ART AGAINST AGONY: Seeking New Challenges

Art Against Agony

Back in the winter 2016, Art Against Agony embarked on a tour through Russia which saw the band performing 20 shows in the vast and unknown. During this exhausting journey through Siberia the group also penned a 5-track EP release, simply titled ‘Russian Tales.’ The recording was released in July this year. About this new release, touring Russia, writing on the road, and more, we talked with the band.

What was your vision for the Russian Tales EP considering that it was mostly written during your winter tour through Russia in 2016? Can you say that you succeeded in achieving your goals and what, in your opinion, made this the right time to pursue that vision?

Writing our latest EP Russian Tales was less inspired by a vision and more guided by the experience of the reality of life on tour.

Given the fact that the 2016 euthanasia-tour was the first Art Against Agony tour at all, and also keeping in mind that all members of the band at the time originated from Germany, but the tour was Russia-only for 20 shows in winter, including such places as Novosibirsk in the heart of Siberia…

The Difference Between a Duck and a Lobster

It was clear from the beginning that what was about to happen and what we were going to experience would set free very much creative energy. Thus, writing on the EP literally started on the first day of the tour and every day to pass would naturally add more colors and flavors to the mix, meeting new fans, driving endless hours every day in snowy darkness, enjoying Russian hospitality and presenting the – at that time – new album The Difference Between a Duck a Lobster to a live audience every night.

Is the EP’s cover art a way for you to communicate what is presented on the record in a musical way?

The Russian Tales cover art was painted by Victoria Grizley, a wonderful Russian tattoo artist and also talented heavy metal vocalist, who declined our initial offer to take a mask and join the artist collective art against agony in the first place, yet remained in a rather intense exchange with our lead guitarist the_sorcerer and gave him these two paintings after the tour.

Russian Tales

While the first track of the EP, “Königsberg Präludium,” is literally just a prelude, the front and back cover of the EP visualize the two centerpieces of the EP: “Tea for the Dragon” and “Coffee for the Queen” – for the latter the band shot a music video earlier this year.

Visualization is always a problem for an art collective that prefers to avoid all forms of materialism in our world; so far, the covers of the band’s previous releases had always been the signs of the art collective itself, therefore the paintings of the Dragon and the Queen came in very handy as they symbolize what happens on tour in a much more empathic way than the band logo.

What was the creative chemistry for Russian Tales like? How did the environment influence the vibe the EP transcends?

On tour you never know what kind of gear waits for you at the venue, thus it’s reasonable to be prepared for the worst case. In very extreme situations like in the Russian cities Arzamas, Samara or Bryansk the band had to pull off their entire progressive metal setlist on a light jazz drum kit and two small Fender-style combo amplifiers; this means that for instance the guitarists would have to rely on rather old-school ways of live performance like using the volume knob on the electric guitar to produce the actual distortion sounds, which obviously changed the dynamics of the songs entirely.

Therefore, this experience also became apparent within the songs of the new EP: the songs “Nothing to Declare?,” “Tea for the Dragon” and “Coffee for the Queen” all incorporate very traditional ways of performing and audio recording.

In “Coffee for the Queen” you may even notice a lot of distorted single coil guitar sounds, which is a very uncommon sound for contemporary progressive metal. (Since Petrucci the HH configuration is the gold standard for progressive guitarists, and since the rise of Periphery digital amps have conquered all contemporary music releases, including most of Art Against Agony’s work, too).

However, apart from equipment issues on tour, of course very memorable incidents on tour have also inspired compositions: the last track on the EP “Saratov Incident” tells the story of the band’s (unscheduled) accommodation in a brothel after the show in the Russian city Saratov, simply because the tour manager had “forgotten” to organize a hostel/hotel for the night.

Speaking of the EP’s creative process, provide some insight into it.

Writing music in Art Against Agony is a rather time-consuming process.

Almost none of our songs (exceptions prove the rule) were written just on the spot or in a single session.

Writing music means to constantly gather rhythms and harmonies, adapt them to new ideas many times, sometimes even to an extent that nothing of the “original” idea is left – and then rediscovery will/should happen.

The creative process means to weave all musical ideas together, often layering may ideas on top of each other, creating a very complex and delicate mosaic: at one time the guitar might introduce a rhythmic approach, the bass will adopt it, and finally the drums will add some final flavor the that rhythmic idea, while guitar and bass have long changed their direction and have been introducing new ideas already.

“Tea for the Dragon,” third song on the EP, is a very classical example for this process. The first layer of ideas was the rhythmical tapping riff in the very beginning, which was composed on tour – and an early version of the song was then released as part of the tour video within our random art video-series on YouTube. However, it took an entire year to add the rest of the flavors and musical colors, that you may now get submerged in the final version.

Over the period of the following year the song went even through a very EDM-style influence, but now in the end of the song everything leads back to the first idea in the very beginning, however in a different key, and no longer played as a tapping riff, but as a power chord riff with a more classical rock vibe.

The beginning idea changed its shape so drastically, I reckon many people will have some trouble realizing that its actually the first riff.

You have completed recently another Russian tour, and you also played a few shows in Brazil. I would say that these are two very different climates both when it comes to the actual weather conditions and the live music and audiences. What was it like?

Indeed both countries are very different when it comes to climate conditions, yet we did not experience major changes when it comes to live audiences.

We probably play “music for musicians,” therefore the part of the audience that already knows us comes with trained ears, stays in the back of the room with a drink and will applaud the end of a song even if we transition right into another piece without taking a break, while the other part of the audience is rather unpredictable, because they have never before heard or seen anything like our live concept; therefore they will either leave the location abruptly or stay, jump around and party the hell out of the place. This is certainly true for both Russia and Brazil.

However, if you pin me down on finding some differences, then aftershow tendencies from audiences in Brazil smell sweet and make you high, while in Russia everything goes down the drain quite fast with cheap booze…

Art Against Agony is one of the bands that constantly seek new challenges and this can be applied to absolutely every segment of your work: be it the music itself or visual side. What are you striving for as an art collective?

It is our self-proclaimed goal to make people think about the significance of our bodies, names and faces, and how fatally we usually relate them to our identity, because focussing our identity primarily on material aspects of being in the world will just render our entire existence meaningless. Bodies, names and faces promote our “selves” in a way to make more money, to f**k more potential partners, to “grow” in evolutionary and animalistic terms of power, but anyway, we will all die in just a very few number of years, and nothing of these materialistic endeavors will leave a mark that survives our bodily existence. In this case, once we die our identity will die with us, because we bound our entire existence to our body.

Therefore we want to promote the idea that not the material world is relevant to our identity, yet only the ideas we chose to pursue in it, and particularly how we pursue them. Only our actions matter, because their effect will still influence humans when our bodies have long returned to the soil.

Bringing this rather complex philosophic structure back to the more tangible subject of music, this means:

It doesn’t matter how we look like, what our names are or where we are from, because we will not stay here for a long time anyway, we are just visitors.

Our music, however, will survive us, and so will our ideas about identity.

Thus, forget about “us,” instead enjoy the music and all other forms art that we create, get inspired from it, and then strive to die as a nobody, doing good deeds every day.

We understand that the system requires us to somehow show a materialistic presence in this world, otherwise it would be almost impossible to promote our ideas within the various consume-oriented societies of this planet, thus we chose to cover our faces with masks, wear costumes and have pseudonymes, which gives us a quite interesting and materialistic appeal.

Yet indeed we are constantly walking a fine line between our idealistic philosophic goals to cast off our bodies – and striving to spread these ideas around the world, using just these bodies as vehicles to convey the message.



What can we expect from Art Against Agony in the near future? What are your plans?

We have already returned to the studio to record our third EP: this time we will heavily incorporate our new member the_maximalist, who plays the Indian “Mridangam” percussion instrument. Concerning this new addition we are quite confident that anything that will follow musically from Art Against Agony will be material that will push the musical boundaries of both ourselves and our audiences.

At the same time we are gathering ideas and producing new music pretty much constantly anyway, which will most probably result in a third album some time in the future.

For 2018, the band plans to go back on tour, thus we will be back with news soon.

Speaking about the entire collective, our next release will be part 8 of our random art series on YouTube – the video segment of Art Against Agony has been releasing some small teasers over the last few weeks already.

Keep your eyes peeled.

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