Alexandru Das, maximum volume yields

Oct 30, 2017
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Photo Credit Anca Coleasea

Alexandru Das is an artist. From music to graphic design his work has an atmosphere that induces emotion above anything else. It is nice when you find people that are both musicians and graphic artists, because in this way, as a listener or viewer, you can better understand his or her philosophy. This interview follows Das vision about music and art as a member of the instrumental group Valerinne, where he plays alongside Liviu Stoicescu and Mircea Smărăndache.

Following you work, both musical and visual, one cant pass the predominant presence of nature. Where is this coming from?

There is a loose concept for each Valerinne album, and it’s a bit like zooming in from a macro/universal level – in Kunstformen der Natur – to a very personal level in our upcoming full length  - Desire – going through nature in a more abstract way – in Arborescent – and through signs of human intervention in nature – Monumenta. But as I have stated in other interviews, we have never tried to force these concepts on the listener, because it would be unfair and it would falsely channel the listener’s perception of our music while also narrowing it. There is, of course, visually, a stylistic component that adds to the overall aesthetic of Valerinne.

But to be more specific, on a personal level, I am and have always been a weird combo of anarchism+misanthropy, I believe that as a species, through our ideology, we have created a reality allowing ourselves to indulge in planetary destruction while believing that we can continue to do so forever. We relish in hubris. I find all of this very disturbing. My attitude bounces between hope for humanity and loathing it. I don’t believe that NGOs can do more than they already do in this system (rampant pillage-and-plunder capitalism+scientific denial+control through religion, nationalism, wars and debt+maintaining the status quo through so called charity). I also believe that there will be no change for the better during our lifetime.

We have talked some time ago about music as a passion, but I forgot to ask you then something and I am glad I have remembered now. Do you collect music?

I am a music collector, I still have most of my cassettes which I started to collect during high school in the 1990’s and since then my collection has grown with CDs and LPs and of course digital releases. I never throw music away but I don’t buy what I don’t fully enjoy either. I am an “album person”, I usually listen to an entire record, not just skipping to certain tracks. I like listening to music regardless of the format. I don’t believe in the fake analogue vs. digital and CD vs. Vinyl battles, quality can exist in any format. But I do enjoy the ritual of listening on vinyl, looking at the artwork, reading the lyrics and liner notes and so on, while being compelled to actually listen to an entire record. I believe in records, not songs.

Are you still a big fan of A forest from The Cure?

The Cure are my all time favorite band and their music has been with me through the happiest and saddest moments of my life. A Forest is the song that made me want to pick up the guitar and bass and it is the first thing I have ever played on an instrument. I had and still have Seventeen Seconds on tape, but I remember when I first got the CD, I put it on repeat on a shitty Sony CD player until the CD player broke. I think it went on for days. 

Up until now you have released with Valerinne three studio albums, a live one and a split with TAUUSK. Do you have a certain discipline as a band regarding composing?

I think music just presents itself to us when it wants to and we take it from there. We don’t force ourselves to make new songs or albums according to a rigorous schedule, or tight predetermined deadlines. Actually, we are very laid back, we choose our live appearances very carefully, we try to make this experience of being in a band as comfortable and relaxing as it can be.

Having been in different bands and involved in music for almost 19 years has taught me all of the above.

Valerinne Monumenta and Arborescent album artworks by Alexandru Daș

I know you work a lot with Marius Costache and his Studio148. I would like to find out more about how you produce music with Valerinne and the whole journey from rehearsal to the final track.

I think we have quite similar mindsets and working with Marius is very easy and pleasurable. It’s very important that there is a stress free environment in the studio and he has always managed to provide that for us, and on the other hand, we are also not the kind of persons to put pressure on the mixing process and breathe down his neck with stupid requests and deadlines. As far as I am concerned it is a relationship based on mutual respect and trust, as all professional relationships should be. Being friends helps too. : ) When Marius delivers the mix and master, for me it is always a moment of joy to get to hear our music sounding at its best. Working in the past with other people, it was quite the opposite.

Also, our process in the band is pretty straight forward and hasn’t changed over time. It goes like this: We either come up with something during rehearsals or I make some home demos which can range from just some riffs to fully fleshed songs, I send them to the guys, we start to play around at the rehearsal space, add things, cut things, rearrange and so on, in the end we come up with a track. We rarely revisit things we’ve shelved. By the time we get to talking to Marius about studio time to record an album, we have all the songs pretty much ready. We also make pre production, and we’ve sent him in the past our rehearsal demos. Recording has been live, with guitar and synth overdubs, and whenever Marius had some suggestions we took them into account, because either way you put it, the music that we record is fresher for him than for us, when we get to recording we’ve already played the songs a lot, and maybe we don’t realise anymore that we could change some little things here and there.

You and Mytrip were the first artists to join the Black Rhino Artist Residency. How was the process of writing this song?

Having Angel join us was different, because usually we don’t have to take into account that there will be unknown musical elements added to our tracks, and while we had the track roughly composed before knowing about the collab, when we knew the Black Rhino Music Residency was going to happen we decided to just leave the track in the state it was and let Angel do his thing, let him decide where he thought he would fit in the overall composition. It was complete freedom for Valerinne and Mytrip both. We are not used to spending weeks in the studio, so the timeframe of 2 days was more than generous for us and we love the result.

Valerinne sound is well defined and it has its own flavour. Being in public at some of your concerts I saw you have an interesting rig. Could you please describe it?

My rig is in a state of “in between albums” right now, which means that pedals come and go on my pedalboard during this period when we still have some concerts but we are also writing for the new album. But for the nerds and gearsluts such as myself out there, here is my rig right now: Hagstrom Viking Guitar with Seymour Duncan 59’s humbuckers, usually tuned to Drop C → Digitech Whammy → Boss Line Selector (which also receives another input from either a Moog Subphatty or a Novation Mininova) → Korg Tuner → Walrus Audio Iron Horse → Rockerverb MK I Clone 50w Tube Amp [FX loop] Boss EQ → Earthquaker Devices Organizer → Line 6 DL4 #1 → Line 6 DL4 #2 → TC Electronics Hall of Fame Reverb → Strymon Big Sky Reverb → Boss RC-1 Loopstation → left output back to  [FX loop] // right output  → 1976 Ampeg V2 60w Amp. Cabs right now at the rehearsal space are 2 4x12 ENGL with Celestion v30.

And let’s never forget the motto: Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results, but we’ll never know, will we, because I don’t want to blow up my amps or ears.

Amenra, We Lost The Sea, Rosetta, North, Kokomo, Keira Is You, Stephen O’Malley, Tides From Nebula, these are quite a few foreign bands you’ve played alongside with Valerinne. Do you view them as achievements, a part of your portfolio or more like an unpredictable journey? Is marketing a part of the bands strategy and evolution?

I am thankful to all the organisers and promoters who invited us to share the stage with these bands, and other bands and artists. There was an element of trust and I hope we have not disappointed anyone with our live performances. I view them as secondary achievements, because first and foremost our achievement is the music itself. We are also very lucky to be able to have relatively comfortable and hassle free lives, making it very easy for us to be in a band. We do not have a strategy, there is only a need to create more music. I make music because I need to. As for marketing, I viscerally abhor that term and all it represents.

Besides Valerinne you are working on another musical project. Tell us about Modern Ghosts of the Road and how did this project came to be and where it is heading?

Basically it’s my drone/ambient project or outlet or whatever you want to call it. Whenever I feel like doing something that I know can’t be incorporated in Valerinne it ends up in MGOTR. As for where it’s heading, it’s heading nowhere. Maybe towards someone’s ears, I hope.

What is your relationship with record labels. Do you follow any? Do you have any plans to approach some new ones, as you’ve released your debut on Marius Costache’s Asiluum.

Our relationship with labels is pretty much non-existent, as in we don’t have one. I think we will approach some labels when our next album is done, but I don’t have high hopes. There are very few people really interested in putting out new music the way Marius has done in the past with Asiluum, or now with 148 Records. Being from Eastern Europe and not being a band that tours constantly also doesn’t help from a financial standpoint, because it is harder for a label to sell our merch.  

Besides being a musician, you work in the field of graphic design. What stories can you tell us about being a graphic designer? You’ve worked on so many things from posters, book covers and album artworks to branding.

I used to work in advertising but have been working in publishing for almost 8 years now. This translates as follows: meaningful visual work as opposed to ads and almost zero compromise. I mostly do art direction for books and some video content. Apart from that, I do artworks/covers for bands from time to time. Graphic design and architecture go hand in hand and are the visual compass for navigating this thing we call contemporary civilisation. They guide us, sometimes literally, most of the time ideologically, they voluntarily, involuntarily and sometimes ironically represent, reflect and visually define what we call our global values as a species and what we call our local values (from nations down to villages), and they also define the space in which these so called values “live”, so we can draw the conclusion that there is an inherent ethical dimension to graphic design and architecture.

I believe the graphic designer has an ethical duty to do good graphic design. Good graphic design is the design that serves best the concept for which it was created, while presenting it in a definitive and easily readable and recognisable form. It would be very easy to just say that graphic design should make the world more beautiful, but I believe that in graphic design something can only have true aesthetic value if it fulfills its ethical duty, and that duty is called functionality. If something doesn’t work, it’s ugly. An example: a book that is hard to read because it was typeset with the wrong typeface or size or it is bound in a way that it is uncomfortable to read, or has the wrong margins because of bad layout design etc It does not fulfill its function to get the information across in the best way possible to the reader. Having failed to do that is a design flaw which reflects poorly on that book’s content too. Therefore, there is no aesthetic value to be found in a badly executed design.

I also believe that there is no such thing as “the customer is always right” because this undermines the very existence of my professional field. On a bigger scale, I believe we can assess the state of a civilization, its so called values, its unwritten ideology, by just looking at the graphic design and architecture of its streets. I think we have managed to make our cities here in Romania among the ugliest in the world and we excel in bad taste on all levels. Needless to say I think all outdoor advertising is pure cancer and an endless source of optical and environmental pollution.

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