INTERVIEW: zerrissen era Discusses Arctic Music

Interview by Jessica Klausing

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Straight outta Baffin Island comes zerrissen era!

This indie multi-instrumentalist creates gorgeous lush sounds and compelling lyrics inspired by his life in the Arctic. His music focuses on the human perception of beliefs about, or knowledge of the world. What better way to ponder life than in the wide open spaces of tundra and sea? This particular environment requires unique recording sessions. 

Due to the harsh temperatures, the production resources are limited in the Arctic. The sound production occurs in an amploo (igloo-lined on the interior with amplifiers) during the winter months. In the summer the sound production occurs in a laavo lined with amplifiers. These recordings result in a meditative acoustic sound focused on a central point. Think similar to the sound baths in the Joshua Tree desert.

zerrissen era chatted with us about his new album and musical influences.

The first thing I noticed was the religious and philosophical symbolism within your lyrics. I know you state that your “music is intended to make us think,” but can you tell me about the inspiration behind your lyrical messages?

zerrissen era: zerrissen era lyrics and music are about the full spectrum of life, and living it with a greater sense of being. Where are you within this spectrum? Have you stayed in one spot your whole life? Or have you ventured beyond into the wild and unknown? Songs, like religion and philosophy, are intangible. But they can govern and shape perceptions that become one's reality. zerrissen era music is about deconstructing this and seeing where you end up.

Can you tell me about the recording process?

zerrissen era: I can’t read or write music. I have ears. I listen. I listen to everything around me; including the silence in between the sounds. Just like when you see the colour of an object and realize that it is every colour except what you see, the silence in between the sounds can be deafening and revealing. 

Consequently, I am always recording ideas and piecing them together. I do everything solo.  Writing the songs happens before and during the recording process. Prior to laying the primary reference tracks down, the full musical structure is typically mapped out on an acoustic guitar or piano. This is the first track. I usually lay the drums down thereafter and build up the arrangements with bass, other guitars, and instruments, and hold off until vocals until last. I listen to the music and let it guide the vocals. As such, zerrissen era music is heavily driven by rhythmic and percussive elements. Mixing and mastering is a long process. I know how the songs sound in my head, so I spend as much time turning dials towards that goal. 

 Who are your musical influences?

zerrisen era: I have been influenced by truly gifted musicians who will never be heard by a broader audience and whose names I don’t even know.  For instance, I remember listening to a Garifuna singer/drummer in a village in Honduras years ago. I am captivated to this day by his presence, how his lyrics and vocals fit with his percussion, and how he managed to pack so much meaning in his work. I don’t know what he was singing per se, but he got the message through.

I listen to people: what they are saying, what they mean to say, what they are not saying and the tone.  I listen to music.  All genres and focus on the songs, their structures, arrangements, lyrics, and overall meaning as one unit. 

To name a few influences, I enjoy the lyrics of Bob Mould, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, and Michael Stipe. I love the impact of Midnight Oil tunes. Throw Robbie Robertson in there and I find myself drifting somewhere down a crazy river in my element: the Outback. Jars of Clay and Jewel are also sources of positive inspiration. My deepest, darkest secret, however, is Robert Smith. His ability to craft songs covering states of abysmal despair to pure elation is remarkable. 

I was reading that when someone purchases your album, the proceeds go to supporting positive causes in the Arctic. You seem quite passionate about the environment. What was your decision to donate specifically to the Arctic?

zerrissen era: The Arctic is my home. I am privileged to experience it amidst all the social, economic, and environmental change. The people north of 60 know resilience like no one else. Given that the Arctic is a magical place that resides in the psyche of many, and yet only a few will ever be able to experience it, I want others to be able to see themselves in it; through the music, the sounds, the images, and what’s to come through zerrissen era.

The decision to have zerrissen era music contribute towards positive causes in the Arctic is about thinking global and acting locally. The youth in the north, for instance, has so much potential, but are struggling with all the change. It can be hard to see them in the change taking place and many are lost due to suicide, substance abuse, and crime. We are all in this together and we need to play our part. If people can ‘hear themselves’ in zerrissen era music, they can hear others and relate to them. We need more of this worldwide and music knows no bounds.

How do you begin the songwriting process?

zerrissen era: I don’t. Being a songwriter is a constant. I always have something to capture a lyric, melody, instrument, sound, be it a recorder or a good pen and paper. zerrissen era music tends to be written separately from lyrics; however lyrical ideas and musical ideas can inform one another in the process. In general, however, lyrical ideas are crafted based on matters I am working through or I see others working through. Knowing one's subject is important, but unless I can feel what the song and lyrics are intended to evoke, the song is not a genuine experience… and it needs to be. 

What was the inspiration for naming your album, Quilts, Tapestries, and Woodcuts?

zerrissen era: Quilts, tapestries, and woodcuts are the works of diligent hands and are prevalent in the Arctic world. Each and every one of them are depictions in themselves. They each have their own story, personality, spirit, and soul. They are functional artifacts and art that symbolize some of the ‘Northern Comforts’ of the Arctic. 

Do you do any spiritual rituals to prepare for a song?

zerrissen era: Music is both spiritual and a ritual in my experience. I don’t really think about what to do to prepare to express myself while writing, recording, or performing; I like to keep the reel rolling at all times. I know where my strength comes from. I also know where my sore spots are. As an asthmatic, I do not possess powerful lungs so I look for strength to get the job done and message out. At the same time, I would never want to change this as these features make us who we are. Be yourself. Be distinct. 

Check out zerrissen era's CD Baby page to purchase his music.