Always Something New: An Interview with Dan Johnson of Age of Infernal

Dan Johnson is a musician based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Performing as Age of Infernal, he has released an album of incredibly tight prog-influenced tracks titled Just for the Hell of It. As the project’s name may suggest, the album strikes an interesting balance between darkness and light. I recently had a chance to talk with Dan about this curious balance as well as the journey that took him away from — and eventually led back to — music.

Your lyrics are ostensibly about magic and madness, but I also get a sense that there’s some social commentary going on, especially with respect to technology and possibly social media. Am I on the right track?

Absolutely, you’re along the right track with regards to the lyrics. I had the intention not to make anything too explicit, or obvious, in regards to the meaning behind the words generally (although I’m sure most people would get the gist of what I’m talking about if they were to have a read through the lyrics!). I’ve always quite liked things to be as open to interpretation as possible. The first track on the album ‘Conjurers of Magick’ is possibly the most explicit in what the lyrics are getting at, and of course technology, and all of its unintended or unaccounted for side effects, is part of what that song is talking about, and also something that’s playing a big part in the world right now. Social media also comes into it! I suppose even more generally, that song is about oppression. 

There are many interesting and exciting things going on in the world, but in amongst it all, one can’t help but wonder sometimes if the incessant driving towards convenience isn’t actually making things worse, in many ways, for the planet and all of the species that live on it. 

Most of the other tracks are coming from more of an introspective place. So there’s all this stuff going on in the world, and it’s easy to look outwardly and blame all of your problems on other people, but what happens when we look at ourselves, and how we are acting, interacting, reacting to what’s happening in the outside (of our own heads) world?

Am I a model citizen, or father, or partner, or neighbour (etc)? Am I even a ‘good’ person? The answer to most of these things for me is NO, so that tells me that there’s a lot of work to be done on a personal level first and foremost!

That said, I feel like your songs fall comfortably in a tradition of what might be considered socially-conscious prog rock. I’m thinking about bands like Pink Floyd, Rush, Genesis, and maybe even King Crimson—bands that are interested in what’s going on behind the curtain, as it were. Do you feel an affinity with bands like these? What attracts you to them, both in terms of lyrics and music?

Yes! I love Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. Genesis too, although mostly there earlier stuff has been of interest to me. Rush I am not overly familiar with somehow, I’m not quite sure how that happened (or didn’t happen!). I think lyrically, in my view, Roger Waters is just so good! Whether or not you agree with him politically or not, there’s no denying the heartfelt and pure, honest truth (in regards to his own experience, that is) that he manages to put across through his words. Musically, Dave Gilmour was probably my first ‘favourite’ guitar player! I spent many an hour back in the day trying to imitate old Dave, haha! King Crimson I’d say is more of a musical inspiration too, Bob Fripp is such a unique guitarist and composer, its no wonder he’s played on records for just about everyone! And then the 80’s line up with Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford, is like another band altogether. I love tracks like ‘frame by frame’ from this period/lineup. 

There’s obviously something dark about your songs — the project is called Age of Infernal, after all! But there’s also some humor. How do you balance the two, and why do you think it’s important to do so?

I think one has to maintain some amount of humour in the face of life, and all it can throw at you! When humour, or the ability to laugh at oneself, or the hardships of life etc. is gone, you’re possibly getting into hellish territory! Of course it’s necessary to look at things in a serious context sometimes, and some things really aren’t funny, so there has to be some amount of balance between the two perspectives.   

What was the recording process like forJust for the Hell of It

The recording process was pretty tricky actually. Everything apart from bass and vocals was recorded on my little laptop, using Logic Pro. 

The guitars were tracked at home with an amp (Blackstar HT-5), and mic. It was a case of trying to be ready, so as when a window of opportunity appeared at home, I’d quickly get the stuff set up and record as many parts as I could in the time I had free. It was also a case of hoping that the neighbours wouldn’t come banging my door down and tell me to shut up, haha! 

With the bass, I’d recorded some tracks with my guitar and octave pedal, and then sent those to my friend John, and he’d interpret my parts and record them with a real bass.

The vocals were recorded with Guillaume, who done the mixing and mastering too. He had me down to his home studio and the vocals were all recorded over three days. That was a great experience for a couple of reasons; it was good for me to get out of my own comfort zone, and actually feel like I was almost a ‘professional’ for a few days, and; the gear that I was singing through I believe was about 8-10 grands worth! So that was possibly a one off, as I’m not sure if I’ll ever be singing through that standard of equipment again!

All in all, it was a process of learning. I’m over the moon that I was able to get it together, and come out of it with something I can be relatively happy with.

I was actually surprised to see in your Bandcamp notes that the drums on the album are programmed. How did you get them to sound so live? 

The drums… I had some help from my old drummer and friend Tam, and also the drummer function in Logic Pro! Anyone using logic will know what I’m talking about there. Basically I would use the drummer function to get things started off, and then when Tam was involved he’d get into the parts and make them more fitting to the riffs or whatever of each song/parts of songs. We ran out of time for Tam to finish off, so I done a bit of that myself too. But I think it’s really the logic drummer that enabled this whole thing to happen, without that I may have been struggling to get most of the songs together! I did actually play some real bongos and tambourine on the track ‘Disillusionment’ myself, those were also recorded in Guillaume’s home studio. 

I understand that you took a break from music for a while and then returned to it. Why did you take a break, and what led you to come back? How does it feel to be making music again?

It feels really amazing to be creative again, if a little frustrating with the time constraints! There are many reasons why I took a break from music, and it wasn’t necessarily by choice that I spent as long as I did (probably the best part of eight years or so!) without playing the guitar or writing. My band had basically fallen apart, and during the course of that my partner fell pregnant with our second son, so it became clear that I’d have to step up to the plate and get a real job again, so as to provide for my family. The band break led to some (musical) depression, and generally my involvement with, and enthusiasm for music eventually whittled down to nothing. I didn’t actually listen to much music during most of that time either, or not intentionally anyway. Of course I heard things on the radio, or if I was somewhere that music was playing etc, but I went from listening to music every day to barely listening to anything! 

I’m not exactly sure how or why the urge to play and write came back. I’d began to dabble in learning about writing fugues for piano (after rereading a book which had sparked some interest), and after a while I had developed a bit of a creative buzz within myself again. That led me to pick up my guitar and see if I could come up with anything that felt fresh and good to me, and basically that was the start of the process of writing what became the album. 

You liven Edinburgh. What’s the music scene like there? Any bands I should look for if I’m ever in town?

I have to be honest and say that I don’t get out much to see live music at this point, so I can’t really answer this question! I’m not sure there’s an Edinburgh music ’scene’, so to speak, but there may well be, and I just don’t know about it, haha! I’m currently looking for a drummer with the view to getting a band together and playing live again, so maybe I’ll be more enlightened in that respect soon enough (if I manage to get a band together, that is!)

I know it can be tough being an indie musician. What keeps you going?  

I guess what keeps any musician, or indeed creative people generally going, is the potential that there’s always something new to be created.

There’s something really cool about how many amazingly good bands/artists/creative people you can find nowadays (perhaps that’s one of the the upsides to social media!). In the past, a lot of guys will have had practically no means to get there creations ‘out there’, whereas now one only needs a laptop with an audio interface, and boom, you have a basic studio at your fingertips! On the other end of it, it can be a bit difficult to self promote, certainly I’ve felt that myself recently while trying to do a bit of online promo! You don’t want to annoy people, but also you don’t want your album/ep/single (which you’ve likely spent a lot of time and energy, and perhaps even money, on) to disappear into relative nothingness! It can feel like a precarious rope to tread. I’ve been trying to maintain the point of view of; if ANYBODY is listening, or has listened, than that’s a win! Any feedback received from fellow musicians and creative people is also helpful, and I’ve found a really good group of folks on twitter who are all in the same or similar boats, so that’s been good finding like-minded people that are happy to engage and give each other little bits of feedback etc…

To put it another way, why does indie music matter? 

It matters because; anything that someone has poured their heart and soul, time and effort into, is worthwhile. Just because you’re perhaps not going to hit number one in the charts, doesn’t mean that what you’re creating is worthless. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s worth MORE, haha! It’s the creative endeavour, and process, that for me is the important part of it. I think that’s something I’ll always try to keep in mind.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Currently I’m working on a collaboration for a track with an artist I met on twitter, We Have Divine Fire. I’m looking forward to getting that done. Then I will be working on some new material for the next Age of Infernal project (which right now I have no idea what it’ll be!). Also there’s another couple of collabs in the pipeline for later in the year. I have some acoustic songs, old and new, which I’d like to get together as an album or an ep at some point too, although that may not be done/released under the Age of Infernal name… 

Plenty to be getting cracked on with when time and brain allows it! 

Interview by Marc Schuster

5 Seconds: An Interview with Ruiz

Before going solo, self-described “enjoyer of chaos” and DIY music-maker Ruiz (Hugh Ruiz, if you want to be formal about it) had been playing in bands for years: The Only Fruit, AFID, the Better Ford Clinic, obLONG, Colt, and the Clear. A couple of years ago, Ruiz started recording on his own—writing, playing, and singing everything. The song of his that initially caught my ear was his most recent, “5 Seconds,” a grooving tune that brought to mind Mutations-era Beck, specifically “Tropicalia.”

You’ve been playing music for years now. What prompted you to step up to the mic, as it were, and go solo?

The beginning of Covid meant that we were all confined to our homes. I found myself forced to spend time with my Mac, and I decided that I had to overcome my fear of GarageBand not doing exactly what I wanted it to do immediately. I’ve always played in bands as the bass player, and had never dared sing or even write a song. I’d always contributed to songs in all my bands but never a whole song. So Covid was the catalyst. Once I started, I haven’t been able to stop. It’s been very cathartic and loads of fun. It has been challenging, so worth it though. I’m so humbled by people’s reactions to my music. It’s been very encouraging.

What did you learn from all of the touring and recording you did with other bands? How did it translate to your latest efforts?

I learned that patience is a virtue. Nothing is written in stone and to accept criticism. I always start with the music and mess about until I have something I like. I never write for the sake of writing and I do find the lyrics the hardest thing to do. I guess what I’ve learned is that you need to believe in yourself and to enjoy it. If you don’t like it, what’s the point. I have a collection of tunes that I started and then decided to put them on the back burner as I wasn’t enjoying them. I’ve revisited some months later and really liked them again, so I finished them.

Your music has a strong Brit-pop vibe. I’m hearing echoes of Pulp and, going way back, a bit of the Kinks as well. Is there a particular sound you’re going for? What inspires you?

I was really into the Brit-pop vibe at the time. Living in Sheffield meant we got to know the Pulp boys and girl. Jarvis is a great songsmith. There were loads of bands at the time. I was in one called The Only Fruit that was very of-the-time. The Longpigs were always another great influence. Let’s not forget the Human League and the huge amounts of electronica that has come out of Sheffield. The Warp label was founded here too.

I love so many bands, The The, Adam and the Ants, XTC, The Police, and I think that comes out in my music.

The band that I’ve been closest to has to be the Beatles. However, the Kinks, Small Faces, Pink Floyd have always been playing. I also love the American influences I have: the Pixies, REM, Sonic Youth, Sugar, Smashing Pumpkins, the list goes on and on.

I have great love of early synth bands, OMD, Kraftwerk (so excited to beg going to see these guys at the GreenMan festival in August!!), Can.

I just love music so much and I think it comes out in my writing. I don’t have a particular sound in mind. I’ve been absorbing music since a small child and now it’s all coming out.

I was definitely more into Blur than Oasis though…

You’ve just named a lot of my favorite bands! I’m curious about your cover of “Across the Universe.” What is it about that particular Beatles tune that made you want to do your own version?

As I mentioned earlier, I love the Beatles. I just love that song, it’s Lennon at his best. I’ve always found myself singing harmonies over the original. I decided to have a go at it, and I’m really happy with the way it came out.

You also have a song about Keith Floyd. Can you say a little bit about who he was and why inspired you to write a song?

Keith Floyd was a British TV chef. He was one of the first guys to get a program, and he was very chaotic in his delivery and life in general. A very sad character in reality who suffered greatly in his personal life. He tried many different avenues work-wise, opened various restaurants that were very popular yet never made a profit, so they all closed. He ended up bankrupt several times. His generosity was well beyond his ability, often buying huge rounds of drinks that he couldn’t afford. He always had a glass of wine on the go, and you could tell he was a bit drunk. He always made time for one last slurp. Anyhow, my friend Tracy and I were talking about him and she said why don’t you write a song about him? So I did!

You’re originally from Spain and moved to the United Kingdom, is that right? How old were you when you moved, and what was the transition like?

My family are Catalan, Spain was under the Franco dictatorship, and at the time Catalan Culture was totally banned (sadly this is still happening) so my parents moved over to the UK. I was a baby, but I grew up only speaking Catalan, which I thought was a secret language only spoken by my “familia.” It was a bit weird at first. The northeast of England, where I grew up, was very white and didn’t take to “foreigners” that well at the time. I experienced racism and sadly grew to be embarrassed by my parents’ odd accents. Things are very different now, thank god. There’s still some way to go but generally society is much more accepting of difference.

Along similar lines, how has living in two cultures influenced your outlook, particularly with respect to music and songwriting?

I discovered I am now much more English than Spanish. I’ve been here for the majority of my life and between you and me, I much prefer the music here, but don’t tell anyone!

From being a baby I was played a lot of Cuban music (my mum’s mum was from there) which I love. I love the Brazilian sambas, the Latin vibe is awesome. I love Flamenco rhythms too.

My songwriting just happens and I’m often surprised with what I’ve come up with. I love percussion and syncopation.

I also understand that you’re dealing with long COVID. Does that inform your music as well?

I’ve had a long time in bed to try and think about things, for sure. The Brain Fog hasn’t helped as I get overwhelmed quite easily. I keep forgetting what I’m doing, but I am getting better.

The world has definitely changed over the last few years. I have written some Covid related songs one of which I hope to release as a single, and they’ll definitely be on my next album.

I love the phrase “enjoyer of chaos.” What does it mean to you? How does it play out in your life as musician—or even life in general?

Ha, that’s a great question! I find that in my life things have become quite chaotic over the years. I am a secondary school teacher, too, and this has brought its ups and downs. I love it all though. I also became a parent five years ago, and we have two twin girls. You can only imagine the joys they bring.

Life would be so boring if it was simple and easy, would’t it?

Definitely! What’s next?

I am writing a lot. I’m going to complete my sophomore album. It’s moving in a slightly different direction. I’m experimenting more with synths but the (Iberian) psychedelic will remain, I’m sure.

I’d love so much to get a band together too and do some gigs. I’d be quite out of my comfort zone, but it would amazing. I think David Bowie said, “If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area.”

Keep on keeping on!

That’s a great quote! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

It’s been my absolute pleasure, thank you so much for asking.

Music Is the Winner: An Interview with the Founder of Sunshine Music iRadio

According to their website, Sunshine Music iRadio is “a new internet radio station that has a love of all types of music!” Dedicated to giving bands, singers, DJ’s and independent artists more exposure and airplay, they also aim to give listeners more of a say in how the station is run and the content it puts it out. Though they have yet to begin broadcasting, the wheels are in motion. 

Let’s start with some basics. I’ve seen the term “iRadio” around for a little while now, but I’ve never been exactly sure of what it means. Is the “i” for “internet”? “Interactive”? A bit of both?  Would you mind explaining it to me?

Sure. For our station it means both. We want people to be able to recognize it’s an internet radio station and with internet radio stations growing by over 400% in the last couple years we felt it was important to have that distinction. 

We also want the station to be interactive with our listeners, that’s one thing that is really important to us. We recently added a new feature “Have Your Say” to the website for listeners to use when we finally go live. This feature is for listeners to rate us on how well we’re doing, but also to send us suggestions on how the station operates. We want our listeners to feel this is their station as well as ours, Having said that though, we won’t act on every suggestion that may end up on our desk! The one thing we can promise people, is that we will look at every suggestion and if it’s a viable suggestion and it improves the station then we will implement it. As far as we’re concerned, many minds are far better than just ours!

Got it! Thanks for the clarification! Where did the idea for Sunshine Music iRadio come from? Who are its founders? What’s their background? 

With Covid being such a big disruptive part of everyone’s lives over the last couple of years, I wanted to pursue something that was Covid-proof, so to speak. After seeing and hearing all the amazing music that was about, I decided that this was a path I was going to pursue.

Jessica and I are the initial founders, With Em & Nik coming on board further on in the process. Jessica works full time and helps out in her spare time, I work full time on this, with Em and Nik helping out where and when needed.

As for backgrounds, we’re not radio people, we just love the music! Jessica is involved in the iGaming sector, I have transport and security background, working in places like, London, Iraq and Libya. I also used to make dance music over 20 years ago, which is how I met Em! 

Em and Nik have jobs, but are also DJ’s with Em also being a tutor to young people who want to be a DJ! So we’re all completely green when it comes to running a radio station, but we made that clear right from the start! We are learning everyday and having fun while we’re setting it up too!

Is the station a moneymaking endeavor, or is it largely philanthropic in terms of gaining exposure for new artists and providing listeners with good music?

Both! At the moment I’m the only one who works full time, the rest of the team chip in where they can. We want to get it to a point where we don’t have volunteers so to speak, we want to be able to pay people, so their focus can be 100% full time on the station, on the artists & music, plus we have other bigger plans for the future too. 

With all the great music that is around today, we want to give these guys a platform to be heard and attract new fans/followers.

I like the idea of helping independent artists, but I also know that there are a lot of us out there. How do you decide whose music to play? Do your DJs get a say?

Helping unsigned/independent artists is the whole point of this station. I deal with all the music submissions personally, with the standard of music in general being exceptional! First thing we look at whatever the type of submission, is the quality of the recording. We have set our submission requirements high, not because we’re being difficult, but because we want the listener to be so impressed with the music that they hear! We understand not everyone can record at Abbey Road studios, but with the amazing software around a high quality recording can still be achieved.

There have been a few submissions that we have felt not a good fit for the station. When we get that type of submission, it will get put forward to the team and a team decision is taken. In general though we’ve accepted I’d say about 95% of music submitted.

We’re not accepting explicit submissions at the moment, but we are looking into creating a show for MixCloud or a similar platform where this can be hosted. We’ve taken that decision with two things in mind: being internet radio we have no watershed time as it’s global, plus these days there are just far too many Karens out there who get triggered by the slightest thing and, being perfectly honest, we don’t have the time to give the Karens of this world the time. That just takes away time from the music!

Speaking of DJs, I see you have a strong roster and that your DJs have a wide range of musical tastes. It reminds me a bit of my college radio days! Do you feel like diversity, defined broadly, is missing from “traditional” radio? Does bringing musical diversity to your station pose any challenges or present any opportunities?

I see a lot of stations out there playing it safe and fair play to them, if it works for them, then music is the winner! I see lot’s of stations just playing Indie or Rock for example and again, music is the winner, which is what it’s all about! We’d like to play as many different genres as we can and have a bit of variety, introducing new music to people that may not normally listen to a certain type of music. 

Our selection of presenters is vary varied and that in my humble opinion can only be a good thing for music! We don’t see that posing any challenges, for me, that just brings opportunities!

Will your DJs broadcast live or will their shows be prerecorded? 

We’re not the BBC, we’re not paying people (at the moment), so obviously we don’t have a full quota of presenters. So to start with, it will be a mixture of Live, Pre-Recorded & Automation. Our aim is to get it presented fully live as soon as we can, that’s the plan!

In addition to being an iRadio station, Sunshine Music also offers podcasts. How do you see the two endeavors complementing each other?

We have podcasts that are for both artists and listeners to participate in, all with one goal in mind …. Music! We feel there are people who don’t listen to radio normally, but are avid podcast listeners and vice versa, people who don’t listen to podcasts, but listen to radio! So we are hoping to possibly convert both types into listening to the other medium. Either way, it’s about promoting the great music that’s out there.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in terms of getting the station going?

As I stated earlier, we’re not radio people and we are learning every day! Unfortunately we’ve taken some poor advice from so-called radio professionals, which has had a big impact on us at times! I take full responsibility for that, as I ultimately make the final decisions, but it is what it is! 

We changed our station supplier a week before the first launch date, due to several issues that arose. We now have an amazing station software supplier that does everything it says it will enable us to function as a proper station, rather than a music curation station!

This comes with its own drawbacks. It is requiring a much heavier financial investment along with the complexities of the software. The new system we are using is far more complex, so we’re all having to learn how to use & operate it etc.

The main challenge with the new system, is building the library! We are having to catalogue everything with far more care and detail than our previous suppliers library. Also, the system has rules for each individual track which is massively time consuming, but once this is set up properly, it will ensure all artists get equal airplay and not favour or allow a presenter to favour one artist more than the rest. 

So this is the critical thing really, building that foundation is vital, but also very time consuming too. It will all be worth it in the end, that I’m certain of and I’m far more positive about the future now with our new software supplier!

Do you have a launch date in mind? 

I would say April some time, I’m not going to give a concrete date like we did before and look stupid again, definitely a lesson learned there! We are taking our time with the new system and working hard with some long hours being put in to make sure it’s right and not rush like we did before. What I will say, I think it will be worth the wait (hopefully!).

What about long-term plans? How do you envision Sunshine Music iRadio growing over time?

We have major plans for the future with there being some seriously exciting off shoots to the station! I’m not going to go into detail, as our main priority is to get the station up and running first and the podcasts rolling out, iron out all the little issues I am sure will arise after launch, then we can talk more. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!