Texan band, In A Darkened Room, came together in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown, made up of CJ Duron, Svia Svenlava and Kandi Hardee. After releasing a few singles, 2023 has seen them drop the debut album Sorrows. The album is a very gothic affair with Duron’s deep and smooth vocals, together with the jangle of his guitar, Hardee’s indispensable synths that colour the music and Svenlava’s fabulous post-punk saturated bass.
There is a languid tone to the music, together with maudlin topics, lending itself to the southern gothic sound with hints of The Cure and very missed Roland S Howard. As we are ever curious, we found ourselves lucky enough to talk to lead singer CJ to talk about the band, the creation of Sorrows, videos and even about the Texan scene.
Welcome denizen CJ of In A Darkened Room, to Onyx, where we are very familiar with our favourite places being night lit spaces.
You are all involved in other bands – you, CJ, in Cursus (doom sludge) and Sick City Daggers (psychobilly.) Svia in Shadow Fashion (darkwave) and Kandee in Love Hate Affair (electro darkwave.) How different has it been for you playing together in this new project?
Well, I can only answer for myself there. Working with Svia and Kandee is pretty organic. We are all close friends and navigate each other fairly well, I think. The process has been similar to other musical projects, but this music is much more personal. The songs have been a sort of reckoning for me. I revealed a lot of personal loss and tragedy on Sorrows that I had to learn how to express.
My previous bands have all been heavier and more aggressive with screaming and indecipherable lyrics for the most part. It’s easy to hide behind that anger and angst vocally. But with this project, I had to reach down and be more real with myself than I had ever been because I wanted my lyrics to be clear and articulate and honest. It felt very vulnerable.
How did CJ Duron, Svia Svenlava and Kandi Hardee find themselves all In a Darkened Room?
I played with Svia in projects for over 10 years. We share a lot of the same musical upbringing, so to speak. We became friends through music years ago playing in a punk band together. And it doesn’t hurt that he rents a room in my house, and our studio is in the basement. It makes it easy to get together to write and work out the music. And after working through a few songs, we both agreed adding synth to the melodies would create more of the lush sound we were trying to create. Our close friend and keyboard player, Kandi was the obvious choice. She has been with us since early 2020.
Were you aware that you share your name with a Skid Row track?
We were not aware of that at the time. We found out only recently when we googled our band name and Skid Row stuff came up. What a odd surprise! I’m realizing that finding a name without association can be more difficult than it seems. In a Darkened Room fit the atmosphere of our moody studio, and also the kind of place we envision people listening to the music – a seedy night club, or their own darkened room.
Do you all originate from Texas and what is the alternative/darkwave/industrial scene like?
All born and raised on the south side San Antonio, Texas. Our studio is in a small rural town south of the city in what local elders call “pueblo viejo”. It was considered its own town in the early 1900s because it had a doctor, a butcher, a blacksmith, and a small post office. So that was basically enough to make it a town. I bought one of the first houses built in there, and it had a basement – unheard-of in Texas. Naturally, it became our studio and is where we record all our music. The dark alternative music scenes here are extremely varied, but they all overlap. We have a large extended family of bands and fans in those genres. San Antonio is a big city, but it has, as of yet, maintined it’s small town feel. We have the best fans in the world here. We love the music with an abiding passion. Local musicians, DJs, artists, and venues all work to support each other as best we can. We are fortunate to know a lot of like-minded folks here. It’s really a scene unlike any other I’ve known.
How do you feel that the scene has influenced your music?
We are surrounded by amazingly talented and creative people in our scene. We are lucky to call many of them friends. Musicians, writers, visual artists, DJs, photographers, stage performers, the list goes on. It’s safe to say we are influenced by all of them to some degree. Our more recent songs are directly influenced and inspired by the local dance scene and the DJs who keep them moving. They have been incredibly supportive all along, but especially with the new more driving, upbeat songs. The newer songs are driven by the response we’ve received. People are dancing at our shows, and it’s a great feeling to make people want to dance. And we’re completely stoked to hear DJs, local and otherwise, spinning our music. People seem to be resonating with the pulsing, dark, building momentum of the newer songs. We love it.
This project began in the throes of the world pandemic, so was it something you had been thinking about doing or was it more so, a venture out of necessity?
It was a little of both. We had a lot of time on our hands and, like the rest of the world, were in isolation. My roomate, Svia, was the only one I got to make music with for a while. So the initial songs definitely carried some of that weight with them. It brought this kind of naturally slower more spacious sound to the fore, music with room to breath.
Now we are in 2023 and your debut album “Sorrows” has been released. Why did you go for the title “Sorrows” instead of using a title track?
The name Sorrows seemed to fit well with underlying theme of these tracks. The thread that weaves together all of the songs on the debut is love and loss. It’s a collection of stories, really, with no one story more important than another, and Sorrows speaks to all of them. These songs helped us in a lot of ways, you can hear the lament and longing in each piece. It was very cathartic for me writing these. I held back tears hearing us play these on stage for the first time. Slowly, I have been able to release the emotions that inspired them. Now they belong to everyone.
We wrote other songs but they didn’t quite fit the tone and purpose we wanted to give this particular group of songs. They have a different energy that is evolving our sound for future setlists. The final song on the album “Water Under the Bridge” is about letting go of all the burden we had taken on ourselves and about finding healing. We briefly discussed what we were going to go for before the session, and to our astonishment came out with the full 8 minute song in one take, playing it for the first time. We were glad we recorded it and soon we realized it had all the energy and resolution we needed for our final track on the album.
The band name, In a Darkened Room, alludes to the fact that you spent time writing and rehearsing in a basement. Do you think this bunkering down also adds to the ambience of the album?
Definitely. Our basement studio is a reflection of who we are. We surround ourselves with records, music, and instruments. Several amps and a few drum kits line the walls. There is moody ambient colored light and brocade tapestries covering every wall. I always find inspiration in that space.
“Wall Of Sadness” was your first single, setting a goth rock tone for future releases. There is that beautiful rich guitar that permeates the track and deep vocals. Was this the ideal sound for you from the outset?
Thank you. Yes, that song helped to set the template of what we would become. The guitars, vocals, bass, and keys are all very distinct to me, and it does serve as a sort of blueprint for our sound. The elements are simple, and the songs have so much space to expand within themselves. They are almost trance-like, and while the album is decidedly dark, we would to think this kind of meditative wave of sound can be for everyone, not just us black-clad few.
Texas is kind of renowned for its country music, which in turn has had an influence on rockabilly etc. For me there is that air of southern gothic in the album and was that something you were hoping to incorporate of was it just a natural thing?
That is a great compliment, thank you. I don’t know that we consciously try to incorporate that sound. It’s just a part of who we are and where we come from. I love the acoustic, and am a fan of old folk and older country, so we come by that influence honestly, I suppose. Living in a rural ranch community might have rubbed off on me. The area has a lot of history. I live right next to a river which was near the Battle of Medina 1813 – the bloodiest known battle in Texas history. 1400 Mexican freedom fighters were slain by the Spanish army. 9 years later, a Mexican general ordered troops back to the area where they purportedly buried the remains of the defeated army under the largest oak tree they could find. The tree has yet to be located. History, tales, and superstitions have always permeated South Texas, so I’m sure those things influence us and our music.
Do you have a favourite track off the album and if so, which one and why?
Probably Doom and Gloom. To me, the mood of that song seems to curl throughout the rest of the album like smoke. The ashy, breathy approach I was trying to affect in the vocals and the almost opium induced tumbling of the piano melody takes me back to when we first wrote it. I’m glad we captured that correctly. I also remember the lyrics of that one just coming out as if I had always known them. Svia went upstairs for a drink, and by the time he got back, I had finished it. We didn’t want to change a thing. When a song comes out like that it’s best to leave it as it is, I’ve learned.
How do you guys approach song writing and who is the main instigator, and is there one band member who would rather check out what is in the fridge?
I write the main melody on guitar or keys then think about the way it makes me feel. I tend to create the lyrics around that feeling. Svia and Kandi help me arrange the length of parts and particular sounds. We are pretty good at figuring out if it’s something we can work with or not. We have gotten pretty adept at smoothing out the process and making it relatively easy.
Have you been playing live gigs and if so, is it something you like to do?
Oh, yes, as much as possible. We have been lucky enough to open for some hot touring acts right now coming through Texas, as well as some legendary bands that we have admired and loved for years. It has been a real privilege to share the stage with these bands. We look forward to more shows. We know it’s hard starting a new band and taking on all that is necessary to promote it, but we come into it with experience. I feel like the music is bigger than any one of us. It’s the one driving the bus, we’re just the passengers. We’ve come to a place where we need to give back to music what it gave to us, hope. So it doesn’t matter what happens as long as we stay true to ourselves, respect the music, and be open to where it might take us.
Are you just a bunch of dark romantics?
I’d like to think so. I am a lot more empathic these days. We’ve all been through some very hard times in the recent past, and have had to find out where we stand in the world these days. I’d like to think we are all trying to find a better version of ourselves.
What bands/acts got you into the dark alternative scene?
I grew up listening to early metal. It was huge growing up in San Antonio, and still is, really. From that background, industrial was a natural progression for me and piqued my interest in electronic sound. Pretty Hate Machine had just been released. It was a game-changer. It was an incredible album from start to finish, and it sounded nothing like anything else I was hearing at that time. Then I heard Skinny Puppy’s “Too Dark Park.” It simultaneously fascinated me and scared the hell out of me. It was like witnessing something forbidden, the equivalent of sonic porn.
What new acts do you listen to now?
I really like a lot of the bands that are making moves right now. Soft Kill, The KVB, Glass Spells, to name just a few. We tend toward a more traditional goth/dark wave sound with a bit of contemporary style, but our musical tastes are varied and many.
If you had an unlimited video budget, which track off the album would you choose to use, where would you set it, director/actors (dead or alive as we will generously revive) etc?
We are heavy into videos. We have a blast making them. Our plan is to release a video for every one of the 8 songs on this debut. I shoot and edit all of our videos with the help of the band and sometimes friends who volunteer to help. We like to create a vision and look for the video and keep them a little different style wise. We just released the 6th video for “Descend” which features a slow, twisted cruise through a nearby cemetery. We would go there when wanted to clear our heads and it seemed a perfect place for this song and video. The scenery and the quiet there always puts me in a creative mind.
We’ve almost finished the video for “Hollow” as well, that makes 7 videos so far. But, hm. If budget wasn’t an issue, I would choose “Water Under the Bridge” since we haven’t started it. We have some ideas but it needs more time and space to work out how to translate the depth of that song.
What is in the future for In A Darkened Room?
We love meeting new people and experiencing new places, so we hope to do more road shows, touring, festivals, and touring Europe. Writing the music and creating the videos is our focus in the meantime. Hope to see all of you soon. We sincerely appreciate your support, listens, and shares! Please visit our bandcamp for all upcoming music and merch, thank you! ~ IN A DARKENED ROOM
Thank you for enlightening us and for your time!
Sorrows | In a Darkened Room (bandcamp.com)