and probably what initially got me into words and writing in the first place, now that I think about it. On top of that, my grandmother would watch various monster and kung-fu movies with me when she would come over to babysit on the weekends and when we weren’t doing that we’d sit and make up stories about everything from going on safari to swimming with great white sharks. Then you’ve got my grandfather who got me into comic books, and my uncle who got me into professional wrestling and KISS, so I was basically doomed from the start. I pretty much owe my entire personality to my mother’s side of the family, and with that kind of an upbringing how could I not grow up to be totally into heavy metal and Satan? Hahaha!
I too am freaked out by the whole idea of multiverses, other dimensions et cetera, but rather than Sagan and Hawking, my interest in those things comes from stuff like DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos… yeah, I’m not exactly what you’d call well read when it comes to science. That said, fictional accounts of these things were certainly enough to get me thinking. What you said about extra-dimensional beings being around us at all times, that’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since I read “The Dreams in the Witch House” and “From Beyond.”
But you know what really scares me? Death. I’m absolutely terrified of death. I don’t believe in an afterlife the way religious folk do with Heaven and Hell and such, obviously, but I do believe something happens to us after we die. Not knowing what that is… is the most frightening thing I can think of, it’s classic fear of the unknown. I used to think that we just ceased to exist all together and in a way that was comforting, but some things have happened to me over the last few years that have changed my mind, which I’d rather not fully go into in a public forum.
Anyway, I suppose that’s part of what draws me to art that’s dark and deals with death, that fear. Does that make any sense?
BD: Yeah that makes perfect sense man! I know what you mean. That’s exactly the way I am, being drawn to things that scare the hell out of me! That’s really cool to hear about the great influences you had growing up. You apparently have a family full of people with a great appreciation of creativity, which is incredible. I’ll probably never procreate, but if by some chance I do, I would want my kid to have that same kind of upbringing!
I’m glad that you brought up how you got exposed to the idea of a multiverse and interdimensional beings from Lovecraft and comics! You know what, to be perfectly honest I’m not very well read on my Lovecraft. I know, it’s a shame – a huge metal head not having read much Lovecraft, haha! I’ve read maybe half of the stories in his best-of collection “Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre,” but that’s it. I know, I should get on it. I think it’s quite cool how we could both become interested in similar things through completely different paths. It’s always cool to hear how people get exposed to things! Do you have any recommendations on some stories of his I should read? Also, have you heard of the artist Michael Bukowski or seen Yog-Blogsoth (http://yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)? The dude is drawing ALL of Lovecraft’s monsters! Even though I don’t know the context of most of them, it’s fucking rad to see what he’s doing!
THKD: I think that the Bloodcurdling Tales collection has the bulk of his best work, but if you haven’t checked them out yet I highly recommend “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “At The Mountains of Madness.” Anyway man, I reckon we’d better wrap things up, lest this behemoth gets too long and no one reads it. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
BD: Thanks for the conversation, it’s been a pleasure man! I’d just like to add that one of the greatest sci-fi writers of all time, Ray Bradbury, passed away last week. He was an incredibly inspiring and talented writer, and my thoughts are with his family. I strongly recommend that everyone reads Fahrenheit 451 at least once in their life. Otherwise, “burn ‘em to ashes, then burn the ashes” may one day become their official slogan.