Now working on Chamber of Echoes’ first full-length album, Klaryssa Korolenkov speaks to ReGen about the experiences that have led the project to its current incarnation.
An Interview with Klaryssa Korolenkov of Chamber of Echoes
By: Ilker Yücel
In this day and age, talent and fame rarely go hand in hand; one need only listen to mainstream radio for proof. As incendiary a statement as that may sound, nobody knows this better than the up and coming musician who arrives into a record company executive’s office with stars twinkling in their eyes, a heart full of hope, and all the confidence in the world to display exhibitions of musical skill and drive that simply can’t be learned, all in an effort to be recognized and perhaps celebrated by a larger audience…only to have those dreams quashed under the weight of the moneymaking mentality that places profit over art.
This is a difficult lesson that Klaryssa Korolenkov has learned and thankfully survived in bringing her artistic and musical vision to fruition: a vision in the form of her band, Chamber of Echoes. In 2010, she released an ambitious debut, Unbound and Set Free / Under Lock and Key, a dual EP that featured two distinct versions of her songs – one produced at NRG Studios, the other produced by Korolenkov as she originally intended – perhaps acting as the ultimate example of where the mainstream and underground mentalities clash. More than that, listeners beheld Chamber of Echoes’ dynamic brand of dark industrial rock, full of subtle complexity and resonating atmosphere. Taking her destiny into her own hands, Korolenkov took Chamber of Echoes to the next step with a live band and honing her songwriting skills, the four-track Asylum EP following in early 2011.
Now working on the first full-length album, World of Silence, Korolenkov speaks to ReGen about the experiences that have led Chamber of Echoes to its current incarnation. From her beginnings as an aspiring musician to the ups and downs of dealing with the music industry to the formation of the current lineup, we are guided through a stimulating sensory feast of audio/visual escapism.
Tell us about your musical background and how you first started Chamber of Echoes.
Korolenkov: I started taking music lessons when I was seven and a half; I started on the piano and I had classical training, but I dropped out because I was bored with it. I started to write the classical pieces over. When I’d go in for lessons, I would play them as rock versions, and the teachers wouldn’t get mad, which was really weird. After doing that, I started getting interested in programming because when I was 16 or 17, I kept on looking to be in bands and every band I wanted to be in was always looking for programmers, not piano players. So I started listening to bands that had heavy programming. That’s when I really got into Nine Inch Nails and studied who Trent Reznor was, how he played everything, how he made his first album and wrote everything himself. I thought, ‘Well, why do I need a band? Why don’t I just be like him and play everything and try to figure it out?’ When I was still in high school, I started getting into engineering. I didn’t have any money to do it, so I was learning everything I could from the Internet. I had an old microphone from my computer from 1995; I ghetto-rigged it so I could record from it, and that’s how I tracked my demos, because hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.
When I was about 19 or 20, I started getting into engineering and researching everything that I could. I was still having a hard time finding bands, because every band I wanted to be in was full of egomaniacs and people that weren’t really sure of what they wanted. I felt that I really had to start my own thing, start my own band. I started developing the MySpace accounts, back when MySpace was still really popular, and I was putting my rough demos up there, but it still wasn’t called Chamber of Echoes at that time. One night when I was sleeping, I was really hyper from creating, and I kept on waking up. The name literally popped into my head mid-sleep without me having to even try to make something up! I thought it sounded very mysterious and dark, and maybe something a younger audience would wonder about and want to look into.
Chamber of Echoes has a very strong visual aesthetic, full of sepiatone and gothic/sci-fi elements. How did the visual components of the band develop in relation to the music?
Korolenkov: Because I’m a visual artist also, I’m involved in a lot of creative things like makeup design and costume design, painting, graphic design. I wondered how I could combine all of those things into my music as well. I thought, ‘Why don’t I turn Chamber of Echoes into a visual and musical project or a multimedia project? It could be a combination of music with performance art and video art,’ and then it started developing into this entity. I started putting a story behind it and getting my friends involved in different creative roles. It would be a new art movement. It’s still evolving, and I don’t really know how to classify the type of art movement that it is, but it definitely encompasses a lot of different things.
I wanted to try to be as visual and creative as possible in addition to the music, because there don’t seem to be a lot of bands like that right now. I wasn’t finding a lot of new music that I was interested in; nobody seemed to be coming up with any outrageous ideas, and I didn’t see or come across too many musical visionaries. You can’t really become a visionary, but that’s what I’m trying to do; I’m trying to create something that will inspire people when they see us onstage. Because our performance is so sensory and stimulating, the audience will get lost in a whole new environment and be wrapped up in the escapism.
I have a strong art background, and I was an art major in college. In art history classes and contemporary art classes, you get introduced to the new artists of the day, so I was getting all of these visuals thrown at me constantly, so I would pull ideas from current artists. I watch a lot of music videos from my favorite artists, and I have a particular director who is my favorite, Mark Romanek. He did the video for Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer.’ He is my favorite director of all time, and his visuals and what he creates are my number one influence for Chamber of Echoes. Not all of his music videos look like that, but he uses really saturated colors and surrealism, and he pulls a lot from different cultures. Another huge influence on me is the post-apocalyptic. I’ve loved it since I was six years old; like the Mad Max movies, graphic novels I’ve seen from Japan, so I try to implement that. I love tribal and Victorian imagery – and goth, which is of course a huge influence on me. I’m also a big fan of Kris Kuksi, Chet Zar, and Zdzisław Beksiński.
You’re currently working on a new full-length album. Tell us about the development of the music and the lyrics from the audio and visual standpoint.
Korolenkov: It isn’t until now that I’m really developing as a lyricist and trying to put a really strong visual story behind my lyrics to complement the visuals. With the new album, it’s about fighting off social control, about breaking boundaries emotionally, expressing creative freedom and not being chained down to what society wants to water you down as. A lot of that ties into futurism, and it’s all just a common theme that I’ve seen in a lot of post-apocalyptic films or in futuristic novels. We try to wear costumes to set that environment so that it’s very theatrical. It’s almost like you’re in a different time when you watch us. We don’t want to look like a regular band; we want to be memorable and to set a theme when we perform. We are finally getting things made for stage, like banners and custom stands for our instruments, so that all adds to the environment.
I do a lot of the artwork, the merch design, I develop the look of the website, I do all the graphics for the social networks, and I do all the art direction for the costumes. We just worked on six mini-music videos to promote World of Silence, the new album. They’re essentially previews of songs, and each clip will be about a minute long and feature live performances of the songs. There are no vocals in the clips, because I want you to be able to focus on the music itself, but it will give you a taste of where the album is going sonically. Our faces are blurred in the videos, so we’re kept anonymous. Those are currently being edited, and every member of the band gets one. They will be put in order online as you would record an album; you track drums first, and then you mix in the bass, and so on. My video would be like a short film trailer, adding to the visual part of the project because it’s just another form of expression. I don’t want to put a date on it too soon, but January will probably be the latest that it gets released.
As far as the new album, World of Silence…it’s titled World of Silence because that was the first song that I wrote for it that was different from the Asylum EP. It was written at a time when I decided I was going to give it my all or nothing. I was starting to write about those issues of social control and conformity, so that theme began to develop. I want it to be about honing in on your own creative drive and expression, having the freedom to do so and having the power to believe in yourself. It’s a positive album; it’s not negative at all. That’s where this new album is going and it will be by far the most experimental but hopefully accessible. It’s going to have the most visual components to it – we’re going to be contacting some directors soon for official music videos, and we will be having more elaborate costumes and visual projections that will finally be able to be shown live. This is the real deal to the nth degree. World of Silence is going to be everything that I can possibly give.
You’ve already released two EPs, but this current project is your first full-length album. For what reasons have you not released a full album yet?
Korolenkov: Yes, I released Unbound and Set Free and then a four-song EP in January of 2011, but why I’ve not released a full-length album yet is because I write songs, and they sometimes come as a body of their own or as a set of songs with their own concept, and no other songs really fit them. I prefer then to release them as a unit instead of trying to mix and match a bunch of songs to create this product of an album. I’d rather they come out as their own entities, so I only released those four songs in between. Plus, with the way music is now, everybody wants music now, and they can get it whenever they want. Fans and artists kind of need that constant reminder that the artist is still creating, so instead of waiting three to five years for an album to come out, fans would rather get an EP every year or every year-and-a-half and it will keep them really interested in and following the artist. It gives them something to look forward to instead of having to wait.
The Asylum EP is available through iTunes. I went through Interscope Digital Distrubution, so it’s been released on every major digital retailer you can think of. Asylum actually has gotten definite radio play across the United States, and both of my past EPs have been played on various online radio stations, but Asylum especially. It was a four song EP that was about mental illness and recovery. If you analyze the lyrics from the first song to the last, it’s about being trapped by your own mental demons, losing your sanity, trying to resist the help that somebody tries to give to you, and then at the end, you let go and break free. The last song is an instrumental song that is really peaceful but also eerie. It’s meant to provide an emotional release for the listener and be something that you can get lost in, but still find the light at the end of the tunnel.
The first release was a dual EP – Unbound and Set Free / Under Lock and Key – featuring two versions of the same songs, one produced by you, and the other with NRG Studios. What can you tell us about the experience? What sorts of lessons did you learn and how are you applying them to your current work?
Korolenkov: I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my working with NRG Studios. I don’t want to say anything too negative, but when you work with people that are in the mainstream world, it’s like looking through rose-colored glasses. You think it’s really exciting, but depending on the people you’re working with, it may not be what you thought it was and it may take on a form that you weren’t aware of. To be honest, I felt like I got ripped off. I worked with Jay Gordon and Jay Baumgardner, and they both have the same manager. I was pretty starstruck, and I was excited to record at NRG where many of my favorite albums and bands had been recorded and produced with Jay Baumgardner, who owns the studio. The entire time I was there, they gave me a budget breakdown that I now wish I had spent on more practical items like promotion, publicity or management. I didn’t know that back then because I’d come from Orange County, where the music industry is nonexistent, and I was inexperienced, young and naive. I was going in it blind. There were a lot of things regarding the recording of that EP that I don’t want to go into, but I will say that the first day tracking, I had to get drunk – and I don’t drink – because it was so emotionally traumatizing, dealing with the constant fight. I can write my own music and lyrics, and I know how to produce, and I have the abilities to make a great album. I went to them with rough demos of the songs, but they were pretty much fully produced…and they scrapped them. They insisted that I use their session musicians, because the way they do things is to record with live instruments first and then put programming back, but that made no sense to me because it’s meant to be electronic and industrial. As it turned out, I later found out that they don’t even like industrial. Finally, I convinced them to allow me to put my own programming back into my music that I was paying for, and they didn’t put half of what I wanted in there to begin with, and even that got mangled. When it was completed, I played the recording for some friends and they all said that it sounded like Paramore or Three Days Grace or Evanescence, and not even a good one. It wasn’t listenable, I felt embarrassed, especially because this cost a lot of time and emotional energy.
I then thought that maybe I should put out my version and produce it the way I intended and then release both of them so that people can see how the industry can be fucked up and how you have to stay true to your artistic convictions. I found this little recording studio in Fullerton, and I did hire session musicians to play things that I could not do, like play amazing guitar. I’m a horrible guitarist; my hands are too small! I was really experimental and still developing as a songwriter. I had probably too many influences for that EP because I like so many different types of music. Industrial at the core is what I will always love, as well as goth and electronic, but I pulled a lot of bands that you’d never even know that I liked and put them in that EP. We did things in the studio like hook up an electric violin to guitar pedals and then sample it, or taking the sounds of an organ and applying fuzz distortion, or recording the strings of the piano where the hammers hit. My co-producer at that time found an old Moog synthesizer in the trash! We made drum hits from that synth, and we used all kinds of weird instruments. It was a really emotionally freeing thing, and I’m glad I did it. I just let myself go and I put the lyrics back to what they originally were supposed to be. I applied the same track listing to both versions of the EP so people could hear on the NRG version how it was deconstructed and made into a commercial product while my version is…just art. I want people to hear that, because I think it’s important that they know there are a lot of good musicians out there and they sometimes get screwed over by labels because they want a quick buck, and once it’s proven that you can make money, then you can do whatever you want. Why is it like that? Why can they not just believe in the artist for the art or the creation and believe that that will make more money for them because it’s real?
You’ve taken Chamber of Echoes into the live environment, yet the current lineup features different personnel than those who worked on the Asylum EP. Can you tell us about the lineup history of Chamber of Echoes?
Korolenkov: I officially started doing my own music in 2006, calling it Chamber of Echoes in 2007 or early 2008, but it didn’t become a fully live entity until around 2010. So it’s only been a live band for a year and a half, and in that time, we’ve had many lineup changes. The first lineup involved a friend moving in with me and with whom I worked on a lot of music with. Through his friends, I found a bassist and programmer, and they were a husband and wife going through a divorce, so that was already risky, though they seemed to be getting along at the time. The drummer was actually a session drummer I hired to track live drums on Unbound and Set Free, but he was really, really about money. Most of the time, my band members do not play for free; I have to pay them. It is my project and the creative direction falls under my word, but I felt that if I didn’t pay them, then they wouldn’t believe in this, and I was worried that it would turn into another NRG situation. So I felt I should just pay them, but that gets expensive after awhile. The bassist for that lineup is still a friend of mine now, but there were personality conflicts at the time, as there were with pretty much all of them before long. How our current drummer, Chris Marin, and I met was when he was going to an industrial club in L.A., Das Bunker. It was his first time there, and he ran into my bassist and they ended up talking. That week, I went to this big musicians’ referral agency called Barry Squire, who recruits musicians for Nine Inch Nails and Lady Gaga and Beyoncé and everyone you can think of. I felt, ‘If I can’t find a drummer through him, then I can’t find a drummer.’ I was going through auditions, but the bassist said, ‘You need to try this guy, Chris. He’s really good. I’ve never actually heard him, but I think he’s going to be good.’ [Laughs.]
He came in and he blew my socks off! He was really peaceful and he listened, he got the music. He wasn’t a big fan of industrial because he’d never been introduced to it before. Now he can’t get enough of it. He can mimic electronic beats perfectly. He can do disco beats, house beats, techno beats or anything that you can think of because he studies it. He loves it! He’s integrated drum triggers and pads into his kit, so it really helps us sound great live, and he has a lot of fun! But the rest of the band fell apart. I went through seven lineup changes in a year. I moved to L.A. feeling that Chamber of Echoes was over, but that I had to continue, though not knowing how. I met other musicians in other bands in the clubs, and some of them would say, ‘You went through seven lineup changes? I went through 13 in one year! It happens. People don’t understand that you’re a real artist and that you have a vision, and they have egos and it’s something they’ll never get. Just keep on doing it. Do not give up!’
Xavier Mendoza was a friend I made at the clubs who came up to me saying, ‘Please let me be in your band!’ He was in my friend’s band, and I was worried that she would think I was stealing him, but he didn’t care. So I auditioned him and he ended up being in my band, and that girl and I aren’t friends anymore because she thinks I stole him. [Laughs.]
I was a fan of a band called I Am Ghost, who were signed to Epitaph Records and they were pretty big. They’d gotten on MTV and all the major music networks and they had major interviews and press and were in all the big music magazines. They were good and had a great work ethic, but they were hardcore metal. My friend Francis, who has been my best friend for eight years and has helped manage us and get us shows and counsels all the members, said that I should talk to Tim Rosales from I Am Ghost. I said, ‘Dude, he’s a celebrity. There’s no way he’s going to do it.’ Francis said, ‘He loves music. Try him.’ So I actually texted Tim and asked if he would be interested, explaining everything that happened with NRG and all the things I wanted to do with the band, and he was totally into it. We all had dinner, and Francis was there, and Tim said, ‘I will totally be in your band.’ He is a brilliant songwriter and an excellent musician. We’ve never had a fight. He’s a great listener and very spiritually sound. He brings a lot to the table and ended up becoming a permanent member. I let him write because I believe in his talent, and that’s the thing about this lineup – there are no egos. We get along fantastically.
As far as my boyfriend, Jeffrey Myers, being in the band…well, I am really family oriented. I am absolutely in love with my boyfriend and he is immensely talented. I just thought I would give him this opportunity because I think his talent needs to be showcased. It was really sad and unfortunate to me that he hadn’t had a really big opportunity where he could do that. How we met was like love at first sight: we saw each other at a restaurant the week before I moved to L.A. Neither of us had ever had anything like that happen to us, and I never forgot about him. It was serendipitous love at first sight. I had a big housewarming party, and my ex-bassist brought his friend whose best friend was Jeff. We just kept on crossing paths. He ended up bringing Jeff to my house, and I thought, ‘Oh my god! It’s the guy from the restaurant!’ We totally remembered each other and have been dating each other ever since. It was two months in and he said, ‘Let’s play music’ one night. I’d heard him play guitar before and thought he was brilliant, so I kept thinking that there’s got to be a way for me to bring him into this band. He’s my male match of musical understanding. He has a big background in music. He plays more than one instrument, he can produce and engineer, he can sing, and all of his musical influences happen to be the same as mine. He listens to a lot of obscure and experimental bands that are tagged onto the industrial scene, a lot of old-school, and those influences are starting to seep into the new music. He doubles on keyboards when we play live, so it’s a setup not dissimilar to KMFDM, the way Sascha and Lucia are up front and center and sometimes switch off.
All of these people together are people who really have a passion for music, are multi-talented and have a lot of knowledge about what they’re doing…it’s going to be a really multi-faceted performance. It’s not just a singer with a band. The audience seems to really like that a lot. This is the first time that I’ve felt secure with the band lineup and secure that everyone in the band is doing it for the music and not the money, and that they really believe in it and want to be part of it. They want to promote and to go out to clubs and try to get us in magazines and submit us. It’s not just me doing all the footwork. Because everybody is so musically talented and on the same level, they’re actually co-writing and contributing and bringing ideas to the table, and they’re good ideas. I am going to be producing this new album and full engineering it because I haven’t found an engineer that I can actually work with.
You’ve mentioned record labels quite a bit, from NRG’s shopping of their version of the EP to major labels, to having to release Asylum via iTunes to labels your band mates have been associated with. As you, like many underground artists, have started your own label, what can you tell us about your goals with the record label and how it has benefitted Chamber of Echoes?
Korolenkov: I started Ekstasis Records with a few things in mind. I did it as a way to release my own music. You know how Trent Reznor started Nothing Records to give him a loophole where he wouldn’t have creative control issues under Interscope? Well, I created Ekstasis Records for that purpose initially, so that if we ever got signed to a label that wanted to control us the way NRG tried to control me, Ekstasis would be our savior and give us that loophole to say, ‘We’re already under this sublabel; that means you can’t try to turn us into something we don’t want to be.’ I eventually want to turn it into a real record label/production house and do artist development. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to other people. It was a waste of time and emotional energy, and I didn’t have the best guidance at the time. Where I’m going now, I want to give people who are artists that are independent and just starting out that opportunity, to help them and not let other people control them or make them pay for things they shouldn’t have to. Some people don’t even know how to market on social networks. They’re not familiar with the concepts of getting publicity, writing cover letters, and things like that.
I also want to make Ekstasis a production studio, because I’m already a producer and engineer and I can use my band and other musicians and friends that are multi-talented to work with us as a team to produce other artists and give them what they want. I think that we want to try to do an online production studio so we can produce anybody in the world. All they would need to provide would be a vocal track and a rough demo to give us an idea of their song, and we would produce a mockup and with their approval continue to work with them. We wouldn’t charge outrageous prices. There are only a few online recording studios that I’m aware, and for one song they charge $750. What kid who is 18 years old and just starting out is going to have $750?! I’m saddened at the state of the industry. I’m saddened that the wrong artists are being promoted; the artists that don’t have the vision. They’re just the artists who know somebody or who put out. I think there are thousands of talented people in this world who need to be showcased and they’re not getting the proper exposure just because they don’t know how to go about doing that. I want to help with that.
As stated, many underground artists are starting their own labels – much as you just mentioned the way Trent Reznor started Nothing – to take creative control without major label interference. Having been through the experience of working with the mainstream studio and label process, what are your thoughts on the way the music business is run, and how is that affecting your outlook on your new music?
Korolenkov: There are the major labels and then there are the underground labels that are just trying to survive. The underground labels are pushing down the mainstream by leaps and bounds as far as what the audience believes in. I’m not bashing major labels; I would never turn one down, providing that they offer us something that would be helpful to our vision. But a lot of the people in the mainstream labels are not going about music the right way. There are so many rules and regulations. The image is what matters to them. The product and the branding are the things important to them. They don’t care about the quality of the music as much. The way that music is now, if you listen to any major popular radio station, there are five keywords that I come across in any song that has radio play: ‘club,’ ‘DJ,’ ‘tonight,’ ‘woman’ and ‘party.’ That’s what it is about!
With the new album, as I said before, I’m giving it my all or nothing. ‘This is going to be my Downward Spiral,’ that’s what I’ve been saying to myself. I listen to a lot of hip-hop, R&B, and rap music because – and no offense to those genres – a lot of it is watered down and rehashed and repeated over and over again. I try to listen to it because I try to understand the commercial or mass appeal behind it. When I understand the key elements of what makes those songs so popular, I take those elements and put them into my music. It’s a formula, and I feel like it’s a secret to success, even though it’s not really a secret. You just have to really dissect what’s popular in pop music and apply it to your own genre. I want the audience to appreciate what we’re doing, and I want to cater to the audience. Without your audience, you’re nothing. You can believe in yourself, but you need other people to believe in you too, because they are the ones who are going to carry you through your career. They are the ones who are going to be out there buying your albums and supporting you because they want you. Why wouldn’t you want to make them happy and give them what they want? Satisfy your own needs, of course, but you should try to appeal to your audience because you want them to appreciate you and show your appreciation by giving them what they want.