Buzz Kull, the dystopic musical pseudonym of Marc Dwyer, has been kicking around the scene for over five years. Brooding and industrial, he has spent much of his career swathed in shadow, approaching the real world only to herald the next release.
When I meet Marc, he is dressed in black, dark beer in one hand and a burning cigarette in the other. It fits the bill. We took a walk together around Newtown, chatting about his attention overseas, staying away from labels and finding his place in the Australian scene.
At face value Buzz Kull is wreathed in a darkness so inky you couldn’t fathom ever seeing through it. Yet there is light to be gleaned from this artist yet.
HAPPY: Your debut album, Chroma, landed in April. Now that it’s had a bit of time to sit, how are you feeling about it?
MARC: It hasn’t really kicked in yet. Even when you said it came out in April it’s like: shit.
HAPPY: I mean it is only May.
MARC: Yeah, I have witnessed how much of an impact it’s made around me but it still hasn’t hit myself yet. There’s always that situation where… people always comment or give you props on the stuff you do, but not a whole body of work. When it’s a whole body of work I’ve noticed the difference it makes in how deep people go when discussing it. So yeah, it’s been nice but it still hasn’t quite hit me.
HAPPY: Maybe after a few gigs it’ll feel a little more real.
MARC: That’s the other thing. I have no idea what crowd it will attract.
HAPPY: Given that it took quite a while to piece together, was there any apprehension around the release?
MARC: With everyone, doing a record, you’ll read about people sitting on it for a while, or going back and tweaking things for ages, but for I didn’t really have the option. Everything was done by correspondence so when it was done, it was done. Johnathan and I, he’s over in New York City, the back and forths were really minimal but to the point, we didn’t mess each other around and if there was something we didn’t like we’d notify each other straight away and find an alternative. Figure it out pretty much straight away, and we didn’t sit on too much for too long.
I also don’t really have any idea how I should build myself up as an artist in terms of management, promotion… I didn’t know how to work with labels, that’s not really my thing, that world is a bit too far-fetched for me. I almost lost myself the record because of messing around with a label. The pieces came together again, which is great.
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HAPPY: Were they all tracks that had been written for Chroma? Or had some been in the bank for a while?
MARC: The oldest track on the record is probably Lost Control which is the second or third song I wrote for Buzz Kull, but it was one of those songs that I felt was so solid. It made a bit of an impact when it first got released but I didn’t feel like it was noticed, it was so early in my career that I wanted to bring it back and put it forth for this record. I did do some alterations, nothing crazy because I wanted to keep it at its original state, I made it sound in the same element as the rest of the tracks on the record. Then the rest of it was a whole body of work which was pieced together over two years. Dreams was the first track, and after that I knew how I wanted the record to sound.
HAPPY: You mentioned this earlier but I really do find it hard to place where exactly you fit into the Sydney sphere. There’s a really great underground thing going on here right now but if I was asked to really ‘place’ Buzz Kull, I would probably pick Melbourne, or overseas.
MARC: I’ve never known. When the project first kicked off, the only reason I decided to follow that path was because of a European audience who took to it so well and gave me the confidence to take it seriously. It was a therapeutic path for myself, something that made me feel satisfied with a bunch of horrible shit that was going on, it blew all that out of the water and here it is now. With positioning myself…
HAPPY: You don’t care for it?
MARC: I’ve always tried to figure it out. There are a few guys doing stuff like it in Melbourne, but after coming across the guys from Burning Rose Records I feel a little more at home here. There is an existing scene but it’s diverse, it’s not any straight down-the-line, circle jerky shit. I’m not down with that.
HAPPY: Having no desire to be accessible can be a great trait.
MARC: There was something Will from Burning Rose said, “Proud to call this person a friend and watch him grow as an artist with no ties to a ‘scene’ or specific context. Proper music.” It brought a tear to my eye, it was really nice.
HAPPY: You just played a show in Melbourne yeah? Did they respond well?
MARC: The response was great. I never sell merch at shows, I’ll take it but I never manage to sell anything. But I sold a whole heap before even playing, there was a good crowd and the support bands were really great. It was a really responsive crowd, everyone was really loud and cheering, wanting to compete with each other’s cheers. Then afterwards it was a mass of people wanting to know about the project, I had a line of people wanting to talk to me. It was cool.
HAPPY: What sort of setup do you play on live?
MARC: I play on this modern, hybrid analogue synth, an Arturia, I use that through a bunch of effects pedals into a mixer. I mess around with vocal effects here and there. All my drum and bass tracks are pre-recorded backing tracks, mixed to sound efficient for any kind of system it’s played through. It sounds like a minimal setup but for me it possesses a lot of hard work, trying to manage it all. Playing and singing too, it’s really, really hard. Hats off to people who can do that. Props to them.
HAPPY: Would you bring in more members down the line?
MARC: Where I’m at now I’m pretty happy to carry it on my own. It’s one of those things, I wish I had money to pay people to play with, touring alone can be tough. Going to weird cities where you just rock up…
HAPPY: Dark, underground venues.
MARC: Yeah you rock up and have a beer with yourself, it’s like… yeah. My future preference would be touring with members that I’m friends with, that would make touring solo less of a drag.
HAPPY: And in terms of recording, are they live tracks? Do you play everything? Do you play nothing?
MARC: I’ve got a lot of software, and a lot of hardware. It’s an in the moment thing. I’ve got a lot of drum samples I’ve just saved over time, I haven’t even put them in songs, I’ll put them into a project and manipulate them until they have a pitch, tone or sound that satisfies me and I’ll put it into a folder to use later. It’s always good to have more, but over time it gets tiring having so many effects and stuff to use. You find a niche though, what works well and what you like using.
HAPPY: Well there’s a huge consistency in the album. What do you run your vocals through? Talking to you now I can’t even picture your voice coming through the way it does.
MARC: I can’t remember what I used for a lot of the tracks, but towards the end I was actually using the Apple headphones in bed after having an operation. I couldn’t set up a studio from bed so I recorded some vocals through my Apple headphones, and they turned out so well. They had a natural grit to them, the microphone in those things is so small it creates its own distortion. I eventually told Johnny about that.
HAPPY: You didn’t tell him?
MARC: Hah, no. I didn’t want him to send them back straight away, because that’s what happens.
HAPPY: There’s a lesson there. Take something as it sounds, you know?
MARC: Well, yeah. It was my first time working with Johnny too, I had other producers who would say “don’t put on any effects while you record”. I can’t record a clean vocal and think ‘that’s good’ though, I need the effects on them to know where it sits in the mix and how it sits as a take.
HAPPY: I get that. There is definitely a dystopian feel to the tunes and you did mention going through some shit in the past and finding music therapeutic. Have you always felt that darker end, thematically, is something you gravitate towards?
MARC: I didn’t know that it would work that way at the time, but I did find comfort in it. I’ve always been a fan of darker music. I’ve played in bands before where I tried to bring in that side but it didn’t always work, you can’t find that yin and yang between two styles. Well, sometimes you can but not too often.
HAPPY: Well the darker themes definitely sit well with the music you make, simply in a sonic sense.
MARC: A lot of my stuff is drawn from film too. If I’m ever lacking in theme, feel or direction I’ll watch a film, or at least something with a great soundtrack which will inspire me. A lot of that synth-driven soundtrack stuff will always be really dark, it’s so minimal but it holds so much in the way of characteristic. Sometimes all you need is a bassline for a dark cinematic experience. I love that. You only need one thing to make a ‘dark’ song.
HAPPY: You’ve gone and anticipated the next question! There’s absolutely some sort of atmospheric, almost visual element to your music. What I was going to ask was, were there any major visual influences to Chroma?
MARC: Visual interests will always change for me because I have an erratic preference when it comes to film.
HAPPY: You get super into one genre or something, and wear it down?
MARC: Exactly, but there is that 70s, 80s era where they did a lot of new wave soundtracks, even new wave films, they’re always really good. I don’t care if it’s bad, if it’s visually and sonically appealing then I’m on board. Actually if it’s bad I’ll love it more. I love shit films.
HAPPY: Coming off the visual I wanted to ask about the title. The record, the way you’re presented online… if I had to assign a colour to Buzz Kull it would be black, yet translated from Greek, you call your album ‘colour’.
MARC: Trying to create a title of an album, I never realised that it could be more difficult than writing the record. I sat on so many different names which I can’t even remember, but Chroma just sounded so nice to say, and to see. I felt like it just sat right, with the diversity of the record. I wanted it to be an up and down experience and I felt like that fills the void of the ‘colourful’ experience. It’s not a flatline. That’s how I wanted it.