In the spotlight – Dead Mass

In the spotlight – Dead Mass

Dead Mass are an alternative/progressive rock band from Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa (Auckland, New Zealand). The band comprises David Donaldson (drums, vocals, percussion), Ivan Segedin (bass and synth) and Corey Walden (vocals, guitar and piano). The band formed in late 2018 and recorded an EP named ‘The Last Judgement’ in 2019. Early this year they released another EP, ‘Visions’. For this interview I spoke with band member and lyricist Corey about the paintings that inspired ‘Visions.

Let’s start at the beginning? How and when did you meet?

“Ivan and I met during high school and played in bands together previously. David and I met at a mutual friend’s wedding, did online gaming together, and shared a love of Black Sabbath. We talked about jamming for a while and then finally made it happen. After that, we invited Ivan to play. It clicked with three members, so there wasn’t much to think about after that!”

How difficult was it to come up with a band name that you all agreed on?

“It was relatively easy. Ivan ended up naming the band. We threw around a few names, but ‘Dead Mass’ stuck – it just seemed like the best option and reflected the conceptual tone of the band.”

How do you distribute roles within the band? Who does what?

“I write lyrics, vocal melodies, and guitar parts, Ivan writes bass and synth parts, and David writes drums and backing vocal parts. Ivan also manages our social media and creates our lyric videos.”

“For our first EP, I wrote the lyrics and the bones of the songs before the band formed. After we formed, we pieced together everything. Some songs from our second EP were part of that first batch I wrote so they followed a similar songwriting approach. The eponymous song ‘Visions’ began as a few guitar riffs, and then we worked it out properly as a band. That one took a long time! ‘Garden’ had the lyrics and verse guitar parts written, but was finished in a similar way.”

“‘Sleepwalking’ originated from Ivan’s main bass motif. We took the idea to band practice and the song emerged naturally. Melodically it was just drums and bass while the vocal melodies were being created. Lastly, I added guitar.”

You described how some of the songs came together. What else can you tell me about your creative approach?

“Creative approaches vary song-to-song. Sometimes it begins with a vocal melody or a lyrical idea, sometimes a bassline or guitar riff will get the ideas flowing. The intro to ‘Visions’ developed from a drum groove David would mess around with during practice. I liked it and wanted it as part of the song. If an idea intrigues us and we’re enjoying ourselves, we generally follow that path to wherever it leads. We have a few songs that are great ideas but they’re unfinished because we get stuck or the idea doesn’t interest us anymore.”

“I write the lyrics. That part of the process is the easiest for me – I find the musical aspects more challenging and lengthy to develop.”

Who are some of your favourite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?

“Fortunately, we share common musical references. We all like Black Sabbath. Ivan likes The National and The Strokes, David is really into Idles and Pink Floyd. I’ve always been inspired by The Stooges ‘Fun House’ album and everything by Tool. We all listen to a broad variety of music.”

“In terms of inspiration – that can come from anywhere, not just music.”

You released your EP ‘Visions’ earlier this year, which was inspirered by Hieronymus Bosch paintings.

“The body of work that became ‘Visions’ was indeed inspired by Hieronymus Bosch paintings. Every song is based on a painting. I discovered Bosch’s work and wrote a collection of poems that were a stream of consciousness response to each painting. Eventually I began writing some melodies to certain poems because they had a musical rhythm. I originally planned to record it all by myself but luckily Dead Mass formed. Because we already had song ideas, it made sense to complete them before moving onto other musical ideas.”

Your EP ‘The Last Judgement’ featured a painting by Hieronymus Bosch as cover art. What is it about Hieronymus Bosch that inspires you?

“It’s so ahead of its time. The religious iconography is horrifying, amusing, and appealing. It directly inspired the lyrics – it felt like I was channelling something. The paintings are chaotic and bizarre and set my imagination on fire.”

Why did you use ‘The Temptation of St. Anthony’ by Martin Schongauer as cover art for ‘Visions’?

“I’m glad you picked up on that! We should have used a Bosch piece, really. Bosch’s work is so sprawling that it’s hard to get a single piece suitable as an album cover. Schongauer’s ‘Temptation’ has the same vibe as Bosch’s oeuvre but is more succinct with how it communicates that.”

“We also liked the demons harassing the saint. It just fits.”

What can you tell me about the writing and recording process of ‘Visions’? Did you have to overcome any difficulties in the process?

“Writing music can be laborious and difficult. We had trouble with certain songs. ‘Visions’ and ‘Garden’ both had a similar songwriting format and took a long time to rationalise. We experimented with the musical order of ‘Visions’ – pulling it apart completely and shuffling around sections until it felt right. The first verses of ‘Garden’ were straightforward but the later sections were similar to ‘Visions’. We initially had something more complicated before realising we were overthinking things. Most of ‘Void’ flowed, but we couldn’t make the chorus work. We tried at least three versions before writing the album version.”

“Recording for ‘Last Judgement’, ‘Garden’, and ‘The Haywain’ was done with Olly Harmer at The Lab in 2019. He’s a great recording engineer and has an inspiring studio space. We were well-rehearsed and most songs were recorded in a take or two, with minimal overdubs.”

“‘Wanderer’, ‘Visions’, and ‘Void’ were recorded with John McDermott at Arch Hill Studio in late 2020. Incidentally, this is where we rehearse so we were very familiar with the space. We made ourselves right at home. Both sessions felt quite different – one space felt very professional and the other felt like a mate’s lounge.”

“We took the recordings to Vivek Gabriel, and mixed and mastered it at his studio.”

When entering the studio how clear-cut is your vision of what shall come out in the end?

“Very clear. We tend to have a shared conceptual understanding of a project. Everything so far has been recorded quickly. We like to record live, where possible. We usually only do a few vocal takes. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but capturing a truthful impression of a performance is important. If you see us live it’s not drastically different to how it is recorded. I think our whole album took 3-4 days to record.”

“‘Sleepwalking’ was different because it was recorded individually at our homes. Ironically, the production on ‘Sleepwalking’ feels more polished to me.”

You recorded ‘Sleepwalking’ at home during lockdown. What can you tell me about recording in lockdown?

“We based the recording off a particularly good live take from a rehearsal. I recorded guitars and scratch vocals to a metronome. David then recorded drums. Ivan added bass. Afterwards, I overdubbed vocals. My wife did backing vocals spontaneously. The TV was on and I called her into the room. She had no idea what I was asking her to do, and she listened to it once then did a take or two. You can hear the TV if you solo her take. David added backing vocals as well for the finishing touches. Vivek Gabriel mixed and mastered again.”

“It was a logistical puzzle more than anything. We recorded between work and parenting. When we did record, it had to be respectful of our families and neighbours. We normally record with loud valve amps but that’s not practical in a lockdown situation. With this song I used an amp modeller and Ivan just went straight into the interface. I did vocals while no one was home because they’re pretty intense.”

“It was the easiest and most relaxed recording process we’ve engaged with as a band. I enjoyed it a lot.“

How have you been spending the rest of your time over lockdown?

“Working and time with the whānau (family). We are all parents and have to balance that with other interests and responsibilities. The current lockdown in Auckland has been long. I think everyone’s got cabin fever!”

Does your music have a message?

“Yes. It varies song-to-song. ‘Visions’ was introspective and inspired by the tones of Bosch’s work. The first EP interrogates religion and organised social orders, often patriarchal and controlling in nature. It’s a bit facetious and histrionic, while also being rooted in experience.”

“Songs like ‘Void’ and ‘Sleepwalking’ are interpersonal as well as broader social commentaries. The lyrics to ‘Void’ were written around the 2016 U.S. elections. They’re not about that, per se, but it is about analysing what’s going on in the world and forming your own conclusion. Ignore the noise and think a little bit. ‘Sleepwalking’ is about a bunch of things – interpersonal disconnection, global unrest, COVID, and being thankful to be alive while also sitting with unease and apprehension!”

How important is playing live for you?

“It’s been almost impossible over the past two years to play live regularly with COVID. We’ve only been able to play one live show. I think it’s important from the perspective of testing material, being part of a ‘community’, and the exhilaration of playing live that is difficult to replicate in a rehearsal. For better or worse, we’ve spent the bulk of our time as a band writing, rehearsing and recording music.”

If you could organize a festival, which 5 acts would we see on the line-up?

“The National, Idles, Tool, Kings of Leon, and Black Sabbath.”

Now that the year is almost over, what are some of your thoughts about 2021? What are you excited about for 2022?

“I am proud to have released ‘Visions’ and ‘Sleepwalking’ despite the uncertainty this year. Auckland seems to be returning to a greater sense of normality. That’s what I’m excited about for 2022. It’s almost summer, which is also exciting.”

What are your future plans?

“Fundamentally, the aim is to make music people enjoy. I would like to do another EP soon. In a very short-term sense, I also want to play together again. It’s been at least 3 months due to a lockdown. I am content as long as our current work is our best and I enjoy playing it.”

What’s your favourite song from the Cool 20?

“It’s a difficult choice, but the track that stood out to us was Joe Peacock – Is not everything morbid?”

What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?

“Our friends, Lady Bonestripper, have just released a new EP, ‘Awaken the Snake Hips’ is our favourite track.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

“We recorded a live session with visual artist Sam Caldwell that we will be releasing very soon on our YouTube channel.”

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