| Please introduce JT Bruce and the music and the history. Why are things as they are?|
Hi, I'm JT Bruce! People have been confused about this in the past, but I'm not a band, I'm just a guy, and I make all this music myself. I've been playing guitar since I was about 11 years old and the four albums I've released sort of track my progress as a musician over the years. They're all self-produced in my "home studio," which is really just a fancy term for an embarrassingly simple computer setup that is always following me around.
Any regrets in this regard?
Not really. Of course I'd love to tour the world and record in a multi-million dollar studio, but I've got to stay realistic and fit this project in with my day job. I sometimes wish I'd played in more bands, but being a solo artist lets me play exactly the type of music I like to play, so I don't have to compromise and play what the band (or the audience) wants. The few times I've played with a band or just jammed with friends, things seem to derail pretty quick and we all get distracted, so playing solo lets me tune it all out, focus, and get things recorded.
JT Bruce, whose releases tend to differ from one to the other. Why is that so?
My releases are all a bit different just because my tastes evolve over the years. Anomalous Material came out when I was still in high school, and Vandal of Fortune came out 6 years after I graduated from college. That's a lot of time, and in many ways I'm a different person now than I was when I started playing music.
Is there some kind of guiding line between the albums? Some constant element that can be discovered no matter at what release someone would give a try?
Every album is a little different, but I think they definitely have similarities. I've noticed a sort of musical vocabulary that I use, with a lot of similar ideas being produced from that. I'll stray outside those lines and write oddball tracks now and then which are always fun, but there are certain chords and scales and harmonies that I absolutely love and keep coming back to. It tends to give the music a characteristic feel, even though the actual sound and instrumentation changes from album to album.
How would you describe the evolution of your band over the years? Where did you start, what had been the initial idea and where are you now?
It's sort of hard to describe. My initial goal was just to make the kind of music that I wanted to hear, and in a lot of ways that's still what I try to go for. Any evolution of my music project mirrors evolution in my personal life. My music is pretty personal stuff, I mostly write it for myself. The fact that other people enjoy it is just an awesome bonus.
In a couple of words: what is your music? What does it sound like?
Someone once described my sound as "a spaceship full of electric guitars assaulting an early 90's video game" and I think that fits pretty damn well. It's all somewhere on the rock-metal spectrum. Myself and lots of people would call it progressive metal, or progressive rock, but those genres encompass a lot of territory and I also try to incorporate ideas from different genres when I can.
While Universica had a considerable amount of keyboards, Vandal of Fortune is much more on the guitar side of the spectrum. Can you elaborate a bit on the idea behind this latest release of yours.
Universica relied heavily on synths, and Vandal was a conscious reaction against that. I had been listening to a lot of classic heavy metal when I was writing Vandal. Lots of early metal had this really powerful simplicity that I loved. Vandal is probably my fastest and heaviest album so far, and that comes from wanting to write this kind of straight-ahead guitar-based heavy metal. In the end, it's still very melodic, but that's kind of my style.
To me the music appears to be more focussed as well. It is not as dreamy and meandering as on your previous albums. Also the increase in intensity and heaviness leave a lasting impression; Stress Fracture and Iconophage for instance.
Universica was pretty sleepy and dreamy, so Vandal was meant to wake you back up. I wanted to make something that was album-based, where each song stood alone but was also part of the bigger whole and worked best when listened to as a full unit. Lots of independent artists today seem to operate on this idea of constant releases. They'll release single after single, just individual tracks, one at a time. I think it has to do with the influence of social media. Vandal was trying to get away from this. It's not just a bunch of songs, it's an album. When I was a kid, I would go to the store and buy a CD and listen to the whole thing back to back, and that's how I wanted Vandal to be. A power album that you could keep coming back to and find new things in after multiple listens.
Considering the amount of time that it took you to get this release out, it may be interesting to know whether all ideas that you might have worked on over the last years had been used for this one or is there is a lot of material that could be used for future releases. Should this be the case, then how does it differ from the current material?
Part of the reason Vandal took so long to get out was because, after Universica, I didn't know if I was going to keep making music. At the time I was really focusing on my career in the film industry. Making an album is a huge time commitment and I was constantly busy with other projects. Universica also had a much less successful release than the previous album, The Dreamer's Paradox, so I was underwhelmed and kind of disappointed about that. I still played guitar for fun though, and after a number of years I had written tons of little riffs and ideas, so I figured I'd buckle down and turn those into an album. That's what eventually became Vandal. Lots of those ideas didn't make it into the album, and even a few whole tracks were cut, so there's still more material floating around out there. Vandal of Fortune had an even worse release than Universica did in terms of how many people listened to it, so I think we're back where we started from. If I make another album it wont be for quite a while.
Under Sodium Bulb is a particularly amusing track. These swing facets really do fit your music. Why not make this last touch foreshadow the things that might come?
Glad you like that one! Under Sodium Bulb is definitely the oddball track of the album, much slower and with a kind of jazzy swingy feel, like you pointed out. Any more music I make in the immediate future will probably be much more mellow, similar to this song, since I spent the last two years working on faster heavier stuff.
Vandal of Fortune is a rather curious title and also the cover artwork is anything but ordinary. Is it something or someone who happens to have some kind of impact on fortune and is therefore able to play tricks with it?
The idea behind the title was a play on the term "Soldier of Fortune" which is basically a mercenary for hire. A Vandal of Fortune might be some sort of criminal for hire, less honorable and more destructive than a soldier. Kind of anarchic and raw like the music on the album was trying to be.
The cover artwork has a touch of a persiflage of old school punk albums, which is possible to place in a current socio-cultural narrative. A post-human being with a certain lust or aggressiveness to it. Judging from the physical appearance it has overcome of the limitations that we have to deal with, but it does not come over as satisfied or at ease. It looks insatiable. Why did you pick this image, what would be the background of the album and how is this reflected through the music?
Interesting you point out the punk influence, because that's kind of what I was going for when I drew the album cover. I read a lot of science fiction and I love old cyberpunk novels, so this cover is like a crossover between cyberpunk and punk rock. High tech, low life, like a transhuman street punk. I wanted it to just be dangerous and badass, it seemed to fit with how I viewed the music.
There are still no lyrics. How are the chances that this might change in the future?
Probably pretty slim, I'm not the best singer. I also like how the lack of vocals frees up the structure of the music and makes it seem more spontaneous. Without vocals, the music can do what it wants without having to worry about things like verse-chorus-verse. Some of my favorite music is instrumental and I don't like how voiceless music is automatically written off as inferior by a lot of people. There are a lot of things you can do with instrumental music that you can't pull off if you're always working around a vocalist.
On your recent release some guest musicians can be found. How did they come to join you on your album?
Over the years I've had the privilege of meeting some pretty awesome musicians. Some have asked me to perform guest solos on their projects, and some have simply told me they were fans of my stuff. I was trying to add some variety to the album and thought a great way to do that was to collaborate with some of these super talented people.
Do you prefer local musicians you might know from sight over someone from the Internet, whose work would be sent to you digitally?
All of the guest musicians on Vandal collaborated with me other the internet. Two of them are local musician friends and the rest are spread out all over the place. The beauty of collaborating onine is that geographical distance doesn't matter.
Can you write a bit about the process of getting other musicians involved in the process of creating your music? Do they have a certain amount of liberty when it comes to contributing or how does this play out?
I gave them complete liberty. After I had finished writing tracks for the album, there were several key places where I left gaps, places where there's only a backing track and no lead guitar. I would send the track to someone I felt would have a good fit for that particular track, and just let them go to work. I didn't offer any input, just trusted that they'd come up with something awesome. And every one of them did, I'm super pleased with how they turned out.
There is this image posted on Facebook, which reveals part of the process of you crafting music:
link to an image.
Is this the way you organize yourself? Do you have some kind of home studio? Or how is it done?
That's a screenshot of my project file. I wrote the entire album inside one project file, which is probably not the best way to do it, but it allowed me to jump back and forth between songs very rapidly. The thing wound up being an hour and a half long before I made cuts and split everything into tracks.
How nit-picky are you when it comes to the final product? Do you have to force yourself to bring some things to an end, because you would otherwise work on it for an unforeseeable time more?
I'm pretty nit-picky. The album was finished for probably about 6 months while I tweaked and re-recorded, and added small details. After a while I had to just say fuck it, call it good enough, and release the thing. I can be a perfectionist and it gets frustrating when you realize it will never be perfect. Then you've just got to move on.
What would have been the equipment used for your latest output?
It's very simple. I have a PC and I use a direct input for guitar and bass. Software amp modeling. Drums are sequenced. Everything is put together in Logic. I've been playing my Gibson SG since I was 14 years old and that's my primary instrument.
Judging from your homepage you also create videos and it would be interesting to know whether the movingimages play a role when it comes to composing music.
I work as an animator and motion graphics artist for my day job, so I'm very much involved with the visual arts. Images have a huge influence on me and despite having no lyrics, I think my music is very visual. Metal in general I find to be a visual genre - stage shows and album covers and lyrical imagery are all cornerstones of the genre, and I'm a big fan of the aesthetic. With progressive music you can push those boundaries even further and get into some really weird territory. I've always tried to take listeners on a journey with the music I make, and visual influences are a big part of that.
How does the work of each fields differ from the other? What are the challenges of each? What are the fascinations?
Music and film are similar in that they use the dimension of time. A painting is a static image, but a movie or a song needs time to unfold. They're narrative in nature, you can tell a story with them. They're two sides of the same coin in a way, and they work well together. Lots of the emotional impact of a film comes from the music, and visuals can add lots of depth and nuance to music. Beyond that, however, the two disciplines are pretty different, especially in terms of how they're made.
Your band dates back to over ten years. How do you look back at those early days and are you still able to enjoy what you had done back then? Can something of this music be found in today's interpretation as well?
There are elements of today's music that can be traced all the way back to the beginning, but nowadays I look back at the early stuff and cringe. I hear so many mistakes and so many immature ideas in the early stuff that it can be hard for me to go back and listen to it. I was a young kid when I wrote Anomalous Material, just making things up as I went along. It will always have a place in my heart, but I've made a lot of advancements as an artist over the years and I think my work has gotten much better in recent times.
If you compare the videos that you make and the music you compose, then how do they differ from each other? Is there a difference in what you want to create in the mind of the listener?
One of the main differences is that I try to be funny a lot more in my videos, whereas the music is a little more serious. I also think I have a much wider variety in my visual art where the goals re different from project to project. Music for me is more of a purely creative outlet where my own personal style can shine through. In film projects I'm often beholden to a client or other collaborators.
How do approach either of these and is there something characteristic to either of them?
My approach is different for each. I'm more structured when I approach a film project, whereas my music process is much more improvisational. They both go through lots of revision and fine tuning, and making "sketches" is an important aspect of both. The actual steps to go through are vastly different, but conceptually there is a similar process of starting rough, building a structure, and making refinements.
Is there any chance to see your music released physically in the foreseeable future?
There is very little demand for physical media, so this probably won't happen. I still have a few hard copies of Universica, but it's expensive doing a print run on physical discs, especially when so few people would buy them.
And … what about a live concert? Could be nice with some visuals created by you.
Unfortunately, I don't have a band to play with. I write my music for the studio, so it just wouldn't be possible to play it live without lots of changes. My chops are pretty rusty as well. I agree that visuals would be cool though, I just finished making an animated music video for one of the tracks on Vandal and the visuals give a new dimension to the music.
And … still no labels interested in spreading your music?
Nope! I've never been contacted by a label. Music labels in general seem to be on the decline and I doubt any of them would be interested in music like mine which is so non-commercial. Very little potential for profit with an artist like me. That said, I'm not against working with a label.
As you spread your music for free, it would be interesting to know to what degree you actively engage with discussions with fans, who have downloaded your music and might have sent a response. How has the feedback changed over the years. What kind of feedback to you receive.
I love talking to fans, I really encourage anyone who enjoys this stuff to get in contact and let me know. Even though I give my music away from free, I'm always pleasantly surprised that people will still offer support by paying for it, even if it's just a small donation. Feedback has decreased greatly over the years, but there still appears to be a small group of people who really enjoy it and I think that's awesome.
Is your music known in your local community?
I really doubt it. I live in the San Francisco bay area, and while heavy metal was huge here in decades past, it's really not a popular genre any more. All of my friends are DJ's. People whoe like my music are spread out all over the US and across the globe. It's a very niche genre and I'm lucky to find any people who enjoy it. They do exist!
Some closing comments?
Lots of very thoughtful questions here, thanks a lot for letting me answer some of them! Remember you can download Vandal of Fortune for free at: https://jtbruce.bandcamp.com Also, check out my latest music video for the song Drowning in Orbit here: https://youtu.be/QQhl-Pu_R80