Interview With Vifinita
I was able to catch up with the guitarist Mark Grillo and drummer Dan "Phoenix" De Lafe of Vifinita, an unsigned New Jersey metal band, last month. In the following interview, the band discusses their EP and upcoming album, their careers in metal thus far, and their local scene. The band gave very thorough answers and I learned how personal their music is to them. Enjoy:
Zack: Tell the readers about the history of your band and your career in music thus far.
Mark: Well it actually started very tragically. I had just found out my mother was diagnosed with a very aggressive brain tumor and I was dealing with a lot of aggression and depression at the time, so I just instinctively began to write music. In a way, I literally documented the entire experience from beginning to end through the music. Music at the time was the only thing keeping me sane. At first, I only had bits and pieces written on acoustic guitar. I made a rough recording of a few songs and demos and showed them to Dan, who was a long time friend of mine. We jammed to the songs, ended up liking them, and decided then to form a band. Unfortunately, I had to move to Brasil for a few months with my mother to get her alternative treatment for her cancer, so Dan and I were separated. I wrote a majority of the lyrics and music on an acoustic guitar in Brasil as the experience continued. I eventually had to return to the U.S. alone due to a financial emergency, and a week later my mother had passed away in Brasil. It was then that I wrote the last few songs and lyrics of the album. In that moment I felt this obsessive feeling to pick Vifinita up and finish this album and move on to other one, because it was the only thing bringing me peace, but money would become an issue in its completion.
Dan: For me, it all started in a friend's garage (I wonder how many other band stories have started that way). I would go there, smoke some bud, and jam out all the time, but I was always trying to find someone to write music with again. I had been in bands in the past, but all were learning experiences and nothing as serious as Vifinita has become. Mark and I have known each other a while. He's older than me and has had more experience; I used to go see his first band, called Death by Names, back when I was 13 and all the years up until their break-up. Death by Names was definitely an influential band in our early metal scene, former members including John Paul Andrade, a good friend of ours, who has played drums and toured with many projects, such as At Rest and Skies Devoured, and currently for Grimus, Windfaerer, and The Breathing Process, and Kristian Lolo, who now plays bass for Cypher Seer. All great projects with excellent musicians. Since Death by Names broke up, Mark had been working on some very different material than his old sound and was looking for a drummer that would compliment these songs. Declining at first, I eventually jumped on the project and we just clicked. From then on, we wrote material and sought other members to complete our sound. Going through two bassists, we turned to an old friend, Filliner, who joined the band. Our keyboardist, Nicole, is from Brooklyn, and we actually met her through craigslist.com. She brought a fuller sound to our songs, and her personality fit in with us perfectly. She actually listens to the most metal music out of all the members in the band, and she could probably kick my ass.
Zack: How would you describe your music in terms of sound? Who are your influences?
Dan: I suppose we would be categorized as progressive rock fused with death metal, but we draw influence from an extensive amount of music, as well as literature and art, so sometimes I just can't place what is influencing what I am playing. Some of our biggest musical influences, especially concerning the sound of our first record, would definitely be Opeth, Mastodon, Tool, Porcupine Tree, Alice in Chains, Black Sabbath, Behemoth, Nile, Pink Floyd, and The Mars Volta among other things. All of the members of the band bring their own influences into the structure of the songs, although they were primarily written by Mark and I.
Mark: I think we have a very dark and twisted sound. Our music is very strange and out of the ordinary, which kind of reflects ourselves in a way. I feel like the only way to connect to a human being through music is to make the music like a person. Our music is always going somewhere unexpected and always building up to something in the end, shifting in mood. Sometimes its consistently heavy, but then it can suddenly take a sharp turn into something slower and more haunting. Sometimes it's straightforward, and sometimes it has more texture and color. So, like a person, it's full of different shifting of emotions that one experiences throughout their lives, on this album it's anger, sadness, and doubt more than anything else, but there are moments when you can begin to hear some light shining through. It never stays consistent, its always changing, just like human beings and the cosmos entirely. I feel like people can relate and connect more to something that is familiar to them, something they can feel.
Zack: Tell us about the album and the process in which it was created: Where was it recorded, was the studio expensive? DIY? If you did it yourself do you think it would be better if done by a professional, or do you prefer the comfort of your own space and time for sound quality?
Dan: The album was done at our good friend Mike Knevevic's studio in Linden, New Jersey, which we don't find to be too expensive (we're just broke). Originally we began working on the record with Juan Cordero, who did most of the recording of it, but eventually left for the Marines and was replaced by Vov "Vlad" Ukhmylenk. Vlad is a very experienced musician and recording artist and has been working with us ever since, finishing recording and moving on to mixing. He has been doing a tremendous job on the album, giving us a more natural and raw sound that we were looking for. The downside is that the process has been very slow because of time management, financial trouble, and member changes, but Mark and I refuse to give up.
Zack: Do you prefer the studio or touring/playing live? Why?
Mark: Definitely playing live. The feeling is just indescribable. I feel trapped and claustrophobic when I'm in the studio. The studio, to me, is more work than fun. You have to meet deadlines and you have to record parts over and over to get them right. When you play live it's more fun rather than work. You're there to literally deliver that message from the recorded songs, connect with the audience, and have a great time while doing it. You only get one chance in that night to get the song right. How exciting is that?
Dan: We are fairly new to the stage as Vifinita and we haven't done any touring yet, being we've spent most of our time underground writing and working on the record, as well as planning other interesting ideas for upcoming shows to promote it, but everyone in the band has had past experiences on stage and in other projects. We wanted to prepare ourselves thoroughly and come out with a record rather than start off with demos and EPs, which is why it has taken us so long to get our foot in the door.
As to what we prefer, I would say playing live is definitely more fun than playing in the studio. It gives us more space to be creative with the songs; where as a recording is a solid version of the song, the live experience allows us to add in flavors that people will only get when they come to see us play, making the two experiences different. Mark and I have been thinking of ways to make shows more interesting than the average band's performance, and we promise them to be most satisfying for anyone who attends.
Zack: What are your opinions on file sharing?
Mark: I'm not too sure, honestly. I've heard stories that it actually helps bands, but I've also heard that it destroys them financially. It's sad that even something as pure and beautiful as music needs something so disgusting and vile like money to live (it's even sadder that humans have to need it in general). Looking at the bigger picture though, I don't care how our message gets out there, as long as it does. Whether it's being downloaded or bought from us. To me, either way, you're helping. If you have the money and want to help, that's great, we are forever grateful and surely we will use that money to somehow make the music better. If you don't have the money, as most of us don't these days, then take our message seriously and we will also be forever grateful.
Dan: I cannot help but see it as something more beneficial than harmful at this point in history. I download A LOT of music, and I admit to it, but I have discovered so many amazing bands that way, some among my favorites, by use of the internet and just checking out different artists and downloading their records. I am not a rich guy, and I'll tell you right now, I definitely would never be able to afford to physically own the amount of music I listen to, as much as I would love to. Besides, based on my experiences with the internet, I think it is safe to say that the exposure is worth the leak of your album. My best way to repay a lot of the bands I discover and listen to is to go see them live and support them, because they make a lot more money off of tours than they do off of CD sales if they're signed.
Zack: How do you go about songwriting and lyric writing? Is there a certain formula or process for generating ideas? Does your interest in "conspiracy theories" work it’s way into the lyrics? Can you give examples?
Dan: Almost all of the lyrics on the first record were written by Mark, and they are very personal to him. Many of the songs are influenced by certain dreams he has had, as well as the death of his mother, who was fighting brain cancer as the album was being written and passed away shortly after we began to enter the studio.
Mark: I'm always listening to music, so I guess you would say I'm constantly being inspired by it, but I allow myself to be inspired by everything from random thoughts to various experiences, to people I meet and get to know. As far as it goes for riff writing: I simply wait for the riff to suddenly come to me. I never force myself to write anything. I hear it in my head and then I simply apply it to the guitar. It's the same for lyrics. You're probably going to think I'm crazy, but it's almost as if someone is whispering them to me as I write them. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and write thoughts in the form of lyrics in a notebook I keep beside my bed. I have times where it flows and flows and flows and then suddenly stops, and my mind goes completely blank, and now I have half a song. Sometimes I have to wait for weeks for it to come to me again. So to answer your question: there is no formula; it is completely strange and spontaneous. Sometimes I'm frightened by the things my subconscious spits out (if it's even me at all).
Dan: As for the question of "conspiracy theories", that all depends upon what one considers a conspiracy theory. If you mean the current state of our world, which is dominated by select families and individuals (about 1% of the population) who hoard over 40% of the world's "wealth", and many of which have ancestors to the families that have established the fractional reserve banking system that is enslaving humanity, then yes. Unfortunately, this issue is hardly something can even be disputed anymore, no matter how unbelievable is may sound to some. These people do not have to conspire so much as they have to simply come to similar agreements, which are: certain people are meant to rule the world while the masses are meant to work for them, and this rule is carried out by the creation and manipulation of money; the more money you hoard, the more power you hold. From there on, the world can be steered in your direction and played like a giant, destructive chessboard based on how much economic power you pull in your direction--this, ultimately, makes any kind of just governmental system totally impossible and nothing more than a show with a few sincere people stuck in it who push for good, but get no farther towards what can be considered "peace". The richest of the rich have created and tapped into the very life's blood of our current civilization. This is a subject that has definitely influenced our music, especially because the members of the band are always financially struggling.
BUT, to be more specific, this is a subject that actually isn't too present in the themes of our first record, which we have somewhat stated above concerning Mark's mother. Act I: Within Loss will be the first part of a three-part series of albums, all of which string together an inner journey. The main theme of the first record, as cliché as it might sound, is actually death. The second album will concern the lifting of the veil, questioning life by experiencing the loss of a loved one, and discovering within the individual self, the reality of our deceitful, disoriented, and unorganized world. The final album will be the discovering of the individual's true self; a self that works towards swallowing the ego rather than being swallowed by the ego; a self that no longer resents death, but lives with death as truth and a part of their cosmic life. Ultimately, "enlightenment”—to be at peace amidst overwhelming negativity and conflict. The first album--death--is what sets our truth-seeking eyes in motion, the second album is what is discovered, and the third will be where one hopes to arrive at after experiencing such despair, grief, and questioning in a lifetime.
I'm sorry that came out so long, I tend to be very thorough. I suppose it comes from being a college student and an English major.
Zack: Explain the origin of the band name?
Dan: Mark and I were trying to come up with a one-word name that wasn't typical or too plain. Eventually, I came up with the idea of making up our own word by combining two Latin words together: "vita", which means "life", and the word "infinitas", which is the root word for "infinity", and pretty much means "unbounded". The name itself literally means "infinite life" or "boundless life", and represents a bold statement about our music and what it means to us.
Zack: Talk about our local scene if you can even call it one now. How can it be improved? What do you think bands/promoters/fans/venues/studios need to do more of/less of?
Mark: I personally think that the scene is very sad. I feel like fans are too often segregating themselves from each other by genre. The irony is that we are all doing this for the same reason and, more or less, to receive the same kind of fulfillment. I notice a lot of unnecessary violence among the crowd. I can't tell you how many local shows I've been to that were ruined because of fights. Promoters and venues need to stop thinking about money and profit so much at the beginning and first work on getting the bands up there, helping them out, and building a diverse, yet more united scene (the money will come to them when that happens). Instead of discriminating against a band that isn't the fad at the time and how much they can make off of them, they should actually do the work and research on how to get that particular band's message to people who would actually want to or need to hear it. In other words, more support and hard work, and less laziness, discrimination, and greed. Bands should stick together and create a support system. Don't laugh at or insult a band that has clean singing, but at the same time, don't laugh at or insult a band that is pure aggression or anything else. Learn how to get along and get everyone together instead of separating from each other. I also get this feeling that some bands tend to develop according to what's "in" and popular so much so that they forget to be individual, and more importantly, to be themselves and play what they actually feel they should play, not what they think they should play. It probably has to do with that fear of being disliked by people not having a show of being a part of that particular scene. I wonder if that's why "scenes" were even created, simply as organizations where everyone is the same, everyone is safe, and no one bothers you because you're scene is "the best". You never have to feel lonely, but if you dare to be different there's a chance that you will be shunned out.
Dan: I agree with Mark in that I feel that our scene is very broken. To be honest, I feel like a lot of bands are branching off into groups of similar sounds and becoming more of an ego-trip rather than artistic expression. But, to be fair, I know a lot of the best bands coming out of my area right now, and I am proud to say that they are actually putting out projects that are well-composed and some-what unique to this urban area. A good example is Windfaerer. This is a side project of Mickael Goncalvez, who plays bass for Grimus with John Paul Andrade (who's also in Windfaerer). He's a good friend of ours and he actually laid down some bass tracks for our record after we lost our first bassist in the middle of recording, before Fill joined the band. Windfearer is an excellent example of something fresh in the local scene, and they have gotten some feedback overseas, from which the musical influence is more common. I would like to see Windfaerer and that European-influence attract more attention in these parts.
I really do like the diversity I see between a lot of the bands in our circle of friends, even if we do not seem to praise or support them as much as we should. We have everything from progressive metal, to power metal, to folk metal, to death metal, to hardcore, and even back to old school thrash (with bands like Divided Skies and Killed the Fixtion). Another excellent project is Alexander Bateman, a solo project of our friend Anthony Bueno, which John Paul Andrade is also involved in (he's just a music whore). There is hope for the Jersey underground scene, as long as bands realize that they should lift one another in the scene, and that they should all respect each other and adapt to one another, regardless of difference in sound or message. We are all doing what we do for same purpose, and that's to play music. It doesn't matter if that music is heavy, fast, angry, peaceful, slow, depressing, uplifting. It doesn't matter. It's the feeling that I know every REAL musician has to get, a feeling of tapping into an unseen well and just letting it flow forth, releasing all of what you feel and want to say, but you just can't always put into words.
Zack: Do you want to remain unsigned or would you like the attention of a real label. If so which one?
Dan: That all depends on the label, the offer, and the terms of the contract. Honestly, if a good opportunity came our way and I felt it would be beneficial, I would go for it, although it would have to first be discussed amongst the band. But I definitely wouldn't mind the attention enough to remain unsigned and self-produced. It would make me feel like less of a whore to handle the selling and displaying of my own art rather than have others handle it for me.
Mark: I'm actually not sure, at the moment we are busy trying to lay a foundation first and have ourselves established. We would not mind having label support, because it means we would be able to send our message to more people, even faster and more efficient. But there are labels that may try to corrupt our message and put in their own, and these are the labels we are going to stay away from.
Zack: Is there a message that you would like to give to the fans?
Dan: For anyone who supports us, we extend a very grateful and appreciative thank you. Although we play and write music for ourselves, we are more than happy to be able to share it with other people and we hope you can connect with it in some way.
Mark: Peace. :)
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