Garek Druss has an impressive track record, but a new side is revealed on his latest album, Soft Fascination. Conceived as a sonic investigation on themes of fatherhood and responsibility, Soft Fascination is a crystalline cauldron of emotions, churning through waves in an attempt to make sense of things. Druss refines his palette and approach, pulling back the harsher edges of previous work to reveal a softer, clarified core.
What are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?
I’m from a family of music lovers and players. My father played tenor sax and electric bass, and my older brother is a percussionist and composer. We always had music on in the house.
Did you always want to play and make music?
Probably! A few years ago, I found an old notebook from my childhood. On one of the pages, I had a drawing of a keyboard and a soccer ball. Next to the drawing, I had written, “My name is Garek I am 9 and I love playing keyboard”.
What first attracted you to experimental music (for lack of a better term) and synthesis? And how has your interest evolved over time?
I think I’ve always been drawn to the fringe; any left-field approaches to the creative endeavor have always had my attention. It’s just been what my ears and heart have been attracted to; as a listener, I truly enjoy all genres of music, but for my productions, it’s always been something with an edge, like right up against the border of what’s is acceptable. I don’t experiment too much, other than exploring different setups with my signal flow. Lately, I’ve been working on introducing a new level of randomness to my sequencing. Learning programs that generate random chord structures and how to apply a certain level of unknown movement into my patches.
In 2003, I bought my first real synthesizer (Microkorg/ vocoder) with money from the first painting I ever sold. Then in Seattle, around 2004 or 2005, there was this amazing video store near my apartment where I came across a DVDr. I’m pretty sure it was Wolf Eyes’ Covered in Bugs. That was my first introduction to noise music. It completely flipped my lid. I felt an instant affiliation and fascination with this sort of expression. Around that time, the legendary Wall of Sounds record shop was also in the neighborhood. I came across an early Ruhr Hunter release after hearing mention of the project via an Aquarius Records write-up. The lid was flipped again, and so the foundation was set.
Okay, so the new album is out, and it’s great. I was surprised by the overall sound palette when I first heard it. I know this record was initially conceived as a meditation on parenthood (more on that in a minute!) but was that part of the influence on this approach? Or, I guess, how did you end up in this sonic space for this record?
Thank you! The album is based on several live performances and audio/ visual installations from around that time. When my partner shared the exciting news of our pregnancy, it was right when I returned from a brief A Story of Rats (a long-running project with D. Salo) west coast tour to support our last release on the now defunct but timeliness Psychic Violence records. I was shocked and scared, coming off the high of touring and the freedom involved in that sort of thing. I set to work documenting the solo material I had been performing and exhibiting because I naively thought that I would lose that material and my creative time in exchange for parenthood. Some of the sounds and concepts were developed for an audio/ video installation I had been working on. Some tones were created for a “sound bath” I was treating my partner to while she was pregnant, but the majority of compositions are based on live performances from around the time, 2018-2019.
So, the parenthood thing… albums like this that dig into the emotions and ideas around becoming a parent are right in my wheelhouse (I made a record like that back in 2013 and put out Emuul’s parenthood record a few years before that, both of which remain near and dear to me!). How did exploring those themes through your music help you get used to the idea of becoming a father?
Well, now I understand it as a beautiful and educational experience. One that has brought me joys I thought I would never have access to. I think documenting that work at that time gave me the space to be present for the birth. I needed to let go of all the information I had been collecting for the last few years to make room for a life-changing experience.
I know the record was made a couple of years ago, so what’s been the biggest surprise about being a parent so far?
How terrifying it can be, this place is full of a lot of pain, and it’s hard to balance that out against the inspirational beauty a child innocently holds, one who is just learning to be present here and the idea of what they will have to confront. As adults, we are used to it, maybe worn down by the weight of the troubles we experience every day, but when you meet this being, so fresh and pure, it surprised me how controlling and protective I felt.
Beyond the obvious ways – i.e., having less time/sleep/energy/etc. – how has it impacted your music and art in ways you didn’t see coming?
I had to learn how to properly manage my creative time. A dear friend of mine gave me some wonderful insight while we were expecting. He told me that my work would get more precise because I wouldn’t have any more extra time to screw around! I have been working on how to thoroughly execute an idea for the last three years. I have also learned a new level of forgiveness. Some things are out of your hands and just have to be present with love and attention. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
Back to the record – there are a couple of great guest spots on there. Micaela Tobin is incredible on that last track. How’d you end up working with her, and how much direction did you give her?
She is amazing! I feel so fortunate to be able to collaborate with her. We have done several creative projects together since then, I have done some design and illustration work for her, and there is some more collaborative visual material on its way.
We talked about the track and the emotional concepts I was working with, but the initial power of that performance is all her. We only did a few, maybe two or three improvisational takes, she set the reverb, and all I did was hit record. I edited the takes and did a little post-production work, but I was so enthralled with the original energy that I did my best to keep it how it came out.
And then, of course, John Kolodij, which feels like such a natural connection/combination. You did some video work for/with John a while back, right? How’d you guys meet and come to work together? Are any future collaborations planned?
I have been a fan of John and High Aura’d since Sanguine Futures on Bathetic Records and the Blood Bright Star split on Anti-Matter Records. Of course, the Debacle release, No River Long Enough Doesn’t Contain A Bend, is truly moving. I made some video shorts for his and Ezra Feinberg’s beautiful record on Whited Sepulchre. I love his work and hope something else is in store for us. I would be honored to work with him again.
Am I correct in that you’ve already got another album finished and ready? How does it relate and build off the sounds and ideas on Soft Fascination?
Yes! I’m so excited. The release, Ohr Eyn Sof- Youth Eternal, was wonderfully mastered by Sean McCann at Recital and features a photograph of my wife’s artwork. Debacle Records will be graciously releasing this one as well. It’s in the same wheelhouse sonically as Soft Fascination. Still, I feel there are some significant differences with more focus on patterns and sequencing, tape manipulation, and auxiliary noise. Since the beginning of Soft Fascination, there have been so many changes in my life. From becoming a parent to a cancer diagnosis 2 years ago, I feel like I have lived many different experiences in a really short period. In that timeframe, I have learned a lot lately and have spent the last 2 years focused on my health and emotional well-being. I’ve had to work through a lot of anxiety and fear due to a very serious diagnosis. But through that, I have shed a lot of unnecessary baggage, and my steps here are lighter and more pronounced. The Ohr Eyn Sof release will be the first project I’ve worked on from a place free from a great deal of the emotional trouble I have struggled with since childhood. It’s the first batch of songs I have written based on complete thankfulness for the creative process. I feel fortunate to be here with an able mind and heart, and so thankful to use my creative voice. I will never take any of that for granted again, and this album represents the beginning of that approach, centered around the respect and enjoyment of the creative spirit.
Sonically, in the center, there is still my Prophet 08 and RE201 space echo, but I also used a Mutable Instruments Ambika. It’s very digital, brutal, and completely manipulable. There are also more environmental recordings, noise, and tape distortion than my usual output.
For the last 2 years, I have been undergoing Chemotherapy, and many of the auxiliary sounds on this release are from the infusion center, the doctor’s office, etc. There is some tension and pain in the sounds, but that is my physical reality right now, and I am okay with that. I am healing every day, but it is a long, difficult road, and I have tried to address that on this album. The music is only from the pain body, but I tried to address the overall experience; some of the pieces were developed as calm mechanisms, sort like self-help sound healings. Music that I could use to step outside of the physical self and drift into a much more peaceful place.