While experimenting with ‘pizza beer’ (which doesn’t taste like pizza or beer) Christopher Smith talks about his latest project, Dralms. The frontman of the Vancouver-based band shares his pursuit in bridging emotion, aesthetics, and art in his music and how his sound resonates with listeners. Nothing too serious.
Tell me about your come up in the music industry.
I started as a visual artist, that’s what I was doing in my early 20’s. I had a sort of organic transition from creative mediums and drifted from visual arts into song writing. I was playing solo stuff for a long time, I guess it’s a default of writing music independently, and progressively I ended up with this project, Dralms.
Do you ever go back to visual arts as a creative medium?
No. I would like to pursue visual arts a little more, particularly in installation work, but the pursuit is to create as much art as I can and music was the easiest medium to be productive. I did have the opportunity to design the visuals for this project (Dralms). I work with people who are able to execute my vision, sort of the same way that making music works for musicians who consider together and consider their music their craft. It’s nice to be able to dictate and execute a vision.
Big changes from album to album, how has your sound evolved?
I consider my solo work and my current work two different projects. One is Dralms and one is Christopher Smith. One probably would not have happened without the other. There was a point where things took a serious divergence and I committed to pursuing Dralms. It was like a departure to arrive at something new. There are parallels between the two, but I have no interest in the solo record, I don’t particularly like it or want to share it with the world.
Different time, different place. It’s just irrelevant to where I am now. I mean, aside from the fact that it’s one step in getting me here. But I feel that way about my work all the time.
Do you feel like you’ve arrived at the most self-reflective sound?
No. I have this ambition to have a really realized and cohesive piece of work come out. It always feels more like a collection of material than continuity. Some songs were written a year ago, some were written 5 years ago. There’s a relationship I have with some songs that no one else does, and then to have it all in one place- lyrics and ideas... There are songs on every album that I like and feel good about but those are few. The goal is to make an album that’s full of those songs.
Wouldn’t you say that’s a goal for all artists?
I think there’s an easy out for musicians. I’m still interested in making music that’s true and honest and heartfelt. Musicians produce a lot of surface work that’s easily categorized. You can reference their influences, you know what they’re going to be wearing when you see them live, you know what the performance space will look like, you know what font they’re going to use… it’s really laid out for you and its totally cohesive and it works but its not what I’m doing. What I’m doing is more fluid and ambiguous. People have a hard time putting their finger on it, what type of music it is, what it sounds like… I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.
Let’s talk about tours, where have you been and where are you going?
All of our touring has happened in Europe. We’ve done four European tours in the last half of 2015 and our first album came out on October 2nd. We are heading back March 26th until the middle of April. So very soon! We actually toured Europe twice before our first album came out.
Did you expect that as an artist?
No, but I totally welcome it. I love it over there. We signed to a record label in London called Fulltime Hobby, but it seems like all the momentum is happening in France.
How has Vancouver treated your career in music?
We played a really nice show in Vancouver last night (February 18th). The turn out was good, but like I said, our album has only been out since the beginning of October, so we can’t be too expectant. I don’t think Vancouver, or even Canada, is the place for us. There are some devoted fans in Vancouver but I’m not sure if we fit in. People that go to the same shows I go to might not even come to my show. It’s weird. I’m more inclined to go places people are asking us to go.
As an artist, how do aesthetics on social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram depict you and your music? Does it matter?
It’s important to me. That’s something that’s always been a part of my life. I’m equally as interested in music as I am in art, design and architecture. So I have to bridge the gap for the sake of personal interest. I’ve directed two music videos for the band so I’ve been able to work in different mediums within the peripherals of music, which is nice. It’s nice to have control on what’s coming out and it’s nice to take advantage of the opportunities that come with music. Maybe one day I’ll diverge into something else.
I like your font.
Thanks I did that
You’re latest album, Shook, has a really slow and sexy sound, but I found that your lyrics are a bit aggressive. For me, it creates contrast, was that intentional?
Yeah. The idea of juxtaposition is definitely something that interests me. I just like the idea of using two contrasting elements to create a third. My motivations are to create an emotional impulse, whatever it may be. Personally, I respond to emotive art. There’s definitely merit in art that’s wholly conceptual, but I generally need to have an emotional connection. That being said, love songs can provide great metaphors for sociopolitical statements. It’s a pretty good platform to discuss other things. Even if you were writing for the sake of love, I feel like there’s room for commentary within emotion.
Whatcha talkin’ about in Pillars and Pyre?
That song was never a literal thing. The idea was to create a feeling of struggle and strife, but I think listeners take that song very literally because the lyrics are so direct. People assume that it has some religious connotation, and pillars and pyre are obvious references, but for me it was never a social commentary. I was thinking about the parallels between the church and the state and the similarities between the two. And I was listening to a lot of black metal. So I was thinking about their political pursuit against the church as well. I dunno, I don’t write songs that have answers or statements. I write songs in an ambiguous and emotional way. My hope is that it evokes some sort of feeling or sentiment. I think the idea behind Pillars and Pyre was to create a sentiment, something that people could relate to based on my feelings. People don’t always dig too deep when it comes to interpretation. Using the word heaven in Pillars and Pyre has unintentionally conceptualized the song as ‘religious’.
Was there any musical influence in creating Pillars and Pyre?
One of my all time favorite records is 'The Boatman’s Call' by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. It’s a compilation of really minimalistic and beautiful love songs and ballads with a lot of biblical references and a lot of direct, in-your-face lyrics. You can’t take the record word for word because it’s so multi-dimensional. That record stuck with me, particularly in the way it presents these complex ideas in a language that everyone can relate to. Like a metaphor between heaven and hell. I don’t want to control what people are thinking, I want to create ambiguity in my lyrics and produce a sentiment that resonates personal experience to my audience. And maybe they can relate it back to their lives and feel relevance.
- Elyse Mathes