Published on April 30th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview: Dana from Sydonia
Vivid snapshots remain of my first encounter with Melbourne’s Sydonia despite 10 years of booze, drugs, and bad decisions doing their best to consign the event to oblivion. Memories of the venue, what season it was, whom I was with, and how I got home that night are all too shadowy to be reliable.
What I do clearly remember is the spine-tingling power of frontman Dana Roskvist’s vocals and the primal, percussive force of their music. I stood transfixed for the whole 40-minute set. There’s only been a handful of live shows out of countless I’ve seen that have riveted my attention so thoroughly.
That Sydonia’s support band featured Matt Skitz from legendary grindcore band Damaged (perched behind the kit on his trademark milk crates) was like icing on the cake.
My fondest memories of that night, though, are of Dana, Sam [guitar], Sean [drums], Adam [bass], Matty Skitz, and I getting monumentally, apocalyptically wasted. Both Dana and Sam—particularly Sam—have a repellent sense of humor that makes them perfect company for a post-gig bender.
I moved away a year or so after that show, but have looked on as the band gained greater critical and popular acclaim with each album they released.
It’s the band’s work ethic and self-confidence that have earned the respect of their peers
Early on, the band’s love of Korn, Deftones, Sepultura, and Tool came through pretty clearly, but they’ve always managed to avoid being bound to one genre—and the sudden career death that often happens when a style of music becomes uncool almost overnight.
While songwriting chops and an ability to give a unique voice to a range of influences have kept Sydonia’s music fresh, ultimately it’s the band’s work ethic and self-confidence that have earned the respect of their peers and fans.
Sydonia’s most recent release, Reality Kicks, charted locally and attracted reviews hailing it’s diversity of sound, and also scored airplay on Australia’s larger metropolitan radio networks—pretty impressive considering the band does not have the backing of a major label.
Supporting international acts such as Lamb of God and Trivium on national tours and playing some of the larger festivals didn’t hurt either.
But the buzz following an album release is finite, and in practice barely lasts a week after the record drops. Keeping momentum means braving the foul gasses of the tour van and breaking out the Bryan Adams, mirrors, and sheets of blotter acid for another session in the studio.
BNU recently caught up with Roskvist, who over the course of this long, occasionally candid, frequently silly, but nonetheless entertaining interview, provides an insight on what it’s like to be perpetually hanging on the fringes of stardom.
We wanted a good drum sound, being that’s the foundation of Sydonia’s sound, so we went to a studio for that. Toyland has a fantastic drum room and Adam Calaitzis is a great engineer, so we went there for that.
Everything else was recorded at home—we brought some nice gear and set up a “project studio” at home and took our time getting all the parts down.
It was far more protracted than we would have liked, but when you’re doing it like that, things just seem to take ages. Then once it was all tracked we went back to Toyland with Adam Calaitzas to mix.
I learned a lot about engineering leading up to and during that whole process. Became an avid Gear Slut and nerded out on mics, placement, and preamps. I do think the guitar sounds I was getting in the end were very decent though.
We’re all big fans of those jailhouse recordings from the turn of the century
So, yeah, I guess I’m an engineer now, just don’t ask me to work out the bearing load on a triangular support for a four-lane bridge.
What was the thinking behind producing a limited run of the album on acetate and also wax cylinder? Has there been much demand for those from the audiophile community?
That was exciting to us as we’re all big fans of those jailhouse recordings from the turn of the century. They’ve sold like hotcakes, which is strange considering almost no one has players for those thing anymore.
They did come with a free download though, and an extra track of whale-style guitar noise—so maybe that was it.
Speaking of guitar, you are known for writing guitar leads in the conventional way and then using a mirror to play them backwards. Pitchfork recently reported on your current problems with Universal and their assertion you lifted the guitar solo in Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do (I Do It For You), played it backwards, sped it up, added some delay and used it for your song Sinner. These ongoing issues stopped you from going forward with your planned Canadian tour. Are you able to comment?
Sometimes we even play things in a mirror then have another mirror facing that mirror so you get an infinite number of possible playing styles. We then pick the worst one, tighten it up, and then perform it in black-and-white. This is achieved with clever, severe lighting.
Bryan Adams is the best for backwards ripping off… TL is just Summer of ’69 in reverse… and black and white.
If you were to collaborate with Bryan, to kind of smooth things over, what would you do together? You could bring in Ryan Adams, and maybe Dana from Deftones. You could be Dana, Dana, Bryan, & Ryan.
I hate playing to less than 4,000 people
That would be a band! Heavy cuntry meets heavy country. Too good. We could do that whole “singing about a folk hero in an action film in a forest” thing!
When Sydonia played that rooftop show in Times Square in 1987, you took a drink of water and sprayed it into the crowd. Why did you do that?
I wanted to scold people. I hate playing to less than 4,000 people, so I felt really resentful. I thought I’d take it our on the people who showed up to support us. By scold I mean with red-hot water—I thought it was boiling but it was room temperature.
So you feel like people coming to shows or seeing you accidentally on their way to work is compromising your artistic vision?
No, god no, people were actually far more aware at that time, less attentive and more freaked out, but more aware.
Larry Mullen Jr. once described your guitarist, Sam, as “a living treasure”. How did the two of you meet and what is Sam’s connection with Larry, Bono, and The Edge?
He is a treasure. He keeps his treasury bits in his jail pocket, which we elegantly describe as his “desert rose”. Sam has a very similar guitar sound to The Edge, a comparable ego to Bono, and like Larry, he “chooses” when to grow wrinkles.
I want to talk now about your new band Prince Albert’s Misanthropic Dildo Party. From what I understand, you originally had two drummers, but you sacked both of them and replaced them with Highland pipers. What prompted that move?
Oh no—we didn’t sack them. We just changed the definition of bagpiper to someone who likes banging on things with a pipe in their mouth. So, there are still two drummers. The change was prompted by fluctuating share-prices in odd lots.
When I’m taking a shower I sometimes fantasize I’m winning an argument with someone, just for that rush of endorphins. Does writing a song have that same effect?
Sometimes—but more often it feels like losing an argument with yourself.
In the shower or in real life?
Your drummer Sean and bassist Adam are also known outside of music as being mad golfers, and during your last tour of Scotland they hit the links at St. Andrews. I heard there was some kind of unpleasantness with the head greens-keeper. Can you shed any light on what happened? How important is golf culture to the Sydonia sound?
I realized at a young age that religion was not very nice.
[Laughs] They’d brought some wooden hands and a blowup crocodile and we’re performing a scene from Happy Gilmore. So many riffs are inspired by the wonderful turf care and well-looked-after courses, and by great swings; it’s not even funny.
So what happened between you and Tommy Lee?
Haha! Well, I told him his amp sucked, so he told me to get my own amp, so I told him that Pamela has a better voice. Then we cuddled.
How long to decontaminate?
Just three showers, on a hot, hot heat… And a rinse in Selsun Blue.
What’s your favorite memory as a kid?
As a young kid? Kissing a girl in kindergarten that was a Jehovah’s Witness. Then I found out she had a birthday coming up but wasn’t allowed to celebrate it, so I went back to her house after kindergarten and literally made her mother and grandmother give her a birthday party, which was her and I and those two. They brought her out a cupcake with a candle in it and looked so very guilty.
I realized at a young age that religion was not very nice.
Oh, now we’re getting into it!
When you were lying in bed at night as a kid, did you fantasize about being on stage and being worshipped, and if so, who was in the audience that you were trying to impress?
I never did.
But I still, if I don’t have an audiobook on my phone handy, help myself sleep by running through new songs in my head as if I’m performing them.
And I touch myself. It’s like a warm security touch.
Okay, moving on… are Australians indifferent to music produced by Australians unless it’s been endorsed by a foreign audience?
Mostly. Sadly. For us, it’s hard because crowds seem to shrink every time we tour. You know in Australia how far every city is from another, so it’s disheartening and more costly.
What kind of a difference would signing to a major label make for Sydonia? More money to record?
The real dream was always to be able to do it for a living, even if that living was twenty grand a year, you know—with or without a label. But buzzes come and go. A major label would mean more exposure but probably less cash.
So it’s difficult to maintain the band and keep enthusiasm up in between recording/touring?
We still play every show as if it’s our last
It is very hard when you’ve done some amazing stuff and you know you’re a great live band with good songs, blowing one’s own trumpet here, but fuck it.
It’s still great to get on the road and play shows, but it’s becoming harder and harder to justify as less people come out to local shows in general. As our audience becomes smaller and less enthused… well, so do we, I guess.
We still play every show as if it’s our last and we enjoy it immensely. But when you’re driving home, from say, Sydney, you have a lot of time to go—well, that time could have been spent better, perhaps.
It’s not as depressing as it sounds, we have a bunch of people that love our music and we’re very thankful for that and the opportunity’s we’ve had. It’s just hard. I’ve watched so many great Aussie bands break up because of it. We’re not going to do that, but we are definitely going to concentrate on writing our third album over touring.
Some of these feelings will certainly make it onto this third record.
Do you think your age has had any role in your not really fully breaking into mass-market music? It seems like part of landing a major label contract is marketability to teenagers, having the very young kids as audience, and well, you know…
[Laughs] Yeah, no doubt, we were old even six years ago!
But, for the odd band, for some reason, age is meaningless. Be nice to be one of those. “Oh they’re making great music, let’s like them regardless of how they look and act.”
You have to do what you are programmed to do.
It’s depressing, huh. Your music just keeps getting better as you age, yet marketability goes down inverse proportion.
Yeah. Weird, huh.
Weird. Still … You do what you do because you have to, right? Compulsion?
Yeah, man. I mean we write music all the time, just walking around one is thinking of lyrics or hearing riff ideas, humming things into your phone, being influenced by great writers. You have to do what you are programmed to do.
EXCLUSIVE! DEMO PREVIEW OF “EYES of SAND” from NEW ALBUM Due 2016
What are you most proud of creatively as a band, and do you think you can top it? When you look back to when you started to where you are now, are you really excited about what’s coming next?
I guess the music we’ve written. And yes, the new stuff is going to be very good! We’re test running some new stuff on Saturday night. Very excited!
So how is the new album shaping up?
The new album is shaping up really well—writing itself almost. It’s going to be faster, rawer, and heavier than the last one—but still with plenty of the Sydonia standards, kaleidoscopic material, chorus you can hopefully sing along too, call-and-answer Adam-and-Dana vocals, percussion, and so on.
We’re hoping to have it out early next year.