Interview with Genghis Tron

Photo by Trevor Naud

By Otis Chamberlain

Formed in Poughkeepsie NY in the mid 2000s, Genghis Tron emerged during the height of the myspace era and installed themselves as genre-shirking iconoclasts who would ultimately reframe the potential energy between metal and electronic music. From their 2005 debut EP Cloak of Love, through their first full-length album Dead Mountain Mouth, to the Relapse Records released full-length Board Up The House in 2007, the then 3-piece proved themselves an enigmatic force, unafraid of experimentation while retaining a certain flavor, distinct from their contemporaries. Then, out of nowhere in the twilight of 2010; after 2 full-length albums, international tours, having garnered critical acclaim and a cult following, they casually pressed pause.

Fast forward a decade to a changed, seemingly alternate future where multiple scenes have risen and fallen, and risen again. Genres have further bifurcated and the now fully-bloomed internet has expedited the evolution of (and laid waste to) the way humanity interfaces with music culture at all levels. A full generation cycle after Genghis Tron last moved a muscle, intermittent spikes of activity started to ripple out from their typically dormant social channels; loosely gesturing at things active bands do, and sparking speculation that the band might be signaling a return from hibernation. On August 11, 2020 the band made an official announcement that their hiatus was indeed over and that  a new album was imminent. Now in February 2021, after the literal grind of 2020, and with a new psychological year in the chamber, the release of Dream Weapon (the band’s third studio album) is officially rubber-stamped for a March 26th release on Relapse Records. The artwork and first single are – almost unbelievably to some – real things out in the wild, as is the palpable response and anticipation surrounding their reanimation.

We set forth to try and glean some insights from the band about what the fuck they’ve be doing for 10 years, and subsequently, where the fuck they are going?

1: Its been 10 long years since Genghis Tron entered “sleep-mode”. Can you recount what motivated the decision to go away back then, and subsequently, what were the circumstances and/or motivating factors in coming back now?

Michael: We definitely weren’t “motivated” to go on hiatus, it just kind of happened! We had been touring hard and decided to take a few months off from touring, but before we knew it, a few months turned into half a year, and so on.  There was always a desire to continue writing music together, and we actually did continue to exchange ideas over the years.  But with everyone in different places due to job/family obligations, it was hard to gain any momentum.  And then, in 2018, for some reason things just kind of “clicked” for me and Hamilton again.  We stumbled onto some ideas we both thought were cool, and it started to feel like we had a “vision” for what an album could sound like.  At that point, we knew it was a kind of “now or never” situation.  So we kept plowing ahead and finished the album two years later.   

2: “Goodbye” to original vocalist Mookie, and “hello” to real-life, breathing, human drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists/SUMAC), and vocalist – but also drummer Tony Wolski (The Armed/Nice Hooves). How did the member change transpire, and was Mookie’s departure amicable?

Hamilton: I’ll start with Mookie.  His departure was completely amicable.  When Michael and I started writing again in 2018, the plan at the time was for Mookie to be involved in this album—he liked the new material, and we all wanted to work together again.  But after a year or so of Michael and I making progress on the new songs, it became apparent to all three of us that Mookie just did not have the time/bandwidth to put in the effort that this album really needed.  He told us that he was bowing out, and he gave us his blessing to move on without him.  By that point, I was already friends with Tony, so we asked Tony to try writing some vocal ideas.  We were really blown away with his ideas, so it fell into place from there.

As for drums, we have long wanted to play with a drummer.   I’d say since at least 2010, if not earlier.  I saw Nick play for the first time in 2017 or so, and I was completely blown away.  He was the first and only person we asked, and we were extremely stoked when he said yes.  In general, we’re just super happy with what Nick and Tony each contributed to the album—they’re incredible musicians and they really took this album to the next level.  

3: The Dream Weapon single definitely has a different sonic signature to previous and known GT material, but even with a different “voice”, the inflection is somehow still familiar. With such an extended watershed period and a changing of the guard, do you feel that the new album is a continuation of where the band left off, or a departure towards something completely new?

Hamilton:  I think it’s some of both. In a lot of ways, I think we knew as far back as 2009 or 2010 that our next album would sound somewhat like this—more repetitive, maybe more “psychedelic,” and less chaotic.  But to me, at least, it feels a lot like older Genghis Tron, even if some of the sounds and structures are different.  A lot of the same elements from Board Up The House and before are there—cyclical patterns, somber melodies, hypnotic rhythms, dense layers—but those pieces just come together differently. 

Michael: What Hamilton said!  It really surprises me to see some people suggest that we should have revived Genghis Tron under a different name.  Bands evolve their sound all the time.  Our sound is definitely evolving, but we all the things that make Genghis Tron what it is are still there.  In addition to the elements Hamilton mentioned, I also think Genghis Tron is defined by juxtaposing gratifying and memorable melodies with claustrophobic/tense environments.  There’s a whole bunch of that on the new album!  

4a: Programmed drums are objectively part of the DNA of GT’s sound. What was the decision/reasoning behind employing human percussion this time, and was it premeditated? 

Hamilton:  As I mentioned above, we have wanted to work with a drummer for a long time—I think we just that it would open up new realms in our songwriting, and that it would allow for more powerful recordings.  Programmed drums have always been a part of our identity, but that was more accidental than intentional.  When Michael and I started this band in college in 2004, we didn’t know any drummers who could play blast beats at 220 BPM (or whatever we were doing), and more importantly, we just wanted to be able to write and record everything ourselves in our dorm rooms.  And then things just took off from there, and we got used to having that level of control over all aspects of our songs.  But after recording a few albums, and touring for a few years, we decided that working with a drummer could help our music evolve. 

4b: Was Nick involved in the drum-writing or did he have to learn from pre-programmed beats/structures? 

Hamilton: Both.  For starters, Michael and I would write a complete instrumental demo for each song, with us programming “fake live” drums as a placeholder for Nick’s performance.  We put a ton of thought into the rhythms of our songs, and in several cases the songwriting process started with the drumbeat first before any riffs or melodies were in place—like “Pyrocene,” or “Single Black Point,” or the first portion of “Great Mother.”  Then we’d pass the song off to Nick.  In some cases, Nick would totally revamp our ideas and come up with something way, way cooler.  For example, he basically re-wrote all the drums for the song “Alone in the Heart of the Light.”  For other songs, if he was into what we wrote, he would stick pretty closely to our programmed patterns while adding killer flourishes and fills and—obviously—tons of amazing energy that a machine could never match!

4c: Can we still expect robo-beats to be featured on the rest of the new album? 

Michael: I guess it depends on what you mean by “robo-beats”?  There are definitely no “fake live drums” on the album.  A bunch of the songs have electronic percussion overlaid on top of Nick’s drums, and there’s a few sections where we go completely electronic with the drums, but for the most part, it’s all about Nick now! 

5: In general, how has the writing process for the new material differed (or been altered) by the inception of the new line-up. 

Hamilton:  The initial demo process was pretty similar to before—Michael and I would trade shitloads of ideas, and once we came across an idea we both liked, we’d trade dozens of drafts until we have an actual song structure.  So in that sense, this album was just like all of the others.  But then for Dream Weapon, Nick and Tony each added a lot on top of the songs that Michael and I wrote.  Tony wrote all of his vocal melodies (with some input/guidance from Michael and I), and Nick wrote/changed lots of drum parts, and both dudes offered some really thoughtful critiques of the song structures.

6: It’s fair to assume some of the new material may have existed in some infancy prior to the bands’ hiatus. If this is the case, do the final results differ drastically from the initial versions, and how long did the material for the new album take to collate?

Hamilton:  I’d estimate that 80% of the album was written between 2018 and 2020, but some pieces are much, much older.  I wrote half of the guitar parts for “Dream Weapon” in the summer of 2008, just a few months after Board Up the House was released.  And pieces of “Great Mother” have roots in pieces that Michael wrote in 2010 or 2011.  The finished versions are quite different, but the melodies are definitely there!  Over the last dozen years, Michael and I wrote and traded dozens and dozens of ideas, but most of them didn’t stand the test of time.  But man, when you’ve been sitting on a melody or an idea for 10 years and you still really like it, that’s a pretty good sign that it’s worth using!

7: You chose Kurt Ballou/God City Studios again for the new record – and he has gestured on IG at being more intimately involved with the current manifestation of the band, than in a mere engineer capacity. Tell us a little about GT’s relationship with Kurt, how he may have contributed to the shape of the new material, and if the Dream Weapon sessions at God City were any worse/better/different to the Board Up The House sessions.

Hamilton:  Beyond being a killer engineer and mixer, Kurt played somewhat of an Executive Producer role on this album because he introduced us to Nick and Tony—we’re super grateful to him for that!  As for the studio experience, working with Kurt again was awesome.  As long as we’ve known him, he has been a great engineer, but now he has thirteen more years of experience to draw from.  And given all the time between albums, and all the changes we’ve experienced (new singer; adding a drummer; having to record some stuff remotely because of COVID), it was definitely comforting to have Kurt as a constant and stabilizing presence in the mixing room.

8: The title “Dream Weapon” is clearly carried forward from an earlier track the band released, the presciently titled “Relauch The Dream Weapon”. Is there a concept to the new album, and if so did the idea exist before the hiatus as seemingly suggested? 

Michael: There is a concept to the album, but I’d say that the album title is only loosely connected to that concept.  Read the lyrics, enjoy the album art, and scope it out!

9: In the hope that Pandemia subsides and real-life tours become a thing again – can we expect to see this new incarnation out on the road again? 

Hamilton:  It’s too soon to say, but we hope so.  

10: The collaborative Board Up The House Remix series was a great addendum to that album. Are there any plans for something similar with Dream Weapon?

Hamilton:  No plans yet, but I could see it happening.

11: The cover artwork is an aesthetic departure to anything we’ve seen with GT before. Can you tell us about the artist, why you chose them, and if the art is directly/conceptually connected to the album in any particular way. 

Michael:  The art for Dream Weapon was designed by an awesome dude named Trevor Naud.  Tony had recommended him to us, and we’re so glad he did!  We chose to work with Trevor because he totally understood the environment we wanted to create with the album both sonically and visually.  Beyond that, it’s open to interpretation.  

12: Are you all secretly in The Armed (and would you even answer this half-serious question honestly if you were? 

Hamilton: No.  

Michael: Yes, I would answer it honestly. 

13: Michael and Hamilton being to 2 mainstays of the band, were either of you involved in other music projects during the GT hiatus?

Hamilton:  Nope.  Over the last decade, whenever I wrote something I remotely liked, I would just send it to Michael and file it away for potential GT songs.  

Michael: I’ve never played in any other bands.  Anything I make I send to Hamilton, even if I don’t like it. 

14: What originally inspired you guys to choose music/bands (over other cultures) in youth; and how has that changed (if at all) now as tenured musicians with multiple releases under your belt(s)?

Hamilton:  I don’t remember making any choices about this, really.  I have always loved music since I was a little kid, and then around age 13 or 14 I fell super hard into it, and I have never looked back.  It didn’t feel like a decision—it was just something magnetic that I had to be a part of, whether that meant buying music or going to concerts or making music.  And honestly, I don’t think a whole lot has changed between ages 13 and 37.  For a while, I got a bit burned out on going to shows, but after a few years away from that, I started loving concerts again.  And I still get super hyped when a band I love releases a new song or a new album.  It can still feel like Christmas morning, you know?  I don’t think that will ever change for me.

Lightning Round! (a few cherrypicked questions from Mathcore Index community members)

14: Alien or Aliens?

Hamilton:  Alien.

Michael: The Terminator.  

15: Moog or Novation? (or other?)

Hamilton:  Moog.  (To be fair, I only own one synth, and it’s a Moog.)

Michael: Sequential. 

16: Brave New World, 1984, or Fahrenheit 451?

Hamilton:  1984 all the way!  

Michael: Doors of Perception. 

17: Favorite Science Fiction writers  (if any) ?

Hamilton:  N/A.  I haven’t read much science fiction! 

Michael: I think this might be kind of a “trendy” answer, but my wife recently got me Ted Chiang’s short story collection called Exhalation.  The title story called “Exhalation” is super awesome.  In general, I’m not a huge sci-fi guy, but I probably should be.  

18: What are some of the artists that you would personally cite as being influential or having had an impact  on the music you’ve made with GT, past and present?

Hamilton:  Taking this question literally (especially the “past and present” part), here are some of my influences over the last 17 years, in no particular order: Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Autechre, Tool, Philip Glass, Meshuggah, Nine Inch Nails, Minami Deutsch, Portishead, Pig Destroyer, New Order, Converge, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Botch, Melvins, Neurosis, Rah Bras, Ratatat, Brutal Truth.

Michael: Wow, Hamilton you kind of covered the water, didn’t you?  I would add (and trying to cover the past here too!): Coil, Ministry, Tears for Fears, Queens of the Stone Age, Cluster, Fear Factory, Squarepusher, Venetian Snares, Terry Riley, Nasum.  Also, the number of times I added something only to see it was on Hamilton’s list already.  Damn.

“Dream Weapon” is out March 26th via Relapse Records

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