Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Daniel Cornejo: The Grey Man

"So much of who we are as people is built up by these sounds and imagery we take in...we want to help build people who enjoy our sounds into the fullest person they can be."

In order to keep extinction at bay, the underground music scene has a constant need for extremely dedicated & focussed individuals prepared to invest a lot of their time, money, blood, sweat and tears into releasing music with almost no financial gain to be had down the road.

Thankfully we have people like Daniel Cornejo, a passionate youth hailing from Santa Barbara, California whose hard efforts with record label Grey Matter Productions have paid off. In less than a year, GMP has established their name as one of the most formidable in the scene. 

With tapes flying off the GMP bandcamp shelves, Daniel has been putting out a range of mind blowing releases, some of the newest have been: ‘Agyptiaká’ by Doom Jazz quartet Shambhala, a live session by Death Industrialists Destruktionsanstalt, ‘I Hurt Because I Must’ from Harsh Noise maker Misery Ritual and 'Neath The Cerulean Abyss...’ by Dark Ambient/Soundtrack artist Noctilucant. 

Cornejo also plays guitar in his band Pale Hands who have been touring almost non-stop up and down the west coast. Not only content for band life and being head of a label, so far he has put out 3 tapes of his ANW/HNW project hermit (listen to hermit’s debut release below) as well as occasionally teaming up with his cousin for their Ambient Noise duo Unborn Insekt. 

I caught up with Daniel to find out about his early influences, the future of GMP and what it truly means to be 100% DIY…

DMD: Growing up, what artists/bands made you want to play music?

Daniel Cornejo: That’s a little difficult for me to recall honestly haha. I remember being into a lot of artists unknowingly that probably inspired my subconscious. My parents would play different types of music all the time, and on top of that my older brother and sister would play even more different artists so I was always influenced by that whether I was aware of it or not (all of my family plays music as well). 

The very first artists I think about fondly are bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. Iron Maiden is just perfect in pretty much every way and everyone knows it. In my first "band" I wanted to cover Black Sabbath and when I got my first guitar I got an SG because I wanted to be Angus Young haha. 

When I was in 5th grade though, I got my brother's old iPod and that changed everything. At that point for me it was Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold and As I Lay Dying haha. I really discovered music through my brother and he was into all of the "screamo" and metalcore at that time so that was my introduction to it. And of course the classic heavy metal records.

DMD: How did Grey Matter Productions get started? What is the label’s ethos?

DC: I remember the day specifically. My cousin Sebastian and I had been hanging out with each other non stop the whole past year and a half and had really just been building each other up, musically/spiritually/mentally/whatever, but we had never made music together. It kind of reached a culmination point I guess.

I was at work and for whatever reason I felt extremely inspired to release music as a label. I get in these modes where I'm extremely enveloped and involved in an idea and it becomes so much a part of me. I was in one of those modes and so I texted Sebastian just going off, letting loose all the ideas in my head and it totally snowballed. 

I got home and we created it that night. I forget the exact date, but I know it was in February - which is perfect because late February is my birthday and early March is his birthday and for us we were at a peak of creativity. It started as a way to release our music and really push us to constantly be creating. 

We didn't think people would want to release with us initially, but we wanted the label to be serious and real so the idea was that we would have to each come up with albums to release under different pseudonyms at least once a month. 

While we could probably do that for a bit, that's pretty intensive and luckily for some reason the label kind of took off in its own way. Massive thank you to Liam of Shurayuki-Hime, Nemanja Nikolic of Dosis Letalis and Patrick Flynn of Olm for being our first real releases and for some reason wanting to work with a couple of random losers. 

Those 3 releases mean a lot to me. Not only because each release is beautiful in its own way, but all of those people are fantastic people as well. Sorry this is such a long answer. 
The ethos behind Grey Matter is fairly simple. We want to release sounds that affect and inspire us so that maybe we can affect and inspire others the way our favorite artists have inspired us. The intention of the label is to spread all of the facets of life that we're interested in through art. 

So much of who we are as people is built up by these sounds and imagery we take in, whether it be from just listening to music we enjoy or deliberately seeking out the extremities in art. We want to help build people who enjoy our sounds into the fullest person they can be. Regardless of all the "dark", "brutal" or "evil" concepts our releases deal with, our intention is not dark or evil. 

Maybe brutal, haha. But what I'm getting at is in the name - GREY MATTER. Not black, nor white. Not dark, nor light. A balance of the two. Because whatever you believe, dark and light are just terms that mean nothing. What makes it "dark" or "light" is the intention you put behind your art. Same goes for every action we make daily.

DMD: As a guitarist who are your main influences? 

DC: Honestly, I’m not sure. I have many influences, but I don't necessarily think of it that way. I get inspired by the music, not the guitarist, or even what the guitarist is doing. I hope I don't sound like a dick, I just am actually not sure. 

I even looked through all of my music trying to find something, but no luck.. If I had to make a decision, I guess I'd say Jef Whitehead of Leviathan, just because he's without a doubt one of my favorite artists overall (music, tattoos, paintings, etc), and he creates some extremely complex and beautiful sounds with his guitar.

DMD: Is guitar your only instrument? Do you play any other instruments? 

DC: I play guitar, bass guitar, a little bit of piano, and I'm okay with a synthesizer! I also play distortion pedals and noise boxes real nice though!

DMD: When was your first encounter of noise/HNW etc and what attracted you to it? 

DC: My first introduction to noise was in junior high now that I think about it. My sister's boyfriend at the time was a part of a local noise group called something I honestly forget, but he gave me a couple of tapes and a cd of his project. I remember having friends over and being stoked to show them the cd because of how bizarre it was to me. 

The album name was perfect and I still wanna re-use it but probably never will - Sensory Deprivation Techniques. I also remember going and seeing a live noise show with them around that time. I had no idea noise would become such a big part of my life. 

With that said, my TRUE introduction was via a drone blog I followed called dronemuzak haha. 
The guy who ran the blog had a noise blog as well (obviously called noisemuzak for those interested) and he reblogged a post of an advertisement for Vomir. All it was was a black background with VOMIR HNW in bold letters and below it "No Dynamics, No Change, No Development, No Ideas." 

I had no idea what it was so I immediately looked it up because the design was minimalistic, but I could tell the purpose was very heavy/grandiose, which is something I'm always drawn to in art. 

I listened to a few of his sounds and made my first wall that night - The Slow & Inevitable Heat Death Of The Universe, which is a serious title, but I took it from a Cards Against Humanity playing card haha. By the way (shameless plug), I'm continuing that wall series so be on the lookout for parts 3 and 4 coming soon through Endless Landscapes Of Decay (another fantastic label).

DMD: What’s currently going on with your Progressive Power Violence band Pale Hands right about now? 

DC: Progressive Power Violence? Wow, that's a wild term but I'm not opposed! Well after our recent CA tour with Stoic (who unfortunately had to drop because their van broke down), our drummer and vocalist both moved down to LA (my cousin and I both live a couple hours north of LA. My cousin plays bass and I play guitar.) so we haven't practiced in a bit but we have about 6 new songs that we're pretty excited about and are currently figuring out how to record them. 

All of the Pale Hands albums so far have been recorded or mixed by myself and our drummer so chances are, we'll do it that way again. Because it's cheap and easy, but also because there's always a DIY ethic behind what we do. If we can do it ourselves why wouldn't we? All of our tours have been set up via our drummer, our old bass player had the van we toured in (I drove my jeep on this last tour), we recorded our sounds and - hell, we even WROTE THE MUSIC! 

That last one was a joke, because obviously we did that, I was just trying to knock myself down a bit I guess because I started to sound egotistical in my head. Anyway, we want to record our new songs and will likely release them as a couple of splits. 

DMD: Do you know who the Pale Hands splits are going to be with?

DC: We’re unsure of who we're going to do the splits with. A few bands have been talked about but nothing very concrete. We were supposed to do a split with a hardcore band called Akira from Portland, OR a while back so we might still do that.

DMD: For hermit, what is your recording set up? 

DC: Well, hermit is an interesting concept. hermit is who I am and so all of my ideas and sounds and influences are a part of it. Not necessarily on every album, but that's always been my idea behind it. So for the past noise releases I've done, it's just been pedals. Distortion, delay, loop, reverb, and a pitch shifter.

That ran through a broken 8 track to a working 4 track. I run through the 8 track because it has a solid set of EQ controls that can completely shift the sound. Sometimes I'll run through all that and through the 4 track into my audio interface if what I want is more complex and I'm gonna need to mess with the sound in post more. For other albums I'm working on but haven't released, it's changed though. 

I have a black metal split I'm supposed to release soon with Moloch of Depressive Illusions Records as hermit and the setup for that was a Korg Poly-800 Mk II (an 80's synthesizer that has some pretty great dungeon synth vibes), my guitar through a practice amp (KVLT) and an electric drum set. 

Go check out Depressive Illusions if you haven't before. Amazing label and distro webstore that was actually one of the first black metal labels I found when I was first delving into that world. There's a lot more coming from hermit though and I'm not even sure what yet.

I just recently got a Moog and a Pittsburgh Modular desktop synthesizer, because I've been extremely into acid house and techno lately, but knew it would also work perfect for where I want to go with hermit and for any noise ideas I might have.

DMD: Do you have any live noise shows planned for hermit? 

DC: No hermit live shows yet. If there ever are any, ideally I wouldn't be there haha. But realistically, there will probably be a few shows. At the moment what I want to do is have a wall of amps with me behind it making the sounds in a pitch black setting. 

It's not about me or what I do or how I do it. Listen and feel the sounds and you can understand the purpose behind what I do. The experience I want people to have is discomfort and uncertainty. Not because of how intense the show is or anything like that (Misery Ritual comes to mind) but because I don't want what I do to be something they've experienced before. 

As for the sounds I'd make.. I'm not sure - it'd vary show by show because as I said, hermit is every facet of my musical tastes. At the moment, I imagine it as a blend of harsh noise, synthesizer sounds (think the main theme for The Thing or the intro sounds in The Shining), and multiple voice samples and drum samples to keep things moving a bit. Really inspired by what The Haxan Cloak is doing live though.

DMD: Any other projects of yours we should know about? 

DC: Occultus is a Black Metal project I'm hoping to release on Grey Matter soon. UNBORN INSEKT is obviously my collaboration project with my cousin (who's primary project is INSEKTOID). Lots of other projects going on but nothing solid yet - just some sounds.

DMD: Since GMP is primarily a tape label currently do you have any plans to expand into vinyl or CD?

DC: Yes! The hermit/Moloch split album I mentioned earlier should be a vinyl release. Also working with Pale Hands' old bass player who has a band called Trash that we made tapes for and we're trying to get that pressed as well. That's all we have planned at the moment, but now that that door is open in my mind, I'm sure there will be more. 

As for CD, that might happen someday (I assume it will), but personally I've never been a big fan of that format. No disrespect to anyone who enjoys them, as the physical format of music can be extremely personal and important to some, but it was never in the intentions of the label to work with CDs.

Something I'd like to stress here is the 100% DIY ethic behind the label.  Trust me, you don't have to be DIY to get respect from me, but sometimes I wonder how many "DIY" labels use massive companies to produce t shirts, stickers, or whatever it may be. I never want someone to think of Grey Matter like that. 

We made an extensive discography release for Sword Suicide a while back and I hand cut and glued every single box for that box set and my cousin, myself and the Pale Hands vocalist all made the patches for it ourselves as well at 4am the day before the release! I like that and I like memories like that and that's why I use the term 100% DIY rather than just DIY. 

I bring it up with this question because I've deliberated in my mind a bit about how "100% DIY" it is to have another company press your vinyl for you. Yes, I'd still be funding it but in a sense, the magic of what I love about dubbing tapes and cutting each cover by hand would be lost.

That said, I've been able to find a couple of companies that hold the DIY ethic and one that even has a massive arm in the noise world, so my qualms about pressing vinyl have dissipated a bit. I think I'm also thinking into it too much haha.

DMD: What equipment do you use for dubbing the tapes? Also what is your personal favorite physical format?

DC: I have a Telex Copyette and a Technics tape player/recorder that I use together. The Technics records the masters and the Telex duplicates the master into 3 separate tapes at a time. Although I just had some issues with it and so now it only does 2 tapes at a time but that's still good enough for me.

By the way - this setup was only about 250 dollars total and I bought both the Telex and Technics off of eBay. If anyone reading this is toying with the idea of starting a tape label, I think it is absolutely the way to go if you're doing everything DIY. 

With that said, my favorite format is vinyl. It probably has a lot to do with the size of the album artwork haha and not so much with the supposed "better quality" that vinyl can give you. Most of the time people don't realize that the records they're buying are pressed from digital masters just the same, so it's not necessarily "better quality" the way most people think about it. But regardless, it's a hell of a fun format to collect, so I get why it's gotten popular again.

DMD: How did Tomhet getting his tapes onto GMP happen? Did he contact you or was it vice versa?

DC: Tomhet actually contacted us which is kind of bizarre to think about haha! He was supposed to release Nightmares In Damask with another label, but unfortunately they couldn't fund it at the time which is how he ended up coming to us. 

We hadn't really done a black metal release before that so I'm not sure why he contacted us in particular, but it was perfect because I've been trying to expand the palette of Grey Matter as much as possible and Black Metal is probably my favorite style of music.

DMD: On that note, what are your favourite Black Metal albums?

DC: Haha I'm kind of excited to answer this one, because I'm a nerd. In no particular order - Aske EP by Burzum, Panzerfaust by Darkthrone (The unholy trinity as well, but that's a given) Bergtatt and Nattens Madrigal by Ulver, Verrater by Leviathan, self-titled album by Lurker Of Chalice, and the self-titled album by Paysage d'Hiver (but also Das Tor and Die Festung because it's hard to choose).

Triumph.Genocide.Antichrist & Superion.Command.Destroy by Revenge, Two Hunters by Wolves In The Throne Room (Malevolent Grain EP is beautiful as well), Il Était une Forêt by Gris, Defective Epitaph by Xasthur (again its hard to choose.. honorable mentions for Nightmares At Dawn, Subliminal Genocide and Telepathic With The Deceased), Phantom by Lustre because I'm not trve kvlt, and if we're gettin' wild then anything and everything from Gnaw Their Tongues. 

I also consider some of The Body's work to involve black metal and they're great artists so I'm just gonna sneak in I Shall Die Here by them on this list. It's not really black metal at all but the feeling I get from that album reminds me of black metal sometimes. Not sure if this is a good list or not, but it's what I often find myself listening to the most.

DMD: Apart from music, what else inspires you? 

DC: Life. Obviously, I mean life in the sense of what we all go through day to day and the chaos that takes us wherever it is we end up, but what I really mean is life at its most basic form. Nature. What really does it for me is trees, the sun and the moon. 

So this is also kind of a cop out answer because by saying life I can also say I'm inspired by all art because the experience of art is a part of life. To answer your question in a less vague and douchey way, films are extremely important to me. As are all visual aesthetics of course, but that's more my cousin's thing.

DMD:  Any more exciting releases from GMP this year that we should be aware of? 

DC: All of them hopefully! Haha we have some cool things coming soon - some powerfully charged noise/powerviolence from the mind behind Lilith. Some post black metal from the man behind Mademoiselle Bistouri. Some black metal from Moloch. A great industrial electronic album from the guy behind N0123NOISE and honestly too many more to mention haha.

DMD: As 2016 is almost at an end, which noise/HNW releases this year did you really enjoy?

DC: I really enjoyed seeing the HNW compilation come together, thanks to James Shearman and the
HNW Netlabel. Since we talked about him already, I might as well mention his other netlabel SSN Technologies, which has seen some awesome releases (SOMA by ADD.ICT and Destination by Gesis come to mind). Dosis Letalis and Lilith have also had releases through that label. 

The Climate Refugees was good to hear come together as well, thanks to Altar Of Waste. Some of my favorite wall-makers collaborating not just to make walls, but with the intention of spreading awareness of natural and societal decay? Yeah, that was probably one of my favorite releases of the year. 

The latest BoneMagic release from Cruel/Corrupt Recordings was pretty heavy. Oh, and I can't compliment Building Castles Out Of Matchsticks' work enough. Haven't worked with her yet, but if/when it happens, I'll be stoked!

DMD: Have you got any advice for any people out there wanting to set up labels of their own?

DC: Hm..My answer to this could be pretty long so I'm going to limit myself to 3 things:

1) If you're going to do anything like this and take it seriously, do it because you love doing it over any other reason: and if you don't love music or sharing people's music, then I don't know how to help you haha.

2) If you don't like people in any  sense and don't enjoy interacting with unique human beings on at least one or two levels then this probably won't be for you. The sounds you'll be releasing are someone else's deep thoughts or emotions or whatever, but the point is that it's something important to them and you're endorsing that.

You have to like and know those people at some level as well and aside from that aspect; if you're a one or two man show, then think of all the people you're going to have to connect with to listen to your releases, share or promote your releases, etc.

3) Keep this one basic - In this day and age what i think is most important (aside from having a decent flow of income, unfortunately) is to be good on social media. So much music is listened to and so many connections are made via the internet now. Everything is done online. Your music scenes are as present online as they are in real life - Sometimes even more prevalent online.

If you can't reach your audience via the internet these days, it's going to make it nearly impossible for you to reach half or more of the people you can and should be reaching.

*KEEP IN MIND* I'm really bad at practicing what I preach sometimes (particularly in reference to social media).

DMD: Is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?

DC: YOU! You're the man, Ed. Thank you so much for being interested in the nonsense I have to say and thinking other people will be interested as well. It really means a lot to me. Shout out to Kyle Ferguson of Misery Ritual, that guy's on another level and I'm stoked to work with him more and hopefully help him progress in the future somehow.

Nemanja Nikolic again, for being someone I feel I can relate to and for always 110% supporting every artist and label he enjoys. Patrick Flynn of Olm needs a shout out because his music is some of the most beautiful I've had the privilege of releasing - sorry we haven't talked lately, man! Haha. 

Liam McGeorge is a pretty awesome human being as well and I have to say thank you to him for being our first real release and for putting in all the hard work I know he does for our scene. James Shearman is also the man, but I think everyone knows that. Never spoken to Cory Strand of Altar Of Waste to be honest, but I'd like to give him a shout out because that label is DENSE. In every sense of the word. 

I'd also like to thank anyone that's released with the label before and anyone who's contacted us for a release, regardless of whether it's worked out or not. Thank you to my family and my brothers - you know who you are. There are too many things and too many people to be grateful for, so I'm going to cut this short and end with this: The biggest thank you of all to anyone who's ever listened. That's all that this is for. 

The most recent aural sizzler to come through Grey Matter Productions is by Red Forest Project,
a collaborative effort between Serbia's Dosis Letalis/Relicuum and Arizona's Go as DeatH. Self-classifying the project 'nuclear disaster noise' RFP's debut cassette is entitled 'Kyshtym Disaster' after one of the most serious nuclear accidents in history. In just under half an hour, both artists cook up an eerie post-explosion atmosphere where the air is thickly contaminated by the nuclear fallout. Intrigued? Have a listen here

GMP also have a future release planned with Seattle HNW behemoth Condo Horro called "Besieging Edith Macefield" which is currently nearing its final stages, so be on the lookout for that one!

You can also read 2 reviews of one man Black Metal project Tomhet here

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