Canyyn Seeks Stoner Rock’s Soul “In Deep Water” (Early Track Stream + Interview)
Stoner rock and blues have a long history together, but it's rare that the combination truly hits home. I drove around with Radio Moscow's self-titled CD in my car for the entirety of college and never wore it out, but if I'm being honest, few records in the decade or so since then have connected as deeply. Albums that manage to capture the heart and soul of the blues but also bring their own loud, heavy magic to the proceedings are uncommon—but, as it happens, not extinct. Chicago-based Canyyn is set to release their self-titled debut at the end of October, and the new album is a powerful reminder that rock has never actually lost its soul. As fervent disciples of heavy metal and jam bands alike, Canyyn brings heavy tones and primeval, proto-metal-like riffing along with expansive bluesy rock, all anchored by weighty emotional subjects to drag you all the way down. Wade into "In Deep Water" now with our premiere, and check out an interview with the band as well.
Now, stoner rock indulging in blues and heavy metal at the same time isn't a new concept, but it's usually not this seamless: where the heavy metal on Canyyn ends and the heartfelt blues begins is hard to say, because both imbue the other. Drawn-out, minimalist licks hit with the impact of fully-revved-up amplifiers and pounding drums, while even the quickest, meanest riff on the album comes wrapped in warm tones that eagerly invite repeated listens.
None of this works without a band strong enough to make it work, and Canyyn, a power trio, has no weak link in sight. Bassist Dan Rovak's passionate lyrical delivery, tinged with a hint of grit, sells the album's messages of struggle, strife, and a need for change, while his bass lines drive the rhythm and accentuate guitarist Mike Fetzer's melodic work. Fetzer's emotional solos are captivating all on their own, often holding their own for large stretches of songs, but he's never lacking for a big riff when needed. Daniel Schergen ties it all together with relentlessly in-the-pocket drumming and strategic, dynamic fills. There's never a moment on Canyyn where too little or too much is going on: the three-piece's chemistry has been honed and refined into one of their strongest assets.
A stark injection of reality also tips the scales in the album's favor: though the artwork and band aesthetic are imaginative, the band's songs focus on the all-too-real pains of existence, which is much harder to pull off convincingly. That might be one reason why it all hits so hard; Canyyn taps into the darker moments and thoughts that plague us. Not just lyrically: in between the verses on "Wages of Sin" (which you'll have to wait a little longer to hear this album's version of), we feel the narrator's all-too-real dismay intensely, and on "In Deep Water," the rising tide is a real threat. Heavy in sound and spirit, Canyyn's stoner rock is authentic and immersive; the type of music you'll carry around for a long time.
Below, read an interview with Mike Fetzer and Dan Rovak—we discuss the band and album's creation, their thoughts on live albums, and more.
Canyyn, you guys are from the Chicago area, a city with a pretty large scene for heavy music. How did you guys find each other and get started as a band?
Mike Fetzer: Me and Dan Rovak have been playing together for ten years, almost, I want to say—maybe 8 would be the real thing. We were in a band called Tusken before, he played with my buddy Pete who's a real good drummer, he's in a black metal band, a black/grind band called Gaunt now, they're excellent. So, me, Pete, and Dan had started a band called Tusken which was supposed to be like a sludge metal band when I was real into Mastodon and all that.
It ended up not working out and me and Dan moved on and started Canyyn with this guy Eric, who's no longer in the band—our first drummer. That was about two years before we kicked him out and went on a break for like eight months. Then we came back and we were looking for drummers, and we got Dan Schergen who I used to work at Guitar Center with back in the day. We brought him into our tryout and he just, like, nailed it. So that's how we ended up this current iteration, I guess, but yeah me and Dan Rovak have been playing music together for a while.
We've talked in the past and I've seen a couple of your shows -- previously you'd described Canyyn, roughly, as "Allman Brothers meets Black Sabbath" -- still kinda weirdly accurate, but to refine on that, what kind of sound are you aiming to create with Canyyn and is that your vision, the band's, how you ended up jamming together, or what?
Dan Rovak: It is interesting, and actually I think it's something that as a band we are kind of still navigating a little bit. For the most part, I feel like when we started we knew we kind of wanted to do like doom, stoner rock type things.
Fetzer: I feel like we went into Canyyn, after the failure of Tusken, the sludge metal and being more complex, we went into this with the aim of like doing more of a stripped-down rock and roll type thing to simplify the process and get tight faster instead of trying to play crazy hard music. Just to play something a little bit more toned-back in terms of speed and time signatures and stuff. We were really into Kyuss, Earthless...
Rovak: It's been cool, because I guess we all came from some different musical influences. The three of us all bond over Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers and stuff, but you have Mike who in high school was super into prog, and for me I was super into garage rock, and just kind of like smashing it all together -- it's just like, rock and roll, man.
I feel like as we're moving forward, especially now that we have Dan as the drummer, really is influential in the way we're kind of progressing.
Fetzer: Yeah, he has like a songwriting background too, so when we added that element to the band, he really makes an impact on songwriting and understands it and plays to everybody's strengths. Some of the sound has even become like, like, we have some newer songs post this LP that are a little bit even more refined than like what you've heard.
But I think in general we wanted to take this approach with the sound where it's like approachable rock and roll that has the stoner/doom thing but also, we all love jam bands, so like having improvisation there in certain sections, the ability to kind of go off into space and do some of the stuff that Hawkwind did but in a more like Jimi Hendrix/Black Sabbath vein, where it's more formed and not just... I love Hawkwind but it's all Pink Floyd's first record for two hours, you know?
So trying to find that balance between the more expansive, bluesy jam structure and actually getting out there and riffing. I think you guys hit that on this album. When you're writing songs, do you feel like you have to consciously steer things in one direction or the other, or do you think you just kind of found that balance between the two sides?
Fetzer: I think it's a little bit of both, probably. I feel like since Dan Schergen joined the band, three of the songs were done, and we have like since revised them and shaped them a little more. But "Bring Me Down", "Crush Your Bones" and Through The Leaves were the first Canyyn songs. JTB -- it's not called JTB, it's called, uh, "In Deep Water" -- you know, inside band practice names for songs -- was written partially before Dan was in the band and partially after. "Wages of Sin" was written totally with Dan in the band.
We struggled for a while with what our sound was gonna be when Dan came into the band as ideas started flexing back and forth. We probably went for like a year where we had written a lot of stuff -- a lot of riffs, a lot of little concepts, just trying to figure out how we worked together. At some point, things just start like clicking and you figure out how you're gonna do like some of these jam things where you can take it out and really, really, write some stuff. On the newer stuff that you'll hear at some time, obviously this is very new right now, but you're gonna start to hear stuff like The Sword coming in, with songwriting influence, where we can really have like ten riffs stacked on top of each other and drop into a jam session after that.
I think it took a lot of work of both natural jamming and writing and figuring out what we are, and actual, methodical "Okay, this doesn't work. This doesn't work. This doesn't work. These are the things, this is where we're falling."
Speaking of In Deep Water, that's the song we're premiering along with this interview. Could you tell me about the meaning of that song?
Fetzer: This song is mostly centered around my previous cocaine use. That's straight up what the song is about; I've been in recovery for like three and a half years, that was the breaks that the band took between drummers. The song is mostly just about addiction, and being stuck inside those walls, and what it feels like. The song is actually written sorta on it, musically, and then the lyrics were written after I had gone to rehab. It's interesting, from that perspective.
Are there any other songs on the record that had a significant meaning or that stand out?
Fetzer: "Wages of Sin" is about things along similar lines, I think - that's more about the wake of like, being addicted to a hard drug for nine to ten months before you realize that you're tearing everything apart. Then you realize you're tearing everything apart, and how awful life is now, and how much damage you've actually done, hurting most of the relationships in your life and stuff like that. Those are the two significant lyrical values, to me at least.
Rovak: Again, this is something I really appreciate about being in this band. Everyone's contributing. For me, the ones that stand out personally are "Bring Me Down" and "Crush Your Bones" because for me around the time we were writing those songs, I was going through a lot of crazy personal stuff with relationships and this and that, so those songs are actually like kind of toxic love songs, in a way. We go back and forth, and if someone has feelings about something, it just kinda happens.
That's a big differentiator against a lot of stoner rock. You guys are really staying away from the occult stuff and talking about more tangible, real things.
Fetzer: Yeah. It's definitely interesting because I'm a dork, right? In the room we're doing this interview from, I've got Warhammer minis all over my desk and like, D&D stuff. I love to sing songs about like Excalibur and knights and dragons and stuff. Part of me wants to write music about that, but when we actually sit down to really write lyrics, we end up kind of having real things front and center. We may take our lyrical direction towards some of those more fantasy or sci-fi or Tolkien elements, but even if we did I think the lyrics would still be a metaphor for real, normal life challenges and things. That's just kind of where we end up as songwriters.
Rovak: I think you could even say that "Through The Leaves" kind of starts to take more of that direction, the thematic layout of that song lyrically, but again I think in the same way that somebody could listen to "In Deep Water" and not necessarily recognize right away what it's about, there always is an underneath message and purpose behind what the lyrics are.
Fetzer: Yeah, absolutely.
Going back to Wages of Sin, you also released a version of that on your Live at DZ Records live-session EP back in 2019. I noticed the version here is a different length - were there any changes you made to that?
Fetzer: [Laughs] So, the guy who recorded that actually said something to us: he was like "That song's kinda long." And I remember I had some snarky fuckin' response to him like, uh, "Blues songs are always long, have you looked into Albert King?" or something like that. And then, as we were preparing for the record, we were all sitting there like, you know what? This song is kind of long [Laughs]. So we just took a verse out of it, a vocal verse, you know?
It's a slow, twelve-eight blues, or six-four blues, or whatever you want to call it—I think it's a six-four, actually—but because of what that is, every verse is almost two minutes of length, or a minute and a half, so we were just like with two guitar solo verses and three vocal verses, that's enough, with the bridge and the ending. We don't need an eleven-minute blues song.
Fetzer: Well, you come to the live show, maybe it'll be 45 minutes.
That was my next question - when you're playing these live, how tightly do you stick to the structure, what level of improvisation is there?
Fetzer: There's a lot live, usually. Sometimes we'll decide to take stuff out a little longer. Usually not blues songs, because it's a more traditional structure, yeah, maybe once in a while, but usually it'll be "Bring Me Down" or "Through The Leaves" we'll decide to really dig in on a section in the jam and just kind of take it out.
We've started playing to clicks and stuff, so we will be rehearsing some of that stuff to clicks. I don't think we're gonna play it live to clicks, just to leave that improvisation element, but we've just found that our tempo variance and everything is like—playing with click tracks, you just end up so much tighter, it's ridiculous.
So yeah, there'll be quite a bit of improvisation and I think that if you guys come to the release show, you'll see. We've got some weird improv stuff planned for sure, so it should be a good time.
Dan, do you get to improvise too or is it all Mike?
Rovak: [Laughs] Yeah. I feel like when we really start digging into those sections, especially when it's like, some of what we do is kind of like structured improv, and then there's things that end up like completely pure improv. So when that's going it's just all of us kinda going for it, but we follow each other, you know?
Fetzer: Yeah, and I think everyone brings like a different layer of that improv to the band. Depending on the directions we take things in, we'll kind of like end up in different places. It's cool because I listen to Dan and Dan; without the Dans, there is no three-minute guitar solo, or whatever I'm doing. I tend to think those things, actually, as I get older, unless your rhythm section is very interesting, those things get very boring to play and listen to, once you're not 20 years old anymore. There is that element of, if they're not continuing to drive rhythmically an evolution, there is stagnation in the jam. I think they're just as important as I am to improvisation myself, if not more important.
You guys recorded your debut LP here in Chicago at Bricktop Recording. What made you pick Bricktop, and how did you track the album?
Fetzer: This is gonna be an expansive question. I hit up my buddy Paul Aluculesei who graduated from Columbia for production a while back. When I was at High School, Paul and my buddy Alex were playing in this prog band Fathoms, and they were so good at playing prog metal. They ripped, they were nuts, especially for like 17-18 year olds, they were incredible, opening for Periphery and Abstract. Paul ended up working at Lab IV for a while before that shut down.
When we got to this, I'd done production and been playing, never like super-super seriously, but I'm decent. I didn't wanna do this record, I didn't want the responsibility, I didn't want to struggle with it, so I hit up Paul because Paul did the most recent Warforged record, he did the drums on it. I knew I couldn't get the drum quality that Paul could get, so initially it was like a drums conversation: "Hey dude, could you do the drums for this record?" and then it turned into "Hey, let's do the whole thing" because it would just benefit from it all around. The drum sound makes your record, so I wasn't really willing to compromise on that.
So, we hit up Paul and we spent about a year in pre-production, metronoming stuff up, tightening the song structures down. Some things like Blues Song—uh, which is "Wages of Sin" I guess, but not Blues Song, it'd be more like "Through The Leaves" and "Bring Me Down," which had like lengthier structures that were less put together at the time. So we ended up nailing those down, and the tempo transitions, where they're at and everything. Paul was looking at multiple studios, but he had a connection with Pete Grossman, so he said "Hey, let's go to Bricktop, we'll get this price on it and pay this." We took two days, we spent 14 hours a day, basically a Friday and a Saturday, or a Saturday and a Sunday maybe, and we recorded the whole thing.
First thing we did was we live tracked every song. All the solos except one are from the live tracks, initially. I think it's "In Deep Water", that's the only one I ended up doing over. All the bass tracks are from the live band session, and at least one rhythm track for guitar, unless I really screwed up, which was only like once or twice, was from a live section. There's an additional rhythm guitar overdub and sometimes a third overdub when I was trying to do the Sleep thing and I used the Orange amp with the Matamp circuit. So, like, on "In Deep Water", "Wages of Sin", "Bring Me Down"—"In Deep Water" has it the whole time. We have a third guitar track with that Orange on it to add some extra fuzz and heaviness.
Then Dan did vocal overdubs, I think there's drum overdubs just on "Wages of Sin", and that was pretty much it. We did the vocal overdubs, I went and did backing after Dan did his main vocals. The first day was all live tracking, and all the big solos—everything you're gonna hear from "Bring Me Down" and "Through The Leaves," the long ones. Those were all done live in the studio with the band just playing. Everything except Wages of Sin, those are going to be those drum tracks as well, and all the bass tracks.
So it gave us kind of a live feel, which is really cool and I think really important to, especially, how these songs on this record sound, but it also allowed us to get like the tightness of a studio and really hammer things out.
Rovak: I definitely think it's important for us, and maybe we weren't conscious of it during this initial record, but maintaining that live element is important for Canyyn because before this record, basically the goal was just play, play, play, play. That's really what helped us create how we sound and really helped us build everything, so that's just an element—it's just part of who we are, what our sound came out to be.
Fetzer: Yeah, absolutely.
So you guys right now, you're a power trio. How do you tell your Dans apart?
Fetzer: [Laughs] It ends up being like, last names, for me, and I'm the only one that has to differentiate. The Dans refer to each other as Dan. It's clear who's talking. But I end up deferring to last names usually when I'm talking to both of them in a situation. There's not eye contact made or something like that.
Rovak: If I'm not mistaken, I feel like usually when we're introducing ourselves in person, Dan Schergen will opt for Daniel. So I'm Dan, and he's Daniel.
Nice. Follow up question, do you have any thoughts on expanding the lineup or is this where you want to sit?
Fetzer: I think the biggest thing is that a three-piece is really easy to work with. Less band members is less bullshit, man. It really, really is. And the three-piece thing, I love it, you know, I love Jimi Hendrix and like Rush and all that, so I've always thought a three piece itself was cool. And Sleep is a three piece, you know. It's very possible to have a big sound as a three piece: Earthless is a three piece.
We have talked about it, and it is like an interesting direction—it would have to be the right person is what it comes down to, and it would be for certain reasons. I tend to lean more toward we would get a keyboard player, in some aspects, or we would get a rhythm guitarist that could also play leads so we could do like some Thin Lizzy style harmonies. We all love Thin Lizzy, and the Sword, and that kind of stuff. Even the Allman Brothers, all that guitar harmony stuff is really cool.
Whoever we add will have to be able to stay pretty toe-to-toe with me, melody wise. There's been talk about Dan's original guitar player, who plays bass, we've talked about, well if it's the right bass player, we could bring a bass player in and have Dan play guitar with me. I think it comes down to the right person. That's the most important thing in that scenario. We don't want to add nonsense to something that's ready and firing on all cylinders.
Rovak: It also depends on where we end up. I feel like where we're sitting in this particular moment, nothing is calling for it, but as we keep writing, as we keep developing, who knows?
Mike, when we talked before this interview, you mentioned that I should listen to the Allman Brothers Band's At Fillmore East, and I did, and it's good. What do you think makes these classic live albums so great and do you think that there's opportunities for those to be good in modern day versus a studio recording?
Fetzer: Yeah, absolutely. I'm a big proponent, I love live music. I think some bands are live bands and I think your live performance is a lot of things, especially in rock and roll, and I think it was a lot of things back in the day. Even in this like stoner/doom genre we play, you're still not experiencing the band, in a lot of situations, just by listening to their record on the stereo. There's magic, especially with improvisation and stuff like you get on that Allman Brothers recorRovak: the crowd, the band, just being on stage together and there's some type of thing that happens when a band is tight where you can just go through these sonic walls. You can really hear it on that Allman Brothers record. If you've ever seen Sleep when they're really on, I think they have that kind of thing too. It even sounds a little Allman Brothers-y at times, when Matt Pike would be rolling up his guitar knob or something like that.
But there's a thing about live music, and I think live records can be done well, and I think they should be, you know? My favorite Thin Lizzy record is Live and Dangerous, even though some of that record's not live [laughs]. Regardless, you hit these transcendent moments—when you're playing in a studio, your goals are different. Playing live, I'm more like to explore and expand and be myself as a guitar player on stage, and we're more likely to be us versus -- not to say that the album is a product, but a more product-y version of your songs that are really reeled in and controlled and made to be consumed. Especially in the digital age, I think it's important.
Rovak: To add to that, thinking about live recordings, there's something like—I'll never sell anyone short, it takes work to go in the studio and make a record no matter what. But even for me, I can listen to a record and I can really love it and know that it's super good, but when you see a live show that is so tight, and the live show is good, that's what makes your jaw drop.
Fetzer: Live recordings are still a viable thing. I think the modern age, we maybe don't see it as much up front, especially in like more mainstream pop music, it's kind of gotten away from that a lot and everything is about the big production stage show. This is partially probably Pink Floyd and Roger Waters' fault—don't get me wrong, I play music to some degree because of Pink Floyd, I love Pink Floyd, but The Wall is kind of the beginning of that kind of thing where we have moved away from it being about the band and the music and more about the giant stage show. I don't know, man, I'm going to see the Grateful Dead on Saturday and they're still, I guess it's Dead & Company, but like, never in my life did I think I'd enjoy John Mayer, but the last time I saw them they were incredible. I've never a band just play music like that before.
Are we going to get a live record for Canyyn any time soon?
Fetzer: Well, we're talking about filming the release show if we can find someone to do it reasonably. That venue has really good sound, so if we can get a decent stereo mix off that board or even a multi-track mix, I may be able to do some things with that and get it out. But yeah, as long as we keep going, there will be a live record from us at some point.
Canyyn releases October 30th and can be preordered via the band's Bandcamp page.