SEBASTIAN HVASS, 'NIGHTLIFE', AND A NIGHT OF CHARM
Reconnecting with the man behind the experimental indie band to see how their sound and artistic take on music composition has evolved for their new album.
Words: Astrid Larsen & Sebastian Hvass
Photos: Sebastian Hvass
Last summer, I stumbled upon a musical artist that felt quite comfortable deeming just that–an artist.
That is not to say there is not a level of artistry in all music composition, but what stood out to me about Sebastian Hvass, the keystone for the experimental rock band HVASS, was how his process for making music didn’t follow the standard rules of songwriting. It fell more into processes more common in visual and performing arts.
Upon sitting down with him for an interview, which you can read here, I found that the project was primarily a solo experiment where he had drafted some other musicians and collaborated with a light designer for live gigs. The debut album ‘Flowers of Edo’ was constructed completely by his hands.
Jump forward one year, and HVASS has just released their second full-length record, with a considerable shift in the dynamic of how it was made. What was once the backroom studio project of one man, is now the collective dynamic of a group of musicians–in other words, they’re more like a traditional band.
But, I must note, that I use that word “tradition” very lightly, because there is nothing traditional about HVASS. Even though the dynamic of the songwriting process has evolved, the retention of artistic process and conceptual composition is still there. Everything from the composition of the songs to the photography and presentation seem to follow a concept inherent to the record.
HVASS’ new album,’Nightlife’, pulls inspiration from the dark and seedy moods of the witching hour and beyond, but as a metaphor for the dark side within ourselves–musically and lyrically exploring the carnal nature that exists within us all.
Because the composure and the dynamic of the “band” had changed so much since we last spoke, I reconnected with Sebastian to get a better understanding of how the process and evolution has been for him.
You mentioned that this album was constructed more as a collaborative “band” effort, in contrast to the previous ‘Flowers of Edo’ album. How was that process for you?
Well, it was a choice made to bring the project down to the ground and create some kind of foundation to build upon. Inspired by our live concerts in 2016 I changed the sound drastically to a more dark & improvised rock sound.
Compared to Flowers of Edo it turned out to be driven mostly by instincts rather than precise composing, which supports the thematics on the album in a really good way.
Do you feel the dynamic of the project changed now that it contains the input of other musicians?
Definitely, even though I do all the final cuts, there is still a lot of roles and themes that just appeared randomly from Perry’s guitar or Magnus’ bowed bass.
A lot of the sounds on the album are made by someone else in the band playing something while I feed their signal live through my guitar effects. This created an extremely interesting dynamic where two people would work on the same sound simultaneously, creating unsettling loops and big and monstrous alien howls.
Is Nightlife working from a deep conceptual idea like Flowers, or is it more constructed like a tradition “band” album made up of a collection of individual tracks?
Hmm, though there doesn’t seem to be a binary timeline in the album, it evolves around a certain idea of transformation. Where ‘Flowers of Edo’ seemed to find solutions for personal affairs, a sort of self-healing strategy, Nightlife does the opposite; it looks into the dark corners of the soul and embraces the chaos. It wants to unfold the dirtiest version of the self and explore the skeletons in the deepest closet.
I recently found sides of myself that seemed more cruel and instinctive than my usual appearance and though these newly found shadows of the mind, rarely see the light of day, they still use a lot of the space in my reflections of the self. Nightlife is the first attempt to use these shadows to create something. The shadows want to purge through the night, becoming increasingly potent and sexual.
Maybe it’s some hidden side of me that has become an extremely subdued part of my personality and now for the first time it has scratched the surface and become visible to my eye.
So to answer the question, well yes, the idea behind the album is to investigate the idea of me transforming into this new purging self. The album is set mostly through the eyes of the new self in the very start of the transformation.
Were there any musical influences that you drew from for this particular album?
Not in the beginning, I was mostly trying to leave behind some old influences. I started this abandonment by adding drum machines; that didn’t pan out so well for me, so the drum machine tracks didn’t make the cut.
At some point, I started finding some inspiration in some of the most crooked Tom Waits songs where he would swing between a deep croon and screaming falsetto. I also tried to get some voodoo vibes going, it was really important to me that the album sounded occult and mystic, I tried to find a bit of inspiration for this in African and Cuban music but it was quite difficult to find anything that sounded as dark as I wanted it too.
When we last spoke, during the time of the ‘Flowers’ album, you mentioned that when you play live, you and the band would often mix up different sections of the different songs to create a unique composition at each show. Is this still something you practice or are the songs more “set” now?
I think we still do this a bit, but not as much as back then. We are a bit more confident in the original structure of the songs now, especially because a lot of the new songs are more trance-like, which fits the whole band really good, everything is a bit liquid so the songs end up being built around intuition.
On a more personal note, you also experiment with photography as a visual medium of creative expression. Do you bring these other mediums into HVASS?
I guess I do a lot actually, but not in a noticeable way. I usually create my music as a mood rather than a traditional song – I will often start by making some artwork/cover/photo and recreate the visual as music if that makes sense. It is not a specific obstruction in the band, It’s just the way my mind works.
Do you still work with elements of light and sculpture installation in collaboration with the live performances? If so, can you tell me about that?
From time to time. I would never exclude it from the shows, but it’s become a bit more subtle. Hopefully, I will get the chance to play around with it more in the future.
Now that ‘Nightlife’ is out, what are you looking towards experimenting with?
My mind and my ideas change a bit too fast right now, so I can’t really make up my mind, but as we speak I’m mostly interested in two things.
First of all, I want to dive deeper into this newly found corner of my persona and be brave enough to let it take over my musical ideas. Make some kind of musical piece that is not just reflection of this shadow of the mind but is the shadow itself.
Second of all, I’ve been thinking a lot about making a catalog-ish project of experimental instrumental collaborations with a network of people, release them as tapes and make strange pop-up style performances around the hidden corners of the city. A type of record label that doesn’t release any traditional records doesn’t think in bands or in concerts, but focus on ever-shifting collisions between individuals.
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