Arswain (ne Freddy Avis) is an artist that should be near and dear to your heart if you’re a fan of Aphex Twin, Trent Reznor, Squarepusher and even Boy Harsher et al. We sat down with the shadowy figure behind the project to discuss his latest single “The Garden” and his recent short film “No Solace”.
Welcome, Arswain! Thanks so much for sitting down to chat. After sitting with your music it’s very clear that you have a broad vision for your creative output. Can you tell us more about some specific influences behind the Arswain project?
Arswain came together in college when I was studying at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). CCRMA is this crazy awesome old mansion toward the back of campus, where they have music studios and a whole lot of brilliant people working at the cutting edge of music software and experimental electronic composition. It was there I was exposed to so many different kinds of music that previously seemed impossible to me. The experience just kind of shattered all the assumptions I had about what music is and can be. I was also listening to a lot of Nicolas Jaar, Apparat, Thom Yorke and the likes, and I think those three have had a monumental impact on my songwriting and vocal work.
Tell us about your work as a composer (your day job, yeah?), specifically your experience lending music to the short film “No Solace”. Do you see Arswain as an extension of your film score work, and how do you feel your experience in cinema impacts the project?
Not at all. I intentionally keep Arswain and my film scoring work very separate, creatively speaking. Film scoring is a service I provide to filmmakers, and it’s my job to execute their vision for their project. It’s also an idiom defined by tight constraints – dialogue, style, plot, etc. That’s part of the joy and challenge of film scoring, but Arswain exists in this completely different headspace for me. It’s where I can experiment and feel unbound, and just make what I want to make. Honestly I think the balance between my film scoring work and Arswain is what keeps me sane as a musician.
Your new song “The Garden” perfectly encapsulates so much of what we really love about GREAT dark electronica music – tell us more about the song and how it was created.
Well this is actually a rare instance in which Arswain collided with my film scoring work. I wrote a techno track for an indie film I was working on in 2019. I think the track was intended to be a character’s ringtone or something. A year later I was broed one day, and I simply pitched that ringtone down 5 semitones to see what would happen. That’s the opening loop you hear in “The Garden.” It had this sludgy, sinister character that I found irresistible, so I built it out into a song.
Lyrically speaking, I took inspiration from Carolyn Merchant’s book “The Death of Nature.” It was my introduction to ecofeminism and how so much of our relationship to the natural world is tangled up in a bunch of masculine assumptions. “The Garden” was an opportunity to explore some of those assumptions. What’s interesting is that the song ended up straddling the line between playful and bleak. One on hand it’s a dance tune, and I formanted my voice slightly to make it sound slightly androgynous. But it’s also about raping the earth and destroying something you love (Lenny-style from Of Mice and Men).
Are there any pieces of gear / software / etc that you absolutely couldn’t live without (in the context of this project, of course)? Get nerdy with us!
I bought Make Noise’s Strega synth this past spring and it is an absolute gamechanger. It’s instantly playable and outputs such strange and unpredictable timbres. I was immediately obsessed with it. Make Noise’s Morphagene is also a go-to for me, and I’ve really enjoyed using Mutable’s Rings module, which is present in several key sections of “The Garden.”
Tell us what we can expect from Arswain in the future.
“The Garden” is the first of three singles I’m releasing this summer/fall. You can expect the second to arrive at the end of July, and the third sometime in September/October. And possibly some shows on the calendar! Hopefully that comes next as things continue to open back up.
One last question – describe ARSWAIN in five words!
Scared shitless about climate change!
Listen to more from Arswain here