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Interview: SYS MACHINE - Graceful Isolation

Take a minute to reflect on the latest release from SYS MACHINE and an in depth interview into the music.


Graceful Isolation features 6 original tracks, 3 of which feature vocals from Kimberly of BOW EVER DOWN with remixes from ASSEMBLAGE 23, THE JOY THIEVES, SPANKTHENUN, BLUE EYED CHRIST, MISSSUICIDE, MICROWAVED, Steven Olaf, and AUDIO BUDDHA. Artwork is by Greg Rolfes of Eleven12 Design which will be unveiled soon. 



Q. For those unfamiliar, how would you describe your music, and where does your inspiration come from?

Sys Machine is chill minimal electronic rock. It's almost the polar opposite of my other project Derision Cult which is guitar heavy industrial metal. If you're looking for something chill at the end of the night- we're at your service!

My inspiration came from a bunch of places. Sys Machine really started life as more instrumental soundscapes and Graceful Isolation was the first real album with collaborators and stuff. What inspired me to begin with was a lot of the instrumental projects that I saw happening in the early 2000's from decidedly industrial artists. Things like Micronaut (Sister Machine Gun), Eco-Hed (Die Warzau), Amish Rake Fight (Machines of Loving Grace) really got me into the idea of putting guitars down. I get inspired by new pieces of gear or programming methods and those eventually become songs.

Q. Tell us about your history. Where did it all start, and what inspired you all to start making music?

I grew up in Iowa (I live in the Chicago area now). I was a metal head growing up. Early on I was inspired by things like Metallica and thrash from the 80's. When I lived there, I played in mostly metal bands, but in addition to metal, I had a love of David Bowie and always wore things like Tin Machine on my sleeve so bands I was in were a little off-kilter to what was going on in Iowa metal at the time. I grew up in the same scene Slipknot came out of and so there was a lot of sort of, proto-nu-metal happening which wasn't my bag at all.

I moved to Chicago in the early 2000's and took a break for a long time from music. I focused pretty heavily on a career in the ad industry and outside of that, got into triathlon/marathons and was fairly competitive and Triathlon and cycling for awhile. I missed music and really, I got inspired by what the industrial scene in Chicago was like. I'm a huge fan of Wax Trax and bands like Die Warzau. When I came to Chicago I ended up meeting a lot of those people and I found out a lot of the most brilliant musicians were also teachers, or accountants, or professionally creative outside of music. Guys like Jim Marcus from Die Warzau/Go Fight and Chris Randall from Sister Machine Gun really inspired me to stop thinking about music in terms of "making it" or all the silly things you wrap your head around when you're starting out and appreciate the value of making something that contributes to the zeitgeist of your time on the planet. That really lit a fire in me to think of art as a reward in and of itself and suddenly I just felt more creative.

I really got busy rebooting my music in 2014 or so and that's still where my head is at today.

Q. It's great to see that two of your tracks feature Kimberly of Bow Ever Down who I have covered before, how did you both come about working together on this album?

Kim crushed it! Kim and I came about through a mutual acquaintance- Gabe Wilkinson from Microwaved. I play guitar a lot of his stuff and he had begun working with Kim. When I heard what she'd done with one of his tracks, my wheels got turning because I had these instrumental Sys Machine pieces that I thought would work really well with her. So I reached out and she was immediately into it. I think she really took the tracks to another place.

Q. I see you even have an Assemblage 23 remix of your track 'Poison in my skin' on this release, what is it like having your music remixed by such a big name and how does their remix change up the song for you on a personal level?

Well for one thing, Tom Shear is just a sweetheart of a guy. It's awesome he did that. I think it speaks volumes of artists like that who are willing to help out new projects. It was a real honor to have A23 involved for sure. He was actually the first of the people I'd reached out to to finish the remix. He turned it around right away which was cool.

His interpretation of the song had more of a build and an arc to it than my original version which was really cool. The first time I played his remix was in my car and it was one of those tracks you just wanted to get out on the highway and floor it. I was pumped! I'm glad people are responding to it. He managed to stay true to the original feel of the song while taking it to a whole other place.

Q. Can you please give us a run down of the message and story of each track?

The first three are Kim's tracks and she wrote the lyrics. She uses a lot of imagery and allegory. I think I'm more like a non-fiction writer. She can tell you an elaborate story and I basically tell you the weather haha.

-Poison in My Skin- There's a few things going on here, but it's largely about leaving a bad situation and staying resolute in never going back.

-All the Pieces- There's a lot of revenge feelings in here.

Surviving and thriving-- they say living well is the best revenge!

-Impossible dreams - This track is about chasing a dream when achieving it feels impossible. I think a lot of musicians and artists can probably relate to that.

-Drowning in the Past - I wrote this after quitting drinking. It's basically a hypothetical situation of me going back and time to my former self when I was thinking it was time to give it up and telling myself it'll be okay and how all the anxieties one has are all bullshit.

-Illusions- Similar to above. A lot of recovery books and teachings talk about the illusions addictions create in people's lives. The feelings of elation or misplaced senses of confidence or whatever are really just illusions to feed the addiction. It's a really strange thing to come out of it and see it for what it is. Like waking up from being under a spell or something. This is basically my meditation on that idea.

Q. Which song/s are you most proud of in this release?

Oh man, that's a tough one. Personally, I'm most proud of Drowning in the Past because I feel like I got a point across the way I'd intended. SpankTheNun and The Joy Thieves did a remix of it and both of them turned out great.

Q. Is there a favourite funny or important moment story from your music career you can tell us?

Heh well the funny ones I probably oughta not have in print because some of the people they involved are still around!

I think one thing I was fortunate enough to do was be there at ground zero when Slipknot took off. Not because of their music or any sort of fan-ship, but I got to see up close what hard work and dedication it takes to really ascend to the levels they went on to do.

Nobody knew in 1997 what that band was going to do, but the intensity they went at things with-- the bullshit the band DIDN'T tolerate and the spare-no-horses mindset they had was something that stuck with me. I'd probably be lying if I said that didn't fuel things like cycling or what I've done with business work since then. Behind things that are brilliant and seem effortless is a TON of hard work and dedication. Seeing that play out in real time with Slipknot in the early days was really pivotal for me.

Q. What life lessons has being in music taught you all, and what would you change about the scene if you could?

Well if I could sum up above- it's that you can do whatever it is you want to do in music - but you have to take control, make decisions and do the work.

I think the other thing music has taught me- and I think it's something every artist either learns or they don't - is that having people like your art is not a birth right. You really need to practice gratitude- especially nowadays when there isn't really a 'music business' in the sense of the term from when I was growing up. With Graceful Isolation and working with all the collaborators I did, I was really struck by how much gratitude permeates the air in this scene. I love that and I really do try to emulate that behaviour as best I can. It empowers fans and is a source of energy unto itself. That's not a given in the world. I run a consulting business and I can tell you first hand, gratitude is in short supply in a lot of places.

As far as what I would change? Hard to say. I guess I see a lot of artists get down on themselves because their music isn't accepted on a more mainstream level. I get it for sure, but I wish they wouldn't let the weeds get higher than the garden so to speak. We're all adding to the cultural footprint and participating in a scene and a large chunk of the world will never know what that's like. For those people I'd say just enjoy the process and not get too hung up on the things that aren't in your grasp yet.

Q. Anything you'd like to say to your fans?

Well thanks a ton for checking out Sys Machine! I hope you enjoy the album because I def had fun making it! This year I'm largely focused on my other project The Derision Cult and there's a lot planned on that front so stay tuned!


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