Interviews

Damian Master (A Pregnant Light, Prison Suicide, Colloquial Sound Recordings)

Photo courtesy of Colloquial Sound Recordings

Since 2010, Damian Master has been making music under the moniker A Pregnant Light, bringing together punk, hardcore, and metal into a sound he refers to as “Purple” metal. As much as this may strike some as odd, or silly it is a pretty apt description of the music he makes. Throughout a string of EP’s and LPs (20 different releases in all) released on his own Colloquial Sound Recordings label, A Pregnant Light has successfully blended the fury and rage of extreme music, while also unabashedly inserting pop hooks and melody into mix.

On his latest record as A Pregnant Light entitled Broken Play, Damian continues to explore the soundscape he has carved out for himself over the past nine years, giving the genres he cherishes a much needed kick in the ass. 

When not focusing on his own music as A Pregnant Light, or the various other monikers he gives his solo efforts, he plays guitar in the hardcore band Prison Suicide, and maintains his record label. I recently sat down with Damian and chatted about Broken Play, and how he approaches his work.

Before we jump into the thick of it, give the folks a little background on yourself and how A Pregnant Light came to be.

My background, I suppose is uninteresting to me, but I consider myself a lifelong metal-punk. I got into punk as soon as I saw Nirvana’s Nevermind, when I was a really small kid. I went straight to the record store, as this was of course the only place that you could go to find things at that time, and I was immediately pushed by the staff into all the bands that were preceding and adjacent to Nirvana. So that meant Sonic Youth, Pixies, Meat Puppets, and lots of SST bands: Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Bad Brains, etc. I’m really grateful to record stores and record store culture for shaping me into who I am as a person today.

I’ve worked for record stores for more than half my life and still do! I was of course drawn to the aggressive elements of those bands more than the hooky elements of those bands, and I quickly got into heavy metal. That world consumed me, as well as hardcore. So, it doesn’t net me anything, it doesn’t make me better or more successful at anything to have been this long into bands that are “cool.” It’s just a thing, and for most of my life it was a thing that made me less cool to most people. I’m grateful to have been invested into a subculture, or multiple subcultures that valued personal independence, freedom and an anti-authoritarian attitude.

My journey was the long hard one, but if a kid can get into GISM in 30 seconds now because of the internet, that’s great! The destination is the same. APL is just the current step of me making music, as I’ve been playing guitar in underground punk, metal, and hardcore bands for years. I just eventually never found the right group of guys to make that big push that a lot of people do in their 20s.

It’s maybe the only thing I have regret about. So, after sort of waiting around and getting let down by a few people, I thought in 2010 (so long ago!) to start doing APL as a totally solo expression. I don’t have to rely on anyone, and that whole mentality lead into me starting my own label to release my stuff. I just didn’t want to ever have to answer to anyone who wasn’t as motivated as me.

Broken Play is your first full-length as A Pregnant Light in over five years. In the time between Broken Play and your last full-length, My Game Doesn’t Have A Name, you put out an EP, a collection LP, two records with your hardcore band, Prison Suicide, as well as various other projects; Do you feel that any of those other projects got in the way of making a proper follow up to MGDHN? Or do you feel like those projects informed where you wanted to take A Pregnant Light?

I mean, just since the last APL full length I’ve put out 8 demos and EPs. If you were to look at it as total minutes of music, it’s definitely a couple of albums worth. But yeah, I did do a lot of things between APL records, but I don’t think anything got in the way, or prevented me. That’s one of the things about being a creative person, you just have to follow what comes to you when it comes. I’ve released a lot of music across a few different genres, nothing too disparate; it’s mostly angry guitar music. Where I really consider myself to stretch out is when I do ambient or textural stuff. You can call it noise or electronic, or whatever synth buzzword of the moment that is erroneously applied to anything not guitar based.

I think that all of my work—for better or worse—is driven by a sort of internal fanatical obsession. It’s a detail that maybe a few people see; an aesthetic, or a personal or sonic ethos. I mean it sounds pretentious to say, and I can imagine how pretentious it comes across to the reader of this, but it’s what makes my music interesting.

Because of all the reasons I listed I do everything myself; I release it myself, and my collaborators are essentially no one; I’m really lucky. That’s what one of my EPs was even called Lucky All My Life, I’m lucky because there are a few people who have caught on to what I’m doing. They identify with something in my music that strikes them. I’m not the most popular band, and certainly have no major clout that anyone recognizes. What I do have is a group of grateful listeners who invest in me as I keep making music.

I think every release is a thing unto itself, and It’s an expression. That’s why some things are demos, EPs, or full-lengths. You have to present them in some kind of formatted structure. Things like length, or recording quality often denote levels of importance. I don’t think I truly care less about something I did in my basement alone more than a record I did in a studio with gifted musicians. They’re just different expressions, and I try to make every release I do a complete expression of an idea or mood. 

Musically, Broken Play is far more aggressive and brutal than its predecessor. Black metal influences and hardcore are all over the record; I even noticed a few nods to NWOBH, which I really appreciated. Did you set out to make a musically darker, more aggressive record? Or did it just happen naturally once you entered the studio?

You know, it’s one of those things. I really try not to read criticisms and I don’t seek them out, so I don’t really see them much. However, they do make their way to you; in conversation, or someone will DM you something they think is nice or funny, right, or wrong. For the first time in 20 years of making music when I made Broken Play, I heard people in my head saying things about how APL wasn’t aggressive; it’s soft, or it’s fake black metal, to which, who cares? It’s not black metal at all, and I think a lot of that has to do with the aesthetic that I present my band and label in. I have no real love for metal aesthetic. Well, let me walk that back. I like the way it looks, but I’ve never liked how it looked on me, If that makes sense?

I was also in a dark place making this record, and I did want to make a more aggressive record, but one of the hallmarks of APL is that element of melody. I think the element of melody is there, but most of my records have some kind of clean singing, and this record does not; it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to shoehorn it in just because I felt like it was my identity to that point. My identity is what I make it right now, and if 2019 is good for anything, it's hopefully people understanding the sentence previous to this one.

I’ve always written songs in batches, and I think that makes a more cohesive listening experience. This album of songs came when a batch of songs fit the length and mood requirements. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“I swear to G_d, all I do is cash out...”

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Looking at the liner notes it looks like you had a couple people helping out with the actual recording of the LP, including yourself. Did you use multiple studios, or did you do it at one specific studio?

I used four studios: one in my old house, one in my new house, the bass was recorded in a different home studio, and the drums and mixing were done at Cold War Studios by Rick Johnson. He’s the real quiet MVP of this record, and he would never admit it. The guys that made this record, I don’t think we were ever closer than 100 miles from each other when we recorded the record. I recorded the guitars and vocals myself in my home studio, then the bass tracks would be done by Tim at his home studio, and then I showed up with a giant mess of 10 guitar tracks per song, layers and layers to Rick’s studio like, “Let’s make this happen.” He had the perfect temperament. He never rushed anything, and he’s not a metal guy so he let me do whatever and trusted his own ear rather than any sort of hallmarks of the genre he felt this record had to fit into.

I’m ashamed to say, but I think from the time we tracked the drums to when we started mixing, that it might have been a year, if not a bit more. It’s shocking looking back on it. Not proud of that, but the thing is, it was a hard record to get out; to fight out. Some things happen quick, and easy. This was in many ways quick and easy to write and demo out, but then it took a long time to fight it out of whatever cosmic place music lives before the musician births it out into the world. Now that it’s here, it’s hard to not be extra proud of it. It was more work than most.

Photo courtesy of Colloquial Sound Recordings

Do you think your approach to recording this album contributed to its darker more aggressive sound?

Sometimes the method informs the music, but in this case the technical stuff didn’t have much bearing. Any sort of dark and aggressive tone came from my headspace. The darker tone comes from being in a dark place. I was certainly depressed, and certainly an addict. I hesitate to say that, because I don’t think as a rule, depressed people make good art, or sad people tap into this thing that makes sad art better. Destructive forces are destructive forces, and they aren’t to be worshipped or sought out. I’m really proud of the record, and happy with it. It will live longer than I will, and maybe it would have been better if I waited to get though the darkness to have a better reflection on it. I guess that’s why I’m working on my next release. The goal is to get better and better. Grow, change, and learn to become more efficient in expressing myself and the world around me. 

You worked with the same rhythm section you had on MGDHN of Tim Lenger on bass, and Jake Duhaime on drums, did they have any input or impact on the music for Broken Play? Or did you have everything mapped out and ready to go?

Both of those guys are immensely talented musicians. It’s so hard to find guys who believe and understand your vision. I definitely recorded demos of everything to show them a roadmap of where my head was at, and I oversaw their work but let them express the songs how they saw fit. The perfect example is the song “L.I.G.H.T.” The things that make the song exemplary are the drum fills, the bass fills, and the stuff that adds the extra 10% that takes a song to a special place. Those guys came up with that stuff.  

You’ve dabbled in darker themes with your lyrics throughout the life of A Pregnant Light but on Broken Play you’ve get even darker, and yet somehow more optimistic. What was your approach lyrically to Broken Play as opposed to other releases in the APL catalog?

There was no real different approach on this record than the others. This sort of thing tends to work itself out in the writing. Darker themes: brokenness, sadness, fear, or any of those negative emotions, aren’t gone to like a well to pull from in order to make a record tough, badass, cool, or whatever. Cheerful happy music never spoke to me, but silence is preferable to suffering all day. I think you touched on something that most people really miss, and that is the sense of quiet optimism. I don’t know where that comes from. Maybe it’s from the seed of my faith, my personal beliefs and convictions? Maybe it’s just me trying to make sense of a darkness or sense of loss?

All I know that when I write, it’s a fight to try and express myself in a way that isn’t trite. I try not to use words and phrases that are stock or generic. As much as “it’s Friday night and everything is gonna be alright” is a lyric that trims that fat and gets at the heart of the issue succinctly, it’s boring as hell at this point. I just don’t want to be one of those bands that has word soup; some mixture of dark images and brutal words that invoke some kind of fake spirit. It’s cheap to me, and again, most of the bands I listen to, the bands that I love and enjoy, they don’t really shy from just leaning into the matter at hand.

I’m not special. I’m not trying to be something that shatters the norm. I just want to make something that I find compelling, and the things that make APL appealing lyrically to many, are the things that many traditionalists find off-putting. Again, this is hysterical to me, because for all the musical outside the lines, and lyrical outside the lines stuff that I release, my own listening habits are very much traditional punk and metal. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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I noticed in the liner notes that the lyrics to "Purple Light (Part Two)," have been redacted as of April 2019. Would you care to expand on why you decided to pull the vocals off the track?

I felt the lyrics to that song were just too much for me to sing. They were too pointed, and I never want to paint that clear of a picture only because I’d prefer everything to be left open to interpretation. I sat there and listened over and over again, and if you listen to the track, it’s not like an instrumental track in the sense that vocals would crowd it. If you listen to the first “Purple Light” on My Game Doesn’t Have A Name, the entire song is vocally driven. The music is repetitive and takes a back seat to the vocals. That’s one of a few little Easter eggs I have on the record. If you buy the LP you can see that I printed the lyrics and blacked them out, like a Kennedy assassination inquest or something, hahaha! I might use them at some point or do another version of "Purple Light (Part Two)," anything is possible.

I have no hard and fast rules I apply to myself. I re-use lyrics and melodies and some small minor passages over and over. Some people notice, some don’t. Some stuff is just minor chord changes in passing, and maybe no one notices. I’ve used lyrics, words and phrases that repeat throughout my catalog not out of lack of creativity, but to draw a line of thread through all my work. For example, the first verse of “Holy Death Candle” has lyrics from my song “Stars Will Fall.” I wrote the damn words, I can do whatever I want with them, I own them. I think bad art comes from when people are afraid to express an idea again.

Repetition is good. It’s meaningful when done correctly, not just lazily. So why would I try and express the same thought in a different set of lyrics that would most likely be inferior to the first? People are so trapped in a mentality that they take this thing that is free of borders and build walls.

Whatever. I’m not here to put anyone else’s name in my mouth. I’m here to graciously answer the questions you have about APL. Thank you. Fuck a poser.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about you and your work is that you don’t hide your faith or your belief in a God, but you convey your beliefs in a way that everyone can relate to. Meaning, you don’t have to be a Christian or religious to understand or relate to your songs. Being a part of an underground music scene that is so openly anti-religion, do you ever have anyone giving you any sort of backlash for your beliefs and if so, how do you approach it?

That is a very high compliment, so thank you. I think also it comes from a place of maturity to see someone who may reflect a different belief structure than you, or something even you actively dislike, but to be able to see the value in the artistic expression. I mean of course as long as those things aren’t hurtful or hateful to others. I get a lot of feedback actually from people who are not Christians and they’re like “I never thought I’d like a band that believed in God, but you’re not really a Christian band are you?” Well, no not really. I’m not doing this to be evangelical, and let’s get something out in the open right away: Christians hate me. The Christians are the first ones to judge me, and then you’ll have people who aren’t believers who will just hear second hand through interviews or whatever that I believe in God. I don’t think you’d be able to take all of my work and distill it down into its essence and get, “Woah! Check out this bible thumper.” I think you’d find a broken, disturbed person, or a person that is searching more than anything, and I think that’s relatable.

I’m so grateful when people can look to someone like me and go, “oh, he’s fine. I guess believing in God doesn’t always turn you into a giant asshole.” But of course, I’m me, and I have my own opinions that I’ve worked out, so there are plenty of people who dislike me or think I’m an asshole, but for other reasons. I’ve mellowed a lot with age. I’m not the confrontational madman I once was. You have to be careful as you age as a metal-punk. Age in general just drifts you closer and closer to, “I used to hate the man, but now I am the man.” Not like, “You’re the Man, Damian”, but you know the man you stick it to. So, I’m very cognizant of growing as a person but still trying to hold onto the parts of the anti-authoritarian freedom that punk gave me.

Yeah, of course, the music scene, the underground, subculture, whatever you want to call it, is often anti-religious, but they’re more friendly in recent years, and people are open to spirituality, but less into organized religion. That’s fair, but I also don’t get my feelings hurt if someone out there doesn’t think I’m cool. I don’t care if the way I think doesn’t fit into the subculture’s definition of what underground is.

Nothing is in stone, and every single movement of the subculture is shaped by constantly changing thoughts and ideals. But also, my identity is not my religion. My identity isn’t also tied into the bands I like. My identity isn’t being covered in tattoos and wearing black all the time. My identity isn’t any of that. We deny everyone the human experience when we focus in on one segment of their identity. Maybe we do this because often the loudest segments of that personality are the most visible because they lack the skill to exceed in any other area. If punk rock is all someone has, then they fly that flag as high as they can.

I get it, but humans are of course multi-faceted and look at us compared to any other living thing. We are all multi-hyphenates! People see my approach and who I am, and they pour over my work. If they want to find something to hate, it won’t be my beliefs. Some people write me off wholesale, that’s fine, I’m not mad. For the most part, once you’ve listened to what I’m doing if you’re at all compelled by it, it shows you’ve got an open heart and head. It’s about freedom. It’s about expression. It’s hard, and this band sometimes feels like self-worship. It’s because I set out to just focus on the self, and I mean, go figure, right? It’s about digging inside myself and coming up with what it means to be a human, and how we love and live and exist. We dig through layers of dirt and skin and God to get to some level of truth. I think people see that. At least, I hope!

What is next on your plate for yourself and for A Pregnant Light?

Keep writing and making more music. If I had a buck for every time someone asked me to do a live show, or if I had any live shows coming up, I could hire the most amazing band on the planet. However, it’s hard, and the best guys I know, the most capable musicians are either already in bands that are career musicians, or they’re guys with career careers outside of music who can’t put their lives on hold to serve my ego-train. Maybe it will happen one day, but for now I’m just going to keep working on music and putting new stuff out; no excuse not to. A band should release music, and that should be the top priority. 

Any current records or bands people should keep an ear open for?

I think you should go to your local record store and talk to the employees. Tell them what you like and have them put a record in your hands. Foster that relationship. I get it, some records, (like mine!!!) are hard to get into record stores, but if you want a record that has distribution, go to a store. Talk to the staff. Get a recommendation from them. 

Before we part, any last thoughts?

Thank you if you read any part of this. It’s a bruiser.

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You can purchase all All Pregnant Light released on theColloquial Sound Recordings Bandcamp page.

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