Interview: We talk to Guns of Seneca about their album ‘Citizens of the Universe’

Louisiana-based, experimental trio Guns of Seneca recently released Citizens of the Universe – a collection of music with intrepid compositions and meteorological reaches. The band tell us about their influences, building their own studio and the mastery of music without vocals.

To anyone who is unfamiliar with Guns of Seneca, how would you describe your sound?

Mostly-instrumental, experimental, progressive, indie, surf rock, drug rock, jam band.

Where did you draw your influences for Citizens of the Universe?

All of us are captivated by space exploration and the prospect of habitable zones and planets. When David threw out the name for the album we ran with it, and since we're equally passionate about space and the unknown, it makes sense. Our artwork for the album plays on that concept as well as the meaning behind our opening track, Tell them About the Frequencies (We've Found). These songs were written independently over a long span of time and the process was different for each.

We all have different musical influences and backgrounds and each song represents the collective influences at the time it was written. That is a continuously fluid process to this day. For those reasons, we can't pinpoint the origins of influence for the album as a whole. However, if you listen to any of the music that we listen to, you'll probably be able to hear elements of many different groups and genres.

Where was the album recorded?

The recording process has been a long and difficult one. All tracks were self-recorded and mixed in our home studio in Raceland, Louisiana that we built from the ground up – tracks 4, 6, and 8 in 2008, track 1 in 2010, and tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, and 9 between 2013 and 2015. We make music on our own terms and do our best to apply that DIY philosophy to our production as well. The only thing we don't have access to is top-quality mastering equipment, so one of our buddies, Kyle Eroche at KEE Sound, helped us out with the mastering.

The album seems to be more musical as opposed to vocal. Is there a particular reason for that?

It all starts with the instruments. We're just three guys trying to sound as big as we can. If we feel that the music has enough power and depth, and we still have some space to squeeze in some lyrics or vocal melodies, then we'll go for it. That rarely happens, though, as we are usually all too busy playing our instruments on the limit to worry about that. Vocals can be distracting. People obsess over lyrics to the point that, upon first listening to a song, they'll spend all of their time trying to hear what the singer is saying, and they completely lose touch with the composition as a whole. We don't want people to do that when they listen to our music because we aren't exactly trying convey a specific message to begin with – we're just making music to be the best it can be for the sake of itself. That's art, and that's it. It's more composition than song-writing in that sense.

Thematically, what can we expect from the Citizens of the Universe?

The album title and art might tell you that we aren't exactly a patriotic bunch. Our world views transcend ideology. Similarly, our music transcends genre. We don't intentionally write thematic tunes, but we do have two songs that became thematic by coincidence: The Vanishing of Isle de Jean Charles sounds like a hurricane, especially since we have added sound clips of radio traffic from Hurricane Betsy. Oneironaut has a dreamy vibe and some sound clips of a woman tripping on LSD. So, what should you expect? Expect to be blown away whilst tripping balls!
Which do you personally think communicates an emotion more simply – music or lyrics?

That's a great question. More simply? Lyrics. More accurately? Music. Westerners prefer lyrically- driven music. They want things simple, quick, and in black and white. Spoken language has its uses, but if you've ever wanted to break off a relationship, for example, saying what you mean is a difficult task using language alone. “It's complicated”. We've all heard that before. Emotion is by no means whatsoever a black and white matter. Nor are the foundations for creative production more broadly. Our emotions and need to express ourselves is too abstract to be expressed in words. There are obviously some brilliant poets and lyricists out there, and we respect those few who do it well, but for us, music speaks louder than words. Every time.

How experimental were you when making this album?

I think we all have experimental tendencies, in both music we make and listen to. Britton, our drummer, unconventionally recorded most of our album by memory, without any instruments playing along with him. We like music that is unique, complex, and takes some time to figure out. Figuring out a good piece of art is a transformative process that makes you see things differently, and it shouldn't come easily. It's complicated, as I stated in the last answer. We are attracted to complexity, and we know we have to be experimental to achieve that in our art. We don't want to tell the same story everyone else has told ten thousand times. That's just not what we want to make or listen to.

What’s the group dynamic like when it comes to writing new material?

It's different with each song, but usually it starts with an improvised jam. We'll land on a riff that we all like, then we will focus on fine-tuning that. We may run through that several times and try to jam our way into a new part. Other times, we will have several pre-written parts that we will try to fuse together. In this case, most of our time goes into coming up with dynamic transitions. Usually, the writing process involves a combination of those approaches.

Who are your musical influences?

Radiohead, Fugazi, The Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, Incubus, John McLaughlin, The Mars Volta, El Ten Eleven, TV On The Radio, Jaco Pastorious, Jeff Beck, Minus the Bear, Miles Davis, And you will know us by the trail of Dead, Zach Hill, Daikaiju, Pinback, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Battles, blink-182, A Perfect Circle. That's a short list.

Are there any current musicians that you’re inspired by?

The groups listed above that are (still) in their prime, namely Radiohead, TV On The Radio, El Ten Eleven, and Battles, never cease to impress and inspire us. We have liked the collaborations between Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Deantoni Parks the last few years. Zach Hill is an animal. Our friends' instrumental band called Relatives from Baton Rouge is pretty fucking awesome. You should definitely check them out.

Drawing to an end, what’s next for Guns of Seneca?

We're currently writing new material and are enthusiastic to get back to recording again. Also, we're in the process of collaborating with a local production company for a themed music video. We're going to focus on more live shows in the coming months as well. We're open to any opportunity that presents itself that we deem to be practically feasible. We're all very busy with other things. But, if there is ever enough of a demand for us to hit the road, we will strongly consider doing this music thing for a living.

By Hanna Duggal

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