Author: Nancy Perkins

Ego Likeness. Photo: Kyle Cassidy

With their published writing works and artistry, Metropolis Records’ Ego Likeness have quite the myriad of creative resources to tap into. The band has drawn crowds to their shows here in Salt Lake City with their mythical lyrics and driving industrial sound.

Even the musician lifestyle has fairy tales, as Ego Likeness’ bandmates, writer Donna Lynch and artist Steven Archer, are one of the few touring married couples in the underground music community. We here at SLUG Magazine were grateful that Ego Likeness took time of out of their busy schedule to correspond with us about The Crossroads Tour, which will make a stop at Area 51 on Thursday, Nov. 10.

Ego Likeness – The Crossroads TourSLUG: What was happening in your lives musically before Ego Likeness?
Donna Lynch: Not much. After putting in many years of training at Peabody Prep, I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do. When I met Steven, he pushed me to start writing and performing with him. I’m glad I agreed, though it took some convincing. Performing the works of famous composers is easy. Standing in front of people with material you wrote can be terrifying.
Steven Archer: I’ve been in and out of bands since I was 20. None of them were particularly good, but I learned a great deal about what not to do.

SLUG: Could you speak to the process of creating The Compass EPs?
Archer: Writing full-length albums has always been a very long process for us. Our hope with the EPs was to put more work out at a faster pace. It didn’t quite work out that way, but that’s ok. The other thing that’s nice about EPs is that you can explore different styles that might not fit quite as well as part of a full-length.

SLUG: What other musical projects are the two of you involved with? How do you balance that with Ego Likeness?
Archer: I have a few other projects. Stoneburner a tribal, industrial, dance project, and Hopeful Machines—which is a clearinghouse for everything else, and in the end, tends to be more of my own personal soundtrack and somewhat public diary than anything else. Both of us perform with other acts from time to time for fun. The trick with balancing is just remembering what hat you are wearing at any given time, and not taking the “Ego Likeness hat” off until we have accomplished what we set out to do.

SLUG: What is on the horizon for Ego Likeness? What new releases are in the works?
Archer: When we get home, it will be time to put on the aforementioned Ego Likeness hat and get to work on a new album. Donna has the concept nailed down, and I think both of us can hear it calling from the ether, waiting to be born.

SLUG: Donna, what type of writing do you prefer to do, and why?
Lynch: I usually describe it as dark fiction, because when you say “horror,” it brings to mind work that is much more in-your-face than mine. I like creepiness and subtlety. I’m a huge fan of body horror, which has crept its way into some of my work. And I enjoy working traditional ghost story and folklore formats into contemporary pieces.

SLUG: In your 11 years of touring, you must have had some fantastic experiences and shows. What have been your favorites?
Lynch: The ones where people show up! It’s very hard to recall a favorite show, because there have been so many I felt good about. Knowing that people had fun or were moved in some way is very rewarding. Besides the performances, my favorite parts of touring are the long drives, especially in the west. Recently, I drove a good portion of the Pacific Northwest in total silence. Steven was sleeping, and I turned off the music. It was very peaceful, just watching the road and the scenery, alone with my thoughts. You don’t get much alone time on the road.

SLUG: Donna, have you faced any issues as a female musician in a male-dominated profession?
Lynch: I haven’t experienced much sexism right to my face, which is something I know happens to some of my other female musician friends. Rather, I hear generalized statements that I find strange. Things like, “I don’t like female vocals, but you were good.” It’s so odd to me that someone would simply not like ANY female voice, like in the entire history of music.

I get guys acting surprised that I’m managing the tour and especially that I do the majority of the driving. I’ve gotten, “Oh it’s nice you don’t have to carry anything during load-in.” I replied that yes, it was nice, considering I just drove 12 hours after playing a show the night before, and everyone else got to sleep. It’s an arrangement that my band and I are happy with, but I resent it a little when people assume that because I’m a woman, I don’t have to do as much as the guys—just show up, look pretty and sing, I guess. I have to do that after making the generally exhausting drive, setting up merch, keeping our affairs at home in order, doing paperwork, and sound checking. All of that doesn’t leave much time to be a diva.

SLUG: Steven, what prompted you to start creating art for your merchandise on tour?
Archer: Fine art has always been my main focus. I have a degree in it from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in D.C. Creating things, be it 2-D, 3-D, audio, video, it’s just what I do … all the time. The location doesn’t really matter. Generally, if I end up sitting somewhere for any period of time, I’ll pull out a sketchbook and start working. The other reason is more practical and less obvious. Because, in the world we live in now, CDs have no value. People still buy them, but a musician on the road can’t expect to make a living off of that anymore. So in addition to filling the down time, it creates another income stream. And it allows fans to buy something that is literally unique. I sell a few prints here and there, but most of the work I sell is original.

SLUG: What do you use for your canvas?
Archer: Well, for paintings I use canvas as my canvas. But for my smaller work, I build “sketchbooks.” The sketchbooks are made from other books ahead of time, each page has pictures and other ephemera taped to it that I use as starting points for my own work. It’s a very efficient way of idea generation and lends itself to creating a large body of work very quickly.

SLUG: When it comes to art, who is your favorite artist?
Archer: As far as living up to my definition of an artist, I would have to say Picasso. Which is funny, because I’m not a huge fan of his work. I mean, it’s very good—it’s just not to my taste. However, the thing about Picasso that I find particularly inspirational as an artist is how he worked in many styles, changing and exploring, pushing himself and his craft. He was a brilliant technical artist … but he was confident enough to explore and expand Cubism just because he found the idea interesting. To me, that is a real artist.

SLUG: What music do you listen to when not creating?
Archer: Very little, actually. I seem to be at a place in my life where I find it difficult to relate to most music. There are exceptions, much of which I have listened to for years: The Swans, older Skinny Puppy, Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel. More recently, Fever Ray and Zola Jesus, to name a few.

SLUG: Do you have anything special planned for the show here in Salt Lake City?
Archer: We love playing here. SLC has always been very good to us. Our set changes from night to night, so I’m sure something interesting will happen.

Supporting Ego Likeness’ Nov. 10 show at Area 51 will be the Austin-based Adoration Destroyed. This is certainly a night of music that you will not want to miss, as these acts also include members from Chant (Alvin Melivin), 16volt (Erik Gustafson), Mindless FaithVelvet Acid Christ and Bile (Rick Furr). Art and industrial music—you could not ask for more.

The Modigliani Quartet. Photo: modiglianiquartet.com

I really did not know what to expect when I walked into The Libby Gardner Concert Hall. I knew I was in store for relaxing, classical music. The Chamber Music Society was hosting The Modigliani Quartet from France. Other than a promotional picture on Facebook, I knew nothing of these artists.

As I stepped into the Hall, I was greeted by very bright lights and a room lined with the most beautiful wood—which created amazing acoustics. By the lack of speakers, fog machine, keyboards and microphones, I knew I had stepped into a world much more calming than my typical norm. On the first level of the stage sat two chairs, two benches and four music stands, and on the next level sat a glorious pipe organ spanning at least 60 feet. I could only imagine the haunting sounds that would bellow out of it.

Glancing at the program, I noticed that the ages of the instruments that this quartet were going to play ranged from the newest being a 233-year-old Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin to the oldest being a 423-year-old Luigi Mariani viola. I wondered about the different musicians hands that held and played these fine instruments through the centuries. The quartet would be performing pieces from Haydn, Dohnanyi and Debussy. The lights dimmed and four younger gentlemen took the stage. I thought they must be world renowned musicians and musical geniuses to be able to play with such beautiful artifacts at such a young age. Scenes from the movie Amadeus ran through my mind.

The bows began to dance and the music began to flow, evoking a beautiful ballet. It appeared the room was just as enamored with what they were hearing and seeing as I was. When there was a low in the music, it was so silent you could hear the quartet take a breath or slide their shoe.

It is obvious they have played together for over a decade as they knew each other’s body language. They had impeccable timing with their harmonious and profound dynamics. With closed eyes, their bodies seemed to just feel the musical movement and the sounds poured out. The leader of this quartet was the first violinist, Phillipe Bernard. When the three others did open their eyes, it was to briefly check their music sheet and they would look to him for cues. Bernard seemed very comfortable with his craft and his cool demeanor breaks the uptight first violinist mold. He sliced the sounds out of the air with his bow, causing his violin to sing. The second violinist Loic Rio and the viola player Francois Kieffer did not stand out to me as much as the gentlemen on the ends, but that might have had something to do with the position where I was sitting in the hall. Although, I did notice that in some pieces, their timing with the bows was like watching falling dominoes, producing a beautiful scene. At times it was almost as if Francois Kieffer was making love to his Matteo Goffriller cello that was created in 1706. By his euphoric state, it appeared he was enjoying every stroke, pluck and touch, truly involved, body and mind, in the music he was creating. The vibrato on his notes was perfection, not too wide and the appropriate length—his intonation was amazing.

The music was so beautiful, and it was played with perfection. There was aggression shown while the intense pieces were played. It was an aggression that was carried out with grace. A different sort of head banging was taking place, not by the audience but by the musicians on stage. I was thoroughly entertained. There would be no mosh pits here—I giggled as I looked around the room imagining these folks circling and throwing elbows.

The performance was finished and a standing ovation was given to the gentlemen—there was no screaming for more, only applause. Then, the gentlemen took their bows and left the stage, returned and left again, but the applause continued until they returned and gave an encore performance. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of respect the audience had shown.

A classical art was revealing itself to me. Sheet music, suits, and the silence between songs showed me that I was in another world. It was not the turning of the knobs, tweaking distorted sounds, and advanced musical machinery of today’s age. It was the art and music that transcends all time. A very quiet, calm and relaxing evening had taken place. I was not bored, I was intellectually stimulated and hungered for more. It was a new world, a surreal world I stepped into, and I will be returning to it often. Don’t miss the next Chamber Music Society concert on Jan. 27 featuring Isabelle Faust on violin and Alexander Melnikov on piano.

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Isabelle Faust and Alexander Malnikov. Photo: Marco Borggreve

I really wanted to share the experience of The Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City, so I grabbed a friend and headed down to the Libby Gardner Music Hall. These events showcase world renowned performers of classical music. Some of them, even the most seasoned fan will never get the opportunity to see. The night’s performers included the talents of the duo that is the beautiful violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist Alexander Melnikov. I was excited with anticipation to hear what was in store.

I arrived early to be sure to catch the discussion lead by the friendly former Utah Symphony concert master Gerald Elias. He was very informative and patient as he provided the room with knowledge about each piece that was being played that night. He went into great detail about also the layouts and how the movements of each Sonata worked. I left the room feeling enlightened by all the information I had just soaked in. Susan Goodfellow was in attendance for the discussion and I really just wanted to go over and pick her brain as she does most of the writing for the Chamber events, and I would love to discuss some of her favorite musicians over the years.

The instrument Faust played was a 1704 Stradivarius violin named “Sleeping Beauty” that still contains its original neck. The reasoning behind the name was that it was forgotten in a vault for over a century and a half, and rediscovered in 1900. I imagine that the discovery of such a beautiful instrument was like finding a lost, ancient artifact. I believe the high pitch of “Sleeping Beauty” and the required lightness of some of these pieces are the reason why she chose them. There was a bit of chill in the air in the hall, and I wondered if it was on behalf of the preservation of the violin.

It was also interesting that Beethoven, Schubert and Weber all lived in approximately the same time period and were practically neighbors. I was delighted to hear such a variance in music styles and I envisioned these three composers as the industrial and experimental noise musicians of their day. It is obvious they were breaking the boundaries of music back then. While they were playing the Weber piece, I noticed that there was some whimsical, random plucking, that increased in speed. I wondered why the composer thought about placing it there, and then it occurred to me that there really does not have to be a reason for a sound when you are creating a musical piece.

Faust’s body and facial expressions showed that she was relaxed and extremely confident in her art. She had the grace of a swan as she played. Her face showed true bliss. I have not seen many violinists, but I was intrigued by her unique style of playing with her bow very close to the bridge. Melnikov was calm, cool and collected, and was very in tune with Fausts—it appeared as if one glance held an entire conversation. His fingers fluttered on the keys and his body swayed with the flow of the music. You could really tell the emotion in his eyes and he rarely looked down at the keys. His feet danced on the pedals of the beautiful grand piano which allowed precise vibration to echo through the hall. It reminded me of a guitarist stepping on his distortion pedals.

The mystical pieces they played carried me away and erased my thoughts from the stresses of everyday life, until there was nothing left but the sounds of the beautiful music filling my head. I was gazing into nothingness, just listening. The thunderous low keys on the piano brought me out of my trance-like state and I glanced around the room and noticed the audience was also entranced with what was being heard. The thunderous sounds of Melnikov’s aggression and subtlety on the piano and the sweet serenade of the violin had placed the entire room into a state of audio bliss.

The performance concluded with Schubert’s “Fantasie in C. Major D.934.” I was very disappointed as there was no encore as a standing ovation was given. I yearned for more and felt as if I was left hanging on a limb. My temporary escape had ended and my head began to fill with responsibility. I truly enjoy the escape that the Chamber Music Society provides. The next concert will be with the Faure Quartet on Wednesday, February 19, at 7:30 p.m. and the discussion before the concert will be led by Susan Goodfellow at 6:45 p.m. You can check out the remaining lineup of the season at cmsofslc.org.

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