Since I introduced myself to the Munster, Germany based instrumental progressive act Ysma 2 months ago, my enthusiasm for this band kept advancing precipitously. Their debut „Vagrant“ has been on my playlist for quite a while now and having them on Progstravaganza 13 initiated this interview with the band’s guitarist Daniel Kluger.
Of course! We are four guys between 24 and 34 from Münster and Götingen (Germany) forming Ysma, an instrumental prog band: Fabian and Daniel are playing electric and acoustic guitars, there is Torge on bass and Jens on drums. We have been playing together for four years now and just released our debut record called “Vagrant“ in April.
Outside of the band, we are finishing our psychology studies (Torge, Daniel) or working as a healthcare support worker (Jens) and addiction counselor (Fabian), respectively.
And how would you describe your sound?
The sound on “Vagrant“ is a blend of different styles and genres. We equally like the aggressive, forward-going tone of progressive rock and -metal as well as the more quiet, ambience-focussed moments with a lot of room for each note. Listening to the record, you will find purely acoustic pieces next to loud, dynamic prog songs or the occasional jazz reference. Overall it is not necessarily a modern sound, as our drummer has a jazz background, for example. We also did the whole process of recording, mixing and mastering on our own. Taken together, we combine our ideas of instrumental songwriting with frequently changing dynamics throughout the songs, making sure that progressive elements will not be forced into the tracks at the expense of the atmosphere or the vibe we try to transport.
Where did your name come from? I tried googling it, but all I found was this band from Munster in Germany.
I’ll take that as a good sign The name in fact has no meaning – in accordance with our instrumental approach, we wanted our band name to be a blank projection screen which would not nail us down on a certain theme. Thus, quite pragmatically, we were looking for something distinctive and decided to make up a word whose sound we liked, keeping in mind that it should be fitting to make a nice-looking logo out of it. That is how we came up with the name “Ysma“. However, there seems to be a cartoon character with a slightly different spelling that has no connection to the band at all.
You employ many different genres in your sound, how do you usually label what you do?
We usually go by “(instrumental) progressive rock“. Outside the prog community, even this label is hard to explain to someone listening to our music for the first time, so any further distinction would just make it more difficult.
The different genres that you mention show the various facets of prog or prog-related music that continue to inspire us and that we like a lot, so we kind of instinctively integrate these influences into our own music, as well. That is how there might be jazz-ish elements side by side with hints of progressive metal or fuzzy rock parts. Labelling all of this “progressive rock“ is a good way of being able to do whatever we have in mind without stepping on the toes of people who care about labels a lot more than we do ourselves.
Any bands that influenced you in particular? Is King Crimson one of them?
As in any other band, I guess, there certainly are artists or bands whose styles we particularly like. We have different musical backgrounds, but we all share our admiration for Opeth’s songwriting, for example. Tool, Porcupine Tree, Riverside and Pain of Salvation are other bands that have influenced us in our musical approach, just to name a few. When it comes to the early, classic prog bands, King Crimson would indeed be one the most influential ones to name. I’m pretty sure that if you go back one step and see who has been an example or an influence on the bands that you look up to nowadays, you might come across King Crimson on a regular basis. The fact that their music is still up to date shows you how much there is to extract from the ideas that the early prog bands brought up thirty, forty years ago.
„Vagrant“ is in an instrumental album and I am afraid to ask you what is its story, because the stories are usually told. But anyway, due to many dynamic changes and experimentation, it’s clearly that you want and do say a lot. So, what is that? What are you trying to show with the album?
It is true that stories are usually transported and expressed through the lyrics. In our music, the titles of the songs themselves are thought to suggest a direction of associations or imagery that we think fits in with the atmospheric nature of the respective song. The album does not have one specific concept or theme that is followed throughout, you would much rather find several different ideas expressed from song to song.
For example, the thought behind “Primetime Dreaming“, the shortest track on the record, is the futuristic idea of certain images being implemented in your dreams, so that dreaming becomes tailor-made to the extent that it is fully controllable, hereby losing its very fascination (to us, at least). Accordingly, the atmosphere of the song is dreamful and open in a way, but with a cold undertone. So the titles are not meant to explain everything, but to give you a basic idea of what was behind the music for us. What happens in your imagination while listening to the music is up to you and should not be predetermined by anyone, that’s the beauty of it.
One other thing we especially care about is to leave space within the music. Of course, there are faster and more densely packed tracks, but the dynamic changes – both within and between songs – are an important means of coming to rest, of “breathing“ in some musical manner.
Do you agree that being an instrumental band leaves a more freedom for you to explore, create your own ideas and feelings to the music?
Undoubtedly so. Not only does it free things up for the musicians, but for the listeners, as well. That is exactly what I meant moments ago: without the lyrics, the only thing you have is the music and the title of the track. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and association, which is great! It enables you (as the listener) to make up your mind about what you personally take from the music.
Another aspect is that instrumental music is such a niche that the people who decide to listen to it usually have a mindset that supports this kind of listening, being susceptible to mental images and connotations. We do like to explore our musical horizons and the feelings that go along with that, which is why it is great to talk to somebody who then tells you that he has been interpreting the theme of a song totally different from your own way of thinking. There is no right or wrong, and this freedom comes from letting the music speak for itself.
Are you working on the Vagrant’s follow-up already? Do you have a clear vision on the next album’s direction or your joker is improvisation?
Yes, we are working on the second record right now, even though it is still in its early stages. There were songs that originally belonged on the first album, but just did not fit due to the length of the record. Additionally, there is a lot of new, unheard material we finished and we are excited to start recording and arranging again.
I would not say we have a clear vision for the sophomore record other than further exploring our style of playing and coming up with new ideas, some of which we have been planning on realising for quite a while now. What has changed in my opinion is that while in the past we used to write separate songs for, say, a heavy and an acoustic or purely melodic idea, we now challenge ourselves to integrate these pieces into a more coherent piece of music that – as a result – is an interplay of different atmospheric ideas. We started this approach a while back, ending up with longer songs that in the end left us much more content from the songwriting perspective. A good example might be “Alan Smithee’s Suicide Note“ featuring a diverse atmospheric spectrum from very laid-back to metal-edged breakouts to melodic soloing.
On Progstravaganza 13 you are with the song „The Wanderer“. It’s fuzzy, heavy and melodic in the same time. What can you say about the song?
“The Wanderer“ is the opener and somewhat the title track of our debut record. The artwork shows a man wandering around (“vagrant“) having all kinds of bizarre encounters, e.g. with giant flying jellyfish. “The Wanderer“ can be seen as depicting episodes of his journey, which is why the song lacks a leitmotif (to use a German word): at times this journey may be weird or troubling, another time it may as well be calm, opening up many possible ways to go for us musically. In a sense, this song gives you an idea of what is following up on the album as “The Wanderer“ contains many of the elements that constitute our music: as you say, it is heavy, it is jazzy, it is melodic and somehow comes to an odd conclusion that hopefully makes the listener curious as to what else there is to be heard afterwards.
What’s next for Ysma?
We are currently preparing for our first ever unplugged concert, which is going to take place in an Irani greengrocery’s shop in our home town. Arranging the songs for this occasion gives us the chance to look at the music from a completely different angle, trying new things and just having fun with some of the tunes. Those who already know the songs hopefully will enjoy some of the newer versions we would like to try for the acoustic gig. Changing the instrumentation and bringing in guest musicians is going to highlight new aspects of the material we are very much looking forward to discovering.
The acoustic gig will be in late October. Around the end of the year, we are going to play some concerts promoting “Vagrant“ a little farther from home in front of an audience listening to the music live for the very first time, which will be exciting. Other than that, our focus lies on finishing the songwriting process for album #2 as well as rehearsing, recording and mixing the new pieces – we cannot wait to play the new material on stage for the first time.
Thank you so much for having us on Progstravaganza 13!
Ysma on the web: