Interview with Johnny Virum of Virus Cycle

Though our introduction to Boston electro/industrial metallers Virus Cycle started with the remix album Return to Zombieland and moved backwards to their debut Alice In Zombieland it was immediate that the band was one which was bold in its exploration and pushing of the ever evolving boundaries within what we will loosely call industrial music and equally imaginative. Drawing post-apocalyptic soundscapes ruled by the soulless carcasses of the living dead Virus Cycle create inventive and intrusive experiences to ignite and consume the senses. Needing to find out more about the band and their sounds we had the pleasure to fire questions at band founder and multi instrumentalist/vocalist Johnny Virum.

Hello and welcome to The Ringmaster Review

How are things in the world of Johnny Virum?

In one word: BUSY!  We have so much going on in the world of Virus Cycle.  We’re working on the post-production of our new album, playing dates on our …The Dead Are Among Us! Tour 2012, and working on bringing Bluntface Records to the forefront of the industrial music scene.

Tell us about you the man.

Not much to tell really, just a guy who loves horror movies and writes music about it.  My music runs the gamut from industrial all the way to classical music. I also like to think of myself as a history buff – I like it so much I got a bachelors degree in it (which has absolutely nothing to do with the music business, lol).

What are the origins of the band?

Virus Cycle started in 2011 after the dissolution of my previous project back in 2009.

What was the inspiration or stimulus which brought Virus Cycle into reality?

I had been out of the music scene for around two years and wanted to start a project that was pure in its originality, but at the same time, something that would be able to stand toe-to-toe with the sound that has evolved into what is now the norm of the industrial scene today.  I created what could be considered a branch off that sound: Post-Apocalyptic Industrial Zombie Tech. It falls somewhere between industrial, aggrotech and metal.

You have been creating music long before Virus Cycle, has it always been in the same general genre as now?

Virus Cycle is much more experimental and more industrial than my past projects.  Before Virus Cycle, my projects had a lot of programming but were more towards the genre of goth-metal.  I feel I can take more chances in this new project and not be as worried about something not “fitting” into the genre norm.

What are the major influences which have had an influence on your music and invention?

There are many influences when it comes to Virus Cycle’s sound.  When it comes to guitar, it’s very similar to bands like Orgy, The Birthday Massacre and White Zombie.  I use a nasty fuzz pedal with a ring modulator in it from the 90’s.  I love the sound of the ring modulation.  When it comes to vocals, I have many influences but I try to make it my own as much as I can because today everyone sounds the same when it comes to industrial music.  On the new album Skinny Puppy, The Smashing Pumpkins and Cradle of Filth were influences.  When it comes to programming synths and drums, I go for my own sound all the way around. However a big influence for programming is John Ruszin from Carfax Abbey, Collinwood 13 and Sys2matik 0vrl0ad.  In every project he does he is consistent to his own sound.  I love that.

The band name comes from the movie 28 Days Later and you use many samples and film influences to shape and flavour your songs and overall themes. Does one come before the other when creating a song, i.e. do you bring the film imagery and sounds into already composed music?

Yes, that’s what we do. I write all the music first and when I’m done with that, then it’s time to relax for a week or two and watch horror movies while picking out sound clips and writing lyrics.

What is your way of working when writing music?

First I start with the programming.  It usually goes drums, synths, guitar, vocals, then sound clips.  After that, I usually go back and forth changing and tweaking things until it works for me.

Last year saw the release of firstly Alice in Zombieland and in the latter part of 2011 Return to Zombieland. Tell us first about Alice in Zombieland and its overall premise.

The premise of the album revolves around Alice, who is lost in a post-apocalyptic land overrun with flesh-eaters.  The album is really a journey of human survival in a world of the undead.

How long was the album in the making?

The album was in the making for about a year, which was great because I could go back and nitpick as much as I wanted.

We felt the songs within it had some eighties to early nineties flavouring, would you agree with that?

Alice in Zombieland was sort of an experimental album.  For many years I have been a fan of old industrial bands like Skinny Puppy, KMFDM, White Zombie, Throbbing Gristle and old NIN so I felt compelled to record an album that sounded like it was done in 1990.  I wanted to get a realistic feel so I recorded it on a four-track Tascam tape recorder and didn’t over-master it.

Return to Zombieland was a collection of re-mixes from notable artists as well as two new Virus Cycle tracks. Let us first talk about that pair of songs Bring You Down (Forever) and City Of The Dead which with no disrespect to the other people and tracks involved were the highlight of the album. Are the songs representatives of what we will find on the new album you are currently working on?

Yes and no.  The recording of those two songs was a learning experience for me and Otto Kinzel.  This was the first time we worked together in a studio setting, so we got to know how the other worked as well as what worked for us both in the collaboration process.   We came up with many cool tricks in those sessions that will become Virus Cycle staples such as the guitar texture and layering process. The drum programming is going to be totally different on the new album. Instead of just using a simple 4-4 type drum machine sound, I am using both electronic and acoustic drum kits and more “technically complicated patterns” (as Otto describes them) that are going to be nice and layered.

How would you say the songs have evolved from those on your first album?

The songs are a lot more organized, the sound quality is much better, and I feel that it’s a much more cohesive product.

As many of your tracks they both create a thick and enveloping atmosphere, is that aspect carefully crafted or something which organically evolves as your bring your songs to life?

The songs for the most part evolve into a shape all their own.  I like to layer and incorporate many different sounds that contrast one another.  Before the song is ready, it’s pulled apart and changed so many times before the final product is complete.

The rest of the album as mentioned is cover versions of songs from your debut. What inspired the album in the first place?

I have met a lot of awesome musicians while doing this new project, and I really love their sounds.  I thought that if I could do a remix album, I could introduce some of these bands that I have grown to love to my fan base and show them how much more these artists could contribute to my work. In many cases, some of the remixes on Return to Zombieland I enjoyed just as much as the originals.

Did you go to people or they come to you about re-mixing your music?

It was a combination of both, actually.

Our favourites were a couple from Lykquydyzer, friends of the site Ghost In The Static, and Otto Kinzel, who as you mentioned has since become a full contributor to Virus Cycle. We know him from his great work with Chemical Distance, how did you two meet and what led to the full creative union?

Otto had played in many bands throughout the New England area for many years. I never actually met him, but I knew of him from being in the same scene and having mutual acquaintances. I was working on the remix album and he ended up doing a remix of White Zombie that blew me away.  So when I recorded the two new songs for Return to Zombieland, I asked him if he wanted to produce them.  He did and ended up adding some programming and played bass as well.  On the new album, he is producing and playing bass.  He has been working just as hard on this new album as I have. He is a pro and it works out so well because it’s such a relaxed atmosphere between the both of us since we both understand what needs to be done and we don’t get too hung up on timeframes so we can get the best product we can, which takes time.

The band has also joined Bluntface Records, what difference if any has that made to the new album you are working on?

I am so ecstatic to be a member of Bluntface Records. The label works very hard to promote their musicians and projects all over the world.  It’s truly an international label with some artists not even based in the US.  The main difference with working with a label versus being independent is that before, you only had yourself to rely on; now it’s more of a team effort which is a lot of help because it expands your reach. It’s also cool to be able to believe in the label that you are on. So the easy answer is musically it didn’t change the album but it is going to change how it is marketed.

Could you give as any idea about the new album and is it a continuation of your Post-Apocalyptic /Zombie theme?

It definitely is. There are a few songs that deal with topics such as human emotion and witchcraft, which is a little different from the past two albums.  However, the new album lyrically as a whole is what you would come to expect from a Virus Cycle album: a very catchy chorus and verses that tell a story.

Do you have a date in mind for its release?

The new album will probably be released this fall on Bluntface Records (shameless label plug). Right now, the album doesn’t have a title as of yet.

The past months have also seen the band sharing stages with The Ludovico Technique and Mindless Self Indulgence. Both must have been great opportunities to spread ‘the virus’, haha sorry couldn’t resist.

It was haha. I was so happy to share the stage with both bands. The Ludovico Technique is a very hard-working band.  One of their major attributes is that they have a very unique sound and don’t try to conform to every other aggrotech schtick out there. And what can I say about MSI – they are legends!  We were so ecstatic to get the news that we would be sharing the main stage with them.  They have one of the most devoted fan bases in music today. There was about 400- 600 people at that show!

How does the live aspect differ to the studio for you in creating your atmospheric soundscapes?

Whenever I start writing, I make at a major point to only create stuff that will transfer over well in a live environment.  I hate to say it, but sometimes the more simpler something is, the better it sounds live.

We both have a mutual love of zombies themes and zombie movies I feel, so before we go what is your feeling about the TV show The Walking Dead, is it dark enough for you?

I have only seen the first season of the show, but it’s really cool so far. It reminds me a lot of Romero’s movies.

Thank you for sparing time to talk with us, very much appreciated.

Would you like to leave with some final words and maybe your favourite movie or line from a movie, or even one of your songs?

I’m not going to tell you what movie it’s from since everyone should know. I have seen this move a million times since the age of 5, and I still get chills when Ken Foree says, “When there is no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth.”

Read the Return to Zombieland review https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/virus-cycle-return-to-zombieland/

The Ringmaster Review 26/06/2012

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