Hydrus Hypnosis: Estuarine’s “Sic Erat Scriptum”
We champion solo acts because they're driven by intense personal conviction, sometimes madness. When someone pours so much of themselves into one project, we're bound to respect the effort even if the resulting music isn't to our particular tastes. However, if the output suits and satisfies us, we gain another level of appreciation, one focused squarely on an artist's singular expression of his/her musical style. Certainly, collaboration breeds all kinds of brilliance, but doing something solo allows for pure self-expression, undistilled and unfiltered. This is always a special opportunity (albeit a large risk), especially when the artist's style is daringly distinctive and exceedingly eccentric.
Enter Tampa-based "experimental technical blackened deathgrind" project Estuarine, the brainchild of he who goes by Hydrus. Simultaneously focused and impulsive, the project's third album Sic Erat Scriptum sprawls wildly across seemingly incompatible technical landscapes, serving as consummation of Estuarine's previous work. Incorporating elements like "twangy chicken-picking" alongside shreddy, saturated tech-death, Sic Erat Scriptum reaches for the unknown while also grounding itself comfortably among familiar metal tropes. In this way and many others, the album (and Hydrus himself) is progressive without pretension, inventive without imitation. This balance necessitates a certain artistry; in the case of Estuarine, it all comes down to songwriting.
The structure of Sic Erat Scriptum twirls chaotically, favoring switchbacks to straightaways. In accomodation, Hydrus was incredibly nimble when constructing the album's nine songs: light on his feet (i.e. delicate with his fingers), but with enough traction needed to explode into almighty chunk riffs. Sometimes the most intense moments feel incredibly short-lived, as if each track was an amalgamation of hyper-complex grindcore songs -- only you begin to notice a coherent storyline, each movement interwoven using the same blackened, deathened thread. Despite its outlandishness, Sic Erat Scriptum is entirely lean: no riff carried on too long, no climactic opportunity missed. And despite its leanness, it feels infinitely deep -- easy to get lost in -- rendering repeat listens as milestones in an ongoing and prolific discovery.
We chatted with Hydrus about Sic Erat Scriptum, his work with Led by Serpents, and his influences/inspirations. Also, check out the newly-uploaded playthrough videos Hydrus prepared as accompaniment to the interview, embedded within.
Sic Erat Scriptum exudes technicality, and I think your style shines well through the wild complexity, speed, and layering. How would you describe your creative approach to the album: experimental, expressive, eccentric, or something entirely different? Do you ever encounter moments during writing when technicality and songwriting need to compromise?
My creative approach would be obsessive. My writing tends to happen in bursts, and whenever I hit one of those bursts, I'll cater to it at all costs which often leads to sleepless nights, missed meals, and getting fucking fired.
It's not uncommon for me to work on music for days at a time without breaks. That being said, technicality means nothing to me, and I almost always try to simplify my ideas to some degree. I simply like to play what I want to hear which tends to be fast and chaotic which maybe lends itself to being technical.
Words like “psychedelic” and “unorthodox” have been associated with Estuarine – what do you make of these terms? Relatedly, to what extent do you consider the music’s overall atmosphere – the elevated headspace it creates and sustains -- when writing?
I think that those descriptors qualify as compliments. They tell me that people are hearing things that are a little bit out of their comfort zone and that's great. I think the best metal tends to be the kind that makes people feel out of their element. It's not extreme if it's comfortable. I don't have any kind of goals when I make music though, I just make music that I want to hear.
I'd confidently say that Sic Erat Scriptum qualifies as extreme metal -- at times uncomfortable (maybe overwhelming), as you mention. Is there a describable method to how it's all arranged, structured, written, etc., or is it more like internal madness violently spewed out as profound art? More broadly, are you a perfectionist of sorts?
Maybe. I'm definitely too prideful to release something that I'm not 1,000% about, so in that aspect, I'm a perfectionist. Things can be imperfect in a perfect way though, too, so that's really subjective. It just has to be perfect to me.
As far as a method as to how things get arranged, they usually have no problem coming together on their own, but when they don't, I have a lot of different tricks that I use to make sense of things. For example, I like to denote every section of music with a color. From there, I just think about what colors look good together and arrange them from there and that makes everything super easy. If that doesn't work there's always math. Math can solve any problem musical or otherwise. Absolutely no one I've ever jammed with knows what I'm talking about right now by the way, which is a huge reason why Estuarine is still a solo project.
What challenges did you face while writing of the album, and how did you overcome?
I wouldn't really consider anything too much of a challenge, really, because in the end it all worked out. I was doing a lot of live session work with local bands which may have been distracting, but even that was great for my chops when it came time to record, especially on bass guitar.
Recording this album happened at a pretty weird time actually, though. I had just moved back to Florida from Sweden and was itching to get back into music like crazy because I had no luck over there. I had already written and recorded most of what turned into Sic Erat Scriptum by that point, recorded the debut CD for my live band Led by Serpents (which came out in 2016), and was doing live session bass for touring local bands all at the same time.
I just went all-in hard as fuck and to this day haven't stopped. Sic Erat Scriptum has been done for over a year actually, I just now have had the time to finish up the artwork to release it. As of 2018, though, no more session work for me, I'm just focused on Estuarine and Led by Serpents from here on out.
What gear are you currently running, guitar-wise and otherwise? And do you do your own production? To my ears, Sic Erat Scriptum has this grind-like raw but melodically warm and clean quality to it, and it really sets itself apart in that regard.
My gear situation is pretty basic. I'm not a gearhead at all, but if there's one constant for me, it's Ibanez guitars. I used the same cheap Ibanez RG seven-string for all the Estuarine albums, and I don't care what anyone says, that guitar is the shit! I've also used the same Ibanez RG six-string for all the albums. Gearheads can cringe, but those two instruments are like my family to me!
In the studio, I had my Marshall full stack as the main rig, then I borrowed a friends Bugera for some extra low-end. Bass was a borrowed rig that I can't recall the name of at the moment. I recorded with my buddy Jamie Amos who I've known since high school and he's got a recording degree and all the good recording gear. I can't say enough good things about the work he did on the album either, he got me exactly what I wanted which was to sound like a live show while still having the "ear candy" of a studio production. It took us a long time to get right, but I'm still stoked about the result.
Who/what influenced you during the writing of Sic Erat Scriptum? This could be bands, solo projects, or anything else in life really (for me, it's usually coffee and breakdowns) -- what helped you keep the creative juices flowing? (You mentioned living in Sweden, maybe your location played a role)?
Sic Erat Scriptum was the first album I wrote where I didn't listen to any new music. It wasn't on purpose, I was just extremely broke at the time, so any money that I had went towards spaghetti and ketchup. I still had all my old favorites to listen to, which included Deathspell Omega, Necrophagist, Sigh, Cattle Decapitation, Led Zeppelin, and way too many others to name, but I had already taken any influence that I could from those bands many years prior.
I think that ultimately it was a blessing in disguise because it made me come up with new ideas on my own that I wouldn't have come up with otherwise. So, I was definitely more influenced by experiences and other artforms than I was by other music. The whirlwind of living in Sweden for two years then coming home directly into touring had to have added a good amount of manic energy to these songs for sure.
What does the album's lyrical content signify or mean to you, personally -- what's it all about? Also, is there a story behind the album artwork? The more general question is how you think an album's extra-musical content helps boost its musical content (whether not at all, some, or a lot).
The lyrics of the album form a narrative. I have been releasing the lyrics to one song per week and continue to do so up until the album's physical release which, fingers crossed, should be March 19th.
Without giving away too much of the story, the general gist is that the gods have decided that humanity has advanced too far and is doomed to be extinct. The story follows the god who was chosen to be born a human to invade Earth and push all land below the water beginning a new age belonging to the sea.
It gets more and more twisted from there, and the album artwork corresponds with the conclusion. My original thought for the lyrics was to write a something that, were it old enough, could have become a religious text. More or less just my way of making fun of the fact that any given religion could have popped up out of anything. Thus, the title "Sic Erat Scriptum, "which is latin for "thus was it written."
For the first two Estuarine albums, I also worked with concepts: the first about dreams and the second about entheogens, but they were much looser and 90% of my focus went into getting the music to stand on its own since those were digital-only albums anyway. This time I really took the extra time to make sure that I could give my fans something complete.
You mentioned earlier focusing on Estuarine and Led by Serpents this year -- what are your aspirations for both of these projects? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2018; or, maybe you follow life's road as it presents itself day-by-day?
I'm a day-by-day guy when it comes to everything but music. I have big plans for both projects this year.
For Estuarine, my main goal at the moment is finishing up the layout for physical copies of Sic Erat Scriptum to try to meet that March 19th release date. Beyond that, I plan on continuing to release playthrough videos for every song on the album and, most importantly, begin recording Sic Erat Scriptum's follow-up which is already taking on a monstrous shape from a writing standpoint.
I also have five b-sides from the Sic Erat Scriptum sessions that I'm trying to decide what to do with. I keep having visions of putting them toward a split, but that remains to be seen. Led by Serpents, on the other hand, has been in the studio since New Year's Day. We're finishing up a new demo which will be released within the new couple of months, and the songs on that will expand into the second full-length by year's end.
We already have a sick tour of the East Coast coming up around Thanksgiving that hasn't been officially announced yet, but I can say that there is a European band headlining that I personally can't wait to see, and hopefully we get another Southern United States run in before that as well. Led by Serpents truly shines in the live arena, so our modus operandi is to just get out there and flatten as many audiences as possible.
How do you see yourself improving over time, both as a musician and a songwriter -- are you focusing/working on any skills in particular, or is your progression more natural and organic feeling?
Nothing about the project is forced, so in that aspect the progression, both thus far and from this point forward, is very organic. That's the beauty of working alone, I have no mold to fit except for the ones that I create for myself.
That being said, it's not like I'm just feeling around in the dark either because I always try to have a direction that I'm moving in whenever I work on new music. The process of improving as a musician never stops, and for me, that process has greatly influenced my development as a songwriter as well. On Sic Erat Scriptum, for example, I wrote that music at a time when I was really focusing on hammering down my hybrid picking techniques, and because of that almost every song has at least one part that has that distinct, twangy, chicken-picking sound.
For the music that I'm writing for the next album, I can already see a trend towards more tapping and rhythmic picking in the riffs and more "tasty" phrasing in the solos already. I said before that technicality isn't important for me at all, and that's true, but it's very important to me that I maintain the technical prowess to play anything that I write (or might write in the future) because it's very common for me to write outside of my comfort zone. That's how I stay excited about doing this. The second that I start losing my fire and rehashing old ideas will be the second that I stop putting out new music.
What's the biggest payoff/reward you've received so far in terms of Sic Erat Scriptum? This can most certainly be a certain feeling, or a particular moment/realization you may have had.
The first and biggest payoff is always to just see the process through and come out with something that you're proud of. I made this album for myself first and foremost, so the fact that it came together sounding the way that I heard it in my head is instant success in itself.
That being said, the support from the metal community has been more than I could have ever imagined already. This is not a big band by any means. This is literally just one person making music in a DIY fashion, trying to get as many people to hear it as possible, and I have always had my music up on Bandcamp to download for either free or $1, with the option to pay more if you want to.
So, the biggest payoff outside of the creative process that I have ever had would have to be the moment that I realized my fans had donated enough money to have the first pressing of physical copies completely paid for. This is very recent too, I still can't believe it! It's such a huge deal for me, too, because when those CDs come in, I will finally be in a position to have a product to sell and make a nice chunk of money for the first time which I will use to better my gear so I can in turn make better music.
If I play my cards right and stay focused, I think I can keep this snowball growing, and the fact that it was made possible by the fans who, on their own free will, decided that I had made something worth their money makes the success mean so much more. It really inspires me to push harder and not let down the people that keep me afloat.