Drab Majesty exist on another celestial planet. Beneath dark, hooded robes, shielded by robotic, 35mm-esque glasses and painted like black metallers who discovered the art of drag, Deb Demure and Mona D create an experience that is neither normal nor replicable. By sight and by sound, the duo build an atmosphere that relies on the willing suspension of disbelief; Drab Majesty is a fully realized, brief alternate universe. The latest record, The Demonstration, combines the best of darkwave, shoegaze and surreal soundscapes to create an audible vision that mirrors its creators. We talked to Deb and Mona about the project’s aesthetics, the concept of time in the music industry and the importance of escaping reality.
Drab Majesty is a very visually oriented band. Did you intend for it to be a full performance art piece or did that evolve after the music?
Deb Demure: It definitely evolved at the same time. The project evolved as a response to lacking theatrics in performance and performative music. You’re going to a show. You’re watching a spectacle, or the chance for a spectacle, but the visual aspect is falling short with lots of modern music right now. It’s kind of sad because your ocular experience is missing. The oral experience is there and that’s fine. There are lots of bands that can pull off a convincing auditory, immersive experience, but the truth is that people have eyes that are watching the show. There’s so much terrain to infiltrate vision, which is something that we’re very interested in doing and that’s why the project evolved in tandem with that.
Since you’re so recognizable, do you think your appearance has become equally as important as your music?
DD: Yeah, of course. Music is a frequency. It’s a vibrational frequency and so is sight and colors and imagery. Sound is imagery. To me, they’re one in the same. Absolutely. To neglect the visual part of the imagery makes the actual experience fall short.
Statues seem to surface in your work frequently. The Venus Di Milo, Apollo and most recently the lion in “39 By Design.” The cover of the new record is very statuesque… Is there any broad meaning behind them?
DD: I like the idea of the static statue that is imbued with so much more symbology, but it’s static. The point of the record cover was to also be static. I’m really interested in mime history and that is an homage to a French mime artist, Marcel Marceau. The Greco-Roman figures are important. The Venus Di Milo had it’s own specific application about how it’s missing its arms and there’s a whole theme about arms in the first record. In the song “The Foyer,” the first lyric is, “You can’t feel those arms of mine,” and that was a reference to something else, but the Venus Di Milo missing its arms was the most immediate reference that I could point to that would describe that particular scenario about not being able to feel one’s arms. I like that relationship. Apollo has just found its way into the set organically.
When you wrote The Demonstration, did you create it as a story with a beginning and an end or as individual songs?
DD: The latter, but it ultimately yielded a story. My friend King Dude writes records from song one to end and is like, This is my opener. Now I’ve got my second song. That’s a really interesting way of writing a record, but all the songs kind of came together and then they were assembled. Kind of subconsciously, I knew this one was different than that one and it would have its place, but there was never a chronology that was set out to be realized. It was more like that song occupies that emotion then we need another song to occupy this and later made sense of it. The ordering always comes at the end for my stuff.
How does this record differ from anything else you’ve done?
DD: Well, it was actually produced by someone who knows what they’re doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea how to record music. I have a very amateur understanding of it. Josh Eustis, the guy that produced it, actually had a full producer’s vision of the aesthetic and how to get the proper sounds and how to really mix it and make it cohesive. Careless was a shot in the dark as far as learning how to record my own thing and then getting a mixer to make it meld together. I demoed all the stuff and Josh basically was like, This is how it needs to be better on this song when he heard all my demos. There’s a whole record that’s the demo version I have that might see the light of day one day. He took it and was like, This is how it could be better, and curated the sonic palette. I owe the cohesiveness and the professionality of the record to him without a doubt.
“Music is a frequency. It’s a vibrational frequency and so is sight and colors and imagery. Sound is imagery. To me, they’re one in the same. Absolutely. To neglect the visual part of the imagery makes the actual experience fall short.”
As far as occultism and your live performances being religious/ritualistic in nature, where do those ideas come from?
Mona D: For me, personally, I have a fascination with them historically. I like thinking about different methodologies of thought process, of processing symbols, of finding meaning in things that are sort of oblique and not understandable… I like occultism. I don’t consider myself a practitioner, but I’m definitely a collector of ideas and facts. I think that there’s so much symbology that can be used and repurposed and brought into your own art. I’m always trying to collect things. If it’s music, I’m always trying to find the most obscure, strangest stuff. Always looking for things outside of the norm. The same goes for imagery and symbology–trying to probe the depths for anything usable. There are so many branches in terms of religion in terms of things that people hold sacred. Its nice to try to navigate your way through the vastness of human thinking, of thought and symbology.
Having read about your interest in artists like the Unarius Academy, Genesis P. Orridge and King Dude, how does their art inspire yours?
DD: There’s just a collective consciousness amongst all of that stuff. Maybe Genesis is a little bit more pointed and refined. Genesis created a much deeper religion herself than King Dude or even Unarius has, in my opinion. Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth is an extremely realized project that’s very detailed and has a lot of application to a lot of people right now.
MD: It also doesn’t take itself as seriously, though.
MD: I think it’s a framework for thinking about life and intentionality, whereas Unarius is a group of people who had a very powerful message, but a very fundamental belief structure. I think that Unarius ultimately had an incredibly beautiful humanitarian aim, but were, perhaps, misguided in the fact that they believed it so thoroughly.
DD: They became a cult.
MD: Yeah. I think that belief–true fundamental belief in anything–precludes you from believing in the opposite, which I think is ultimately a negative thing.
DD: Or just considering alternatives.
MD: My personal goal is to open myself to all ideas, but to not believe in any of them necessarily. To gain the knowledge and the wisdom they have to offer without submitting myself to them fully. I think that Unarius is fundamentally, at it’s core, a religion. They’re not asking for you to subscribe to their ideas–they’re asking you to become a member. I think that can yield amazing imagery and video art. Just like Catholicism is one of the richest religions in terms of ritual and iconography. It’s incredible, but I wouldn’t want to lock myself in that mental framework. It’s ultimately unproductive. That said, I think there are aspects of Catholic iconography and imagery that are incredible and resonate with millions of people across the world. The same goes with Unarius. It’s just something to draw from. It’s like people who are incapable of getting behind Catholicism, because it’s an ancient sect of Christianity at this point, who are seeking, are seekers, but are trying to find a more contemporary, new way of associating the unknown with what they know.
Do you feel like your music is building on the past or looking toward the future?
DD: Honestly, the past and the future are one in the same. There’s no linear chronology for music as a whole. There are movements that were made ages ago, decades ago, that are still as relevant as they were then as they are now. The Internet has bred this particular mindset that we all move through modern music collectively and we exhaust genres, we exhaust ideas, and there’s always this “new” thing that’s this “new” sound. I completely disagree with that. I think it’s absurd. I think all ideas are made and they’re all branches of one greater tree. There’s no point in trying to outdo the next person in terms of ingenuity and originality. That’s totally a fucking futile mission. I identify with this certain sonic palette that is Drab Majesty. I find that really interesting and I think it’s definitely not exhausted. There’s so much more to build upon it. As is psychedelia. As is krautrock. To say that just because we’re not in the 70s anymore doesn’t mean that krautrock can’t be expanded upon or the new wave can’t be expanded upon. That was only ten years of them exploring those ideas and then the technology changed and the sounds changed. To cap it in these decade brackets is absurd to me.
MD: Also, before the Internet, music progressed in a very linear way. There were trends and things coming into culture via print magazine, via the radio, and many things were lost. If it was a 7” that was pressed 500 times, by the time of the CD era you couldn’t obtain that music in any way. The Internet has changed music because people are able to access obscure releases from all genres and all time periods.
DD: Yes, I agree.
MD: Suddenly, we find ourselves in this decade. We’re in this time where people are not confined. Their taste is not confined to what they consume via the media. They can access everything.
DD: That’s deeper Internet though. The more obscure Internet. I’m talking about the Pitchforks and the mainstream blogs that definitely are charting this.
“There are movements that were made ages ago, decades ago, that are still as relevant as they were then as they are now. The Internet has bred this particular mindset that we all move through modern music collectively and we exhaust genres, we exhaust ideas, and there’s always this “new” thing that’s this “new” sound. I completely disagree with that. I think it’s absurd. I think all ideas are made and they’re all branches of one greater tree.”
They have their agenda.
DD: Yeah, it’s their agenda. That was yesterday and this is today. You’re (Mona) such a super archivist and deeper Internet head that you use the Internet productively.
MD: All I’m saying is that all of these bands that held so much sway but never made it into the mainstream are now suddenly coming back.
MD: People are rediscovering things about the past that were so important for certain people, but not enough to be held in the collective consciousness. People are finding bands like Felt and Cleaners From Venus. These bands that put out so much material and seem so relevant now, but, for some reason, had no sway when they were releasing all of their content. These things from the past are not irrelevant. They’re just undiscovered. There’s so much territory there.
DD: In answer to your question, I don’t think there’s any kind of logical chronology to the evolution of music. It’s just constantly evolving in every direction and there’s no genre or decade that the chapter has been closed on. Yes, to relate to what he said, the Internet is helpful in that–in revitalizing this stuff and giving it a second life. There’s a lot of great labels that are reissuing this kind of stuff and it’s definitely back in the mainstream dialogue. Labels like Captured Tracks and Dais and Light in the Attic that are bringing stuff to light again.
MD: Dark Entries.
DD: They’re a great one. I’m sure there’s plenty more. That’s really helpful. We need those custodians of the past to bring that shit back into the mainstream progression because by no means is it antiquated or fucking out of date or whatever. Passe.
In the future, do you see the band expanding more?
DD: I don’t think Drab Majesty will ever have a live drummer. Mainly because drums are my main instrument. I don’t like the way acoustic drums sound for this kind of project at this point in time. Perhaps an electronic drummer or a bassist. Maybe a bassist. He’s (Mona) a fantastic guitarist and I hope to include him in some kind of guitar duet down the line. I’m not itching to expand the lineup. The two-piece is cool. It’s nice. It’s good.
What do you hope to impart to people through a performance? What do you hope they come away with?
DD: I hope they come away with a very serious extraction from their daily life. I hope when they enter the space that we create that they forget about the shitty day they had or whatever familial pressures are weighing on them. Whatever is plaguing their immediate experience of life, they can just see something that’s not even closely related to that or closely related to anything they’ve done before they walked to our space and give them that brief respite of transcendence or beauty that is extremely charged and pointed as a gift and a direct kind of invocation in their presence. I think that’s really important. That, by no means, is my own philosophy. This is just me doing what my hero bands have done for me and trying to carry on that lineage. I can name a handful of bands that have done that for me. That’s the reason I do this in a lot of ways. One being a band called Master Musicians of Bukkake. They’re a band from Seattle and they’re one of the coolest performance artists bands ever. If you’ve never heard of them, check them out. Lumerians. Have you heard of them? They’re from San Francisco. They employ theatrics as well and they make you feel like you’re on another planet when you hear their music. Even Swans. Even though they don’t dress up and do all that kind of stuff, it’s incredible when you watch them play. There’s nothing about their performance that relates to normal existence. It’s bands like that that I find to be really fascinating. Even seeing Death in June play and seeing Douglas in his mask and his weird camo fatigue. Nothing about that I can relate to in my normal life. You only see it on the stage. You don’t see anyone who looks like that during the day. When I watch him play, and Death in June as a band, play, I just am like, This is transcendent. This erodes my idea of normalcy. That’s really important to do.