Insect Ark’s debut LP sounds a bit like the soundtrack to one of history’s greatest films that was never made. The album, Portal/Well, was released this June. The release, an instrumental, displays a sonic narrative battle between the folk and the postmodern and also the natural and unnatural (not that those two fights are mutually exclusive… or ever exclusive). It includes lap steel guitars bashing up against drum machines and synthesizers, serving as a sort of metaphor for our anxiousness to embrace (and rely on) new technologies, while not wanting to seem as though we believe the past to be meaningless or, even worse, worthless. The sound of Insect Ark is often described as “doom [something],” a term that we seem to be most comfortable ascribing to beautifully violent blends of past and future… The composer, multi-instrumentalist, and mastermind behind Insect Ark is Brooklyn musician Dana Schechter, who’s been putting out music under the Insect Ark moniker since 2012. She’s also brought a stunning, striking, and slightly terrifying live show to many of the country’s most unique and intimate settings. Earlier this year Insect Ark gained a second member, Ashley Spungin, who provides drums and programming. I recently had a chance to chat with Dana about Insect Ark’s short history and her own artistic background.
Izzy Cihak: You recently released your debut LP. What have been your highlights since the release, whether favorite reactions to it or any favorite experiences since you’ve toured the album?
Dana Schechter: I have to say, I’m definitely glad the album is getting a good reception, from music fans and also the press. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like it, or “get it.” When you make any kind of art you have to use your own judgement if it’s good, needs more work, is better tossed out, and so on. You can work on it forever and do your very best, but you can’t know if anyone will respond to it. I worked until I was satisfied with the record, which is all I can do. I’m glad that people are enjoying it. I’ve heard people say it’s disturbing and bleak. However people interpret it is their prerogative, so I’m fine with that reaction.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences, whether from the world of music or just certain aspects of the human experience? I understand you have a lot of broad, non-musical influences, relating to the current state of the world, but are there any particular or specific issues that especially drive your artistic output?
Dana: It’s hard to untangle or define. Life is crazy, unstable, glorious, heartbreaking, and filled with joy. There is a lot of push and pull in the human experience, and we all grapple with it constantly. I think it’s more of a broad emotional life experience in general that feeds into the music. It may not be the most upbeat, but so it goes. With it I offer my contribution to the big swimming pool of art, that again, people can take as they will.
Izzy: And is there anything that you think is especially important for people to know about your process of creating?
Dana: It’s in there. I’m fairly low key in that I don’t want (or feel the need) to explain it. My voice isn’t needed in the din of static.
Izzy: I really dig all of the visual elements of Insect Ark, from your music videos to your album art and your live performances, so I have to ask: What is it that inspires the visuals of Insect Ark? Are there any particular works of art or visual artists that you’re especially into or find especially inspiring? Tarkovsky (and, to a much lesser degree, von Trier… not that they’re mutually exclusive) come to mind, for me, if only for the stark juxtaposition of the relationship between “humans” and “nature.” (I’m a humanities professor, so I feel inclined to confine most popular rhetoric to quotation marks.)
Dana: Thanks, Izzy, I’m glad you like it. Growing up in the city probably has something to do with my reverie for nature and the peace it holds, because I never had it, and I still don’t. I have love for the stillness and the otherworldly quality it retains; I like the shapes and textures and smells. But it isn’t going to last, so I dream about it and simultaneously mourn for it. I’m angry and disappointed that humans are so short-sighted and greedy that they’d systematically destroy each other and the earth – endless development, murdering each other in the name of god and power, poisoning our food and water, as if there were no consequences.
I was raised by artists and I grew up really into surrealist painters, dioramas and miniatures, bugs, and small mechanical devices. I prefer to listen than to talk, especially around strangers. Many things that make up “life” have found their way in, but as far as output goes, very few of Insect Ark’s visuals are directly inspired by any one style or artist. One exception is the “Long Arms” video, directed by Chris Carlone, which was somewhat of an homage to Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse. But beyond that, I can’t really separate the process of inspiration. Experiences get all mashed up before output. But, I do think about the human condition a lot. I’ll see an old shoe lying in the gutter, a woman crying beside the road, or notice how one person glances at another across a table; each has a story that I will never know. I enjoy completing their stories, as a sort of entertainment I suppose.
Izzy: And finally, what’s next for you? What do you have planned for the immediate future, the second half of 2015 and maybe even the first part of 2016?
Dana: Well, I have a drummer now, Ashley Spungin. We’re touring on the West Coast this August, for ten shows, supporting Locrian from Chicago. We’ll be working on new material then touring Europe in November, and possibly in Spring 2016 as well. I work as a freelance animator for film and TV in New York City, so that keeps me busy – but I’m working on something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, a full-length animated visual projection for our live shows, which I’ll design, animate and edit. I hope that will be ready for our shows in 2016.