VAZUM came onto the American music scene in 2018. The heart of the band is made up of Zach Pliska, who planted the dark seed of VAZUM, and later in 2019 joined by Emily Sturm, together creating their own style of gothic rock called deathgaze. In those three years they have put out albums and singles, even dropping a Christmas EP, Vazumnacht. We spoke to these two creatures of the night to find out what lies in the crypt of VAZUM.
Welcome to Onyx.
VAZUM have been releasing music in the current line up, since 2019. How did this project and the band come together?
Zach: Emily and I met in the Summer of 2019 at a local goth club and we bonded over bands like Bauhaus and Smashing Pumpkins. I had a few VAZUM shows planned for the Fall and Emily stepped in on bass. One of the shows we opened for The Genitorturers. When the pandemic hit we got more serious about recording and releasing music. With Emily’s help I finished the album I had been working on, Vampyre Villa. We then set to work on our Halloween inspired album Rated V which was a collaboration where we wrote and produced together. We released both albums in 2020. We realized how well we worked together and became inspired to create music videos, upgrade our recording equipment and continue writing more songs.
A lot of your music seems to be based around mythical creatures as well as dark forgotten places. Would you agree and if so, what draws you to these subjects?
Emily :I’ve pretty much been obsessed with fairy tales since I was a kid. There was a pretty big chunk of my childhood that we did not own TV in my family. So I was given lots of books to read instead. One of my favorites was a collection of Hans Christian Anderson stories. When I was a little older I got this big thick book called 1000 page book of stories for Christmas. It had Mary Shelley, Poe, Wilde, etc. and that was the beginning of the end. Totally hooked. As a result, those are the themes that still inspire me the most today.
I think in some cases you have empathy for these characters but i also hear that you paint them in the light they were originally painted in… such as vampires being cold blooded hunters of men. Do you think is the case?
Emily: Of course there are many nuanced interpretations throughout literature and legend about the exact nature of a vampire. In our lyrics for the song – vampire – we approach it as a creature that is completely self aware. At once feeling supremely powerful on one hand and yet weakened and brought low by immortality on the other. I was inspired mostly by Anne Rice’s interpretation of vampires (may she rest in peace). The fact that only the very strong willed can even deal with the actual reality of immortality and that most humans that are transformed into vampires are slowly driven insane. Once everyone they knew when they were mortal dies, society changes, that feeling of being out of touch and alone in the world, they then end their vampiric life by throwing themselves in a fire. Most of them never make it past 200 to 300 years old. We wanted to convey that feeling in the song. Being so ancient, tired, yet still lusting for blood.
So Emily, I gather you are the architect of a lot of the visuals in the lyrics?
Emily: We run our ideas off each other. A lot of the times we’ll work on a song together and build on what the other has already started. I gravitate more towards horror and fairy tales and try to tell a story. I love the visual aspect of the band, whether that’s through videos, photos, artwork or jewelry.
You have progressed to a more electronic sound while also producing more traditional goth/darkwave. Was this a natural progression and does the material also lend itself to the change in tone?
Zach: We’ve always liked re-working songs. Sometimes we’ll re-work a song and it will turn into a completely different song. With the electronic versions it’s more of a remix where we’re using elements from the original version. It’s fun because we are both fans of electronic music although Emily listens to more electronic than I do. It challenges us to think about things differently and changes our approach. I’ve been more involved with the technical side of producing and engineering and doing the remixes has definitely sharpened my skills. There’s a lot of freedom involved with the remixes, it’s our time to experiment and try new things. And people seem to appreciate the different aspects of the electronic vs rock.
Some purists say that electronics and the industrial aesthetic don’t belong in the gothic/darkwave genre. How do you feel about that kind of attitude especially seeing as most older ‘post-punk’ bands have used tape loops, synths and drum machines etc?
Emily: I think people that nitpick and try to over analyze styles just don’t have anything better to do.
Zach: I see a lot of arguments online about what’s goth, what’s post-punk, etc. I guess some people enjoy arguing and trying to prove their point. That’s one of the reasons we started calling ourselves a Deathgaze band. We want to differentiate ourselves from all of that.
As you said, you describe your style as Deathgaze. What for you creates Deathgaze?
Zach: Deathgaze is a combination of deathrock and shoegaze. It’s a way of combining our influences into our own sound. And it’s a production style which we are honing. I like to keep deathgaze in mind as we’re working on new songs and recordings. It helps us stay inspired and challenged. The best part about deathgaze is it has yet to be defined. Deathgaze is a new genre which we are shaping as we evolve. Goth, post-punk, industrial – those have already been defined and established by other bands years ago. Deathgaze is something we can call our own.
I always like to ask what music influenced you when you were younger? What do you listen to now and find inspirational/pleasing?
Zach: Smashing Pumpkins were my biggest influence as a teenager. I was a product of the 90’s so a lot of the grunge bands and some nu-metal is what got me going as I began playing in bands. Lately I’ve been listening to classical and jazz which I’m gaining more appreciation for. Emily’s early influences were new wave artists like Gary Numan, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Love and Rockets. Lately she’s been listening to Death Grips.
Covid has changed the music scene in the last two years, with acts unable to perform live, putting out music on Bandcamp, the rise of the EP becoming far more acceptable and online concerts. How has it affected VAZUM?
Zach: The pandemic set the course for the trajectory we are on now. Beforehand I was distracted with playing drums for other bands. Covid has given us the time needed to focus on VAZUM and what we want to accomplish. We’ve been able to meet our goals of releasing music and videos. We just need to start playing live again and touring.
You have released quite a few albums in a short amount of time such as Vampyre Villa, Rated V, VAZUM and so on. Why so many albums in quick succession?
Zach: We enjoy the process from start to end and are honing it in more so we can be productive. We do all the recording and production ourselves so we don’t have to wait around for engineers or other people. I’ve always been obsessive with music whether it’s practicing an instrument or listening to a favorite band. My current focus is on releasing music and keeping a steady stream of content going. I like working on songs in the moment and having a deadline to release them. That’s exciting and adds a level of pressure which we feed off of.
What is in-store for VAZUM and their fans in the future?
Zach: We feel like we’re just getting started and have a lot more to offer in terms of singles, albums, videos and content in general. And when people are ready for live shows and want to see us play, we’ll be right there waiting. I’ve spent a lot of time in previous bands playing live as a drummer and I do miss playing live. I hope for VAZUM to spend a significant amount of time touring.