Some bands use heavy distorted guitars to make haunting music, others go for dark synths, screams, etc. Disemballerina goes with a string trio and nothing more to create this intense and very dark music. They are a very interesting act coming from Portland, Oregon that already got attention from big media names like Pitchfork, Cvlt Nation and Invisible Oranges. You should check this really good conversation with all the 3 members (Myles: viola and harp, Jennifer: cello and Ayla: guitar and bajo quinto).
Please, describe the music and aesthetics of Disemballerina.
MYLES: I personally envision some sort of underdog revenge or self evisceration scene happening in the middle of a swan lake performance inside a baroque hall, or maybe just a reclusive witch with aphasia lurking alone in a hollow cave or just a lost forgotten person wandering distraught inside an abandoned building somewhere with good natural acoustics and high ceilings…but that’s just me. aesthetic? i like the way antique lace falls apart. i hate genres. damaged outsider noisy classical music? chamber doom? you two want to try your hand at this question?
JENNIFER: I always just say we’re a string trio and then let people listen for themselves to decide. I like that we don’t necessarily have one style but I agree with what Myles said: damaged outsider baroque swans in tattered lace.
AYLA: I guess I always say I’m in a depressing string trio or something. I think we are funerary/dirge music that is extremely personal to our lives/experiences and relationships to one another.
When I first listened to your music, I didn’t know what to expect. Then, it reminded me something about Arvo Part and maybe some music from old english experimentalists Coil. What’s music sources? Where do you get your influence from?
JENNIFER: I have a solo black metal project Møllehøj and I am really influenced by all sorts of melancholy music. I unintentionally bring a lot of chug and doom to our dynamic but I want to bring more of the regret/isolation that really inspires me.
MYLES: I sing in a polyphonic georgian choir for fun and used to play balinese gamelan. i’m working on incorporating the harp i play into the hospice nurse assistant work i do for a living. i spend a lot of time alone and like learning new instruments when i’m sad. i played bass in a goth-ish doom band with Ayla called Negative Queen awhile back. I’ve recorded viola as a guest on a handful of metal records–it was actually a side project studio session with the guitarist from Graves at Sea that initially caused me and Melissa–Disemballerina’s original cellist–to first join forces. i recently started doing strings for A Stick and a stone
AYLA: I play guitar in Wizard Hits I have gotten experience from funeral doom along the years, but also most certainly depressing western classical music (always searching for more in that vein). Henryk Górecki’s “A Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”‘ simplistic, overwhelming sadness affected me deeply and still does today. Actually my three favorite modern composers are Arvo Pärt, György Ligeti, and Henryk Górecki. But ever since i was a young kid playing music at home, I rarely tried to emulate, but rather the music came in and affected my mindset or mood around playing music or something. I mean I also adore and am influenced by country/gospel music and all the amazing guitar/pedal steel playing in old country, and also by all the putrid, depressing death metal etc. that i love…. I also very much love the later years of Coil. It is so beautiful. Especially the “Moon’s Milk (In Four Phases)” collection of singles, and that “Live Three” album. Shit now I’m listening to “Live Three” again.
MYLES: we also sometimes play with a fourth member, Marit Schmidt , a violist and saz player,when she isn’t busy touring with her main project, Sangre De Muerdago from Spain.
Do you feel like some sort of outcasts? To weird for the classical music circles and to soft for the metal scene? Where do you think you fit best? By the name and logo, I’d say metal, but I want to know your opinion. And what is the response of both audiences, who responds to you better?
JENNIFER: I love classical music in itself but we’re not a part of that scene. I think we’re in our own weird space where we aren’t folk, we aren’t classical, we aren’t metal, we’re just Disemballerina.
MYLES: all three of us are very much outcasts socially and i think the converging influences that make our sound is indicative of drawing from very different musical worlds, but not feeling a part of any of them. I personally dislike most folk music and feel most at home playing underground metal and noise shows, depending on the audience and who we’re playing with. I love going to see string quartets and chamber music but have no idea what the classical world would even make of us. as a mostly self taught musician i’m kind of not interested. i didn’t go to music school. i just started playing because i wanted to write what i felt inside and didn’t care. performed classical music sort of seems like a competitive elite olympic sport to me sometimes where people either play someone else’s material or compose–rarely both.
AYLA: Sometimes actually classical music snobs have dissed us at shows!
MYLES: yeah, I recieved my first dismissive rude comments from both a classically trained concert harpist and a flute player after we played some shows on tour this summer. I guess the emperor has no clothes now or something. (laughs) i never claimed or set out to be a virtuoso.
AYLA: it is really cool to experience how quiet and attentive people get when we play at a metal show. I think people like the change-up from all the loud. That only LOUD=HEAVY. We certainly have all spoken a bunch about how quiet, anguished, and raw can be just as “heavy” (conveying darkness and despair?) as the brutal/loud of metal. And yes we are certainly not ‘profesh’ enough to be considered “Classical”. I think we are too raw and dirgy and with a sort of diy punk kind of underbelly to how we approach performance, aesthetic, & writing even.
MYLES: to give credit where it’s due, our logo was drawn up by Christophe Szpajdel, the blackmetal and deathmetal logo king. he’s as much a fan of us as we are of him.
Playing chamber music in a metal enviroment, how many times people compared you to Apocalyptica? Do you think the metal audience has opened their ears and have a more diverse background?
JENNIFER: Especially as a cellist, I get the Apocalyptica thing a lot. I can’t really speak with regard to the metal scene but I like and appreciate that when playing at death metal shows, folks are generally attentive to our mellower set.
MYLES: we love old metallica? i think covers are tacky most of the time and don’t want to be another string group doing ironic ones , but thats just me. no shade to those guys as musicians.
AYLA: Oyy vey, Apocalyptica. Ok, well I will say when i first heard that “4 Cellos” record of theirs 14 years ago i thought it was cool, I guess because I love the first 4 Metallica records and I love cello. But yeah, of course the lack of depth in thought to compare us to them is sad and annoying. I mean, we try to much to be as raw and personal and vulnerable as we possibly fucking can, so to be simply compared to cheesy-ass Apocalyptica (more and more cheesy of late) –a gimmicky cover-band — is just insulting and depressing. But yeah a lot of times what is so fucking beautiful and touching is when people after a show come up and really share their authentic selves with us in kind. Like tell us what imagery or memories came to them during the music, the place it took them, and describe their emotional experience rather than feel the need to compare/contrast us with something else.
Disemballerina can sound very cinematic to me. I can imagine a short film about some lonely mad person living in a dirty apartment. Do you see images when you write and listen to your music too? Did you ever got the chance to make a score to a movie? Wher you already approached to do that?
JENNIFER: I would love love love this and I think it would awesome to do a soundtrack for silent or understated films.
MYLES: that “lonely mad person living in a dirty apartment” is definitely a kindred spirit. we would love to do videos for our songs. we were approached by a japanese london based fashion designer who constructs runway gowns out of garbage about doing a video using butoh dancers wearing her runway collection, but that still has yet to happen. all three of us are interested in film. Jennifer is an actress. me and ayla both dabbled in a HD film course. I’m a visual artist and working on a screenplay right now. Ayla constructed some video and projected it on us while we played a memorial gathering for a friend who drowned in here in Oregon last year.
AYLA: This is a huge dream and goal for me. I keep thinking I need to just make my own films in order to make it happen, but of course thus far I have been scared/discouraged in myself from actualizing this. It is originally why Myles mentioned that I took some free HD video&editing courses at this local cable access station place near my house here in Portland. But so far have not utilized those resources like I should. I would love it if someone asked us to score film. Even short film, if it felt right for us.
MYLES: we’ve going to make this happen somehow. i think our big obstacles are finding the right collaborator or amount of time. or both. i would love to do everything ourselves–film and music–but there are only so many hours in a day.
Your bandcamp page has a tag “qveerkvlt” and your bio mentions that both of you guys are queer. How do you see the metal scene towards this subject. Do you feel confortable in it, going to shows and stuff or do you get some hostility from the orthodox metalheads?
MYLES: a little bit of both. we are a band made up of a gay man and two queer women. in the metal world, that’s definitely a demographic anomally. even as an instrumental band, we’ve encountered our share of dumb homophobia; trolls send emails telling us to “get aids ,faggots”, last year we booked studiotime with an incompetent transphobic mysogynist metal bro that resulted in us abandoning an entire session and recording the whole album ourselves at home , people have described us as a “gay version” of another band we preceeded the existence of by about 4 years, we dropped off of a big metal show because of related artwork that depicted ugly graphic violence against a trans woman, people slip on ayla’s pronoun at shows sometimes and act like it’s no big deal. Recently we even had a “fan” accuse us of “alienating” our potential audience by simply mentioning in our bio that we are queer people, which in our case, is a particuarly important detail of our band’s history–the whole reason me and ayla started playing together in the first place was because we both felt so alienated in the metal scene for just that reason.
JENNIFER: I feel like the response hasn’t been overwhelmingly negative or positive but there have been a fair amount of hateful and beautiful reactions, for sure. I often wish that everything I did wasn’t preceded by a reference of my sexual preference, gender or appearance though.
MYLES: i come from the school of thought that you need somewhat of a thick skin to exist in this scene, that you need to assert your space and just be yourself ,regardless of how awful people treat you , to make even a small amount of progress happen within it. even in the time our band has existed, i’ve noticed changes in the types of people who come to our shows. i was really happy to consistently see a mix surface last tour of people of different gender identities, sexualities, races, body types and age groups mingle with the typical crowd of lanky straight white metalheads in their 20s. united in misery, i guess. we have a lot of international fans and i would love to tour countries–like russia, turkey and bulgaria– where being queer is illegal or atleast seen as a social evil. i think we are just the right band to pull something like that off–as an instrumental project we fly under the radar of a lot of straight people who would otherwise never give us a chance and listen to us. it’s a mixed blessing.
AYLA: Yes. Qveerkvlt. I stand by that very much. That kind of came from coversations with Myles about the idea of ‘kvlt’ and its supposed putrid, raw, ugliness within the human soul type assumption of self…while of course being riddled with violent homophobia, hatred, etc as an incidental “scene”. it is kind of a dual reclaiming of both Queer & Kvlt. since ‘queer’ has been commodified by many and analogous with dance party bullshit and same-ol’ bar culture gayness with a twist. “Queer” used to be such the outcast of Gay and Lesbian mainstream and assimilation into straight society. Likewise, a claiming/reclaiming of ‘Kvlt’ by really focusing on who are outcasts, historically the freaks of gender and sexuality, etc. Not skinny white middle class kids who hate christianity and their parents and want to be Extreme or whatever…or in the case with members of Emperor and Dissection, murdering gay people.
MYLES: also, at times, queer stuff is referenced in our song composition; “black angel trumpet” was a piece inspired by the fact that we live in a world where queer people still make up the highest suicide statistic, and culturally no one fucking cares. the song title is the name of a subspecies of the poisonous plant datura. it’s a relative of hemlock. i almost died ingesting it one night. it’s no coincidence every queer person i know has wrestled with the impulse to die by their own hands in some form at some point. what does it say about the world we live in when even little kids are feeling the urge to end their lives? and how is even something as supposedly liberating and defiant as metal still not just another subculture reflecting these same values? on a more positive note, at one point this summer, i had a very shy, reclusive person come up to me and remark that they felt very comfortable at our shows because they didn’t feel pressure to socialize and could just sit in the dark with their emotions while we played by candlelight to a roomful of other quiet sad folks. whoever you are, i love that. you are my people.
AYLA: yes, response has certainly been a weird mixed bag to us. But like Myles said I am certainly stoked at the demographic of shows. It is so cool to see multiple other trans women at shows and young queers n’ stuff.
What do you think of the Matmos guy project, “The Soft Pink Truth”. Did you hear it?
MYLES: drew daniels is adorable! i love all his music, from early matmos to the blackmetal reworked into house music concept album he just did. culture shock and genre clash are two of my favorite things. he does it well.
AYLA: wow, I need to hear this.
You were acclaimed by all the big guys in media (Pitchfork, AV Club, Cvlt Nation, Invisible Oranges, Maximum Rocknroll, etc). What’s next, CNN, Rolling Stone? Do you consider yourselves a big and a well succeeded name as well?
MYLES: I’d feel a lot bigger if we had a solid label for the new recording we just completed!
AYLA: The responses have been so fucking humbling and flattering and deeply appreciated. Multiple people have said things like “this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard” and shit like that. and that just melts my fucking soul. To be able to convey to other people’s dark personal hearts what pain we feel and have it be felt and understood on a visceral level just means the world…
MYLES: Yeah that really is comming full circle. i had some great conversations with people on tour this summer about how death and loss have affected them that would have never happened if we hadn’t composed vulnerable music about that very subject material. to be honest, “Undertaker”, the last record we completed was such a lengthy, horrendous pain in the ass ordeal to get through, i didn’t know what to expect when it was done. i just wanted people to hear it, especially after Ayla put so much work into home recording it.
Who would prefer to tour with? Kronos Quartet, Current 93 or Mayhem?
MYLES: Kronos Quartet definitely, even though that’d freak me out. i like to perform outside my comfort zone. it’s good for me.
JENNIFER: Kronos— but I too would be totally freaked out.
AYLA: Kronos. god I’ve loved them for years. they have such a Huge amount of shit they’ve done over the past 3+ decades it is astounding and cool.
MYLES: (laughs) I guess we’re not so metal and definitely not “neofolk”, going by our answers to that question.
Thanks a lot for the interview, now you can have your word. Cheers!
MYLES: We never do this. thankyou so much for interviewing us. Your questions were abnormally thoughful.
-Our previous full length album “Undertaker” can be purchased here: disemballerinapdx.bandcamp.com
- “Undertaker” vinyl comming soon through graceless recordings and sound devastation in the UK.
-We still need a label to release our current album “Poison Gown”, which we are now mixing.
– Pippi Zornoza, an artist and musician we’ve long admired, is working on our next record cover. her stuff is absolutely gorgeous and brilliant. please check her out: www.pippizornoza.com
-There has been some talk about us going on tour through parts of europe this fall, but we will see what unfolds. let us know if you’re listening and would like us to come to your country
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