How long does it take to write an album?
The Prodigy left us hanging for five years. Skrillex left us four. Zomboy left us three. S.P.Y left us two. Camo & Krooked left us one. Savant usually leaves us hanging about six months…
How about an album in 10 days?
Speak to Varien. He’s just given us a sneaky peak at a project entitled The Ancient & The Arcane. His debut album. Written during a 10 day creative surge over the holiday period (which he describes, at points, as spiritual) it’s by no means complete. But it’s about 80 per cent baked… And it’s already sounding like a switch-flipped trip.
Take your expectations of this Monstercat musician – and we mean musician… He’s just finished contributing compositions to a major motion picture – and file them aside. Sure, tracks like Gunmetal Black and Valkyrie are seriously impressive but The Ancient & The Arcane is another level in breadth, organic elements, and melodic dynamics. Flexing from barbed ambient beauty to bouncy, almost jazzy, tech funk, it’s an exciting new calling card for the 24 year old Florida artist.
There’s no release date, or even label, confirmed for this. So we’re going to have wait much more than 10 days to hear the final version.
This is what he’s teased us with so far…
And this is what we’ve found out from him…
“There are three variables at play here…” he explains.
“Firstly timing… People ask how I made Gunmetal Black in six hours. I’ve been producing for six years but I’ve been song writing since I was 11. Almost 14 years. I was jazz trained classically on piano and have been studying theory for ever. So even if you listen to my stuff from five years ago, the production totally sucks but the melody and chords are there. This sense of songwriting comes from over 10,000 hours of investment. That allows me to crank out melodies.”
“Variable number two – you have to work fast in the games and TV world. I will get an email or call asking for music by the end of the day. I’ve trained myself to react quickly and write quickly. It’s endemic in that industry. It’s like ‘we need this music now!’ I’ve come to accept it. Music comes last because you have to make the music to the final picture. No matter what the project is, it seems like they’re always scrambling for music at the end. So I’m used to working at high speeds.”
#3: The spiritual switch
“Variable three: Last year I had a lot of releases but I started to put pressure on myself to sustain a certain sound. That’s the rawness of bass mixed with the orchestra. That’s what I came to be known for between The Scarlet Dawn, Valkyrie and Gunmetal Black. So there was a lot of pressure on what my album should be.
“That’s a death sentence; focussing on what it should be, instead of doing what you feel most naturally or creatively. So the album was crushed under the weight of its pressure before it started. So I took a few weeks break and decided to sit down let things naturally come out. I haven’t done that in a very long time. When you’re hired to do things; when you’re making music for an unstoppable force, it’s very hard to come up with ideas when you feel you’ve done everything already.
I make so many other types of music so I thought I’d sit down and write – no theme, no story. It’s a very Zen experience. Very spiritual. Wake up. Do yoga. Make music. No regard for the club. No regard for where it will be played or comparisons to my past music or anything else that’s going on. I’ve never gone to any of these places I’m exploring right now. I want people to listen to it and think ‘is this Varien?’ Psychedelic, worldly, ethnic, trippy… People have never seen me go there. Yet.”
Yeah, he’s going there… And he’s going there in a very organic, collaborative way. The new album isn’t just a personal game-changer but a chance for him to connect with friends and peers and allow them to inspire him and help the project take shape.
“I’ve found it all so liberating,” he explains. “This process of letting go of anything specific and incorporating as many real instrument players as possible has been very inspiring. I’ve been calling in favours from a lot of friends. I’ve got trumpets. I’ve got flugel horns. I’ve got a koto. I’ve got so many different types of flutes and harps. Usually I use sample libraries, which are cool, but there’s such a difference when you get a live player. You can hear the humanity.
“That’s another theme – the notion of true collaboration. I’m not holding players to brief. I’m not hiring them for a specific role or part. I’m inviting them to write with me. I’m handing music to instrumentalists and telling them to do what they want. Or singers and asking them to sing what they want. There’s no pressure. No rules. I’m working with a singer called Miyoki. We were working on a track together and she sent something back that she felt worked… In fact it worked so incredibly well I rewrote the song around it. That’s a beautiful thing; I’m not hiring, these people are coming into this album and contributing. Which is pretty spiritual.”