Having put out the SurViolence EP last year, Vexillary has now released a set of remixes of its closing track, “The Geneticist.” The brainchild of the New York-based producer Reza Seirafi, Vexillary creates highly rhythmic electronic music that has elements of electronic-industrial, EBM and techno. Sonically, the tracks can be pretty dense, and the creative sound design gives the music an otherworldly feel. In an email interview, Reza discussed his music and creative process.
Could you discuss your musical background? Had you been involved with any other projects before Vexillary?
Strangely, I only had a passive interest in music growing up. Never really played any instruments until college, where I started out on guitar. That said, I was always intrigued by the mystery behind electronic records and how they were made.
When I was first starting out, it was before youtube, and electronic music creation was very much shrouded in mystique. After taking a Midi (electronic recording) course in college, I quickly fell in love with the infinite possibilities it offered and grew obsessed with the real-time manipulation of sounds through technology. Once the record button was on, it was almost like time took on a new meaning, where every second felt heightened—a feeling I still get to this day. By spring of 2007, I was on my way to make music my main source for creativity and started producing regularly around that time—leading to my first release a few years down the road.
I was never involved in any other projects before or since, the recording name did go through a few updates though before settling with Vexillary. I feel like my entire musical journey has revolved around perfecting the Vexillary sound. If you were to listen to the tape I made in college for the Midi class I mentioned earlier, you could strangely draw a direct line to my latest tracks. It’s safe to say that the sound of the project is very me.
Could you discuss your influences? What elements of them did you want to embrace, and in what ways do you think they perhaps inspired you to push things in new directions?
There are artists that shape our sound, and then there are those that make us wanna get up and make our own music. I think it’s important to make a distinction between these two when it comes to listing influences.
In terms of the sound, Coil, Skinny Puppy, and Autechre and all of their related acts were by far the biggest influences. Coil helped me explore my experimental side and in fact my early songs were directly influenced by their otherworldly synth explorations. Skinny Puppy and other electro-industrial and EBM acts really helped shape my beat-making process and certainly brought in the horror influence. Autechre and other Warp Records stuff really got me into the futuristic and abstract side of techno and bass with an ambient flavor. I’d have to also list Depeche mode in there in terms of the melodic sensibility and their influence on techno music. It’s easier to make dark music if you strip out the melodies, and there are lots of examples of that out there, but much harder to want the listener to come back for more. I definitely picked up some of my melodic side from their songwriting approach.
Going back to the acts that actually got me to wanna try and make my own music, I’d have to give it to The Knife and Foetus. The Knife were always on the approachable side, and although very powerful, it felt like something I could make myself. Jim Thirlwell’s use of the studio as an instrument on his work as Foetus and his other side projects really got my ambitious side tingling. To make a wall of sound style of production as a solo act made it seem like studio possibilities were endless. I had to get in on that.
But I think it’s also important to remain open to new influences. Case in point, the club culture’s recent appetite for faster BPMs seemed like an exciting challenge for me. So on some of my new recordings, I tried to push the limits of how fast a Vexillary track can be before losing its essence. That really pushed me out of my comfort zone and took me to exciting new territories. You’ll be able to hear some of that influence on a few of the songs that are coming out later this year.
What are your primary tools for musical creation?
The tools remain the same, synths (both analog and digital), drum sampler, sequencer (in the form of Ableton Live), and experimentation with vocals and voice effects. Almost every song will have the exact same elements, just different groupings of synths depending on the mood of the track and the vibe I’m trying to go for.
It’s strange that although I started out on guitar, not much of it has made its way onto the records yet. I would love to add guitar and other live instruments in the rotation. I think I’m reserving that for a later stage of the project.
Do you have a general approach to composing? For example, do you usually start with rhythmic elements, sound design, etc?
Rhythmic elements and beats are a great starting point, the majority of the time. When I write a cool beat and few variations of it, I know I’m on my way to creating a full song. Basslines and synth leads follow, not necessarily in that order, and generally I pick a musical scale to stick to. (Although up until The Brutalist EP, I purposefully stayed away from traditional structures and scales). I write lots of parts and counterparts within the chosen key, and then take a step back and see what’s meshing together. Once few key segments are sorted out, it’s all about filling in the blanks. Arrangement, sound design, and mixing are almost always the next steps.
The approach is slightly different for the tracks with vocals. The Geneticist, being a case in point. On that song, and few other songs with vocals since, I generally come up with the words and phrasing first and devote the rest of the recording sessions to reverse engineering a track that would allow for those words and vocals to exist. That said, there are tracks where vocals come in at the end cause the song is begging for it. There hasn’t been a ton of vocals on the recent EPs but the tracks I just finished up do have more vocals and few even with special guest vocalist to bring in new elements.
You’ve put out some interesting videos. Could you discuss your approach to music videos?
My music always begged to coexist with visuals, but It took me a while to add visuals to the mix in such a strong way. I always wanted to get into the video game but after a few missteps early on I started putting off the idea. During lockdown however, I began to network more, and started to seek out professionals that could help bring my visions to life.
My research led me to Luqman Ashaari’s incredible digital art. Completely blown away by the originality of it, I sent him a blind message asking him if he’s interested in collaborating with me. Much to my surprise, he was down, all I needed next was a killer editor to help me splice visuals into stories. That’s when I met Svitlana Zhytnia, who is a great visual creator in her own right and a little while later, I had my first ever video ready for the song ‘Maritime Panic’ off the SurViolence EP.
I’ve gone on to produce 7 videos in less than a year, with 3 more in the preproduction phase. It’s quickly become my favorite part of the music release phase. In terms of the approach, I try to match the songs with the style of my visual collaborators. Me and Svitlana have done a few videos together, including the recent video for the SPANKTHENUN remix of ‘The Geneticist’ that just premiered. I’ve also collaborated with other digital artists like Dith_idsgn who brings a stark and minimal atmosphere into the picture.
Generally, I stay very involved in the creation process, from pulling the original mood boards and visual examples all the way to heavy inputs on the edits. In addition to production credits, I’ve also been credited as the director of a few of the projects, but I really couldn’t have done it without the skills of my visual creators and collaborators and look forward to bringing more visuals to life through their support.
All of your releases for far have been EPs, correct? If so, are you planning a full album, or do you prefer the EP format?
I’m glad you bring that up. And yes, all the releases so far have been EPs for one reason or another. There are 6 of them in total since my first in 2013. Earlier in my career, I was only sharing a few of the latest tracks with labels, and that’s how my first record was approved through Blaq Records. Soon after through, I did make an attempt to make a full length, but only a portion of it ended up bering released as the Chemica Divina EP. Although this was a hard pill to swallow at the time, I see how that worked out for the best.
When you make a full length, there needs to be a strong common thread between the songs, and it needs to be product of a focused recording period to present this longer format as a cohesive offering. This was not the case in my experiment back then, but I definitely learned a lot from it and made sure the next time I record an LP, it would be with those learnings in mind.
Fast-forward to 2021, and I just finished my very first full length album due out for release later in the year. It’s been a long time in the making, but I finally reached the maturity in sound and concept to create a longer story that remains focused throughout both sonically and thematically. I can’t wait to reveal more as the release date approaches, but it’s without a doubt my best work so far and one that’s going to hopefully leave a proper mark.
Going back to your question regarding my preference between the 2 formats, I’d say it depends on the project and the artist. The reality is that EPs are easier to digest and scan for the listening habits of today. You’re seeing more and more artists doing more EPs vs LPs because of that very reason, and it also allows for a more consistent recording/promotional cycle.
But going forward as a creator, I can tell whether certain ideas need more support to get across or if they’re able to stand on their own. That’s what’s going to dictate the format. In the case of the recent full length that I just finished, within the first few recording sessions it was apparent that I was embarking on a bigger idea, once that was going to rely on more songs to support a fuller story.
I see that you have a background in chemistry – do you feel that has affected your approach to music?
Indeed, by education and my former trade. I majored in chemistry as an undergrad and did work in the chemical sciences and more specifically the perfume industry soon after. My work in the lab was all about finding the balance between unrelated ingredients and chemical compounds to create new olfactory experiences. There is a lot of magic to it if I were to take my scientific hat off. Music production is similar in more than one way or at least in the way that I approach it.
Unrelated musical notes, odd chords and structures can be blended together with surprising results. Using sounds and musical styles as ingredients, production to me is a total science experiment. It’s important, however, not to be too formulaic. I think my entire musical journey is driven by the quest to find my own formula for a new style of electronic music built on my influences.
To get more granular, the layering of sounds especially at the mixing stage is practically identical to how perfumes are structured. In fact, fragrance ingredients are actually referred to as ‘notes’ to further draw this comparison. Bass notes or bottom notes as they are called are often the foundation of the fragrance structure, not unlike the rhythm section of the song with bass and drums. Then the mid notes are added and topped off by the top notes. You can think of the top notes as the high frequency sounds like lead part and vocals of the songs. Too heavy on either of these layers and both your musical mix or your scent are in trouble. Again, it’s all about finding the balance between the ingredients.
Have you performed live as VEXILLARY?
I always saw the project as more of a studio act to be honest, and never really tried to perform as a result. In the beginning, it was more about not diluting the experience through a half-baked live show, and admittingly, I set the live bar way too high for myself. Later on, when devoting time to music, it was always more interesting to write and record vs preparing for a set. It goes back to my scientific background I suppose, always more interested in the laboratory like creation and discovery phase than the recreation of that experience.
I must add that up until this year, I spent months and months on every single song, over-evaluating every bit, so not much time was left to devote to the live aspect. But that’s all changing now, the recent album recording process taught me to be more efficient in the studio to make more effective choices. And with my new streamlined approach, I’ve been way more productive in the studio which is opening up more time to think about other avenues, including a live experience.
I’m hoping to work out a performance style that feels authentic and exciting, and videos will most likely play an important part as well. Let’s see how it all shapes up after the release of the new album.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
I want to thank you for conducting this interview to bring more insight into the Vexillary world and creation process. Stay tuned for my full-length album coming later in the year with a few singles kicking off the project soon. In the meantime, my new remix EP built on remixes of ‘The Geneticist’ is out on Blaq records everywhere.