A conversation with The Cruxshadows founding member, Rogue.
edited: Wednesday, October 20, 2004
By Wa -- Conner
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, August 02, 2004
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I am sitting inside DV8, one of the world's smallest clubs, listening to an independent group MEMO finish their set with a remarkable cover version of DEPECHE MODE'S "Walking in My Shoes".
I am sitting inside DV8, one of the world's smallest clubs, listening to MEMO, an independent local opening act, finish their set with a remarkable cover of DEPECHE MODE'S "Walking in My Shoes".
Rogue, lead singer and founding member of The Cruxshadows paces back in forth through the crowd of the tiny bar, restless, but poised and confident. He critically examines the crowd he has to work with. He knows who will be his strongest contingent and whom will require coaxing.
At the bar, Rachel McDonnell has just turned down a drink from a very intoxicated fan and in the rear of the bar, perched over a pool table, Chris Brantley is sinking shot after shot effortlessly.
Stacey Campbell is perched at the bar in a spot that places her strategically near the stage but out of reach of eager bar attendees while sipping fervently at her soda.
They are The Cruxshadows, acting as consummate professionals, despite having received little or no sleep from the previous show in San Francisco some 650 miles and 18 hours ago. Setup for The Cruxshadows is finally completed and the lights dim. A low thrum settles over the sound system. Rogue is off-stage, at the rear of the bar, alert and draped over a video poker machine patiently waiting for his cue.
Finally, into his headset microphone he recites a short paragraph that sets the stage for the beginning of The Trojan War. Remarkably, many of the 55 people in the club are completely oblivious to his presence. This crowd is a far cry from the large European festival shows theyíve performed with audiences that number in the tens of thousands. Two small flashlights in his grasp, Rogue paces through the crowd singing "Into the Ether", the opening track on their new full length album ETHERNAUT.
Conversations end abruptly. All eyes gravitate on his slender, towering frame as he stands on a chair in the middle of the club. His trademark hair brushes the tiles of the ceiling.
The club miraculously comes alive. Experience from hundreds of shows and thousands of rehearsals is clearly evident as Rogue systemically breaks down the fourth wall by directly engaging the audience. Stealthily he seeks out those who are still not paying attention and gently turns them towards the stage. He smiles, stares into their eyes and waits until they are forced to smile back.
This has been my first introduction to The Cruxshadows in performance.
Eight songs into the set, the band finally takes a well earned pause. Rogue recounts a few charming tales about their time in Europe. A humorous comment follows about their pleasant but exhausted state before they finally break into the home stretch of their music
They bid good night, but the crowd, now in rapture, and dancing frantically with the group, begs an encore.
The band finally assents. Beckoning, Rogue invites the audience to join him on stage. An orgy of sound follows with a giddy audience streaming over the stage. Afterwards, they pack up their substantial equipment, drive to the Hotel, and hopefully gain some treasured sleep. Sometime near noon, the band will awaken drive another 300 miles in order to make it to the city of Seattle in time for another performance later that day. This is the life of The Cruxshadows.
I saw your Portland, Oregon show at DV8. You guys gave an incredible performance despite the limited size of the venue. Do you approach a large show quite differently from a small show?
Yes and no, and not probably in the ways you might think. With a smaller show, I guess attention is distributed much more towards individuals. The larger shows of course it is much more directed obviously towards the crowd as a whole. Weíve have played shows for everything from a handful of people to, I think, our largest show was like 14,000 in the audience.
The thing is, and I think what is key to The Cruxshadows music, is to make the music and to make the performance very personal to the people in the audience, and that is the challenge whether it be in a show of thousands of people or fewer than a hundred. There is a number of vehicles we use for that and one of them is going out into the audience and breaking down that barrier between stage and audience. In smaller shows its even possible to bring people up on stage and make them much more a part of things. That simply isnít possible in the large shows. We will do that in shows that are smaller than 4,000 people or so, but when you get up into the really large shows security is just not going to allow that to happen. You know what I mean? Too many possibilities somebody is going unleash a lawsuit somewhere.
We approach both with exactly the same show. For example, in that show that we played to 14,000 people this year. I started probably 400-500 feet away from the stage when I started the show and entered from behind where the audience was. That kind of thing, that you are not afraid to be down and a part of your fans, I think, goes a long way to building the energy and the excitement that goes into the show.
It struck me as very similar to an approach used in the broadway musical Godspell, where the lead actor also enters from the rear of the audience.
Right I know the play you are referencing, though not terribly well. Interestingly enough you know I really got my start in entertainment in the theater. I was a child actor and belonged to an acting troupe and toured around the country doing various shows here and there. Musical theater, thatís really where I got my education on how and what to do on stage. I think itís a fair thing to say that interactive theater has an impact on the way we do ways. I wouldnít say itís a primary influence by any means but I would definitely say there is a little bit of that in there.
What would you say to someone who is putting together a live show?
What I would say to someone who is trying to put it all together is that I think the big mistake that a lot of people do and that we did starting out, was to attempt to reproduce the studio on the stage. I think its just not possible to do that, too many devices..too many wires..too many complicated setups.. It really makes things difficult. I think that what you canít actively play, pre-record it. Put your drum tracks and bass tracks down and use them as backing tracks. Then try to streamline other instruments. What we do is we try to sample instruments that we used in the studio and then play them via the sample.
Iíve noticed your tours are incredibly frenetic. What steps do you take to preserve your endurance and how do you handle the stress that comes with touring constantly?
It is difficult to handle the stress. I mean there is an awful lot of it. You are constantly having to move, constantly having to deal with this venue or that venue, or this problem or that problem. At the same time you are trying to manage a career on an international level and there is a lot of stuff you have to sign off on, a lot of stuff that youíve got to initiate. Stuff that effectively has to run through your hands. So, it is really is a 30 hour a day job. It can be really stressful and it can be really hard on you physically. In fact, Iím actually sick currently. (he chuckles) Something has to be driving you to do it to begin with. And I think when it gets hard you have to focus on why am I out here and what am I trying to accomplish? Not necessarily pull yourself apart or wish yourself out of where you are because if you are out of where you are, you are probably not pertinent anymore. I have to add, I that think touring and really staying in the public eye and staying in peopleís hearts and minds and constantly releasing new discs is important. People often say, how do you tour so much and how do you put out some sort of CD every year? Thatís the thing, you just have to be driven to do it. You have to say, hey this something I want to not only succeed at, but continue to succeed at. You know the thing at the end of day is you have to stop and look and see the effect you had on people, on your fans, and if that has the capability of motivating you then, there you go. If it doesnít, then you are in the wrong business.
You seem to have an incredible support staff in the band. I understand Rachael McDonnell used to perform in the Florida State University Symphony? Is that when you first came in contact with her?
No, I was taking a class at the FSU music school at the same time she was there. I was a number of years ahead of her. She was a freshman when I was graduating. We had the similar tastes in music and had struck up a friendship. I play violin as well, though she is a better violin player than I am, but we have that commonality. I was the only electric violin player around so. I donít how to put it, maybe she was drawn like a moth to a flame. I mean she kind of got kind of sucked in. And now she has been a member of the band for many years now.
And Chris Brantley?
Chris was completely different. Chris was a friend of mine working as a roadie for The Cruxshadows. He had toured with us, this guy that sold merchandise, carried equipment, stuff like that. The other two original members of the band kind of bailed out at open point and I was like, you know, I have too much invested in this, too much energy, too much work, too much sweat put into this that I am not about to let these guys pulling out take it all away from me. So I made arrangements to obtain all the interest in The Cruxshadows from them, and then I turned around and said "Okay Chris you are in the band if you want." I guess its like being in the reserves or the National Guard or something and all of a sudden youíre in the band. He really didnít feel he had the capabilities to do it, and I was like you know look I think you are capable of doing it and Iíll make it work. He came into the band and has been now the longest member of the current lineup.
Your guitarist Stacey Campbell?
Stacey joined the band I guess a little over two years ago. Its worked out very well. Chris is really my technical, more computer oriented person. Rachael is my musical knowledge sort of person. Stacey is willing to go with the direction and flow that we create and do it the way that we want, which is really strange enough given her latitude as a guitar player because all the previous guitar players sort of had their own ideas about things and I was constantly butting heads with them. As a result of that I wouldnít feel comfortable putting too much control in their hands. But Stacey is very willing to do things the way I ask of her and in so doing gets things opened up a little bit more. She gets to play beefier parts that are more up front because I know she is going to do what I want and not kind of try to re-invent the direction.
When I was in music school one of my composition professors gave me the nickname Mozart because everything that I do is mathematically sound, you know, it all works on paper kind of thing. Thatís one of my approaches to music, I donít do a lot with dissonances and the different things that maybe the jazz era opened up. I think of music in terms of counterpart instead of chords. Going back to the Classical and the Baroque eras and those traits of music, we ironically enough have the most in common with the Romantic era, but our approach is not, at least from a nuts and bolts standpoint anything like the Romantics. Thematically yes its very much the same, but not on the nuts and bolts level.
Is your new album ETHERNAUT Book Four in The Angel Cycle?
Ethernaut is part of the Angel Cycle but its one of those things I havenít stated in the past. I Ďve kind of left it obscure. Really the Angel cycle, a lot has been made of it, I mean wow, how creative it is and all this other kind of stuff. The irony of that is that the theme of all this music is tied to a dream that had such a profound effect upon me as a person. The reality of it, and I think its one of things that sets us apart is that we are not a band that was formed thinking hey weíre going to sound like this band or gosh I really want to be so and so, so lets make a band like that. You know, you see these kids make a band that sounds like U2 they I really want to be Bono, The Edge or whomever. You know what I mean? We really came at it from a different perspective.
There were bands obviously that we liked, but it was more of a, how do we make our music? What is our sort of footprint? I guess on some level there has got to be an infinite number of people that had an impact on what you liked musically. But Iíve found that the people who had more of an impact for us were historical figures, philosophers, stories, myths or different things that sort of spark different emotions. Thatís where a lot of what we do comes from. We rely more on the theme side then trying to walk in the footsteps of other bands.
As far as the Angel Cycle is concerned that was a dream that I had in stages that I donít know that Iíve ever told a magazine or newspaper about. I dreamt a different stage of the dream each night for like five nights in a row. At the end of those five stages, I then repeated the whole series of the dream for like seven times in a row. I guess what I am trying to say is that I had an epiphany in an artistic sense and I have felt since that moment that this is my inspired thing to do, that what I was making was necessary for someone, somewhere. Maybe to say something to them about their life.
Its been a real desire of mine throughout our music to put positive energy and positive ideas into the songs, to have a positive influence, and I think maybe focus more on the idea of hope, especially in a genre that deals with a lot of negativity.
Has the band in your opinion been mis-categorized as Goth?
I donít think that we are necessarily mis-categorized as Goth as much as Goth is mis-categorized. I see Goth as being the sort of modern Romanticism. It is music about introspection. It is thinking about who and what and where you are and what that means. Its about asking a lot of the difficult questions. Itís about the individual and the emotions, the feelings and thoughts that an individual has. Thatís Romanticism.
Classicism, on the other hand is about everything having its place, people having their parts to play in society, that is what it is all about. A lot of music, especially in political music for example, might have something to say about things on a political level but theyíre really dealing with social issues, with issues that deal with groups of people. And then there is also just lot of music that is partying, good times, letís get our groove on, whatever the catch phrase of the hour might be kind of music. It really sort of glosses over the hard issues. I donít think Goth is about depression or being evil or any of those things. I think its about kind of looking at things in an introspective manner. That is the key thing with our music, and why our fans are so loyal to us, because weíve really had an interaction with them on a personal level, on a deep level. That is why it is so important to me in a live concert to try and interact with the people as people and not just as a crowd.
Many of the references, both lyrical and visual within the Angel cycle seem similar to concepts introduced in the OTHERLAND novels written by Tad Williams. Have you read his work and has it influenced you?
I havenít read them. Peopleís work that Iíve read that has had an influence is Paradise Lost, or maybe another big influence on me is the writings of Kahlil Gibran. Absolutely my favorite author. His most famous work is "The Prophet". The thing I love about Kahlil Gibran is that he is able to hit you with truth that in effect you have to think backwards in order to go forwards to realize. Its very Eastern in its thought processes but very Western in the issues that it addresses. I find it incredibly inspiring. I think any of his work in general is fantastic. For anyone that would like to read Kahlil Gibran, I recommend "The Prophet".
Role-Playing Games and video games seem to be of great interest to the band. How much of an impact do they have?
I think the people that create video games and RPGs get their inspiration from the same places that we do. Its kind of like talking about The Lords of the Rings. If you are familiar with myths and legends you realize that Tolkien incorporates these things right into his world that he created. In the same way we have sort of created a world and we use lots of myth and legends, things that really have universal significance, maybe something that has something to say about peopleís lives no matter when they are living. Effectively these stories exist to uncover some degree of truth.
As far as video games and role-playing games go, people whose interest lie in some of these areas are drawn towards a lot of more fantastical kind of realities. In essence video and role-play gaming both sort of thrust you into a world where things happen that might not be able to happen in the world that you live in. I think that creative people who can be moved on different levels are drawn to these kinds of things.
Are there more Angel Cycle albums?
Yes and no. I mean, the Angel Cycle for reasons far too complex to go into is really a kind of living, breathing thing. It is something that is less like creating a piece of art as it is like giving birth to a child. In that sense, it has sort of taken on and discovered a life of its own. These elements continue to grow and sort of spiral out from where they started, having an impact on one thing after another and those things keep sort of tying themselves back to the source. I think it is much more alive than a simple piece of fiction. Its strange because I have tried to put the Angel Cycle into a fictional narrative and I got to a point where I said you know the limitations that are created by doing this just donít work. The Angel Cycle seems to work a little bit more when it is alive and the additions come.
What do you think about music?
This a funny thing. There is a lot of peopleís music that I like. In fact I think that anybody who has made music on a level strong enough to reach a national and international audience is definitely doing something right. Whatever your reasons for liking or not liking them you have to admit that they do something right.
As The Cruxshadows becomes more popular Iíve gotten to meet a lot of these different bands. I think the thing that moved me the most too really love a band is to discover that the people who made the music are sincere about the music that they have made. When I find that, then I LOVE the band, and I LOVE the music because there is something real there. What I hate, is thinking something is real and profound and meeting the person that made it and thinking this person is such an ass and they obviously could not have meant this the way Iíve taken it. I think the reason music is so popular is that musicians really make the soundtrack of our life. We associate different points of our lives to songs. It really is a commonality that ties together human beings. In that respect an artist has an awful lot of responsibility.
Are there any aspirations that The Cruxshadows look forward to achieving?
Yes, there are some things on the horizon. Weíve been talking about playing our first show in Moscow, Israel, and Japan. We are discussing finding a license agreement with a label in Russia. Thereís lot of really exciting things going on. Our hope, really, is to make a dent in the world. I think Socrates once said "If you change the music of a people you change a people." and that is probably very badly butchered but the sense is there. I think we can make a difference in lives of people. Iíve been amazed at the kinds things I have seen thus far. I had a grown man come to me and tell me that he wanted to commit suicide, so he went to the store and bought a bunch of CDs, what he thought would be the most depressing things he could listen too, and he put them all in his disc changer. He got himself all depressed, pulled this gun out, put it in his mouth, and pulled back the hammer. As he did so, the disc changer switched to the next song and it was our song "Sympathy (for Tomorrow)" and he said to me, "I listened to the words and I thought oh my god Iím sitting here waiting to blow my brains out but I am too afraid to try. How can I do one without the other? I started listening to your songs and you guys have made a huge difference in my life." Now that said to me, I thought, wow maybe there is something at work here that is bigger than any of us in the band. Thatís my hope, to create something that is better than ourselves.