Virginia prog-rock djentlemen Iris Divine are in the progress of releasing their second full-length record, called Karma Sown. We say “progress” because, while the album was released digitally earlier this month at Bandcamp, the music caught some label attention and is being considered for official release. We don’t have details for you right now (we just received this particular news about 30 minutes ago) but we’re expectantly excited for the band regardless. The song you do get to hear runs an interesting emotional/musical gauntlet, and you can read the guys’ thoughts on the current state of the band and the way they approach their music. And don’t miss their previous album Convergence (created by a somewhat different version of the band) which is still streaming in its entirety.
Give us some history. Who are Iris Divine and how did you start playing together?
Navid: Iris Divine formed in 2008, out of a friendship between me and my good friend Farhad Hossain, also a singer/guitarist. Our previous bands broke up within days of each other, and after some convincing, I got him on board to do something together. We imported the rhythm section from his previous band, and started Iris Divine. From 2008-2012 we released 2 EPs, played literally almost any show we could find (many of them AWFUL), and in the process developed as writers and performers, acquiring some local reputation. In 2012, Farhad and our drummer decided that they wanted to branch out and do some other things (Farhad's excellent 'Shumaun' project should be out next year!), but our bassist Brian and I weren't ready to call it a day. After numerous auditions, we brought Kris on board, realized that our chemistry as a three-piece was powerful, gave up the search for another guitarist, and haven't looked back.
Kris: I joined the band in 2012. I knew of them through mutual friends, but I didn’t know them personally and hadn’t been to a live show. I actually responded to their Craigslist ad with the front of trying to hook them up with friend! It was all lies though. I was in another band at the time that I was growing increasingly unhappy with so I was looking for other options. In the end, I made them settle for me!
How did you develop the Iris Divine sound?
Kris: We all have very strong progressive/technical roots, so bringing that into the equation is easier than any of the other parts. Navid is also a HUGE fan of pop music like Taylor Swift, so he’s going for the hooks! Personally, I’m really into soundtrack/ambient music like Chroma Key, Solar Fields, etc., which is reflected in my approach to the keyboards and the sounds I use. When you take all of that, plus the shared history for bands like Sepultura and Pantera, out comes Iris!
Navid: The core of ID is rooted in metal and progressive sensibilities; I would probably qualify myself as the biggest 'metal' guy in ID, though all of us to some degree are anchored in heavy music. I think what gives ID its sound also involves the OTHER elements. Pop, electronics, and some common ground in the heavy alternative rock of the 90s. I also have a slight bit of punk influence at times. These elements explain why you are unlikely to hear a barrage of constant double-kicks, extended solos etc. in our music, in contrast to much of what is considered 'progressive metal' nowadays. Also, in references to Kris' comment, yeah, I definitely have a thing for well written, effective pop singles! I notice production details, catchy hooks, and can appreciate them irrespective of genre. I think Taylor Swift has several awesome songs, but there are others too. I was pretty obsessed with 'Call Me Maybe' last year, and the list is much longer than that :)
Is songwriting primarily an individual or group process? Do songs grow organically or do you knit various separate ideas together?
Kris: Navid comes up with the majority of the song ideas, riffs, etc, but when we come together in a room and start working the ideas out, that’s when it really comes alive. I like to get really involved in the arrangement process and I like to turn one idea into 3 by figuring out different ways of approaching the same thing. “In Spirals” is a great example of that.
Navid: That's a fair assessment - I am the primary writer of both music and lyrics, but those song elements invariably change for the better when the three of us start constructing a complete piece together and the chemistry kicks in.
Where would you say the musical/lyrical material for Karma Sown came from? What experience or interests drives this new music?
Kris: As I stated early, I’m really into ambient/soundtrack/industrial music. Out of the 3 of us, I’m the least metal person. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, but it’s not my go-to. Just recently, Navid and I tried to come up with 10 metal bands we both liked…and it was HARD! Anyway, from a drum perspective, my influences are (obviously) Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree, but I’m also a HUGE Primus and Van Halen fan. From a keyboard/programming perspective, Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater, OSI, Chroma Key) is my #1 influence. I love the sounds he uses just as much as the notes he plays…or doesn’t play.
Navid: I really tried to dig deep on this record, both musically and lyrically. It's coming from the heart...I think about the word 'authenticity' a lot, and Karma Sown is an authentic representation of our musical personality. One of the greatest compliments a musician can get is "it sounds like YOU", and that kind of feedback reinforces that the guitar riffs etc. are coming from my 'voice'. Lyrically, Karma Sown is not a concept album, but it just so happens that many of the songs center around themes of conflict, be it internal, spiritual, in relationships, or politically. If you read carefully, the songs have a redemptive or hopeful element, but they are often about confronting the darkness of our inner worlds.
Are there specific ways that you can pinpoint that Karma Sown is a different listen than your first full length, Convergence?
Kris: There’s another bald guy in the band now! I wasn’t involved in the band during the time of Convergence, but I will say that Karma Sown is a bit heavier on the hooks. I’m obviously a different drummer than Tanvir. He’s much more technical from a drum perspective and, I think, I’m more of a melodic drummer where I try to interact more with the guitars and vocals with what I do.
Brian: Tonally, Convergence was two separate EPs, plus a single, all recorded months apart under different conditions, so it’s a bit discontinuous.
Navid: Definitely! Convergence was borne of a similar amalgam of influences, but I think Karma Sown is a more well-written record that integrates those influences into a more consistent, unique voice. Karma Sown is a little more raw and aggressive, likely owing to the power-trio configuration and a slightly lower tuning, and also brings in more of those alternative influences that I mentioned before. On Karma Sown, I was thinking a lot about Rush, not necessarily in sound, but in concept - a trio with strong focus on musical interplay between the instruments, emphasis on the rhythm section (Kris and Brian really kill it in spots), and structured, hook-driven songs with melody that can be deceptively technical, IF you are paying attention.
6) How were the recording sessions?
Kris: Recording sessions are never really easy, but it comes down to how prepared you are. By that, I don’t mean so much as being able to play…or better…perform your part. That’s a given! But if you go in expecting the unexpected, it’ll definitely go better than if you aren’t ready for anything and everything. For me, working with Drew (Mazerek) was great! We knocked the drums out in 2 days at his studio in Baltimore. We had a great vibe and he dialed in some fantastic tones. Easily the best drum sound I’ve ever had in my life…and they’re mine! No triggers, no quantizing, etc. Programming wise, I actually did all of that and my house, which makes things great…and strange; some of the parts came in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep but only had one eye open.
Brian: Recording is always a mixed bag for me. I greatly enjoy seeing a song come together, and it’s exciting having a quality recording of your stuff. But then there is the revelation of just how imperfect your playing has been! We made it a point to be very detailed and that means spending lots of time on tiny little segments of songs. It can get mind-numbing. But hearing it all together with a good mix makes it all worth it.
What was your experience with Kickstarter like? There's a lot of discussion back and forth about the merits of funding an album this way - what do you think about the process?
Kris: The Kickstarter process was AWESOME!!! Yeah, there are people that are against crowd funding, but I would personally love to know the number of people that are against it that’ll torrent your album or otherwise still listen to it without buying it. The music industry isn’t what some “outsiders” think it is from a money perspective. It’s not the 80s. If you want to put out a top-quality CD, you can’t cut corners. It doesn’t have to cost $200k anymore, but you can’t realistically do it for $1k either. Our Kickstarter barely covered the costs of recording drums and guitar. Fortunately, we haven’t received any real negative feedback about our crowd sourcing, but I know plenty of bands that have…and that’s sad.
Brian: There was a lot of anxiety going into Kickstarter. We were pretty confident that our wonderful fans were going to be very generous (and they were!), but we literally had to put a price on our fans’ support. We looked at some other bands in our region who had a roughly comparable following at the time, and roughly the same musical style, and took a shot. I'd say we estimated pretty good. We had a few very large donations (NOT from us :) ) towards the end which we were incredibly grateful for and which completely overwhelmed us. Those comfortably put us over the quota, so we never had any last-minute stress about meeting our goal. All in all, it was a great feeling knowing that we had so much support, and that drove us to not disappoint! As for crowdfunding in general, it really harnesses the power of the internet to connecting people to the art, products, etc. that they really want. It’s very democratizing in that it bypasses lots of the logistical layers between an artist and their fans. It opens up a world of funding to small artists which allows them to actualize their art.
Are there bands in your area that you play a lot of shows with?
Kris: SURE! Division and Cab Ride Home are 2 bands we’ve played a plethora of shows with. Feritas and Silence the Blind are also up there. Great bands! Awesome people! Go see them!!!
Navid: I'd like to highlight Division in particular - Mike has been a huge supporter of us, which we VERY much appreciate. Those guys have been an underground metal institution for two decades, splitting the difference between power and thrash metal…their last two records Control Issues and Trinity are great, and the upcoming one sounds ferocious from what I've heard thus far. We've played tons of shows with them, and honestly I think they taught me a lot about playing in a DIY metal band (professionalism, gear, etc.). A class act.
I imagine some of your readers are already aware of them, but A Sound of Thunder is absolutely worth checking out. They have done amazing things as a DIY band, and have a consistent body of well written, well produced music that straddles melodic metal and hard rock styles. Their last 2 records, Time's Arrow and The Lesser Key of Solomon, are adventurous and excellent. I actually don't know of a harder working band in our region. On top of which, they are awesome, generous people - their guitarist Josh has given me some great advice from the business end of things. I'll also throw MindMaze on this list - they are new friends of ours from Pennsylvania, and their new album Back From The Edge is one of the hookiest things I've heard all year, 'power/prog' in all the right ways :)
Do you prefer either the writing/recording process or the live setting more?
Kris: Tough question! Both come with their share of problems. For me, writing is probably the winner. I love getting down in the details of putting songs together and finding myself from a drumming or keyboard perspective. I really have to dig sometimes to find what fits the song AND myself…and that’s an exciting challenge. In a live setting, it’s just another world. This stuff is VERY physical on my end, but at the same time, when we’re on all cylinders and you look out at the crowd and see your songs being sung back to you, well…maybe live is the winner..?
Brian: For me, the greatest excitement is playing new material to a receptive audience, either playing a new song to our existing fans, or playing to a room full of people that haven't heard us before. So I guess that falls into the live setting! That look of, "I wasn't expecting that!" is just awesome. Writing can be, and usually is, enjoyable, and having a quality recording is nice, but nothing beats that feeling when you've just "wowed" someone.
You know Decibel longtimer Nick Green. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert: Asshole? or The Greatest Asshole?
Kris: I don’t know Nick, but if he’s related to Tom Green then I would say Greatest Asshole! :D
Navid: Ha ha, Nick and I go WAY back, and went to school together in Pittsburgh. Little known fact: Nick, myself and a fellow named Tunde Adebimpe (currently the singer of VERY successful indie band TV On The Radio) were really good friends in high school. We hung out a lot, and played some offbeat cover songs together at talent shows (like a punk rock version of 'Luka' by Suzanne Vega), and I credit both of those guys with opening my musical world at that time to include important bands like the Ramones, since I was basically just immersed in metal. Thanks Nick!!