Interview with Vaelastrasz

5/12/21 | J.R.

Vaelastrasz promo photo

My knowledge of dungeon synth is vaguely limited and anecdotal at best, but there is a story about Vaelastrasz that I wanted to share. At this most recent Dungeon Siege, I had a moment to sit and really experience a set. As a newcomer, I felt it was only fair to really take in a set in order to understand my surroundings and become part of the culture. In this case, it was Vaelastrasz, and songwriter/producer Min’s approach was captivating. Using a green screen as a backing for her gloomy, atmospheric music, Min took the viewers to various video game locales and, eventually, to the depths of space, but not before bringing someone special into the fold. Yes, pro skater Tony Hawk’s presence in an intermission advertisement really sealed the deal that dungeon synth was more than just being serious at a Casio: it is something you can have real fun with, and Min’s Vaelastrasz performance was exactly that. Fun, but also entrancing.

But Vaelastrasz isn’t all about fun. Not exactly, anyway—this is serious music, after all, and Min’s own brand of dungeon nightshade is as ethereal and mystical as the genre’s foremost artists. Featuring releases on the likes of Gondolin Records, Dungeon Tapes, Pacific Threnodies, and more, it’s through Vaelastrasz’s minimal, doomed sound that the project’s wings unfurl and wrap themselves around the listening audience. This minimal and epic-minded rendition of the dungeon synth sound is transportative and experiential—something which can be taken from as a physical experience rather than just another venture into a Casio-filled dungeon.

In a new interview, Vaelastrasz mastermind Min Naing discusses her relationship with music overall and how they found themselves crafting dungeon synth.

I noticed you use a looping station in a live setting. Do you find yourself utilizing loop-based compositions when free from the constraints of live performance?

Outside of live performances, some of my music does utilize the same loop compositions, but not as much as compared to my live material. Where anytime I’m doing a set, one single song will be looped ad infinitum only to end with a sustain/drone or I manually gradually fade out the full loop, as opposed to most of my albums where repetition is still used, but separated into parts that can’t be replicated by just hitting my little looper.

Since you are utilizing a different approach live compared to the studio, do you feel the Vaelastrasz experience is twofold?

Not at all, what I’m presenting with how I go about my music live is, what I can hope, a good taste of the atmosphere and music that I’ve conjured over the years as Vaelastrasz.

Vaelastrasz promo photo

Your project is named for the dragon Vaelastrasz the Corrupt from the World of Warcraft universe, who made a powerful appearance (among many other fantasy and adventure game locales) in your visually creative live set. How much has the World of Warcraft universe (and other fantasy realms) influenced your art?

Oddly enough I’m not that influenced by video games that much in my art, as ironic as it is to have a project named after a video game NPC. Of course I take influence from Warcraft when telling the narratives of some of my albums, but I’m not trying to replicate the soundtrack or any video game soundtrack with my music.

Warcraft’s lore and story, especially the stories that came from Warcraft 3 really resonated with me. Considering the lack of Warcraft-inspired Dungeon Synth projects there were at the time I started as Vaelastrasz, I wanted to really find a way to combine my love for Dark Ambient music while also telling people how much I enjoyed the story of Warcraft. So I guess the best way to describe it is that video games and fantasy worlds have inspired me whether loosely as compared to my inspirations coming from music. I’m more of a music nerd than a fantasy nerd.

What types of music do you find yourself returning to as sources of inspiration?

Minimalist composers, drone musicians, outsider artists, Neofolk, Black/Dark Ambient, early Post-Rock, and of course other Dungeon Synth and Black Metal releases. Outsider music and a lot of 90s Dungeon Synth and Dark Ambient music especially. I have no formal training in music so I feel a lot closer to artists that were fueled by their raw passion and energy, whether it be through Daniel Johnston or the Black Legions. Now I can’t wait for the “music nerd” stigma to bite my ass as I namedrop artists that are deemed on the surface for people.

With so many influences, what led you down the dungeon synth path specifically?

I was making a lot of random ambient music where I was just sort of crapping out any stupid idea I had in my head moreso as an inside joke to my more musically-inclined friends. I ended up making ambient music out of my cheap casio keyboard once and my friends were surprised that it sounded half-decent as compared to the aural shitposts I was bombarding with them at the time. It was very simplistic and minimal.

Around this time I was listening to nothing but Drone and Drone Metal and I found about this group called Trollmann av Ildtoppberg where they combined this heavy sounding droning bass and minimalist synth melodies. I had heard of Dungeon Synth before through Varg’s prison albums, which didn’t impress me. Then I checked out Mortiis and Depressive Silence and I still felt underwhelmed by the whole thing. It was only through Trollmann that I realized that I could smother an audience in an atmosphere while technically not doing that much, if that makes any sense. After that, I wanted to make that same narrative-based minimalist ambient music since.

When you say ‘smother,’ is it that you intend for it to be more experiential?

I mean I’m not trying to choke people if that's where you’re getting at. I want people to be immersed in their own worlds as my music soars high as our imaginations. Though I have loose narratives based on some of my works, I do want people to embark on their own personal journeys through my music.

[Laughs] I meant more like an experience rather than just a music listening session.

Oh yeah. Of course, I want this to be an experience.

Vaelastrasz promo photo

What is it that you want a listener, even a casual one, to take from listening to Vaelastrasz?

That patience is rewarded and that being “repetitive” is not a bad thing. Repetition can lure and lull, it can hypnotize and entrance people. I hope that my music, no matter how long it’ll loop for, can bring listeners to a meditative state and make them lost in their own world.

In crafting this meditative music, do you find yourself lost in it or transported elsewhere, as well?

Oh yeah. There’s definitely a feeling of ease, and a hell of a lot of serotonin, anytime I can listen back onto something I crafted with this intent. Hitting the right notes, getting specific instrument patches to come in during this specific time, and then listening to it all with fresh ears. It brings me peace, it helps me escape.

Do you feel that Vaelastrasz and yourself are the same entity?

There’s a little bit of me in Vaelastrasz, but Vaelastrasz and I are different people. One of the goals of Vaelastrasz is to provide the means, a realm, of escapism from the grim reality that we all live in on this plane of existence. I of course can not be physically transported to other dimensions, unfortunately, so to have a vehicle of sorts that can provide those means is wonderful. That’s why I always feel weird when people bring up my project and use my real name. To be fair, I’m guilty of breaking kayfabe as well when I talk about my friends and I'm never sure if they feel comfortable or not since some artists are very strict about hiding behind the veil. As far as I’m concerned, the project of Vaelastrasz and the person behind it only share the same flesh-shell and that's it.

One of my biggest regrets with Vaelastrasz is that it should’ve remained anonymous, but unfortunately, I had to put myself out there in order for people to know that I exist. In hindsight, I should’ve masked myself up using different pseudonyms.

Vaelastrasz logo

What do you feel anonymity and pseudonymity add to a project?

Mystique is very attractive in art, the speculative nature and figuring out who is behind such music is great, especially if these people don't have a social media presence. To make grim dark music only to go on Instagram to see that same person share memes on their story feels so jarring to me. There are times in music where humanizing and relatability with another artist is a wonderful feeling, but with the art that I’m making and me preaching about escapism here and there, it loses its luster to me. Of course this can't be said about all Black Metal or Dungeon Synth musicians and it’s not that much of a negative connotation to me, but artists that have successfully separated themselves from who they are in the real world versus the persona they’ve crafted is very tantalizing.

How do you find yourself associating visual art with Vaelastrasz? That is to say, what thoughts go into visually representing the project?

I try to focus on the musical aspect more so than the visual aspects. Of course, the album cover is important when creating the album, but that’s really it in terms of how much I’ll put in. The reason why is that I believe setting up a specific visual accompaniment will make a listener focus too much on that specific environment and world, instead, I want the listener to listen to the music and create their own adventure through my music. Even though some of my albums are based on specific things based on Warcraft that doesn’t mean a listener should transport themselves to that specific zone.

It’s a very contradictory thing to say since I played a live set that was chock full of visuals from other video games, but that was all for fun and to entertain people since a streamed show was something I’ve never done before. If I’m gonna do a video performance of my music, make a video that people will never forget. In reality, if I ever do a live show again, expect a hooded figure and their keyboard. That’s all I ever need.

What led to you setting up the Tony Hawk cameo during the Siege?

When I pitched the video idea to my friends, the very first person I had in mind to do a cameo for an intermission/commercial in the middle of my set was Tony Hawk. I wasn’t gonna have anyone else, I wanted Tony Hawk. I didn’t want to get a random actor or a comedian, definitely, someone who is well known across any platform, solely for the purpose of how funny it is when someone as iconic as Tony Hawk utters the words “Dungeon Synth.” In my original script I just told him to give a shout out to me and the Dungeon Synth community and I was really banking on him to just randomly ask “what the heck is dungeon synth?” because that’s exactly the normal response one person should have when those two words are brought together. Fortunately, he absolutely did after he gave his shouts out saying “I don't know exactly what Dungeon Synth is…” which was a perfect place to edit and cut back to me to finish my bit. The full cameo had him saying that he was gonna look it up and it sounded goth to him which is right up his alley, which again was just Tony Hawk being Tony Hawk. I really do hope he found out about some Dungeon Synth.

As much as I hate comedic aspects being brought to Dungeon Synth, my purpose in doing this was two things:

1. I wanted a set to be memorable to everyone. Whether it be through me traversing through different video games or a random appearance from Tony Hawk.

2. Art should be a showcase of all human emotions. I want people to be wowed, to cry, to feel energetic, and to laugh. Bringing an equal emotional balance to the audience is something that I crave for.

Is there anything else you would like to say about Vaelastrasz or otherwise?

I'm currently working on a new album and also the live performance from my NEDS set will be published in the near future. Go and support your local synth wizards, warlocks, and witches. And stream Cardiacs.

Follow Vaelastrasz on Bandcamp.

Vaelastrasz physical relics still available from Pacific Threnodies.