Producing electronic music since 2002, Irish-born Berlin-based Brendan Gregoriy is more widely known for his distinctive house and techno productions as Chymera. This might change with his new alias Merrin Karras and his debut record on A Strangely Isolated Place, which is an astonishing journey to the deepest depths of ambient music. Inspired by musicians like Klaus Schulze, Biosphere or Abul Mogard, ‘Apex’ is a timeless homage to the early pioneers of music and a love letter to the synthesiser. We chatted about his early inspirations and were also curious to know some more about his new alias and the new album, which will be released on 29th July.
Let’s go back to the time when Brendan Gregoriy became really fascinated with sounds for the first time. What made you interested in music?
It’s a cliché but I grew up in a musical house; my mother was a singer, my dad a drummer and later my step dad also a singer/songwriter. The first album I ever bought was Michael Jackson – Bad, which I still have to this day. But the point at which I decided I wanted to play and eventually make music was when I heard Metallica – Metallica. For some reason it just really connected with me and I immediately started learning how to play guitar. As soon as I could emulate the songs of my heroes note for note, I then started writing my own efforts.
You were born and raised in Ireland, how was the music scene back in the days when you started out? What did you find the most inspiring during those times?
Ireland was a divided place musically. When I was a teenager you were either a mosher or a raver. Moshers were into metal, grunge, alternative, anything heavy with guitars while ravers, were, well ravers. There was virtually no crossover. You picked your side, and you styled yourself appropriately. Sometime around the late 90’s the lines began to blur and with the advent of the new millennium the youth were more unified in their musical tastes. But those mid 90’s teenage years shaped me – I was heavily into all sorts of guitar based music, starting with the more brutal end and then mellowing out and expanding into different branches. It’s funny how many of my current friends and contemporaries in the techno world also started out listening to metal, alternative, industrial etc. It was in 2000 when I finally started getting into electronic music, learning how to DJ and in 2002 started making music on my computer.
2016 is a rather exciting year for you: you’re releasing new EPs on Ovum and Cocoon under your successful house-techno moniker Chymera but it’s also time for your debut album as Merrin Karras, your ambient project. Let’s take it step by step, tell us about the birth of Merrin Karras, how did you get in the mood for an ambient side project? You mentioned something about an unpleasant album recording experience in the press earlier.
The last album that I made was started in late 2010 and eventually finished a year and half later. I missed the deadline twice for it. I realised there and then, that I just don’t respond well to deadlines or external pressure. I sent every track to the label as I finished them, and that process itself was also deflating as it took a while to settle on tracks that we all agreed should fit on the album. There were long periods in the middle where I just refused to make any music, or tried to focus on something completely different to release myself from it. Even though I’m still really proud of the album, I was just being pulled in too many directions. When I started work on the Merrin Karras album, it was a completely personal project. Nobody asked me to make an album, nobody knew I was making an album, even I didn’t know I was making an album, it just gradually turned into one. And I spent time honing it, pruning out tracks that didn’t fit, getting it just right, before I started sending it out fully formed and presenting it as final. It’s 100% me from start to finish, not catering to anyone else, or what I think other people would like. It’s pure and unadulterated.
How about the name, Merrin Karras. Does it have anything to do with ‘The Exorcist’? How did you come up with it?
Like with my previous pseudonyms, they are always chosen for the sound first, rather than the meaning. In proper retcon mode, there’s something sort of fitting about it. Maybe this was a cathartic experience for me and the album is me purging myself of demons. Or maybe I’m just talking shit? You decide.
‘Apex’ was written during two winters. Are you more inspired in the winter time or was this just pure coincidence? Could you tell us a little bit about the creative process?
It coincided with a time when I had an external studio about 20 minutes from my apartment. Essentially it was too cold and I was too lazy to leave the house, so I had to make do with a limited home setup. The entire album was made on headphones and desktop PC speakers, while staring out my window at the frozen, snow covered courtyard. I think the mood of winter definitely influenced the sound, as it is slightly morose and chilly at points. My periods of creativity are generally unconnected to the seasons however. Every few months I get a two or three week window where I’m heavily productive, then again a few fallow months until the next creative window. Life also throws up many obstacles along the way, some of which I have defeated and some of which I’m still battling. In a perfect world I would make music all day every day, but nothing’s perfect.
If we compare Chymera with Merrin Karras, it does not actually seem to be such a bold step to sort of translate your previous atmospheric beats into ambient melodies. Do you think they live separate lives or do you think they are more related than most of us would think?
They both come from the same place, using mostly the same instruments. However stripping away the beats and percussion allows me greater freedom of expression. I don’t have to worry about how to craft a track for dancefloor precision. I approach them as separate entities, and that distinction helps me to focus on what’s at hand. Though if you were to layer some beats over the Merrin Karras, they probably would not be too dissimilar.
You’ve mentioned Steve Moore and Oneohtrix Point Never as your recent influences. Who else inspired you in your ambient journey?
Steve Moore and Oneohtrix Point Never were the starting point for this album. I first heard Steve’s Ep on L.I.E.S – Zero Point Field, and it was only a bit later when I connected the dots and realised that he was in Zombi, who I’d been a fan of already for a good few years. Then I bought Light Echoes, still one of my favourite albums. The thing that drew me in the most was that I thought, I can do this! I can make those synth sounds, I can hear each note and pad clearly. This is something that I could dissect and reinterpret. Oneohtrix point never is definitely more out there, but when I read that he made his early albums on a Juno 60, of which I have its younger brother the 106, I knew that I also had the means, to at least strike out on the same path. Though as everyone knows, it’s much much more than just your tools which make the artist what they are. I’m still very limited by my own abilities. There’s so much more than I want to achieve.
Through them I started exploring earlier pioneers like Klaus Schulze, Manuel Göttsching & Michael Hoenig as well as various contemporaries like Abul Mogard, Mick Chillage and Biosphere.
When you listen to music for your own pleasure, what genres do you prefer? Could you name a few favourites that you’ve recently discovered?
I’ve been going deeper down the ambient wormhole more than anything else. A few artists that I’ve been listening to heavily over the last year include Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Michael Stearns & Alessandro Cortini. More than anything, Steve Roach’s Structures from Silence has been my biggest revelation of the last 12 months. The moment I heard it, I knew I had been waiting my whole life for something like that.
The beauty of music is that it’s forever – it doesn’t matter if something was written hundreds of years ago, or just released last week. Music waits patiently for you to discover it. I don’t always need to voraciously keep searching for newer, fresher music. I’m happy relistening my favourite albums over and over again.
There are also a few artists from my teenage years who have come with me on this journey and I still listen to all the time, groups like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden and Neurosis.
What’s next as Merrin Karras? Do you plan on running both projects in parallel?
Without committing to anything, I’ve slowly started work on more Merrin Karras tracks which have already taken a more organic turn. A lot of ‘Apex’ was built on exactitude – razor sharp step sequencing and note placement and very quantised effects, which reflected my general working habits at the time. The new stuff I’m making is broadening my pallet of textures and techniques, but most importantly I’m just enjoying the journey. All good things take time.
I’m also still steadfastly working on new Chymera material and I have vague plans to launch a new moniker with a fresh concept though time will tell if that comes to pass.
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