Varien Returns: ‘Death Asked a Question’
“I’m not telling any fictional story here, I am showcasing the dark parts of
this year that I have been in – and I’d like for you to listen.”
Long considered one of America’s most mysterious, enigmatic and creative electronic music forces, Nick Kaelar aka Varien returns after a year away from the limelight with the title track from his brand new EP ‘Death Asked A Question’.
Dark, brooding and brimming with simmering emotion, ‘Death Asked A Question’ is a jarring piece of production from Varien, at times blissfully euphoric, then suddenly jittery, shuddering and almost uncomfortable. Industrial synths jut up against depth-ridden basslines, haunting vocals float across mesmerising piano segues, dark FX twitching and roaring in and out of the production, Varien allowing the ghosts of his past to manifest themselves as part of his composition process.
One of the Floridian’s most personal projects to date, the single is part of a 5-track collection and sees Varien move away from using his work to tell fantasy stories, instead using production to articulate elements of his own struggle with mental health and anxiety. It was a battle that ultimately led him to shut down social media platforms and disappear from his fans over a 12 month period, taking the time to confront personal demons and eventually realign his own sense of internal balance and wellbeing.
We were able to chat with Varien recently about his recent music contributions. Here’s what he had to say.
1. You’ve done a fantastic job on your most recent remix! What was your inspiration behind your remix of The Chainsmokers ‘This Feeling’?
Well, I’ve always loved synthwave and have released it on and off since my release Mirai Sekai, with 7 Minutes Dead, in 2014. Demos of mine that resemble synthwave as we know it today can be found going back to 2011! The 80s, although not living a single day in them, has always fascinated me culturally speaking. I grew up on a lot of cyberpunk stuff too like Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, etc. and so that is also something that is deeply embedded somewhere in my creative mind! The remix actually started off metal, but ultimately felt like some band somewhere on YouTube or Facebook would do a metal cover of it and it wasn’t that interesting after all. I wanted to do something beautiful, something fresh, but also a nod to that 2014-era Varien synthwave.
2. How did you get your start in music? Who influenced you and what would you say was your first big break in your music career?
I’ve been writing music since I first picked up a guitar at 11, and then the ideas really exploded when I started studying music theory and learning piano at 14. Bands just weren’t cutting it for me, so I did what many people do – produce! And that was when I was 19, when I started to take it seriously. I was, and am, inspired by so many people in terms of influences. When I was first producing though, I was heavily into IDM and Breakcore, so of course people like Aphex Twin, Venetian Snare, and Boards of Canada. Psychedelic ambient music still remains of my favorite kinds of music to this day, but artists like Shpongle, Ott, and Bluetech also were on my mind.
I’d say my first “break” was probably my most embarrassing one which was Justin Bieber 800% Slowed Down, a meme I did while playing with Paulstretch, a plugin I was using to achieve new textures. Boy, that blew up. The interview with Entertainment Weekly is still up and everything! It’s now a common thing to do in the film world, and for a while, people were discovering that pretty much anything sounds great if you drench it in reverb and delay and slow it down.
3. Any new music you’re working on that you can spill the beans on for your fans?
Sure, why not! I’m going to slowly and methodically be putting out new music next year that is going to vary in genre, like 2014-2015 era stuff, but much more focused and tied together. I never intend to confuse anyone, but I also don’t intend on making myself bored of myself by releasing the same genre for an entire year straight! Also more world music! I miss throwing in overtones of other cultures’ beautiful music in my stuff.
4. We hear you’ve scored some pieces in film and TV shows! What has been your favorite or most memorable project so far?
Memorable would have to be Furious 7, just for the set and setting it took place in. It all went down during the same sprint of explosive creativity that my first album, The Ancient & Arcane, came to be. It was challenging, but rewarding. That whole period of my life was very memorable actually, as I was living with Trivecta and creativity was never in short demand!
5. If you’re not working on music or being a rockstar working on film and TV, what would you be doing on your day off?
Alone with nature, soaking it in, in absolute silence. I love that. I also love going out with friends when our schedules align, and even doing something as simple as a deep conversation over sushi brings me a lot of joy. But nature is my #1 re-grounding force after working on so much in the digital world. 🙂