Soren Roi Opens Up About the Inner Tumult Behind ‘Macon’
I met Soren Roi at Over the Eight the night I flew up from Miami to see Suicide play Webster Hall a couple years back. My friend Luke Tromiczak (Blood and Sun) had invited me for a post-show drink, and I knew it would provide some brief respite. Roi was working the bar and we clicked quickly, sharing a lot of love for critical analysis, detail and art. We became pretty tight in the ensuing years. Roi had played in the “blackened psychedelic goth noise” band RØSENKØPF, but always entertained a love of electronic music. With the dissolution of that band, Roi's creative output turned to meticulously crafted electronic tunes that relied on drum machines and sequencers, which were released on labels like Ascetic House and Handmade Birds.
Macon, Roi's debut solo recording on vinyl, is the logical culmination to his pattern-sequencing compositional style. Since recording the LP, however, he’s moved into new territory with modular synthesizers, focusing on textural and rhythmic facets in lieu of creating something melodic. As such, Macon feels more like a specific time and place of Roi's life, which can be hard, but profound. The benefit of hindsight is clarity and understanding. In the following bit, a couple years out from recording Macon, Roi lets us in on some of the record’s context and how he feels when he thinks about it now. Rather than using a typical Q&A format, Roi and I settled on using uninterrupted stream of consciousness — it allowed for a more truthful and personal way to share his experiences and hopes for the record.
Accompanying the interview is the intimate video for “When I Come to Die,” directed by Carson Cox of Merchandise, starring Emil Bognar-Nasdor and Roi, and featuring rope work by Allie. It’s a striking, moving video, sure to stay locked in your mind for the foreseeable future.
"I started recording Macon so long ago, when I was in a different place physically, emotionally and spiritually. Since then, I’ve been able to contextualize and recontextualize it. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of something, you don’t want to admit what’s going on, or what you’re not saying.
I was thinking about the moment I had to submit the notes for the back of the record. I was even lying to myself there. I had written that the record was recorded at 538 Johnson, where I live now, but in reality, it was recorded at 949 Willoughby, where I used to live with my ex. Looking at it now, it’s evident I was not quite able to admit things to myself. I didn’t want the record to be about that relationship, even though it so obviously was. It shows the mindsets that you go through. At the time I told myself, “Fuck that. This isn’t going to be about that. It’s going to be a rejection of that. I’m going to say that I recorded it at 538 Johnson where, symbolically, I feel I have become an independent person,” as opposed to saying it was recorded at 949 Willoughby, which to me represents a long and important, but very codependent relationship. I’ve come to understand it more after the recording, and even more so through the process of releasing it. It wasn’t until later, when I was physically writing the press release, that I realized I wanted people to know the context. I do want people to know what was going on while this was being recorded. But nobody’s going to understand it unless I actively say what was going on. It's always easier to say what you were feeling in the past rather than what you’re feeling in the present.
Even while the dissolution with my ex at Willoughby was happening, I was recovering from another breakup: my old band RØSENKØPF. The breakup of that band took me a long time to get over, and it affected this record deeply. I think I wanted to prove to myself and my partner that I could make music. She was a very talented musician, songwriter and lyricist who, at the time, was writing an album about our relationship. I didn’t hear all of the songs completely at that point, but I knew they were about me, hurt that I had caused and her very strong emotions. I wanted to demonstrate that I could write songs that were worthy of being called music. So, I was writing this material, and Ascetic House was talking about putting about vinyl, and you [Moniker Records] had approached me about doing a record as well. Opportunities were coming in, but I felt stuck in unsureness.
It's weird to admit that a record was forced, but a lot of these songs came from trying to prove something. I do think creativity can come out of pushing yourself, trudging to get yourself out. To me, looking back, the record feels as if I were stuck between a rock and a hard place. I wanted to express my emotions to my partner, but I had used up all her willingness to hear me. She was very literal with her songs and lyrics, but I didn’t know how to reveal myself in that way. That was a struggle even in the relationship, as well, not knowing how to say what was going on in my head, and being afraid to put things forward. I haven’t shared Macon with very many people. I sent it to a few friends, but the only people I listened to it with are my family and some of my roommates a few nights ago. It's been nice to share it and hear that they can point to similar experiences from their lives without me saying anything about the record.
Its interesting to compare these songs to the music I'm making now. This Thursday [March 30], I’m doing a record release show, but I no longer play the kind of music that’s on the record. I’m no longer between a rock and a hard place. When I was recording Macon, I was deep into production, sitting in front of a computer after tracking everything. The live element was lost. I didn’t really enjoy performing — it felt as though I was just representing something that made sense while sitting in the room editing by myself, but didn’t fit into a live context. Now when I make music, after getting heavily into modular synths, it’s totally free-form. There are very few pre-programmed elements. Any work that occurs before I play is patching the synth, which sometimes I’ll even do while it’s off. I wouldn’t even say I was having fun recording before, because recording is very manic and lonely for me. I’d spend hours at the computer, forgetting to eat, smoking a shit-ton of cigarettes, and eventually having this thing that I was proud of, but no one to share it with. Lately, it's been the opposite. I haven’t really been recording at all — just working on music in the live element, or patching my synth and not recording it. I may not have a track to show for it afterwards, but I'm able to share those moments with other people.
There are two things came in to play in this transition. One of them was queerness and the other was sobriety, which are both very important to my life right now. Looking at my own processes through a newfound lens of queerness helped me understand that I was forcing something and had pushed it into a wall. Eventually, I was no longer enjoying making music. I was not experimenting.The only thing I could do was to stop pushing, and trust that, given the space, it would figure itself out. I see this in my relationship to the modular synth, performing in a way where elements aren’t predetermined and nothing is written. Everything is interwired and intertwined literally and sonically. Reading queer theory and coming to understand my own queerness, I knew I now had to apply these ideas — which had begun to make my life make so much more sense — to my creative process, but wasn’t able to let go of what felt comfortable and safe until I took on sobriety."