JAMES NORBERT IVANYI Talks New EP The Usurper

Our homeboy James Norbert Ivanyi (who you may remember from last year’s Australia Week) is about to drop his new EP Usurper on April 13th, so we caught up with him to find out a bit about his process.

Congratulations on your new EP, The Usurper!

Thanks buddy! I’m very happy with how it turned out and hope people enjoy listening to it as much as I did making it.

You tend to put out EPs rather than full-length albums – why is that?

That’s true, however, in my mind I consider ‘Aphasia’ & ‘The Matter Circumvention’ to be my version of full lengths. I personally find 5 or 6 songs to be the right amount when it comes to instrumental music. Even my own music.
I try to maintain a consistency and flow throughout each record, and I’ve found at least with my own stuff that I’ve said everything I want to say in that amount of songs. ‘The Usurper’ is only 3 songs, and that’s because I only released ‘The Matter Circumvention’ the year previous, but mostly because
I’d like to try releasing shorter EP’s. but more frequently moving forward. I’m interested to see how that method works, plus it means the music I’m releasing always reflects where I’m at. Too often by the time I release something, I’m well past it and onto the next thing. I’m going to attempt to close the gap on that feeling, if you will.

Do you have any intention to do a full-length in the future?

Of course, but probably for a different project. If I was going to do another full-length with my solo stuff, I imagine it would be the same amount of songs as my previous records… but who knows!

Tell us about the artist who does your covers.

Jeff Christensen is a surrealist artist based out of the states, who paints psychedelic, dream like pieces, almost from another dimension that is both horrifying and enchanting to view. My father was an artist and I’ve been surrounded by art my whole life. I became aware of Jeff’s work through some underground dark art forums that I lurk around in and was instantly hooked. It became a bit of a dream of mine to work with him on something in the future, and I thought his work would perfectly represent the kind of visual I was going for with ‘The Matter Circumvention’ which plays at how easily people can be fooled. I sent him the song ‘Thumb Trick’ and asked if would be interested. Luckily he was, and we’ve since worked together again on the cover of ‘The Usurper’, which portrays my frustrations with corrupt legal systems around the world. Having experienced it first hand with the murder of my father in a third world country 10 years ago, it’s something that affects me to this day, and I harbor a lot of malevolence because of it which I channeled into the EP.

Any new influences on this one? Who were you listening to while you wrote these songs?

It’s funny actually, when I’m working on music (which is almost always) I tend to not listen to any other music. The reason for that is because when I’m not in the studio, I’m listening to the drafts and edits of what I’m working on, which helps me dream up the next part in my mind. Because of that, I almost have no time (or interest) to listen to anything else. I was however very in touch with my early influences in my heart while writing and laying the ground work for the tones. Much more than ever before, I really tried to get myself in the headset of the construct of 60’s and 70’s records, but maintain the modern, heavier elements. It was a challenge, but the result was really rewarding and fun to experiment with. I also remained mindful of the texture of all of my favorite old horror movie soundtracks, that tend to have an almost cheesy, circus like sound to them. I’m a big fan of that, so I tried to incorporate that into the music as well.

What kind of gear did you use to record this one?

Straight off the bat, I knew things were going to have to be a little different with ‘The Usurper’. Imagining the songs in my head, I knew the overall texture needed to be darker, and more vintage sounding, which meant not being able to rely on the things I knew worked well with ‘The Matter Circumvention’. Starting with the guitars, I ended up sourcing a beautiful old Gibson SG that had that sound. A surprisingly difficult thing to find! I even looked around for one while I was in LA, tried heaps, didn’t find one. I eventually found one and used it to track the rhythm parts of ‘The Usurper’ with. It has a wonderful dark, snarly tone that was perfect for the songs. It’s an old thing that doesn’t tune or intonate well, so I had to work with that. The other reason I used it was for romantic reasons. I was a huge ‘The Doors’ fan growing up (still am) and was fascinated by the SG ever since I saw Robby Krieger playing one as a boy. I just wanted to know what it was like to record an album with one, so now I can cross that off my list, and probably never do that again! haha It’s an interesting and wonderful sounding guitar, but not very practical for what I do. I used my Suhr’s for pretty much all the leads, ans used all of them for different parts. The other thing that I changed up was recording with my amplifier (Friedman BE100) instead of my AXEFX and using a Suhr REACTIVE-LOAD with cabinet simulation. My buddy Pete Thorn got me onto it and it worked a charm! Took a little bit of tweaking getting the cabinet tone right, but all up I was able to achieve a really great sound from my amp, and record it silently in the evenings with it turned up full tilt. Ah, technology.

Tell us all about the writing and recording process for the EP.

It was completely unique for me in that I wrote every part of it while looking at the cover art for inspiration. I’ve never done that before, but often I hear music to accompany things I see visually. I noticed I did it a lot as a boy, and decided to try and write music in this way. It was a fun experiment, but took a lot of time and concentration. Moving my eyes around the piece helped me steer the song in a certain direction, so occasionally I had to try different visual/audible connections to make song structure comparisons. For the most part it flowed really well and was a lot of fun!

Who’s playing on the recording?

I played all the guitar, bass, keys and composed the orchestral backing arrangements. David Horgan once again handled the drum playing/recording and I had my buddies Lachlan McDonald (Saxophone) and Scott Page (Flute) come in and contribute to the songs.

You use some pretty “advanced” modes and out there sounds – some of them are pretty fusion-y sounding. Do you set out to do this intentionally when you write, or is it something that just your ear is pulled towards?

Definitely not something I did intentionally. 95% of the solos are improvised on the EP. I did notice that I had to adjust my note choices and playing to fit the often bizarre sections I was playing over. The only thing I was mindful of was maintaining a sense of ‘soulful’ blues type playing, but making it more jilted and uncomfortable to listen to. Kind of ‘riding the knife edge’ approach in that respect. I didn’t want to solos to be straight, but I also didn’t want them to be too ‘fusion’ either, because I certainly don’t identify with that kind of playing.

You layered a lot of atmospheric parts on this recording, can you tell us a bit of what we’re hearing in there that’s not so obvious?

That’s true. In fact at some points I had to control myself with all the added textures that I was piling on! I just find it  a lot of fun to add small subtleties that make such a huge difference to the overall sonic texture of a track. One thing I always wanted to do was to have a Theremin on one of my albums. A buddy and I managed to track down a Moog Etherwave and spent the night freaking out with it and adding it to each song, so you’ll be hearing that creeping into all three tracks. I also mic’d up and tracked bar chimes which was fun. Most of the other textures are the usual suspects that I’ve used previously and love writing with. Mellotron, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Hammond, Leslie and Upright.

Is tasty the new shreddy?

It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t classify myself as a ‘tasty’ player as I think my style is more rooted in the metal/prog/aggressive approach, but guys like Sean Ashe, Plini, Polyphia, Aaron Marshall/Intervals and that school of ‘happy’ players are certainly taking that to the next level.

When are you coming to the US again?

Hopefully soon! I’m currently looking into making my first string of shows in the US become a reality towards the end of this year. The wheels are definitely in motion, and I have a band over there ready to play with me. The next step is really just to talk with a like minded band that will have me on as a support. I think that would be a great way for me to get a handle of taking my solo music to the next level, in regards to touring in the US. Hopefully I’ll have more to report on that soon!

Any cool guest solos you’ve recorded recently?

I just wrapped up a couple that were super cool! At this time it hasn’t been announced so unfortunately I can’t say too much about it, but it always humbles me to be asked to contribute to other people’s music and I find it very inspiring having to work with music that stylistically is different to my own thing. Love it!

What’s going through your mind when you improvise?

Honestly, usually something super distracting and annoying like “did I feed my cat this morning…???” I’m practicing more and more trying to have a clear mind while improvising, and I am seeing slow improvements. I’ve been taking the time to work with backing tracks that are way out of my comfort zone to try and push myself to think of nothing but the fretboard and what notes I can and can’t play and how accurately I can recreate what I’m hearing in my head on the guitar, and how quickly. It’s on ongoing work in progress.

What’s coming up for JNI in 2016?

Well, I’ve just finished a string of shows and touring here at home, and supported Soilwork, which was a lot of fun. ‘The Usurper’ release on April 13th is taking up a fair bit of my time, but after that, I will focus all of my energy on making a US tour/visit happen for 2016.

Bro your tone is so thin, who the fuck do you think you are with your #thintone all thin, fucking Ghandi?

Trust anonymous internet warriors on ask.fm to determine that fate of my tone for as long as I shall live. fml.

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As Editor-in-Chief of Gear Gods, I've been feeding your sick instrument fetishism and trying unsuccessfully to hide my own since 2013. I studied music on both coasts (Berklee and SSU) and now I'm just trying to put my degree to some use. That's a music degree, not an English one. I'm sure you noticed.