QA : Mystic Ruler



1. Who are you?

Nicholas John Stevens.

2. What do you do?

I’m a musician.

3. Where do you often create/produce?

I create music at home and in a shared rehearsal space in Bushwick.

4. When?

Mostly at night, but anytime I have time or feel inspired.

5. Why do you play music?

I’ve always felt deeply moved by music from a young age. When I realized I too could make sounds with instruments – I just never looked back.

6. When did you start making music?

I’ve seen pictures of me with guitars since I was 3, but I think I started making music at about 6 or 7 when I discover my grandmother’s Wurlitzer organ. I remember there was this easy chord section of the keyboard where the chords would light up. The Am7 glow still flashes before my mind’s eye. But really, I started to study music and play music at 11 when I began trombone lessons. Got into guitar playing around 18 years. The guitar opened up songwriting for me.

7. Which track defines you the most?

As far as defining the new record – Warum Die Katze Kratzte – the opening track               “H R E M” sets the stage for the way the music of this record works and the story of the album as a whole. It’s a track starting with a very simple motif, a slow melodic sway between two points. It progresses gently, becomes dissonant, almost finds resolution, but then breaks down into a chaotic echo of itself. It dissipates into a mirage before completely drifting away into the next piece.

8. How would you describe your own music?

Instrumental scapes consist of analog synth drones interspersed with melodic movements, heavy-handed use of tape echo, wistful trombone lines, and cassette tape loops of times and people passed. The presence of an ominous figure is felt, both benevolent and malicious at once. Imagine the ghosts of a dead high school marching band playing Amazing Grace at midnight to an empty city street in a Jack O’Connell novel.

9. Any track of the moment?

I’m currently heading towards a sound that seems to have more experimental almost minimal techno elements, but also layering more and working a lot with tape saturation on the Super Echo. There are definitely a lot of noise and drone aspects in there still. Lamont Young is a big influence of mine, but I also have been revisiting Black Devil Disco Club and have been listening a ton to Jon Hassell, escpecially The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things.

I use an old sequencer, but no drum machine and I don’t intend to introduce one either. Mystic Ruler has very specific limitations to the equipment used to make the music right now. I’m taking that gear further and further, trying to push it beyond its intended purpose. Right now “R-PAS” and “Mister Crueler” represents some of those new explorations, but it’s going to go further.

10. What influences your work?

Tying back into what I was just saying, I’m really influenced by horror and sci-fi film score composers and that’s the music I grew up listening to with my father because of his taste in films. He was a percussionist and promoter and had a lot of good stories. Carpenter is huge for me, as is Goblin, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis – probably no surprises there. Speaking of Carpenter, I have recently finished doing sound design on a short horror film that John Carpenter has soundtracked. It’s still in production and I don’t have release dates yet. I can’t say anything more right now because it’s top secret.

11. What’s your academic background? Are you an autodidact?

I went to school to study art and have a BFA. I’m self-taught as a musician.

12. Favorite designer?

Storm Thorgerson is one of my favorite album art designers, his work invites your imagination to create a story. But, I’m very interested in typography and type design. The way our letters are formed and the characteristics those forms communicate and transfer to us while we read. I like simple but bombastic typography. I lived in Scandinavia for about 12 years and worked for a publisher and did a lot of typesetting and graphic design during those years.

13. Favorite book?

I recently finished reading the final book of Edward St Aubyn’s The Patrick Melrose Novels and it floored me. Aside from the author being a quote machine, the books are such a raw and beautiful depiction of a life. I also have recently discovered a writer who has been publishing work for a long time but is lesser known. His name is Mike Decapite and the collection of stories I bought at one of his readings is called Radiant Fog. The book came out because his friend was starting a magazine and he jokingly said he could do the monthly weather column while he finished editing his current novel at the time. The columns ending up being the book.

Mike references Rilke in the book which I liked as I’ve been reading a lot of the poet’s work over the years. I recently found an old copy of Letters to a Young Poet when I was going through some personal struggles and found it pretty helpful. Now I keep a copy of selected works on hand to revisit from time to time.

14. Favorite classic movie?

Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. When I saw those films for the first time – I was changed. I saw a lot of vintage horror films and I always had to lie to my mother about seeing them when I would visit my dad.

It made it feel like our secret. The Fly, The Howling, The Thing, Alien, Silver Bullet – all those old monsters. Hmm, I realize now, listing them here, that there is an underlying Dr Jekyll and Mr Hydetheme – with a touch of the Apocalypse. I guess I can understand my mom’s concern back then. Interesting that my father wanted to watch those types of films with me. He may have been trying to teach me about who he was indirectly. He had a lot in common with the antiheros. Many of those monsters fought there own natures.

15. Favorite music label?

My friend’s label Psychic Mule is all but inactive, but he puts out great music and makes great music himself. Let’s hope he gets more active again putting out stuff in 2016!

16. Your dream collaboration?

Collaborations for Mystic Ruler happen in my tape loop samples that I have recorded. But it is a solo affair for me. I’m about to play a show with Martin Rev on September 20th at Saint Vitus for my record release. It would be a dream to make some music together with Martin. Dreams can come true right?

17. Are you analog or digital?

Very analog. I have nothing against digital technologies though. I am very interested in what technology has to offer, but I am very physical in my musical process – and in my art, process is an important part of the end result. Like when Stefan Sagmeister carved that AIGA poster text into his torso with a razor blade. That’s an extreme example. Analog for me means that I am working as close to the source of idea as possible and getting my hands dirty. That’s where synthesizers get interesting since they were at a certain point intended to recreate sounds of other instruments. Of course a synth could never sound like a real saxophone, but again things get interesting for me when they try their absolute hardest to be something else, but then fail, or better yet – go beyond or become greater than the original.

18. Which soft wares/tools/ instruments do you use/play? 

I use an old Martin student trombone, an ARP Axxe, ARP Odyssey, and ARP Sequencer, an Evans Super Echo, a couple cassette recorders, and cassette tapes and tape loops.

19. Describe your creative process?

My creative process begins really in elimination of distraction and the focusing of a vision, but even before that I do a lot of reading, listening, consumption of my environment, trying to see things, being present. I mostly fail, but I try. My creativity is very much a product of my immediate place and position in the present in direct  conflict or juxtaposition of my experiences and personal tribulations I process. I always keep notebooks on me to jot down ideas when they come and try to note simple things on the recorder on my phone. Anything that might spark an idea later.

On the other hand, creativity begins also in an understanding of the tools at hand. So jamming – to use a dirty word – has been an important part of developing my language. Without an understanding of language even formulating a simple phrase is nearly impossible, let alone writing a story. I also read old equipment manuals and try to understand my machines inside out. Now that’s not part of the creative process, but it keeps me clear and ready to make my machines part of me, or me part of them, in a sense.

20. When are you the most prolific (creatively)?

It’s really still a mystery to me. Although now I’ve learned to feel it well up inside of me wanting to spill over, and I know when it’s happening that I must roll with it – letting it flow unbridled. I don’t know when those times happen, but I am thankful they do. I can put myself into a place that allows me to capitalize on those times when they materialize. That’s the best I can do.

21. Any favorite record stores? (Real/virtual)

Earwax Records – Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. Micke’s Skivor – Stockholm, Sweden. Pet Sounds – Stockholm, Sweden.

22. What’s your life philosophy? 

I just try to be kind to the people I meet. Maybe done more good than bad for others by the time I’m gone.

23. Do you have a healthy lifestyle?

I kicked alcohol etcetera because I couldn’t handle drowning my depression in it anymore.     I basically in the end lost my connection to reality. It was horror. I’ve never been institutionalized or needed any professional help and still haven’t. My problems were self-induced. There are people that have real mental instability and illnesses, but I pretty much after my years of pushing my limits had given myself a taste and lost my appetite. I had to make changes or lose a lots of things – possibly everything – important to me. I changed.

24. How do you manage your time effectively? (Job/hobby)

I am a workaholic since my youth. I can be very structured with my time when I need to be. But I’m best when I have no distraction and create space around myself in order to work. I mean space in terms of both physical time and room to manovoeur mentally.

25. Any secret skills?

I can use a sewing machine.

26. Any future plans?

Time to make new life. My wife and I are expecting our first child very soon.

27.What’s your life motto?

I don’t live by a motto and I’m never good on shooting off the one-liners, but I do have “En för alla & alla för en” tattooed on the inside of my arm.

28. Any “mot de la fin”?

Dig where you stand.

Thanks for asking me to do this questionnaire!





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