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…
Right now, somewhere in the bowels of the Midwest, Brandon Duncan is creating. He might be hard at work crafting visual art that represents a futuristic world gone bad acid trip, with planet-eating deities ready to crush the cosmos in the palms of their hands. Or, he could be cranking out spastic cyber-grind riffage as The Sequence of Prime, a warped descent into metal machine music if ever there was one. Hell, Mr. Duncan is so talented that he might be designing the artwork with his feet while those demented riffs pour out of his hands, for all I know.
Duncan’s latest musical endeavor under the TSOP moniker is Virion. It is an all-out assault on the senses, an album that drags you deep into the maniacal worlds Duncan creates with his visual art. The music is a violent blend of grindcore, thrash and death metal, with hints of hardcore and industrial. It is also one of the most accomplished self-released albums I’ve had the privilege of receiving.
I contacted Mr. Duncan via e-mail to discuss that strange head-space where art, music and writing collide, as well as get some insight into the making of and unique marketing strategy behind Virion. In the course of the interview, Duncan turned the tables and asked me a batch of questions, which I have included at the end of the interview.
You can download Virion for free as well as view Mr. Duncan’s stunning visual art at his official website, corporatedemon(dot)com. CD copies of Virion are also available for purchase.
THKD: What inspired you to start creating music as The Sequence of Prime?
Brandon Duncan: Oh man, I could easily write you an essay to answer this question! But I’m going to refrain and just say that the initial idea behind The Sequence of Prime was inspired by this quote from Leonhard Euler:
“Mathematicians have tried in vain to this day to discover some order in the sequence of prime numbers, and we have reason to believe that it is a mystery into which the mind will never penetrate.”
THKD: What was your equipment setup for recording Virion?
BD: My setup for “Virion” was pretty simple actually. For the guitar, I played a Gretsch Corvette through an EHX Metal Muff into a Marshall MG100DFX Solid State Combo Amp, miked with a Shure SM58. For the bass I played an Ibanez SRX390, which I recorded direct. For recording, I used an iMac with a Line 6 Toneport UX2 and Ableton Live. I programmed the drums in Ableton with samples from BFD2. All synths were programmed in Ableton as well. The vocals were recorded with the same SM58 I used for the guitars. The final mastering was done in Logic Pro.
THKD: The album seems to be very nihilistic both sonically and lyrically. What inspired this approach?
BD: Just the fact that I hate everything. Hahaha…just kidding! There are countless things that have culminated to inspire the approach to “Virion” and my work in general for that matter. At the most basic level it all goes back to the stars. How some people can look up at night and not seriously doubt the merit of their existence is beyond me. But I do want to make clear that I do not consider myself a nihilist. I lean towards existential philosophy. On a really bad day I might come across as a nihilist though! Hahaha.
THKD: Are you at all influenced by other drum machine wielding bands such as Agoraphobic Nosebleed or Dataclast?
BD: Oh hell yes! I am a huge Agoraphobic Nosebleed fan. “Agorapocalypse” was my favorite album of 2009! I’ve always liked AnB, but that cd just propelled them to an entirely new level. I’ve heard some Dataclast and enjoyed them but I am not as familiar with them as AnB. I should change that! Of course I’m also a huge Godflesh fan. I also enjoy a lot of electronic, drum and bass, EBM, and industrial music, all of which revolve heavily around electronic drums.
THKD: What made you decide to include the “drum solo” on “Icosahedron”?
BD: I love the atmosphere that the drum machine creates. It has an inhuman coldness, which further enhances the lyrical concepts of “Virion.” Because of this I wanted to put the drums in the spotlight for a moment. Without “Icosahedron” I do not feel that “Virion” would be complete or effective in its presentation.
THKD: In the album liner notes you thank Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. How did these author’s works influence The Sequence of Prime?
BD: If I had to pick an all time favorite author it would be Ray Bradbury. I was introduced to him early in high school as required reading for a book report on “The Martian Chronicles.” That book blew my mind. It was one of the first books that really captivated me and held my interest cover to cover. I became fascinated with him and have been gradually working my way through his bibliography ever since (I’m a slow reader). Asimov on the other hand I had never read until I was beginning to write some of the riffs that would later become “Cenozoic Anoxia” and “Extremophile.” The book I was reading at that time was “The Gods Themselves” which I admit was a challenging and often painful read, but ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had with a book. I’m digging through more of his books as well, right now I am reading “The Currents of Space.” I love Bradbury’s imagination and Asimov’s roots in hard science.
BD: Both actually! There are many reasons I work alone. I am a full time graphic artist, which takes significant amount of time and dedication. I mean, we’re talking anywhere from 40-100 hours a week dedication, haha. So my time and ability to work on music is chaotic and often sparse, which does not work well with organizing a decent schedule with others. On top of that, I have yet to find anyone I can successfully write this type of music with. In the past I have collaborated with other musicians and played in bands that worked out pretty well, but they were more stripped down, hard rock type bands that did not require the endurance and and focus that TSOP needs, hahaha. Also, I really enjoy every aspect of writing and recording music, so why not do it all myself?
THKD: Would you ever consider collaborating with other musicians/artists?
BD: For sure, I daydream about it a lot. Though the chance of it actually happening at this point is highly unlikely and I’m not sure if it is even worth my time to attempt it……there you go, there’s a hint of nihilism peaking through for ya!
THKD: In addition to selling Virion in CD format, you’re also offering the album as a free download. Why take this approach to distributing your music?
BD: I enjoy writing music and I want people to hear it. If they like it enough to buy it, great! And if they like it but don’t want to buy it, fine by me! And if they hate it entirely at least they didn’t have to spend their money on something only to be disappointed. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I knew that someone had to pay for something I made that they didn’t even enjoy. It works out well for everyone.
THKD: Virion has gotten many positive reviews and even received a write-up in Decibel Magazine. Are you pleased/surprised w/ the reaction?
BD: Yes, for sure. I never expected this kind of response. I’m truly humbled.
BD: Great question, Mr. Haun. Great question indeed! Quite simply they are one and the same. I don’t really distinguish between the two and I approach them in the same way. First and foremost there must be a solid concept. Without a strong idea art and music is nothing to me, it is just fluff and filler. Something you buy because it matches your fucking couch. That’s not what I am here for. My art and music are like twins conjoined at the head. Slightly different qualities in their bodies but sharing all the same thoughts. Hahahhaha.
THKD: If I’m not mistaken, you reside in a small Midwestern town. How do these surroundings influence your music and visual art?
BD: Isolation, a clear view of the sky, massive storms, tornado sirens, harsh winters, blast furnace summers, peace and quiet, lack of entertainment, the lingering smell of livestock…small Midwestern towns provide for all sorts of inspiration you can’t out in the big city. Yeeeehaw! In all seriousness, it provides for a level of self reflection and time to absorb life that you don’t get in an urban setting.
THKD: Do you have any formal training in art or music?
BD: I have a degree in graphic design. For music I have no formal training at all. I have never taken any music lessons of any sort.
THKD: What other projects are you involved in/working on at the moment, if any?
BD: I don’t like talking too much about what I’m working on until it’s done. I don’t like to hype. So you’ll just have to wait until it’s done
THKD: What else does 2010 have in store for Brandon Duncan?
BD: I recently started a new job in Wichita, Kansas, so I’m in the process of relocating and starting a new chapter of my life. Back on the subject of my surroundings it will be interesting to see how this change of location affects my work, if at all. Other than that I just can’t wait to get situated again so I can get back to recording!
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
BD: Nope, just want to say thanks a lot for the interview man! And actually I have a few questions for you.
THKD: Probably not anytime soon. My musical endeavors were rooted in raw black metal and harsh noise… they were the product of being young and pissed off, plus all the alcohol abuse that goes with that. To be honest I’m just not that person anymore. I’m 30 years old, happily married and more or less content with my life, and attempting to create any type of “angry” music at this point would just come out forced and fake. Obviously, I still love listening to and writing about heavy and aggressive music, but I just can’t see myself making it. I mean, I still hate everyone, but I’ve definitely mellowed out in my old age. Maybe I’ll record a bunch of really misanthropic folk songs some day or a country album!
BD: What is your preferred method of listening to music, headphones, in the car, on a stereo?
THKD: Oh man, definitely headphones. They allow me to tune out the rest of the world and focus on the details and intricacies of the music. Of course, there is a lot to be said about cranking up the metal on a good stereo system and going apeshit, but when I really want to concentrate on what I’m listening to, headphones are my best friend.
BD: How many times do you usually listen to an album before reviewing it?
THKD: That all depends on the album. Sometimes I find myself jotting down ideas of what I want to say about an album during the first spin. If a record hits me right between the eyes the first time I hear it, it’s only going to take me a few listens to get a sense of it. More often than not though it takes me a while to fully digest a piece of music and it can take me weeks or even months to fully wrap my head around it to the point where I’m ready to write something.
BD: Do you ever get pissed off, angry or fed up with the metal scene, or metal in general?
THKD: All the fucking time. I get pissed at the big labels for signing so many shitty, undeserving bands and helping false metal proliferate. I get pissed at a lot of the big metal websites and mags for acting as cheerleaders for this garbage and for having zero respect for the craft of writing or good journalism. I get pissed at lots of fellow metal “journalists” for being arrogant dickheads who think that doing this somehow makes them “cool” or “elite” and for letting that come through in their lame writing. Give me a fucking break. As one of my friends put it, it’s the “High Fidelity” complex, and it sickens me.
I just hope that someday labels will become totally obsolete and bands will be forced to do what you’ve done Brandon; they’ll actually have to put the work into every aspect of their music to get it out to the fans themselves, without a label’s backing. I also hope that as a result only magazines, zines and websites that are writing about metal because they genuinely love it will be able to survive.
While we’re at it, christian metal pisses me off. Metal should always be about rebellion, freedom, unbridled creativity and thinking for yourself. There is absolutely nothing free, rebellious or remotely creative about being the slave of some fictitious higher power. These people are agents of the status quo that need to be weeded out. On the other hand, there is an established tradition of Satanism in metal that I’m perfectly ok with. I don’t believe in it, but the literary character of Lucifer represents rebellion and defying/questioning authority, so it makes sense as subject matter for heavy metal. I could write about this subject for days, but I’ll spare everyone the boredom.
BD: Have you ever not listened to metal for an extended period of time (since your heavy descent into metaldom, of course).
THKD: No. Ever since I started listening to metal, it has pretty much consumed my listening. But as much as I like metal, I also like Hank Williams and NWA and The Sisters of Mercy and Prince and the Pixies. There is a common misconception that metalheads listen to metal exclusively. Fuck that. If I want to listen to “Take on Me” by A-Ha or some Gary Numan, I’m gonna listen to it. Metalheads who say they only listen to metal are either lying or musically stunted. Probably both.
BD: How much time a day do you get to seriously absorb yourself in listening to music without any distractions?
THKD: I try to get in at least an hour every day. I take a commuter bus back and forth to work every day, so that is a great time for me to listen to music and not have to think about or focus on anything else. I usually bust out the headphones on lunch breaks as well. When my wife gets tired of me pestering her in the evenings, I’ll usually go listen to music then too, haha.