There are a lot of records out there where the press teases them out to be deep, philosophical excavations of the soul, often accompanied by descriptors like ‘introspective’ and ‘facing one’s self.’ These records, as good or bad as they may be, tend to revel in softer dynamics – but today, we have what feels like a fiery sermon of spiritual expulsion to look forward to: enter Satyasena.
Satyasena is the creative project of Pej Mon, whose presence you might recognize from Secret Chiefs 3 and Ghoul. Despite an intensely calm and meditative demeanor, Pej is capable of belting and bellowing with face-peeling volumes, making for an entirely different catharsis than one might expect.
With the debut officially due in January 2024, make sure to cut ahead and check out this exclusive cut – also, Pej was nice enough to answer some questions for us, so scroll down a bit for that as well. There’s a lot going on, so you won’t want to miss it.
But first, “Split Vibrations.”
It’s a non-linear golem of chugging riffs and swirling, warped gurgles of keys courtesy of The Locust‘s K.J. Karam, with Pej creeping in on the vocals like a puppeteer, expertly casting shadows and capturing characters. For any moment of token introspection, Pej goes out of his way to create an authentic reflection. Here’s Pej on a number of things that might pique your curiosity, from the name of the project, the stigmas of heavy music, and how he roped in collaborators like K.J. Karam and Toshi Kasai to bring it all to life:
FB: Where does the name come from / what does it mean?
Pej: Satya means eternal truth in Sanskrit, and Sena means army. I put those two words together to create a new word, similar to how Gandhi created the word Satyagraha. There was a nonviolent army that he also created called Shanti sena which was an organized peaceful response and presence to bring to violent conflict situations. That’s how I found out about the word Sena.
FB: Is there an order to the madness in terms of how the tracks are composed? i.e. do vocals typically come last, drums first, etc?
Pej: On this album, most typically drums came first. Being principally a drummer, and being used to writing whole songs on drums to present to guitar players, I got to do that with myself as the guitar player this time. Draconist, was the only one that was written guitar first, and it was the last song to be written. I think I had gotten more comfortable on guitar to begin songs with it at that point. But often I would find melodies on the keyboard first. I grew up playing keyboards as a kid, so melodically and riff-wise I was more natural starting on keys, but that changed throughout the process of the album obviously. I basically learned guitar from scratch to start this band, and I literally had no technique at the very beginning, so I had to catch up quickly to what the songs wanted out of my hands. For someone like me being a very perfectionistic type, it was inspiring for me to pick up a new instrument, and not be perfect, and just start writing and moving forward.
FB: What is the biggest conscious difference in the way you would compose for Secret Chiefs 3 vs writing for yourself?
Pej: With Secret Chiefs 3, I’m a performer, not a composer. If I do anything, it’s just to bring my own style to the live interpretation of the songs. Trey’s (SC3 bandleader) great at letting me be myself within the structure of his tunes. Playing in SC3 definitely motivated me to write my own stuff.
FB: The writing took several years – was there / were there any particular songs that stumped you? Or was it more life-stuff that stepped in the way?
Pej: The process took a long time, more so for the learning of instruments, rather than the writing itself. For example, writing the drums which are by far the most complex parts probably took me a couple months to write and only a few days to record. But since I was new to guitar/vox/composing in general, all of that took me about 5 years to get my technique together, be happy with the riffs, hate myself, be hopeless, then inspired again, then finally complete. And recording-wise, I actually spent a lot of time, because I learned a lot with my first pass recording the guitars, then I realized some things, like I needed to clean up my technique, change the pickups on the guitar, etc. Small details of learning the craft which make a huge difference in sound. So I basically came back and re-recorded the guitars.
FB: Songs like “Invictus” and “Split Vibrations” feel almost like characters coming to life that just happen to be found at progressive, esoteric rock clubs. Do you visualize when you are recording/performing vocals? If not, how do you capture such animated yet convincing takes?
Pej: With vocals, it’s so exciting to find new ways to use the voice, which feel so endless and unexplored. For me it’s all new, but from the very beginning, I wanted to push myself to discover and let the creative process dictate to me, rather than coming in with a preconceived idea of “Ok, vocals in this genre, generally sound like this.” Fuck that. So I would push myself to try different things, channel the music, and find emotional places within myself that bring me alive. It’s kind of fun to embarrass and shame yourself when you do something ridiculous, and then all of a sudden get comfortable and creative with the weirdness, finding how to fit it with the song.
FB: A big theme in the album is working through and confronting internal issues – in the end, was it more cathartic or exhausting to work through the album’s lyrics?
Pej: Personal transformation is what I’m all about, so, approaching the music, and lyrics, in that way seemed only fitting. It was simultaneously cathartic and exhausting for sure. For true change, we have to move through pain, it’s just how humans are wired. Completing this album was one of the most transformative things I’ve experienced in my life, and therefore, it was also one of the most painful. That’s life!
FB: How do you balance the life of a therapist and wellness practitioner with the general stigma of heavy music?
Pej: I think if people have judgements about heavy music, then maybe I’m not the best to support them, who knows. I don’t really care if people judge music. But people are pretty open-minded these days. I’m surprised more musicians don’t offer emotional wellness services, because to me the two fields are so related. Heavy music can give space for the full range of emotional expression, especially the dark stuff, which then allows it to transmute and heal. That’s what good therapy does too.
FB: K.J. Karam brings a really distinct evil robot vibe to his parts, but I mean that in general, and certainly as a compliment – do you have a favorite contribution of his on the record? How did you two connect?
Pej: I assumed when I started writing that I would just be the one to perform the synths…. but I’m so glad I didn’t, as once I got deeper into writing it made way more sense to bring in someone who specializes in that. I had just finished a Secret Chiefs 3 tour with Dead Cross, and JP from the Locust plays in Dead Cross. So a lightbulb clicked and I thought, maybe just maybe the keyboardist from the Locust would be down- he was! There are so many parts of his that I love…. the manic keyboard solo in “South Node:” 1:37, the intro to My Passion, and especially his keyboard part on the first riff – he made it sound very 80’s futuristic in my opinion, or a weird melody part in “Split Vibrations” at 2:16 which actually inspired the melodic vocal part that I do there, or the outro to “Draconist” has some insane almost feedback-y drone-y keys that stoke that hell out of me. Lots of great stuff!
FB: Did you know who you wanted to collaborate with and have filled out various parts when you were writing, or did those thoughts come later?
Pej: Honestly I thought I would be recording everything myself. I was preparing for that, but I’m so glad for how it turned out. It was waaaayyy cooler to have different voices contribute. I think the first person that popped in my head was Jeff Matz (High on Fire, Mutoid Man) for bass.
FB: For all of its crazy transitions back and forth between flavors and genres, the intensity remains unbroken the entire time. Part of this, I think, is due to a really well mixed project. What was it Iike perfecting the album with JJ at Golden Mastering and the incredible Toshi Kasai?
Pej: This album wouldn’t be without Toshi. His contribution is immense. Funny story is that he did a video interview about his studio many years back and I saved that video on my desktop around the time I started writing the album. I listed him as the one and only engineer I would contact once I had my demo ready to show him and see his interest. I built up a lot of excitement and I think social anxiety around contacting him I think because I was anticipating it so much. hehe. I was so afraid that he wouldn’t be into it or would bail out of the project at any point. All my own anxiety! It’s rad that his studio is also where the Melvins practice and record, which being a huge Melvins fan, was really inspiring to me. Toshi was the guiding light helping me by being patient and understanding with me as I recorded and re-recorded guitars and sang vocals for the first time ever, learning so much in the studio, being a nervous wreck, and very unsure of myself. I think my time recording with him helped me to develop my skills as a musician big time. He has a zen nature in the studio that is very calming, and simultaneously creatively inspired, and open-minded. He’s not afraid to take risks, get weird, and discover the new. That’s the attitude that made this all possible. Even more than that, he really trusted me, I think more so as we got deeper into the album. That energy helped him understand me and be curious as to what I think is amazing, and not settling for anything less.
Satyasena will be released digitally as well as on CD January 22nd, 2024 on Sympatry Records. Pre-order it here.