Interview with Snowbeasts - "2020 was a fever dream of a year, this seemed to fit perfect."
From the frozen wastes of New England, the post industrial drone and heavy beat driven Snowbeasts did emerge. This duo consists of Raab Codec (Robert Galbraith) and Elizabeth Virosa from Providence, RI where they have a prominent involvement within the electronic scene.
November has been an active month for the Beasts with the release of their second collaborative album with Solypsis which is titled Fever Dream, and they also have a remix track, Scarlet Slip (Feat. Chris Connelly), on the new Gasoline Invertebrate E.P. Hurtmore.
For those not familiar, Snowbeasts music is a mixture of ambient electronics, industrial harshness with elements of dub and drum and bass, polished off with haunting vocal textures that form eerie choral effects. Fever Dream, described by OHM Resistance as...
"Where distorted breakbeats paired with ethereal vocals are at their maximum yield on this recording. With synthesizers that did a few laps around Too Dark Park in 1990 and then teleported into the year 2020, this album reads as proper industrial, while incorporating a current groove sense that nods at both Scorn and DJ Shadow."
Over the years they have performed live with Alessandro Cortini, Richard Devine, Bestial Mouths, Mark Hosler (Negativland), Statiqbloom, Ariadne, Void Vision, MOЯIS BLAK and The Gothsicles to name but a few.
We caught up with the Robert and Elizabeth for an in-depth chat on their new releases and what brings their audio into existence...
Welcome both to the unscene, it's good to have you here. R: Cheers. Thanks for having us! E: Likewise Q. The new collaborative album you have released with Solypsis, 'Fever Dream' is a sensory array of sound indeed. How did the album idea come to fruition? R: Solypsis and I go back about 6 years. I have been putting out his stuff on Component for a while now. We played together in both Providence and Denver last year and I consider James a good friend. He had suggested having Elizabeth do vocals on one of his tracks and after we finished that up we decided to stretch it out to a full album. The first album came together ridiculously fast -- it was done over the course of a few weeks. I would send James 6 or 8 loops and then the next morning there would be several mixes of the tracks waiting for me in my inbox. After the album was finished, we decided that we wanted to collaborate again. I ended up leaving my day job in August to take care of some family health issues and since I had the bandwidth to work on some more tracks we decided it would be a perfect time to pick things up again. We had a few discussions about where we wanted to take things in terms of direction but didn’t really hold ourselves too tightly to those constraints. This album was rare in that we had the title picked out in advance -- we were lucky enough to have the last album reviewed in The Wire and they said our album was “Fever dreams from the cyber café”. Given that 2020 was a fever dream of a year, this seemed to fit perfect.
Q. With yourselves being on the East coast and Solypsis based in Arizona, was it difficult to combine forces on the work? Were there any challenges to overcome on the final production? R: Actually, none at all. Early on in the collaboration we figured out how we were going to send files back and forth. We would just WeTransfer files and mixes back and forth and then talk over Facebook messenger. For me communication is key in any collaboration and James (Solypsis) and I were able bounce ideas and feedback really fast. The bulk of the work was done during the day and then when Elizabeth was done with her day job in the evening she added vocals and any other textures that were needed to round things out. James is a track making powerhouse and he’s able to get ideas out really quickly so we meshed up really well. E: Both James and Rob always keep things moving for sure, there was not a day during this process in which I questioned if I had a track to work on. If anything sometimes I would have to exclude tracks and edit out material that might not mesh with our sound or my vocal textures.
Gasoline Inverterbrate dropped a remix E.P. this month too and you were a part of that. You remixed Scarlet Slip which features Chris Connelly. What made you choose this particular track and how do you find the composing process compared to making your personal music R: I chose this track because I loved Chris Connelly’s vocals in it. I really dig what Brian put together with the Gasoline Invertebrate album and this one in particular stood out for me. This is one of the rare times, I have reached out and asked sometime to remix one of their tracks. I have been a fan of what Chris Connelly does since I heard the tracks he did with Ministry and the Revolting Cocks in the 80s and 90s- so this was kind of a dream to work on. Remixing is a little different for me in that I will usually scan through the stems of what I get and try to finds a riff or a vocal line I like and then try to build the track around that. For me building a good remix is taking elements of what the artist is trying to do and then find ways to mix that with your own sound. It’s a balancing act.
Q. The vocals in your music is used more for atmospheric effects than songs/lyrics. Can you describe the music-making process you employ in the creation of a track? E: With Snowbeasts, in general I tend to play with texture and tend to prioritize the expressiveness of the sound itself over literal meaning, words and lyrics. This was the case on Fever Dreams one hand because of the speed in which we working and the style and approach I took with Snowbeasts. In some of the tracks I was using a vocal effect synth called The Pipe which gave it a synthetic and otherworldly quality. Often I'll think about animal communication and call and response soundscapes found in nature while laying down a track before it becomes edited, cut and placed by Rob among the sounds from Solypsis.
R: I tend to usually start with the low end of things first. I want to get the kick and the bass situated first and make sure the foundation is tight first. This sort of builds framework where we can build on top of with more synth and atmospheric elements. When I go in to the studio I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to work and try not over complicate things too much. I find that the more tools are available , more time can be wasted in figuring what sounds to use or what direction to go. Because of this, I typically only use a couple pieces of gear in each track. This also helps me to push each piece of gear a bit more. Elizabeth has some different methods for building up a track which helps to add a more organic and human element to things. Q. Your music is such a dreamscape of sound and I detect elements of The Future Sound of London and Aphex Twin in there, but who are your personal influences? R: For me, I take influences from all over the place but I would definitely say some of of my direct influences are Meat Beat Manifesto, Scorn, Godflesh, Lustmord, Mika Vainio, and Skinny Puppy. I am also massively into techno so stuff like Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, and Regis also hold some influence. I am always deconstructing things and trying to figure out how I can put my own slant on things. E: I used to listen (and still do listen) to some of the British electronic music that became popular in the US in the 90's like Aphex Twin, Future Sound of London etc. or anything that might be played at clubs in Boston MA and considered underground. When I went to art school I was also introduced to a lot of early electronic music like musique concrète and the like and learned a lot about unconventional music compositions and scoring as well as home studio production. These days I am pretty influenced by artists I have seen in small shows around Providence or when we had the opportunity to go to festivals Pre Covid. I have been lucky to take some vocal lessons and play out with the talented Laurie Amat (The Residents). Q. You are certainly tech savvy with your studio and live equipment and have quite the collection of gear. What are your personal favorites to perform with? (live and in the studio). R: I have a bit of a split on what I use in the studio and what I perform with. When I play out, I typically try to bring things down to a couple of pieces of gear so it’s usually just the Octatrack and Machinedrum when we are doing a beat oriented set or the modular and the Octatrack when playing ambient sets. I like the idea of being able to bring all of my gear in one flight case and being able to set up quickly. For studio, the hub of my studio is Ableton, everything goes in to that. It’s what I have used for the last 10 years for a DAW and what I feel most comfortable with. For synths, I try to mix things up a bit but lately the ARP 2600 is really my go to pieces for bass and lead sounds. Most of the synth sounds on the most recent Obscure Formats album are from the ARP. My eurorack modular system is also really key to what I do as well- that has changed shape quite a bit over the years. It started off as a full Doepfer A-100 system in 2002 and over the years, it has morphed so only a handful of those modules are left. I am a huge fan of the Noise Engineering modules. E: I typically only use synths like the Arp 2600 in the studio since we typically need to pack light and rugged when playing out. When I play out I use guitar pedals for my vocal effects. I typically use Strymon's Big Sky and old blood noise endeavors — MAW I just got a Night Sky which I am excited to add to my chain.
Q. Obviously due to the current Covid-19 situation live shows have all but been non existent. How have you been coping during the lockdown where live events are concerned? Did you have to cancel any gigs and if so have any been rescheduled?
R: We only had a few things planned so luckily the hit wasn’t too huge. Normally for us the fall is when we play out the most so this time of year has been a bit depressing this time around. We have done several Zoom and Twitch performances but it really doesn’t feel the same. I miss the communal aspect of shows a lot and I miss talking to the other bands and people in the audience. For me the silver lining in this Covid situation is that it gave us a lot more free time to work on music. Since the lockdown we have been able put together the two Snowbeasts & Solypis albums, the Obscure Formats albums , and Beth’s solo album. I had five weeks for furlough time at my job so that gave me a ton of time for work on things. I gave myself a target of writing an album in the first two week furlough- that’s how the first of the three Obscure Formats albums came together. I am not particularly good at resting so I made the best of the time off. E: Yeah since we had no larger plan set in stone for the year like a tour so it was not a big hit but it did seem like we were just starting to play more shows out of NE bummed me out that we may have lost momentum there and plus I like traveling, I think a little more than Rob. I plan on playing more on Twitch in the near future once we nail down some video performance issues. I may play a few pieces of my solo release from Chthonic Streams called Inner World once we get that set. Q. Snowbeasts formed back in 2014, how did you both meet and how did the project progress over time to then be signed to the French label M-tronic? R: We met at a mutual friends birthday party in Brooklyn back in 2011. A few months later after, I moved to Providence and Elizabeth moved back the Northeast from the DC area. We started talking and ended up working on music on the weekends. Our original project was Pattern Behavior which we have put out several albums on my Component Recordings imprint and Michael Morton (of Displacer)’s Crime League label. Snowbeasts began in the winter of 2014 at the beginning of Elizabeth & I’s relationship. The first Snowbeasts album was done mostly in the down time before Elizabeth moved to Providence. It was a particularly brutal winter and was having some symptoms where I couldn’t keep food down. It was a response to the claustrophobia of being stuck inside and not really know what was wrong with me. When Beth moved to Providence in the Spring, it just made sense to have her become a bigger part of Snowbeasts. The connection with M-Tronic came through meeting on facebook and then just sending promos from Component & M-Tronic back and forth. It was after we put out the Instincts album that they reached out and asked if we would like to work with them. They were very gracious in pressing up Survival and putting out some of our other releases digitally. They are also responsible for putting my Obscure Formats album Cryptid. The relationship with Ohm Resistance came together a little differently, I have been doing mastering work , compilation tracks, and put a split 7” on the label. As we were getting the Fever Dream album together we decided to send the tracks to Ohm Resistance and luckily there were very happy to put the album out. James & I are both huge Scorn fans so were pretty excited to be label mates with them.
Q. I see from some of your past performances that you had the chance to perform with Mark Hosler of Negativland fame and I have to ask (being a fan of his work) what was it like to be a part of that show? R: I have played with Mark a few times. Mark is really awesome and he is absolutely hilarious! Along with the live performances, we played the Hell Lab event earlier this year and the banter between the members of Negativland had me in stitches. Q. If your audio could paint a picture what would it show/create and what would you call the finished masterpiece? R: I think that we have been very lucky in that we have been able to work with some really great visual artists who have been able to mesh our music and album titles to the art they produce. A couple of examples of this being the work that Noah Hirka did on Fever Dream and Wolf Luman with the original Snowbeasts album. So I would say they painted the pictures for us. Q. many thanks for taking the time to speak with us, any final words you both wish to share? R: Thanks again for having us. We have some surprises coming for 2021! E: Thanks again!
Be sure to check out Snowbeasts Bandcamp page where you can get a taste of the album and purchase Fever Dream:
And also their Gasoline Invertebrate remix:
Be sure to go give them a Like on Facebook:
And check out the official Snowbeasts website:
Find more great music at Roberts label, Component Recordings:
Some amazing visuals to go with their awesome sounds can be viewed here...