Speaking of dreams and exploring the heartfelt tribute that is the band's newest album.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
"I guess heaven really needed you
To leave us in that vacant room
A different you that's doing well
A universe laid parallel..."
As Dayseeker's Parallel gracefully transitions into the grandiose closer that is Afterglow (Hazel's Song), listeners experience a realization, one that takes disbelief into a realm of acceptance. Dayseeker released their ethereal new album, Dark Sun, on November 9th via Spinefarm Records — a coping mechanism for frontman Rory Rodriguez as he details the emotional and mental battleground associated with the loss of his father. Parallel and Afterglow are but two of the several offerings from Dark Sun that narrate the distinction between the sorrow and warm embrace of a loved one watching over you. It's a cathartic effort characterized by synthwave textures, elegant melodies, and hard-hitting choruses meant to radiate throughout a live stage. Visually, Dark Sun resembles the connotations associated with its album title in ways you'll learn more of today, completing a comprehensive experience that mark a turning point in Darkseeker's accessible artistic endeavors.
We welcome Rory Rodriguez to a conversation on the contemplative nature of Dark Sun, the duality in its imagery, coping through the arts, and more:
Rory, 'Dark Sun' is very much an act of reflection and a healing mechanism for you personally, especially after your father's passing. With the record now out and being enjoyed by countless across the world, in what mindset does it find you in?
Rory: Thankful is a word I would describe this feeling as. We obviously got a lot of good reception for our last record, 'Sleeptalk', so it felt scary going into this new release. I didn't know if people would be as receptive as they were before. When we dropped 'Neon Grave' and 'Without Me', I've been like, "Really?" It's very humbling and I'm Y just very thankful.
Everybody seems to really like the new stuff. I think we found a formula that worked on 'Sleeptalk' and we tried to refine it, even do it a little bit better. On the new record, we got very into pop structured writing, more like rock music, and kind of leaned into those 80s, kind of retro accents in the music. I'm happy man. We spent like a better part of a year working on it and I'm really proud of how it turned out.
That's great to hear, and even better to hear of how you turned your grief into a fruitful composition for healing. You poured a lot of yourself into it and as you mention, you contemplated on whether your audience would enjoy it. How do you, as a songwriter, get over that self-doubt and pour confidence into your craft?
Rory: I wouldn't describe myself as an overly confident individual. We were lucky to have the producer we have, Daniel Braunstein, who was a big factor in how the songs ended up sounding the way they do. He's very good at helping us think outside of the box and getting us to try writing something unique. It's tough. I mean, there are songs that I thought were really cool when we were working on them in the studio, and even then, that self-doubt kicked in.
The scary thing is that you see bands all the time mention that their new material is the best stuff they've ever written and then once it comes out, the response is lackluster. It's hard because you're always gonna be attached to your own music. It's coming from you, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's objectively good to most of the public. There's nothing wrong with trying something crazy or going different route. I've talked to my producer about this too.
If it's not broken, why fix it, right?
Rory: There are bands in our scene that have a hit record that sounds so good. The mixer and the producer killed it. Everybody loves what they're doing and then all of a sudden, they try something completely different, going to a different producer when they've already found a working, reasonable formula. I'm not saying every band should write the same album over tenfold, but why make a drastic change if it's not needed? We definitely feel like we found our producer in Braunstein and we're just going to continue doing what we do to the best of our abilities. We try to stay confident, but it's hard because this scene can be brutal.
At first, we were more of a metalcore band. Our first three albums weren't really grabbing people in the way that we wanted to, so that's why we tried something different and shifted direction. We're lucky in that we found success with where we're at sonically now. Moving forward, we're going to continue trying and targeting this particular sound, but with variation.
'Dark Sun' is a unique shift from 'Sleeptalk', so it'll be interesting to see where you go from here. Visually, the album is as stunning as the atmospheres that you helped develop throughout the record. What did you intend upon approaching that element of the release?
Rory: We have this guy named Ryan Sanders, who also made the artwork for 'Neon Grave'. He did a great job and he cares enough about the entire project. It's about more than just providing him a title, a few lyrics, and letting him run with it. I sent him the lyrics for 'Neon Grave' and he asked about meanings, themes, and more. I explained it to him in great detail and he made at least 15 different concepts.
For the album, it was the same thing. I sent him lyrics to the full album and explained to him how the 'Dark Sun' title came to be. Half of the record is about my father. The title track and 'Midnight Eternal' metaphorically describe the sun burnt out, like the day that he died. It's a kind of permanent darkness. The collaborative process was all really cool and we ended up with a great cover that has an eclipse kind of vibe. I specifically remember thinking that this would look great on vinyl.
The back cover of the album is a lot more pink and cloudy. I liked the concept of having the front cover of the album be the kind of world I'm living in now that my dad has passed away and the back cover be more of an afterlife scenario for where my dad is now.
The thought that went into this is very neat and heartfelt. Expanding on the visual identity and title duality a bit further, where do you really feel that the audiovisuals coincide? The neon, retro color scheme fits the album's melodic elements quite well.
Rory: We just fell into that to be honest. For the last two albums, we utilized more pinks, purples, and blues, and we wanted to try something like a little darker this time around, but still with that retro sort of neon feel you mention. It just fits well with the 80s, synth wave sort of vibe throughout most of the record that we're playing into a little bit more. It's interesting that more and more bands are starting to do that because t expands beyond the expectations of a rock band. You have piano, strings, synth, and more. The Midnight is a band that got really popular in our genre for doing just that. We're one of the very few rock bands that are trying to put those 80s synth sounds into the music. It's such a cool way to make a really simple instrumental part sound cool. We pay attention and make sure the visuals make sense with the sound.
Every element of Dayseeker is intentional, to say the least. Touching back on your role as a songwriter, would you say that you're insular or is there a direct intention behind your messaging? This is a personal record for you, but now that its out in the world, it becomes something else in the hands of others.
Rory: For me, songwriting has always been a cathartic process. When I would go through breakups or stuff with my mom, it provided a way for me to write. I felt a lot lighter afterwards and it was easier to breathe. In turn, it's led to me feeling very comfortable and very open about my emotions as a man. It's funny because there's still a stigma surrounding men expressing their emotions. Men are still expected to swallow their emotions, bite down, and just be tough. I'm always actively trying to ask my guy friends how they're doing because I know they're going through shit. I can tell that a lot of other guy friends don't want to do that or just don't feel like they're okay to talk about things. Maybe it's just not their place to be open emotionally, which is understandable of course.
I've been writing songs since I was like 15 or 16, and I'm 33 now, so I've had songwriting in my life for over half of my life. I feel lucky that I have it, you know? For me, writing songs has definitely had a core kind of meaning. I write songs about an experience. You're correct, though, and that's really the beauty of music. I wrote a song called 'Burial Plot' a few years ago that was about our drummer's failed relationship with a girl that he was dating. He felt like most of the blame was on him and 'Burial Plot' was very metaphorical in how it described the death of a relationship. But then, I've had many people tell me they related it to somebody in their life who passed away. You can hear a song in any way that you want to and I think that as long as it's like helping somebody, then that's great. We can all find our own meanings in music.
Beautifully said, what a song means to you might not mean the same thing to somebody else. Continuing along those lines, what you've said about the track 'Dreamstate' really struck me. We long for what we dream and when you wake from that dream, you suffer in coming to terms with reality, which describes the experience of no longer having your father there with you. Does the purpose or meaning behind the song change for you at all as you flesh these ideas out on paper and eventually a song?
Rory: I wouldn't say that the meaning changes necessarily, but it's interesting how sometimes you just start writing stuff down about something off the cuff. You don't intentionally write about that specific subject; it just pours out of you. It's obviously reflective of something you've been thinking about.
A lot of the record forced me out of my my comfort zone because I used to first get the instrumentals for the songs and then I could like sit with them for a while, which allowed me to really write my own melodies while I was at home. This time around, our producer wanted us to get like a skeleton structure going for an instrumental rather quickly. He's have me hop in the vocal booth and just see what comes out. I remember writing the entire first verse for 'Dreamstate' in like 10 minutes, and it ended up being what we used on the record. I definitely asked myself, "What am I talking about here?" It poured out of me and obviously it related to my dad. I have these dreams about my father and it was a really cool experience to materialize them in this way.
In the dream, it did feel like we were getting a chance to communicate, until the dream ended. Was it real? Am I longing for something that is fake and disruptive to my sense of reality? Or is that dream allowing me to be able to cope with the fact that he's gone? Death is just a part of life. People die and we just have to learn to keep moving on with our lives and hopefully one day get to see our loved ones again. Then, there are other days where it flips and becomes really hard to the point I can't really accept it the fact that he's gone. The dream is very, very bittersweet. It's cool, but also mildly torturous.
Your explanation certainly provides a new context to the track, and I'm grateful you've allowed us into such a raw moment. Do you feel like is has it gotten easier for you to express yourself through lyrics and through song? I ask this as an act of reflection as you look back at your songwriting origins now that you've released multiple full-lengths
Rory: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Songwriting is a whole is a lot easier to me now though. We used to overcomplicate things when we were trying to write like 10 different parts and then squeeze them into one song. 'Without Me' is literally the exact same chord progression over and over and we just add or take away different elements to change the dynamics of the song as it goes along. However, the longer we go on songwriting, I feel that it does become more difficult. Including this album, I believe we now have 50 plus songs in our catalogue. We sometimes run across those moments where we realize we already did certain song parts like five years ago. You might have an idea you think is cool, but then if it sounds too much like something from a prior record that doesn't necessarily please our creative needs at the moment, we'll scrap it.
This record did not come easy. We did 'Without Me' in a couple of hours and then there are songs like 'Afterglow', the last song on the album, that we changed like four different times to get it to the version you hear now. As a songwriter, I feel pretty confident in knowing how to make a song that is structured really well. There's a formula I've found works for myself on how to do it. Even then, the process isn't always the same because in some ways, it has become easier but in other ways, it has become harder.
Now that you're playing the new material on tour and changing the perspective from which you see them, does the meaning change at all as you see the material unfold in real time in front of a live audience? Facial expressions, tears, and cheering are now a part of the 'Dark Sun' experience.
Rory: I think it'll always mean to me what it meant to me when I was writing it just because so much of it is about my dad. I definitely do feel that the songs take a different shape in the live setting. Our drummer improvises different parts that aren't on the album and I of course might sing things slightly differently, or leave room for the crowd to sing along. It's a very different experience. There are songs on the album that we were skeptical about, but once we played them live, we changed our mind. Playing new material always involves a little bit of trial and error, but audiences are getting a good mix of older songs too. Overall, it's been a great experience.
Dark Sun is available now via Spinefarm Records (Order/Stream).