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The Void and the Form; an Interview with Deb DeMure of Drab Majesty

Deb DeMure | Credit: Kristin Cofer

Deb DeMure | Credit: Kristin Cofer

.:.THE VOID AND THE FORM.:.

An Interview with Deb DeMure of Drab Majesty

by Christos Doukakis

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What’s hiding behind the heavy make-up of Drab Majesty’s mastermind Deb DeMure? How could terms such as ‘tragic wave’ or even ‘mid-fi’ be justified? In what way is Mark Kozelek linked to Drab Majesty’s creative space? The outcome of having signed with the prolific Dais Records for their immaculate debut album, Careless inspired our own Christos Doukakis to bring together the following compelling interview, revealing the past, present, and future of Drab Majesty. Welcome to the strange and beautiful world of Deb DeMure.

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Heathen Harvest: There is clearly an androgynous / neutral-gender concept that seems to define a large swath of what Drab Majesty is all about.  Can you describe your conceptual focus in your own words for our readers?  What drives you, and perhaps more importantly, the personality that inhabits you under the Drab Majesty banner?

Deb DeMure: The concept of gender neutrality isn’t necessarily the core backbone of the performative aspect of Drab Majesty. In fact, I would say it is more about the elimination of the human addresser altogether and the assumption of a higher ritualistic and symbolic body.  I want to be clear (and I have been in the liner notes of most of my recordings) that my particular creative process very much involves the relinquishing of control from my earthly body and over to a Divine influencer in order to “receive” my ideas.  This concept is by no means something new as Divine dictation and the surrender of control is one of the most crucial tenets to the Occult path.  Deb DeMure, the archetype whom I have discovered as my intermediary between the void and the form, is who I pay homage to when I assume that identity in a performance setting.  Ultimately, I’m not all that concerned with what gender my audience wants to attribute to Deb as the performer.

Deb DeMure | Credit: Kristin Cofer

Deb DeMure | Credit: Kristin Cofer

HH: One of the greatest artists of all time, David Bowie, passed away a number of weeks ago. Could you share some thoughts about this, and how has his persona affected your music/art?

DD: While Drab Majesty is not directly influenced by Bowie’s music style (aside from Tonight, which remains one of my favorite albums of all time), his ability to meld sound and image into one timeless spectacle over and over again is something akin to reaching for the Heavens—an awe-inspiring accomplishment that gives me hope in what I’m trying to do.  In my opinion, he made it possible for the confluence of high art and music to exist in a magical symbiosis—a union that, when successfully presented, can strike directly into the subconscious and resonate deeper than we can possibly quantify like that of Tarot.  Bowie harnessed themes and worlds that far surpassed his scope of work and far beyond his mere physical presence.  The man was no doubt a Magician in the highest regard.  I can only hope to be the custodian of the righteous path he blazed.

HH: Looking at your Facebook page, you describe your music as ‘tragic wave, goth, and mid-fi’. Could you describe what specifically makes ‘tragic wave’ and ‘mid-fi’ valid genres?

DD: “Tragic Wave” is kind of a tongue-in-cheek genre I made up.  Most of the music I receive seems to have a somber aspect to it.  A lot of the channeling I’ve done for composition has come at times when the redirection of energy is necessary post some kind of tragedy.  “Wave” just tends to be another suffix like “core” or “gaze” that I guess made sense to me.

The term “mid-fi” is also slightly tongue-in-cheek. While I love “lo-fi” music, I still am not sure what it really means and how we define lo-fi music from hi-fi studio recordings.  Where is the line when it becomes “lo-fi”?  Is it that the recording tools are so limited that the quality is in turn compromised, or is the low quality actually a desired result? Or is it both? One example of my earliest and biggest influences of ‘mid-fi’ is Martin Newell and Cleaners from Venus. They seemed to possess a sound quality that wasn’t hi-fi studio grade, but it also wasn’t total lo-fi grit.  It was somewhere in between and, more than anything, felt extremely personal and honest.  Up until now, I’ve recorded all my releases from my bedroom or other domestic spaces, and with that comes an intangible personal quality that becomes intrinsic in the recordings.  I like the imperfections of the home-recording quality but also want the finished result to sound robust on any set of speakers.  This being considered, I like my recordings to reside in a “mid-fi” realm.

HH: Do you think that it is important to further distinguish your project from the rest of the genre by having such a specific genre tag?  Do you think it helps to further distinguish the uniqueness of Drab Majesty?

DD: I’m really not interested in using the specific tags to separate myself from the rest of the genre as much as I am interested in letting the music and visual aspects speak for themselves. My made-up genre tags are mostly tongue-in-cheek, I’d say.

HH: Having a more careful look at your exceptional video for ‘The Foyer’, directed by Thomas McMahan, one can isolate a Greek element in the Venus de Milo statue, featuring the cinematic style of ‘in gros plan’. Are you interested in Greek history and in general Greek culture, or is this just incidental?

DD: The statue appears in the video in particular due to the subject matter of the song and how it relates to it on a symbolic level.  I don’t really want to guide you through the references, but upon observation of the lyrics, I think one can uncover many subtle cues and hints directed at the idea of the Venus/Aphrodite or Amphitrite as some speculate.  I actually love the mystery surrounding this specific work, especially the passionate debate about what her arms could have been holding and how that could have drastically affected how and what we interpret as the Venus di Milo.

HH: Listening to your immaculate debut album, ‘Careless’, there is an overflowing 80’s, 4AD-ish feel leisurely passing to the listener. Do you think you belong to this era?

DD: Thank you so much for the kind words.  I don’t know if I belong to this era as an excavator of the past or if this era is still concurrently existing at this time.  I guess I’d like to think the latter as no genre is ever “finished,” in my opinion, in terms of what can be done and to its limits of reinvention.  To me, the 4AD feel is merely just a color palette and there is still a lot to be said with those established hues of the 80s and early 90s.

HH: Which two or three songs would you pick out as your favorites from your debut album if you had to and why?

DD: I honestly have no favorites!  I think the record is a sum of its parts and they all have to exist together to create the complex emotion that Careless.

Deb DeMure | Credit: Kristin Cofer

Deb DeMure | Credit: Kristin Cofer

HH: Which artists would you describe as your biggest influences? Again, from one of your latest Facebook posts, you surprisingly refer to Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon as one of the greatest.

DD: Yes, Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon are extremely influential for me in ways I still am working to quantify.  I’ve been a lover of Red House Painters for years now and some of the early stuff (speaking of 4AD) holds, in my opinion, some of the most emotional weight I’ve ever heard in song form.  Only true Red House Painters fans will probably feel me on this. Anyway, aside from the emotive qualities of his music, his guitar-playing style is one I’ve taken direct guidance from.  My “finger-style” approach and interest in alternate tunings comes directly from the lineage of Kozelek as well as John Fahey.

One of my greatest mentors in college, artist Soo Kim turned me on to Durutti Column, and ever since that day, I have been mesmerized by the guitar stylings of Vini Reilly, not to mention Maurice Deebank of Felt who has a similar arpeggiated approach that is instantly and undeniably recognizable.

HH: Since you mention that you went to college, did you study music there?  Which college did you attend, and how did it help shape your work in Drab Majesty, if at all?

DD: I didn’t study music. I studied drums for a brief time when I was a kid but never had any instruction on a harmonic instrument. I went to a school here in Los Angeles called OTIS and majored as a fine artist.  There at OTIS, I learned what I meant to develop as a personal voice and body of work, how to set out to define one’s aesthetic palette with purpose, and then to explore and excavate that world to infinity and beyond.

HH: Are you solely focused on Drab Majesty at the moment? What about the other projects you are involved with?

DD: Currently, Drab Majesty is my main focus, but over the past three or four years, I have been playing drums for Marriages.  Last year, we released our second LP and did a lot of touring in both Europe and America.  It was a serious juggling act and mental exercise separating my duties in Marriages as a drummer and one-third of a band and returning to Drab Majesty as the sole member and decision-maker for a project of an entirely different ilk.  Also, at that time, I was drumming for a band called Black Mare, and it really got to be an overload when all three projects would have shows in the same week.

HH: It’s unusual to see a guitarist / vocalist taking a rhythmic role on something like drums in other projects, so may I ask why you chose to play drums in Marriages and Black Mare?  Do you have a preferred instrument?

DD: My drumming in Marriages and Black Mare were both out of necessity. Both projects needed a drummer, and I was eager to join because I liked the material those bands were producing at the time (and still do).  I really enjoy the role of drums in a rock ensemble because they really delineate so much in terms of emotion, arrangement, and dynamics.  I believe there is no hierarchy in roles when it comes to the ensemble; every part is crucial, and I guess I’ve always loved the duties of the drummer.

HH: Would you say that Drab Majesty’s live performances are unique to you?  How would you describe them?

DD: I like to conduct Drab Majesty’s performance like a loose religious service or ritual; while I am open to spontaneity, there is a carefully crafted order and routine decided to deliver the specific message in a way that is also always open to reformation.  I’ve never been on the receiving end of my performance, so I’d guess you would just have to come to a show and tell me!  I will say that song keys are very much calculated in terms of vibratory frequency, and notational significance, set length, and order of songs is something I don’t really deviate from once I’ve found the proper equation.

Deb DeMure | Credit: Nedda Afsari

Deb DeMure | Credit: Nedda Afsari

HH: Who are some of the impressive yet overlooked artist in your locality?  Are there any local musicians that you’re particularly close with?

DD: I feel that all the current artists in Los Angeles on Dais Records have something really worth saying: Youth Code, High Functioning Flesh, Them Are Us Too, and Cold Showers are all dear friends of mine and brilliant prolific minds worth hearing and seeing live.  T. J. Cowgill aka King Dude is a Dais alumnus and a West Coast artist that I am particularly close with at this time.  We just toured America together this past autumn and are collaborating on some upcoming material for his new LP.  He is a kindred soul, and I fully believe he and I were meant to connect and spread our similar messages about accessing the Divine and stepping away from our earthly bodies.  He is a special dude.

Emma Ruth Rundle of Marriages is also someone to look out for.  She has an upcoming solo record that I’ve just had the honor of playing drums on, and I really feel strongly about how great her record is going to be.

HH: How did you come to work with the good folks over at Dais Records?

DD: My involvement with Dais came about through the benevolence of Michael Stock.  For the last ten years, he has promoted a weekly post-punk night in Los Angeles called Part Time Punks in conjunction with a weekly radio show of the same name here on local station KXLU.  Michael was one of the first supporters of Drab Majesty and offered me my first show.  From the beginning, he had made it his goal to find Drab Majesty a home for release.  He wrote to a few labels on my behalf, one being Dais.  Dais was always my first choice, so when they responded positively to Drab Majesty, I was already poised to sign on board!

HH: What’s next for Drab Majesty?

DD: Next week I enter the studio to record my second LP with Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv, Nine Inch Nails, Sons of Magdalene) and then head to Europe for a couple of weeks of tour immediately followed by a run of shows with True Widow on the East Coast.  All of this should last through May which, by that point, I’ll be ready to start fleshing out the visual facet of this record.  All fun stuff !

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