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Interview with Zaraza.
Zaraza They claim to be human, but they make the most strange and unhuman sounding music you've heard; they are featured in the doom-metal.com band list, yet they play an eclectic mix of extreme doom, industrial, noise and death metal; They are Polish, and yet they live in Canada; they are Zaraza.
Doom-metal.com thought that it might be a good idea to try to understand what is behind this mysterious and evil entity and contacted Jacek, the master brain behind this sick band. An interesting conversation about Zaraza, webzines, mp3's and the related technology, unsigned bands, frustration about failed recordings and goats followed…

Greetings Jacek, and thanx for doing this interview. Doom-metal.com's webmaster Aldo already warned us in his review that Zaraza might be the creation of some evil extra-terrestrials that are out for world domination. So before I start this interview, I think that our visitors deserve to know if they are reading the words of a nightmarish alien trying to brainwash us and gain world power through its music, or just a common human being -with an exceptional musical taste?

"We're human all right (at least last time I checked). I appreciate the comment about exceptional musical taste, but I think it's just a result of being a devoted fan of all sorts of music for so many years now. Being exposed to so much good (and diverse) material surely helps when trying to creating something unique on your own."

Your band Zaraza has been around for quite some time, and it can be considered as a respected entity in the extreme underground scene. Yet, perhaps mainly due to the fact that you haven't released much material during those years, Zaraza still lingers in the shadows of obscurity. Can you sum up in a few words the band's philosophy, sound and 'goal' (if there is any)?

"Our goal was always to mix our industrial heritage with our love for extreme forms of metal, doom/death in particular. Music-wise, our philosophy was to bring together elements previously un-mixed and fuse them together into a bastard offspring of extremity. Lyric-wise, Zaraza has no particular philosophy. The first album "Slavic Blasphemy" dealt mostly with inner-space, personal type experiences, while the next one "No Paradise To Lose" focuses more on my skeptical and atheistic beliefs. I already have a lot of ideas for the third album and lyrically it will branch into yet another direction, most notably the overall decline of Western democracy as a working political system and the increased influence of government into every aspect of our life, including the right to spy onto any of us in any form imaginable under the guise of fighting terrorism...a nice new catchphrase that has given the shadier elements of governments all the power they need to indiscrminately monitor anyone not to their liking...suprisingly close to my experiences when living back in Poland under a totalitarian communist regime back in the 1980s. I believe it was the noted Sci-Fi authour Arthur C. Clarke who remarked once that he sees America become more totalitarian than the Soviet Union in the future...everyone one thought he had just got senile, but it seems he might have been right after all."

That would certainly be a very interesting concept to work out! I'm pretty much suprised by the fact that your lyrical inspiration is based on reality and the actual political situation, because the lyrics from most extreme metal bands tend to lean more towards escapism, being very abstract and far removed from 'common' reality. Is there a connection between Zaraza's sick and twisted music and your lyrics? F.i. do you adjust the music to the lyrics and visa versa?

"Actually, in most cases the music gets totally written first as a 100% instrumental track. I usually have a vague idea as to what the track title will be since I already have some lyrical concept in mind, but in most cases the lyrics are not written yet at the time of composing the actual music. So, in other words our lyrics are totally submissive to the music and have to follow whatever it dictates in terms of flow. As far as lyrical topics, I don't want to really delve too deeply in the future into the political situation (I believe there a lot more politically-oriented bands than us), but I may focus more on the creepy and shivering mood some government actions cause in me...thus maybe highlighting the emotional aspect of things, instead of simply focusing on the facts (like the FBI Carnivore monitoring system, which allows them to basically spy on everyone's e-mail and Internet activitities without any sort of legal warrant...I fear that is just the beginning of things to come). I think nanotechnology is also something that presents enormous opportunities for abuse, not only by governments, but also by everybody against everybody (imagine in 20 years when all your neighbours will be able to send spying devices the size of just a few hundred atoms, 100% undedectable, into your own home and spy on the most intimate conversations and details of your life). Technology is both a great tool and a great threat at the same time. But anyway, those are just ideas for future lyrics, and not topics we covered in the past.

I write lyrics that are based in reality because to put it simply these are the only lyrics I am capable of writing. If I had to write a song about meadows, fairies, Viking warriors, etc...I'd probably be laughing my head off at myself in the middle of writing them, I just can't do it. How can I invoke any emotional depth from myself by writing bogus words about things I couldn't care less about? Even a song like "Every Day is a Funeral" (which some people think is just some typical escapist doom piece) is very much rooted in reality and the suffering of others I had seen up close and my own as well...I wrote the last verse to that one the night before I recorded the vocals. We were dead broke, had spent all our money on the recording studio and when I tried to withdraw some cash for this necessity called food the brutal message "Insufficient funds. Transaction cancelled" flashed on my bank machine...we didn't even have money for food at that time...if you listen closely you will hear that phrase "Transaction cancelled" screamed throughout one of the verses of that song...

I like to change things around, so the lyrics on "No Paradise to Lose" (such as "No Gods No Masters" or "Possessed by Skepticism") deal more with an agnostic/atheistic vision of the world around us...where God either does not exist and that is an explanation for all the misery and brutality around us...or maybe God does exist, but he's a malevolent, sadistic bastard who enjoys the suffering of others and fooling his followers into believing he is actually there to care for them. Reading Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" also infuenced some of the lyrics (we actually sample one of his long speeches delivered in his mechanical computer-generated voice that deals with the creation of the universe and what possible role, if any, God could have had in it).

But, as I mentioned before, atheism or skepticism is not some defining character of Zaraza lyrics and once I did an entire album revolving around those topics, I am unlikely to return to them, I don't like repeating myself too much. It seems with each passing year this wretched planet of ours gives me new ideas for lyrics anyway..."

That was very enlightening considering the band's lyrics. Let's move to the music now. The music of Zaraza is extremely difficult to pigeohole, since it shows influences from such diverse genres as extreme doom death metal, brutal death metal, icecold industrial and even some 'noisier' references. Of all the bands in the doom-metal.com bandlist, Zaraza is probably the most 'eclectic' one. Would you consider Zaraza to be a doom-metal band? If yes, in which sense?

"Yes, in the sense that doom metal is the underlying foundation of our work. Also, doom metal is what salvaged Zaraza at the very beginning, when me and Grzegorz (the second member of Zaraza) had very different ideas on where this band should go. I wanted more metal, he wanted more electronics...but then doom metal united us (especially when "Turn Loose The Swans" came out) and we both found a common platform which made Zaraza's further existence possible. So, yes, I consider us to be a doom metal band...but at the same time I consider us very much to be an industrial and experimental outfit as well."

So perhaps a description like 'Industrial doom' would be justified...in which sense do you think, is there a connection between doom-metal and industrial/experimental music? Do those seemingly completely different genres have anything in common?

"Bands like SWANS and LAIBACH during their peak, brutal period in the 1980s were slow, heavy, vicious and invoked emotions of extreme evil. That is why when me and Grzegorz heard bands like My Dying Bride, Winter or the godly Finnish masters known as Unholy, things immediately clicked in our heads. We could see a direct timeline between those 2 bands and this new ugly offspring that had emerged in the metal world. Joining the two together seemed like the most natural thing to do. The first real doom piece we wrote was "Necessary" (the first 2 songs we did, "24 Hours" and "A Screw" were a bit more upbeat) and right then and then we knew we had found our sound, style and mission."

I think I wouldn't be exaggerating things if I said that your album 'Slavic Blasphemy' is Zaraza's 'tour de force'; it shows a band which is fully experimenting without ever losing sight of the coherence of the songs and the vision behind the sound. Which main influences, both musically and conceptually, have been behind this creepy and self-willed creation?

"I think it will be no surprise to anyone if I say that the influences behind "Slavic Blasphemy" come from our holy trinity of doom: SWANS, LAIBACH and MY DYING BRIDE. Yes, of course there are countless other bands that have inspired us along the way (Winter, Skin Chamber, Godflesh, Einstuerzende Neubauten, Test Department, Dissecting Table, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, Celestial Season, Variete (old Polish band that is dear to my heart), Protector, In Slaughter Natives, Slayer...and the list goes on for ever), but these 3 bands mentioned before form the shining beacons that have guided us through the darkness. At the same time we do not try to imitate them too much. For example, we do not involve the artistic/political references that were central to Laibach's image in the 1980s, when they were a "forbidden" outfit in communist Yugoslavia, nor do our lyrics reak of the extreme self-hate and disgust with humanity that Michael Gira (leader of Swans) exhibited on their 1980s classics such as "Greed","Holy Money" or "Children of God"...neither do we try to emulate the romantic nature of Aaron's lyrics in MDB. Musically, we took the best of all these bands, but worked hard so that the end result of this fusion would be something that we could uniquely identify as ZARAZA.

Also, I really do have to mention another influence, a great band that is now mostly forgotten, namely1980s progressive thrash metal gods Mekong Delta. No, there are no thrash elements in Zaraza's music, but Mekong Delta's dramatic songwriting style, their ability to perform drastic rhythm and mood changes within each song (especially on their mind-blowing third album "The Principle of Doubt") have had a major impact on my own songwriting style and has helped Zaraza free itself from the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-guitar solo-chorus format that most regular music follows. We owe Mekong Delta a lot, even if you do not hear any direct references to their sound or style in our music."

Throughout the 'Slavic Blasphemy' album I hear a quite strange, mechanical guitar sound (which fits perfectly with the icecold music of Zaraza). It made me wonder if you actually used 'real' guitars on the albums, or are they samples?

"You know, in the 5 years that have passed since "Slavic Blasphemy" was released you are only the second person from the press that has caught on to that fact. The instruments used to create the entire "Slavic Blasphemy" album consisted of 1 drum machine and 1 old Roland sampler with barely 60 seconds of sampling time. Nothing more, nothing else. I think that fully answers your question. But, do not treat us as some kind of bold innovators...all of this had already been done in the 1980s by the legendary Swiss trio The Young Gods, who just gave us the courage to take their approach one step further."

Would you agree that the limitation in one's equipment and recording possibilities is very often a blessing for one's creativity? F.i. when I record a track on my 8-track recorder, I have the tendency to narrow down and focus more on the depth fo the compositions, getting faster to the 'essence' of what I'm trying to express, because the available tracks and recording time are too limited to allow unnecessary 'frivolities'...did you notice anything similar while recording 'Slavic Blasphemy'? "To be honest with you I did not see it as a limitation at all. I very rarely felt limited by it, it's just a different tool that you can do different things with. It's like comparing a bulldozer to a wrecking ball...both of them can accomplish the same task, they just have a different way of getting there. Since we were both big fans of old The Young Gods, using this approach seemed very natural to us, although I realize for most hardened metal fans it is the highest of possible travesties...yes, we Zaraza are the most un-true of all metal bands, we inadvertently broke pretty much every rule in the "How to be a TRUE Metal Band" book....but that's probably why we have our own sound in the end and there is no other band that I could think that does what we do (well, maybe Poland's Nightly Gale is slowly going into a similar direction as well, although with a more gothic approach).

But, yes, overall necessity is the mother of invention, so if you're limited by something (e.g. we can't just throw in a 60 second guitar solo into a song when we run out of ideas as to what to do next with it), it actually forces you sometimes to work harder to achieve the end result using a different approach. Overall, I'm very satisfied with the way we have progressed and wouldn't really change anything if I had to do it again.

Also, relying so much on technology has allowed us to maintain the band with just two members (or even just one when Grzegorz had moved out from Montreal for a few years a while back), so we've never had any real line-up problems, we've been very self-sufficient in that regard. Sometimes, the less humans you have to deal with in life, the better off you are..."

Some time ago you decided to make the whole 'Slavic Blasphemy' album available on mp3. On the Zaraza site, you state that you believe this to be the correct way to distribute underground music. The high costs of the cd's and the ripping-off of underground bands from labels are two major motivations behind this decision. However, the reality remains that there are still a lot of labels around and that a lot of doom-metal artists (I'll give some examples: Skepticism, Dolorian, My Dying Bride, Shape of Despair...) seem to be perfectly happy with their labels. Do you think that there will come a time when labels become redundant, because of the possibilities of internet exposure and mp3 technology?

"No, not at all. If a band wants to live off their music, a label is a must. There is just so much work involved in promoting an album (distribution and radio/zine promotion in particular) that doing it yourself is an utter pain and distracts from the more important things in an artist's life. I do not want to live off Zaraza's music. In our everyday life everything we do seems to revolve around the concept of money, bills, making ends meet, etc...I just wanted to have one thing in my life that was pure, untainted by all of that...and making Zaraza music freely available was the only way to do it. I get a lot more satisfaction from an email from some fan in India or Hong Kong who tells me how much they liked our MP3s than from the measly $1 or so a band makes on a CD sale. The critical moment for me came when I walked into an HMV store in Montreal and saw our CD for nearly $23, when we had sold it to a distributor for $8. I realized there and then that I did not want to participate in this scam anymore. And to be frank, I believe a lot more people are aware of ZARAZA now than previously, explicitly because of what we have done. I am only worried that with time one will actually NOT be able to distribute music for free. One of our sites (javamusic.com) is already switching to a membership approach, where you have to pay them in order to cover the costs (bandwidth, servers, etc.) of having your music available. All we need is mp3.com to do the same and we'll be in trouble.

Also, Zaraza really doesn't tour or do live shows, so another main reason for us looking for a label goes out the window.

As a side-note, doing all of this has made me feel more free artistically. I can do whatever I need with Zaraza in the future and do not have to worry whether I will sell a few thousand CDs more or less, whether the label will be happy or whether we will be dropped, etc...life is easier that way."

Since I happen to know from the doom-metal.com forum that you are a fanatic audiophile and an expert in mp3 encoding technology, could you give some advice to beginning artists who want to 'spread' their music on the internet in order to get better known? If you would be an unsigned band that hasn't got the opportunity to play live gigs, how would you promote your music? And how would you encode it to get maximum results out of it?

"Go to ww.hydrogenaudio.org and get all the MP3 encoding info you need. Use the LAME 3.92 encoder and use the "--alt-preset standard" command line parameter to create pristine VBR (variable bitrate) MP3s, which for metal amounts in most cases to a bitrate around 192-224 kbps. Avoid 128kbps like a plague, that bitrate is just not good enough for archiving CDs, it's good for checking them out, but that's about it. Listen to them on good headphones and you will hear the artifacts (especially in metal MP3s).

As far as promoting your music, we do it 2 ways. We offer our MP3s at mp3.com, but unfortunately they only allow 128kbps. So, we also offer the hiqh quality VBR MP3s I described earlier at our sites at www.musicbuilder.com/zaraza and www.stationmp3.com/zaraza, two sites that actually allow high-bitrate MP3s. Besides that, we don't do much, word of mouth seems to have done most of the work (plus of course all the reviews in various zines...that's always important)."

There are quite some unsigned bands that chose, just like Zaraza, to make their music freely available for download. Do you follow any of those 'mp3 artists'? Do you think that they have something 'extra' to offer that one won't find in albums of 'signed' bands?

"No, not really. It all depends on the quality of the music. Whether it is available for free or not is not any guarantee of quality. Personally, I do not follow most of them too closely, precisely since they only have 128 kbps MP3s and for me those simply sound poorly in most cases. Especially, if god forbid, someone encoded them using the Xing encoder which makes an MP3 that sounds like it's played from a toy radio submerged in a bucket of water."

It's quite some time ago (1997) since you released 'Slavic Blasphemy'. Your new album has been in the meanwhile recorded, mixed and re-mixed, because you were not satisfied with the result. That album has been announced some years ago, but it's still not available. Are you such a self-critical and perfectionist person? Or are there other reasons behind this delay?

"Yes. I simply screwed up. I had mixed 'Slavic Blasphemy' myself (since we could not afford a professional producer) and I thought the results were very good. I then produced a few albums of Grzegorz's side-project Phycus and the results were excellent. This made me fall into a false sense of security that I actually know what mixing material in a studio is really all about. Unfortunately, I was dead wrong. When faced with ZARAZA's second album, which was extremely bass heavy, I totally over-did all the EQ-ing and the whole album sounded incredibly muddy...except on the $2,000 Yamaha speakers in the studio where it sounded perfect. But on any other equipment (and I suspect 99.99% of us don't have $2,000 Yamaha speakers at home) it sounded un-listenable. I was so disgusted with the end result and my own failure that I basically put everything away and didn't touch Zaraza at all for 2 years while I patiently saved up some money so that I could have my own little digital studio at home. Fortunately enough, the prices of all the equipment (high-end PC capable of mixing 16 tracks of 24-bit 96kHz audio in real-time with extra effects and EQ, high-end 24-bit 96Hz audio card with a good set of input/output connectors) have gone down considerably in the last few years and the prices for those components are well within the reach of anyone...there aren't $5,000 items anymore. I wanted a home studio so I could calmly record and mix at my pace, without always looking at the clock and seeing the studio bills pile up...mixing is something that requires patience and time. Hopefully, this year I will finally make the release of "No Paradise to Lose" a reality, I am just missing a good set of professional microphones to start recording vocals, but the music is already recorded and digitally stored on my hard drive."

What should we expect from the next Zaraza album? Another "Brutal Experimental Symphonic Industrial Doom Death Metal" assault, or are there going to be any important changes in the sound (which wouldn't be a surprise considering the fact that five years have passed since the release of 'Slavic Blasphemy')?

"Well, don't forget: "No Paradise To Lose" was actually written and recorded over 2 1/2 years ago, so really it isn't that far away from 'Slavic Blasphemy'. I think the main difference is our new found appreciation for atonal, abrasive 20th century classical music, which has shown up more prominently on the second album, compared to the calmer, more traditional classical influences (like Arvo Part's "Fratres") that were a big influence on us when writing the first album. I assure you that "No Paradise To Lose" is still "Brutal Experimental Symphonic Industrial Doom Death Metal", but even more brutal, even more ugly and even more experimental. We're not about to pull a Metallica on anybody..."

That's great to hear!Your webzine Corridor of Cells runs for quite some years now and in the meanwhile it has become one of the most known and respected underground resources on the internet. How are things going with the zine lately? Where and how do you find the motivation and enthousiasm to invest work and time in it after so many years?

"Well, time is always an issue, so I've cut down on the number of interviews I do, but I always try to keep it up-to-date with latest reviews. I get access to a lot of CDs for the radio show I perform in Montreal, so adding a webzine to review them seemed like the natural extension. When I stop loving music, I will stop Corridor of Cells...but let's hope that day never comes and that I will die of old age in front of my keyboard reviewing the 56th album from a geriatric and senile Slayer for Corridor of Cells in the year 2060 or so..."

In the Corridor of Cells website, we get to know your other partner in crime behind Zaraza Grzegorz Haus Ov Doom and his 'poetry'. The centre of his poems seem to be topics as (mainly) goats, beer and doom. Is there a 'deeper' connection between those topics, or is it just a joke site? Or perhaps another smart move from evil aliens aiming to confuse us as a part of the bigger world domination plan?

"I refuse to directly answer that question. However, I will give you some insight on how it all started....drinking lots of beer and reading the lyrics to a Belial song called "Kiss the Goat" (or something like that). Grzegorz announced he can do much better goat lyrics than that...and that's how it all started...."

I'm running out of questions, Jacek. I would like to thank you for doing this interview and wish you good luck with your future endeavours in the realms of sick and extreme music. Any last words to add, about Zaraza or anything else?

"Please forgive us for the long delay that has accompanied the release of "No Paradise To Lose". I promise to make a preview of at least one of the songs off that album available to doom-metal.com readers within the next month or two...and I hope we will not disappoint all of those that have patiently asked about that release for the last 2-3 years. We appreciate all your support and hope that when the album finally arrives, it will please both us and everyone else as well..."

Visit the Zaraza bandpage.

Interviewed on 2002-06-23 by Kostas.
Aesthetic Death
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