An Interview with SEVERANCE ~ Goth Rock from Monterrey, Mexico
by Lisa Miles
Almost every week since mid-November, it seems, the band Severance has been riding high with breaking and daily good news. Things got rolling with the release of the single “New Cult” to accompanying praise by October Burns Black / The Wake’s James Tramel and other “elder goths,” an expression frontman Rul Delirio and this writer mutually tagged. Next up was the inclusion in the Sui generis compilation (Madrid), as well as an explosion of airplay on worldwide radio podcasts. The New Year started with the announcement that the band had made a deal with Deepland Records for the CD release of the album, entitled THRESHOLDS, as well as two more over the next three years. Soon thereafter was the revelation that Deadfall Management (UK) is to represent the band moving forward.
But a pre-meditated PR campaign it was not, and the band’s humility and grace in dealing with their fortunes has been evident with every public reply and thank-you to their supporters famed and (mainly) otherwise. As well, the seriousness with which they approach their art, paired with good humor, is often apparent…
Back in 2015, Severance played Mexico City with Finland’s Goth legends, TWO WITCHES. Guitarist Carlo Vargas was happy to share an anecdote, when I interviewed the band members on Jan. 25th; “Here we are, up on stage early, and Two Witches arrive to the venue during our soundcheck… We look out to see our waiter get to our table with a bucket of Coronas that we had ordered. He lays it down, and The Witches, nearby, think it is courtesy of the house, and start in!! [Laughs].” Carlo continues, “Of course, later before we play, Marko of the Witches comes to give us his congrats for the show, and we drank together and had very good time– a good guy, easy to hang out with.”
Carlo’s postscript to me was, “If you can put it funnier, please do, Lisa.” But then expresses, ”If its good to add– they maybe still don’t know it was our beer!”
But now, on the cusp of THRESHOLDS February 1st digital format release date, they just may find out! For the stars are aligned for Severance still– this time related to the Witches. The morning after our Interview, Severance was invited to play main stage of the long-running Lumous Gothic Festival in Tampere, Finland mid-July, organized by Jyrki Witch– and they are accepting. So says Carlo now, “It’s worth the bucket of Coronas!!”
I proposed this Interview of SEVERANCE to Jason Ledyard (DJ Jason) a short time ago, as my friend, Ed Shorrock, and I humorously vied for “rights” to write it and an album review via a Facebook comment thread. I wanted the Interview, as I had already reviewed “New Cult” after Rul and I got to talking in November about music-making and life. Anyone that called my electric violin playing “kick ass” was alright by me, plus I especially liked the edge I heard in Severance’s cool Goth sound. Turns out, he would become a good friend and musical colleague, with his band of brothers in tow.
In getting to talk with the four members of the band, I wanted to know right off the bat a little more about the title of the album, to which Rul offered, after a good deal of contemplation: “THRESHOLDS is about different states of mind, different stories, different doors…”
He continued, “I write a lot about the darkest side of human being.” Rul had commented earlier to me that he creates his lyrics, vocals and guitar parts more by instinct than studied thought. (I could relate… as well as feel more comfortable diving a little deeper.) The lyrics he constructs for Severance are definitely intense, and often talk of “scars, mistakes, past pain…” mixed with energy and angst and desire, as well as his interest in (but not obsession with) elements of mysticism (especially H. P. Lovecraft).
Rul had expressed that there are always “things to discover in our inner self,” and though several songs (and likely future ones, as well) deal with the mystical, such interest is woven into his larger drive for introspection and renewal, working out ‘el angel’ and ‘el diablo.’ “I write songs for redemption.”
“Sometimes i wonder if we change through the years and become more angry or sad,” he had once said to me, while we discussed the reality that artists often use music “as an instrument to liberate all the negativity that surrounds us.” (Rul’s quote) “When a person can´t find a way to be free, he brings illness to his life, I think,” he expressed. And his music allows him that freedom. “With music, life is good. Music is what I am all about.”
“Rul and Carlo, I know you guys have known each other since before high school. Want to share any background on those beginnings? And then how did Hugo and Marco get pulled in?”
Carlo: “Actually Hugo knew us from back then, too. We use to hang out every weekend listening to street punk bands and having beer, just a couple of years before high school.”
Hugo: “We shared a lot of beer at Rul’s house.”
Carlo: “Marco went to hear us at a Christian Death show that we opened with [the earlier incarnation of Severance] The Six Six Sixers. He liked the band, and he contacted us after that.”
Carlo: “Then we started getting more serious about music. And the meanings… the lyrics, more…”
Good time for me to ask Rul if the guys are always comfortable with his lyrics. He laughs and says only, “Oh I don’t know.” I knew of an inside joke per one of the song titles getting creatively altered by the guys. But instead I’ll share that these four get along remarkably well when it comes to the give-and-take of praise, and banter less-so, in their work together:
“Carlo really captures the mystery of ‘The Escapist’ with his guitar, I think,” offered Rul. This from an earlier moment of reflection, where he also showed humor and insight into his interactions with his bandmates: “My drummer suffers a little with me. I’m always checking drums… meanwhile I’m singing and playing… ‘wtf was that, man?’ You know.’” [laughs]
I was then remembering (and checked the trusty messenger documentation) that back in mid-November, Rul had told me,”Today my drummer [Marco Soma] will go to the studio to master the track. His teacher engineered a Bowie track Valentine´s day, so we have high expectations for the master of the album!” [laughs] In fact, though the album was mixed by all the guys in Severance, Marco played a large part and alone was charged with the mastering.
It meant a lot to Rul that Carlo felt the lyrics for “Shell My Skin”– written just toward the end of the year– were his favorite of the album. And says Carlo (this also at an earlier moment than the Interview) about Rul and themselves as artists, “He is getting better and better all the time at vocals… all of us are becoming better musicians.”
As for comments on the creative process itself? Carlo jumps in, “Well in my case, I try to compose the guitar arrangements at dawn [laughs]… like around 3 o clock. It helps me get more inspiration to try to make my guitar speak.” (Accurate info, as confirmed by a hilarious comment Rul made to this writer about that very thing weeks earlier.)
Working instinctually, Rul nevertheless likes preparation, setting up for situations where he “hopes the song flows fast.” Rul writes lyrics and comes up with vocals and his rhythm guitar part… Carlo makes all the arrangements in the lead guitar….and bassist Hugo Alfredo Guerrero and Marco on drums work their magic composing touch.
The guys rehearse and record at Monterrey’s Sonic Terror studio, where they are oft found many nights of the week after their day work. At the mixing stage of the game, too, finalizing their parts, their personalities continue to come out. Rul is aware of his slight bent toward perfectionism, offering his most-used line at Sonic: “Wait. Maybe I need to re-record my vocals!’” [laughs]
“Do you really understand my lyrics?” Rul has asked this writer many times. “[Because] I mean what I am saying.” He takes his creative work seriously, here seemingly entering a new stage in his life and with his band. Working as a graphic designer by trade, he “listens to music all the time while working… with much satisfaction.” Things “catch [him]” in words as well as sounds (the lyricist / musician in him)… and “ways of describing” songs and phrasings seem especially significant to him, as of course the emotion behind a song. I believe, in getting to know Rul, that his aim is that “everything is clear” to his inner self. As much as he is reflective and sensitive… he is equally reticent! Despite desiring the listener to find meaning in his songs, the artist in him is quite content with the preference and inclination to cloud his lyrics (and persona) in “obscuridad.”
“Getting better, learning more every day” is what Rul has stated he is after– better at English, better at music and life and… better at Twitter! His efforts to “always try to do my best” (an expression that comes up over and over throughout our conversations) echoes the band’s. Both he and they are versed in welcoming new successes with the modest expression of “feeling honored,” more than any other. This, with continual expressions of striving to get to the next level as musicians.
Playing rhythm guitar, as well as vocal duties, keeps Rul in place in more ways than one on stage. “I wish I could dance all over the place but I need to sing. I try to focus on my voice… and I try to play guitar!” [laughs] Being a musician, myself, I believe the distinguishing quality of his artistry is found within those dynamic shifts in most songs– the pivot from luminous serenity to full-force throttle by the time verse makes it to chorus. And this “musicality that is so present in the fury,” which I described to him—was the feedback he most appreciated. “I thought those little details would go unnoticed.” There is no doubt in my mind that the subtle and explosive use of his voice, paired with Carlo’s intricate guitar stylings and the potent drum/bass combo, is what stands the songs of Severance up on a unique Goth stage.
I definitely wanted to ask the guys about how they each learned English and then decided to make it their chosen Goth language. Marco immediately offered that he was “good at speaking English, but my grammar is horrible… many typos.” Hugo? “I learned by the movies, songs and elementary school. I was at an English school where all the classes were in English. And we lived near to the border [family ranch, he shared earlier] so it was easier to go to the U.S. than central Mexico.” Carlo (whose English is also good) was mute on this question, as was Rul. But the latter knew I had his answer from previous conversation over “New Cult.” He had demurred at my desire to include it then, but with a little cajoling, is allowing it this time: “I learned with a big dictionary in hand when i was a kid. Trying to understand what Motley Crew and the Dead Kennedys were saying.”
Marco spoke up even more, though, before I moved onto the next topic. He was the only one of the four who was, shall we say, fairly comfortable communicating on messenger voice recorder to me that night, rather than texting. That grammar thing? [my laugh] Perhaps. But as the youngest of the four, he also seemed the least self-conscious (dare I use that word to describe four imposing Goth guys). He compiled the answers from all four guys to the “Why have Severance songs in English?” question. I guessed this due to the pause which was even longer than the already momentous ones all evening, as the four deeply pondered what to say of their band. Marco finally shot me off a voice reply. “First of all… all the influences we have, all the bands we heard… were in English. And basically because it was a better language. We could reach people in the world, you know? Most people hear music in English. So [even though we are here] in Mexico, it is better for people to hear our music in English. We can reach bigger, get out of Mexico, get to a bigger audience.”
This was a perfect lead-in to the close of the interview. I had wanted to congratulate Severance on their signing to Deepland and with Deadfall, and find out their aspirations moving forward with these connections. Too, to check in on the local scene regarding Goth in Mexico, and see how they view themselves and their place in modern Goth music.
Carlo states,” Yes, apart from the [Mexico City] Two Witches show, we have played in some local shows, by invitation of people who are not necessarily Goth fans. Goth music in our home town is very little. But we have been supported by other people, for example metal fans.” Rul added, “Mexico is very difficult for underground music.” I asked, “Have their been any gigs lined up at all, local or otherwise, for post-album release?” “Not yet, Lisa,” said Rul. (Little did he know what was on the horizon.) Back in December, he told me, “We have been busy recording, and need to rehearse again.” (Which they are already back at.) “We are always writing more music.” (Ditto.)
Hugo, who by the way adds a kick to the band with his side love of anti-fascist punk energy, offers that, “ We would like to play everywhere we can.”
Rul refines this statement a bit. “We hope we can get more attention with an album.” Then after a thoughtful pause, “I think that we are working to have a place in today’s gothic music.”
This interview was conducted late night after a rehearsal by the band at Sonic Terror. The guys were feeling sober and more awkward than I had ever before found them, as they wanted to eloquently express in English surely what was far easier to reflect on in Espanol in their minds. How to address their steady and strong motion forward, across musical boundaries and into international visibility as a Goth band? Rul’s last statement above says it best and encapsulates the mood of that night. But I will also offer his more-typical remark anytime the praise from the fans old and new gets too loud. “Now I feel that I should not disappoint in the following songs!” [Laugh-Grimace]
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THRESHOLDS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW & OUT WED FEB 1ST !
Official Deadfall Bio:
SEVERANCE is a gothic rock band out of Monterrey, Mexico that is strongly influenced by dark 80s Post-Punk and New Wave but with a distinctive quality all their own. Their sound has been shaped by the likes of Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and Fields of the Nephilim, but also Iggy Pop, Type O and formative influences in street-punk and hardcore. They have been putting out material since 2013 and have had a nice following in Latin America. Their first single “New Cult” (off the debut album, THRESHOLDS) was heard and well-received worldwide within just a couple weeks after inclusion in a Spanish goth compilation and numerous international radio show podcasts. As well, it received praise from noted musicians of the second wave of Goth Rock. With evocative lyrics, intricate and powerful vocals and guitar, potent bass and drums, and subtle and explosive dynamics, their songs are unique dark rock with an evident edge. The members—Rul Delirio (vox, lyrics, guitar), Carlo Vargas (guitar), Hugo Alfredo Guerrero (bass) and Marco Soma (drums)— are very excited about this debut album coming out on Deepland Records, February 2017.
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