I’m not going to preface this article with a bunch of things we all know; that the Internet helps bands to get their music out to audiences and keep in touch with them. We’re at least halfway through that digital era, so I won’t bore you with that. You’re smart; you know how the modern music industry works. You know that if you want to find out about a track you like, you’d just Google the name and there you go. Travis Von Sydow, member of comparatively more successful band Rapid Youth and creator of Ancient Crux, pushes the boundaries of minimalistic Internet presence. Which is to say that, although he does technically exist online, there’s not the wealth of information you’ve become accustomed to.
It’s a lo-fi sound; the epitome of analogue elitistism, precisely demonstrated by said lack of modern tech polish. It’s not a bad thing. It’s part of the charm, and whether this is part of a conscious demonstration or the result of a lack of attention towards the modern path of an upcoming band, the results are the same. Ancient Crux label, Hi Shadow records, for example, sells cassette tapes. So that sets the tone.
Serial Optimist: This question, for once, needs asking in preface to the interview which is to say that it’s not available anywhere else; tell us about yourself and your life and start up as a musician.
Ancient Crux: Well, I started playing drums in the 7th grade, which led to bands with friends and exploring other instruments throughout high school. My friends and I were all self-taught, so high school was the period in our lives where we just poured ourselves into new types of music, trying to understand our instruments and experimenting with tones and sounds. I have mainly collaborated with the same two people, Brent Mitzner and Tyler Haran, since we were 16, because we grew up in a suburban area about an hour and a half north of San Diego, CA and weren’t exactly surrounded by many like-minded musicians that lived nearby. There is a lot of peer influence in aspects of each other’s music, and we really push each other by pushing ourselves. On a personal level, I live a pretty uninteresting life. When I’m not working on music, I go to school and do landscaping work, and try to travel when I can.
SO: Is it difficult to use methods of recording and playing that might be seen as nostalgic, without getting that label stuck to you forever?
AC: Yes, I absolutely struggle with the fact that many people have attempted to pigeonhole Ancient Crux as having one “sound”, especially since that sound happens to be associated with bands that just lazily rehash some former decade’s music. I realize there are songs I have written that are clearly influenced by music from the past, and I’m okay with that, because I think there is enough variety to be found within the music I have made to let people know that I’m not just some one-trick-pony that restricts his tastes to one thing. I love so many different types of music and I have tried really, really hard to write songs that demonstrate clear influence from nearly every generation of music, including present and future styles. Stage Fright was actually a deliberate reaction to this idea that Ancient Crux has one “sound”. That EP is all over the place, and I know a lot of people who were really into Interracial Coupling were probably confused with where I was going with it. I also know there are people who have really appreciated my departure from doing something totally expected. That dichotomy excites me. I want people to be open-minded, and am willing to try something new and unfamiliar to push that ideology. However, I will admit I’m still a sucker for the impact and economy of using pop sensibility. There is nothing better than hearing a song and just immediately knowing it’s a hit. It’s really all about balance with me. I want to be accessible and have broad appeal, but I’m not willing to sacrifice being a respectable, forward-thinking artist in order to do so.
Ancient Crux – Benevolent Void
SO: Are you a nostalgic person? Is your music a homage or does it take a certain sound and push it into the present regardless of era?
AC: Definitely not. Artists from every generation equally influence me and I’m ultimately concerned with trying to push music forward. I think nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is boring, comfortable and easy.
SO: Is new release Stage Fright a new direction for you? It seems in a different place; are the teenage years over?
AC: It’s not really a “new direction” for me, meaning you’ll never hear a release like that sounds exactly like this from me again, but it was definitely a deliberate change in aesthetic. Most of those songs weren’t even originally intended to be used for Ancient Crux, and were recorded as demos for a new project. After sitting on them for a while, I basically decided that Ancient Crux is whatever I want it to be, and I didn’t want to have to start a new band every time my focus or tastes changed. I decided at that point that Ancient Crux doesn’t need a singular “sound”, and so I made that EP and shaped it into an Ancient Crux release as a way to broaden people’s expectations of what I might produce.
SO: Has your songwriting method changed? Did you ever have one?
AC: My songwriting method has always been the same. It consists of constantly writing “riffs” or melodies, and saving them up in my head until I write complimentary parts and piece them together into songs. Sometimes I may sit on a chord progression for years before I find another part that matches it well, and other times the songs pretty much write themselves in one or two sittings. Either way, the song and melody always come first, and lyrics always come second.
SO: Why cassette tapes for the newest release? Was it a technical choice? A romantic one?
AC: Bridgetown had already released and sold out of it on CD-r , so it was really just the decision to have it available on a different format. I don’t exactly have an attachment to any one particular format, but I like to keep as many available as possible because I know some people have their own preferences, and I want to cater to that. Ideally, I’d like for everything I release to be available on every medium possible, with art and packaging uniquely crafted to fit the specifics of that release. I think it’s good creative practice to release music under a variety of formats, with attention to detail in regards to artwork, packaging, etc. Especially in the Internet age, I think it’s the responsibility of the artist to release something that is worth spending one’s money on, since the music itself can probably be downloaded for free anyways. It just makes more sense to me to have a release that is interesting and inexpensive, which is something that can easily be achieved by releasing something on cassette.
SO: Are you adverse to the dominant model of putting out music; has ‘making it’ in the clichéd sense, crossed your mind?
AC: Of course, ideally I would totally love to live off of music. This is something I’ve been doing for most of my life, and will probably continue to do until I die, because it means a lot to me. If I could turn something I am this passionate about into a career, then why wouldn’t I want that, you know? I don’t concern myself with it though, and I don’t have any expectations, but it is something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life anyways, so all “making it” in the traditional sense would do for me is allow me to focus on it more whole-heartedly. I don’t understand what’s so wrong about bands being honest with their intentions regarding music. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to want to live off of doing what you love, especially if they are coming from a place of genuinely loving what they are doing.
SO: What does ‘making it’ mean to you?
AC: Being able to support myself and still afford the time and money to make music, however that may happen.
Ancient Crux – In Teen Dreams
SO: It seems that being around friends and sharing music with the people you’re close to is essential, would that be right?
AC: Totally. I learned how to be a musician by constantly being around other musicians, and I don’t want to change that. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing the progression and artistic maturity of people around you that you know personally and can relate to. It’s one thing to listen to a record and be influenced by it, but it’s much more profound when that feeling occurs and it’s someone you know on a human level, someone that is coming from a lot of the same places you are, and also gets where you are coming from. I think having a deep, loyal sense of community is the most crucial aspect to setting creative goals for personal growth, because there is both support and friendly competition in that, which are two of the most nurturing aspects for pushing art forward.
SO: Would I be naive in thinking there was a plan for the future, tours or new releases?
AC: We just finished a two-week tour of the West Coast and Southwest US, and we are currently working on a possible European tour that would take place in the spring of next year, but other than that there is no set plan right now. I’ve been working on a full length for years now, and am getting much closer to finishing it, but I can’t make any promises as to when that will be completed. I have really high standards set for myself in regards to a full length, and want it to be absolutely the best that I can humanly produce, so I’m trying not to rush it. I just want to keep writing as many songs as I can, and focusing on figuring out what exactly I want Ancient Crux to become, stylistically.
SO: What one song could inspire the most optimism in you?
AC: My tastes and interests change all the time so I really can’t answer this with 100% conviction. I’ve never been the type to have a legitimate “all-time favorite” type of song, but I will say that “Under My Thumb” by the Rolling Stones is a definite contender for the specific theme of optimism right now. I’ve always overlooked it as just being another hit that people play into the ground, but I’ve been hearing it a lot more frequently recently, and it’s begun to resonate with me in this whole new way. Songs that make me optimistic are the ones in which people demonstrate that nothing negative is permanent, and that you can always turn the table on a shitty situation as long as you stay true to yourself and push through it. That’s the kind of optimism I’m into. Enduring the tough shit, accepting it, dealing with it, moving on and then finding peace in the realization that it has all come full circle, with newly discovered self-confidence and the ability to give a big “fuck you” to all those negative forces that used to bring you down.
SO: Best of luck, and we will always be sending positive forces your way!