Interviews

I, Symptom
Outlaw Days: Interview

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For the few who aren’t yet familiar, I, Symptom is an artist and songwriter based in Budapest – you can visit his artist page to catch up on his music so far. He’s about to release a brand new album entitled Outlaw Days, and the song Miles Above The Baseline is an early release from it. The project looks set to be one of his most captivating yet. We caught an interview with the creative himself to find out more about the music, his songwriting, his plans for the future, and his advice for anyone struggling to stay motivated. Here’s how it went. 

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It’s a pleasure to catch up with you, it’s been a while & I’m excited to hear you have a new album on the horizon. What’s Outlaw Days all about?

You can imagine Outlaw​ ​Days as a high-resolution snapshot of a crazy mind, with blood inside. It’s a collection of short stories in the form of songs and other kinds of creativity, pieces of a puzzle based on real events with real characters.

What inspired you to create it, or have you been pretty constantly creating and composing that it made sense to gather a bunch of tracks together for a longer project?

It started with innocent drafts of music, then the sludge hit the fan, and I got into situations with intense emotions that needed channeling. In other words, the project was mainly inspired by my personal life, and I’m pretty sure that there are lessons to learn here for everyone. I wanted to release the album earlier but I got distracted by all the changes going on. I’m going to be honest, I messed up my life and I had to start a new one. So now I’m literally living my outlaw days and I can focus on finishing the album.

Miles Above The Baseline is an early offering from the new album. It’s quite different to your previous releases, more ambient and dreamlike in a way, still distorted and tinted with those electronic rock vibes, but there’s a smoothness to it. Was this a conscious change in direction?

Yes, I definitely wanted to create something prettier and less noisy than most of the songs I’ve been recently writing. With Miles​ ​Above​ ​the​ ​Baseline, I wanted to show you again that I have a beautiful corner in my rock and roll outlaw mind. Am​ ​I​ ​Nobody​ is also a good example for this. And by the way, I have recently finished another piece called Heal You​ ​(you can check it out on Bandcamp or Hearthis), which is an ambient beauty. I’m playing with the thought of calling these three together my ambient trilogy.

What does Miles Above The Baseline mean to you?

Miles​ ​Above​ ​the​ ​Baseline​ is more personal than all the other songs in the collection. In contrast to the harmony-oriented lyrics of Quasars​ ​Sing​ ​a​ ​Lullaby,​ ​it is about disharmony. Loss. Woe. Mourning. Loneliness. The baseline is my old life and I had to let it go. A part of me died, but in a beautiful way.

The lyrics are powerful, perhaps some of your most interesting and compelling to date – particularly that hook, but also the imagery and storytelling showcased in the verses. Your voice is laid quite bare on occasion, so the lyrics hit with power. How did these lyrics come to you; was it an ongoing process or a first-come-first-serve sort of artistry? 

It’s funny because nowadays I write lyrics right before recording. Miles​ ​Above​ ​the Baseline was different though. I figured out the chorus quite early, but I spent a lot of time with the verses. I knew what I wanted to say, but it wasn’t easy to write the story the way I wanted to. Luckily, cosmology is like a playground when you’re looking for metaphors. And it was obvious that this song was going to take you to the most deserted regions and emptiest voids of the Universe.

Did you feel it would work better to have a certain sense of realness to the sound of the vocal here? (If so, why?)

Contrast was the primary driving force when I experimented with the sound of the vocals. I think I have managed to achieve an intense contrast, which is favorable from the aspect of psychoacoustics, because while you’re in a dreamlike state, the vocals still feel so real. So the song becomes something like lucid dreaming.

What came first in general with this track – the concept, the lyrics, that melody, or the underlying soundscape?

The soundscape was the first part. My first reaction after listening to the draft of Miles Above​ ​the​ ​Baseline after a few months of incubation (which is a technique I often use in the creation process) was “woohoo! I want this song!”. From that point, the concept was clear, and the melodies came organically. It was a really smooth process compared to writing the lyrics.

The melody is beautifully haunting and memorable on the single, will there be a lot of melody on the new album, and what else can people expect from it?

Yes, there will be melodies, not just beautiful, but groovy ones. There will also be noise, dirty guitars, and explicit lyrics. In general, the songs show a great variety in mood and style. You are going to hear what I’ve been going through, the things that I’ve experienced, observed, felt, and thought. It’s in the music.

What other concepts will come through on the new project? Can we expect something personal, maybe emotional, from your own perspective, or a collection of different ideas and stories and soundscapes?

Yes, you can expect personal and emotional stuff. If you listen to the songs of Outlaw Days, you get to know me better. I’m telling you a story that is more than fiction, that can also happen to you. You can learn from my mistakes, you can learn how to (or how not to) deal with similar life situations, you can learn how to (or how not to) handle your darkest emotions.

You seem to be consistently coming up with new ideas, and not just that – actually continuously recording, mixing, and releasing new music takes a lot of effort and focus. What advice would you give to other musicians who are perhaps at a creative barrier or loss or are experiencing some form of writer’s block?

I believe that creativity can starve if you don’t feed it with stimuli. If you are experiencing a creativity crisis, you have to find a new source of inspiration. I behave like a supernova because I’m inspired by the events happening to me and the people surrounding me and the things I perceive. Focus is another thing. I have a constant desire to create, which keeps me focused.

Who do you turn to or listen to when you’re struggling to get yourself motivated or to get out of a rut, however small it may seem?

When I feel that I’m not motivated enough, I remind myself that there are so many things to do, songs do not write/record/publish themselves. I have different music related projects to keep me busy. Sometimes it’s hard though because although I’m a musical being, currently I’m not a full-time music maker, and by the end of the day I feel exhausted. Anyway, I’ve managed to keep the I,​ ​Symptom​ project together so far so I’m not complaining.

Will you be performing anywhere to launch the new album?

Working on the songs of Outlaw​ ​Days has been a long and bumpy ride, and I’d like to celebrate the release with good friends. So it’ll be a really special party. I’m planning an exclusive show, a gig at an unorthodox venue. I might also experiment with different arrangement ideas for some of the songs.

Is there anything else we need to know about the upcoming release or your plans for the coming months?

Yes, I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the feedback process and helped with the selection of the songs for the new album. The final list of songs is going to be published soon. And I’m extremely excited and happy about the album. About the plans. I’m opening a new chapter with I,​ ​Symptom​. I will continue working on new songs and related stuff, but with new topics to sing about. Besides, there are a lot of unfinished and ongoing projects to deal with. The next place to rest is nowhere near.

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A huge thank you to I, Symptom for his openness and insight. Download the music via Bandcamp. Find & follow him on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram to stay updated. 

Rebecca CullenMusician & writer with an MA in Songwriting.


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