Caïna: An Interview

Caïna is based in Salford, UK.

Had a chance to catch up with Andy Curtis of Caïna and chatted about everything from the significance of song order on an album, to our mutual fondness for Robert Smith, to the challenges facing independent musicians these days. It's a good read.

Weirding: I'm something of a stickler for the sequencing of songs on an album. I can think of a few albums that might be perfect if it weren’t for the order of the songs. And I can think of a few others that get away with some filler by smartly positioning it to create an ebb and flow in an album that otherwise might not exist. Sequencing is one of the trickiest things to do and can be the difference between a good collection of songs and a great album. All this to say that I really like the sequence of songs on your new album. Specifically, the run of exchanges from end-of-song to beginning-of-song from ‘Powder Blood’ to ‘Take me Away’ is absolutely perfect. I'm wondering, how do you make decisions about song order and how do you know when you've got it right?

Andy: I'm very similar in my thinking. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I consider that if the end product ends up as “a collection” of songs, it’s a form of failure on my part. An album, to me, is its own overarching meta-song with the individual tracks all serving to further that core idea. I generally come up with a concept for an album and draw myself a visual chart — kind of a line graph really — of the way it should ebb and flow. I usually do this before I've done much of anything at all — when I just have one cornerstone song or a couple of song ideas solidly down. 

That's not to say every album ever made should be a concept album. But every album should absolutely have a concept. 

Weirding: That is such a key distinction. And it so often goes overlooked.

Andy: I also put in tracks strictly for pacing or atmospheric reasons — not to stretch out length or anything but more in addition as a form of editing. Of course that also extends to the deletion of tracks — but that is somewhat more of a rarity. Working as I do, almost entirely by myself in most scenarios, I can intuit pretty quickly when something isn't working and generally don't complete songs I don't think have a reasonable chance of making it to the finished record. 

Weirding: On the new album you pay a bit of homage to Robert Smith. I can still remember seeing them play live on the Wish tour and for the first time really thinking: Whoa, they really are a guitar band. What is it that you like about his playing, his way of approaching things?

Andy: Alongside just a supernaturally successful songwriting technique, I think that Smith has this perfect combination of coming up with these incredibly crisp and tight melodic lines and a real feel for the foreboding drone. 

Weirding: It seems to all play out in this space where the songwriting and the tone work hand-in-hand.

Andy: I love his tone as well — that incredibly delicate yet muscular DONGggg of the guitars that was really established on Disintegration and Pornography — I think it was a little less distinctive before that. That sound which really doesn't change much whether they're going for the epic or the poppy — it's an extremely versatile sound. It’s got this twinkly upper register and deep baritone all in the same guitar track. I think both Smith and Gallup are really underrated as players and crafters of tone. 

Weirding: The artwork on the new album is obviously stunning. What was it that hooked you on Francine's art? 

Andy: I'd been following Francine for a while as I love a lot of the tokutatsu, anime, and video game stuff she uses as references in general. So I think I had subconsciously been looking for an excuse to use something of hers simply to be able to fanboy out at her when I asked to license it. 

The art was already created — I didn't commission it — but it was a similar situation to Mow Skwoz's painting we used for Gentle Illness in that as soon as I saw it I knew I couldn't release the album without it. Literally would have gone in a different direction musically or conceptually had neither of them agreed. I don't use that as leverage when contacting people — though I think I told Francine that after everything was arranged. It doesn't matter to me if it's something I'm self-releasing digitally or not, the album art is incredibly important to me.

Weirding: Can you tell me a bit about how you came to play music. I'm particularly interested in the degree to which you feel compelled to make music. In my own experience, I often find that I don't actually want to make music, but it sort of happens anyway. For that reason, I've never approached it from the point-of-view of being a professional musician. It's always been more of a condition. Like, "Yeah, I've got this condition where I occasionally feel compelled to record myself screaming into a microphone." I even feel this way when I play a jazz set. It's like, I'm not at all a professional here. I'm just someone who can not stop being infatuated by m7♭5 chords to the degree that it's all I think about and it's ruined my life. Interested in your take.

Andy: I think 'compelled' is probably the right word, actually. There's an initial tug from the four or five percent of my brain that operates like a normal person's to start to answer this question conventionally. You know: "Oh I fell in love with music as a child, was inspired to pick up x instrument and found I had a little ability and followed a path from there”. And yeah, that's true. But It's also true for the overwhelming majority of people who are or have ever been in a band. 

I think hearing music and wanting to join in or replicate it is a pretty conventional and largely universal part of the human experience. But the part that isn't conventional is what you're really talking about — that pull, that vampire urge, the endless keening junkie scream in your guts that doesn't let you go and has you staying awake for days on end, week after week, neglecting your health and your family and every other sane obligation we build around ourselves to convince everyone we're not completely lost in the gyre. 

Where does that come from, for me? 

I think about this a lot, because I have often tried to stop making music. I have a deeply abusive, parasocial relationship with music, and I've tried to quit it so many times. I've been addicted to so many things in my life — prescription painkillers, alcohol, smoking dope, sex, self harm, cigarettes, you name it. I didn't like heroin though, funnily enough. Anyway, the point is I've been addicted to all this shit at one time or another and have kicked them all at one time or another. 

Except music. 

So to think about this I guess I have to reverse engineer it. What's the function of this addiction in my life? I think being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in my late 20s a few years back — alongside my other longstanding mental health problems — is a factor and has helped me feel this out. I started heavily getting into music when I hit puberty and for me it fulfilled a communication pathway role. Not only is it an easy way to connect with people on a practical level when you feel generally very alienated, but the music itself is a data transfer process. 

Neurodivergance forces you to make rules and tools in your head to parse a world that doesn't make any sense to you. So the atrophied communications node in my brain latched on to music as a mode of transmission. 

I understand other people better through the art they make and I think the only way of understanding me is through mine. I think that's why every time I quit it feels less like I've quit a job — which it has been at some points in my career — and more like cutting off a sense or a limb. 

The world is a thing of atonal dissonant musical creation. I think interpreting the absolute sensory chaos of everything into recognisable patterns stops me short of the madness of a Lovecraft protagonist — it turns the cement mixer oblivion of life into familiar terms. 

Paradoleia. 

The trees in front of my apartment building hiss with the back beat of construction and trains. People pound out their lives in brutal rhythms. 

In terms of how I do this practically, I've always been guilty of neglecting the cause for the effect. What I mean is I don't really surround myself with the accoutrements of musicianhood other than the absolute bare minimum I need to make my music. Maybe it's the catastrophist in me, but I've never felt that I should have a surplus of gear or equipment around and that I should be coming from a place of making do with what I always have to use rather than selecting things from an arsenal. Perhaps I've simply convinced myself I like working like that because I have never had the money or resources to behave otherwise. Perhaps this kind of ascetic monastic thing is just another expression of my narcissistic personality. Maybe it's both. Who cares, really. I don't like playing live so it's also a good excuse not to do that. 

I feel like I have less an 'inner saboteur' and more an inner network of spies and counter spies, insurgents and intelligence agencies all working against each other. The more I think about this stuff the less I think I know about myself. Or maybe it's just a way of convincing people I'm an interesting person — when without the cache of my musical career I'm anything but. 

Weirding: Speaking of the way musical careers exist, what are your feelings about the current state of music and the current challenges facing musicians? You've been producing music for awhile now, so I'm interested in how you see this and whether you've noticed things evolving or devolving. Are things different, the same, more brutal than what you've seen across the arc of your time making music?

Andy: From my perspective it's never been easier to make music and put it out, but I think it's incredibly hard to get noticed as a result. The level of competition for attention is frankly absurd. And I don't know if that is necessarily making for more interesting art. 

Do the plants in a choking jungle all struggling against each other for sunlight eventually start to privilege simple existence over beauty? I don't know. 

I certainly don't feel the same way about the underground at 35 as I did at 20 — but that's probably three fourths getting old as opposed to any inherent issues of quality or what have you. 

In a way, everything getting so frantically busy everywhere has been a good thing for me as I can't possibly hope to keep up like I used to. So I've gone in total reverse. For the last few years I've been catching up on things I have missed from older eras. I'll listen to 2021’s music when I'm in my rocking chair — if I get there. 

Maybe that's a value judgement in itself, that there seems to be very little that I instantly become desperate to consume from right now. But the things I do like include an increased sense of community and care coming from the people who make things. Kids support each other a lot more than when I was coming up — and that's fantastic. 

All we leave here is the love people have for us that lingers on. So it makes me feel really good to see a lot of artists who care more about how people feel about them as people than what rung of the ladder they're on. Maybe it's false hope, but it's a kind of hope.


About

Genre shifting cinematic noises est. 2004. Based in Salford, UK.

https://cainaband.bandcamp.com/ 


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