Sifting through the constant, unending fields of progressive rock and metal, were bound to come across true polymaths who play in two to three projects. Honestly, prog and math rock are probably neck and neck for players with the most names attached to them, but sometimes a player’s qualities far outweigh any potential quantity they might bring to the table.
Many of them are not only guitarists, bassists, or drummers, but composers as well – a skill often overlooked in an age where access to information does not necessarily meaningful engagement with it. Many of these luminaries, like guitarist / education VIP Kevin Hufnagel, combat this through thinking so outside the box, you can’t help but wonder what rules are being broken in order to produce such madness.
Hufnagel has nearly a dozen projects under his belt, and it covers an insane amount of range, whether it’s his flagship mathematical metal act Dyshythmia, the organic earthiness of Vaura, and the punishingly progressive second chapter of Gorguts. This doesn’t even really begin to cover it, and we’ve yet to discuss what we’re actually here to talk about – his latest solo record, which is technically a sequel to a previous EP from 2012, repackaged to include a another solo record of his from 2017.
The two are wildly different, Polar Night II, the more recent of the two, functioning as an aural, transportive palette cleanser, but leaving you in an unknown, specially foreign place – although, of course, you don’t really mind, because the second EP, The Protected Shards kicks in to further your ascent. If you started streaming it above, we expect you’re probably floating somewhere near your ceiling by now, contemplating how Kevin gets these strange tones to come out of what look to be a fairly normal setup.
Luckily, he’s here now to answer some questions for us. You just keep listening and stay up there, we’ll… try to find a broom or something to get you down once we’re finished so you can put in a pre-order.
FB: When did the sessions for Polar Night II begin? Was it always going to have another part or is this something that came to you spontaneously?
KH: I composed and recorded Polar Night II pretty quickly last year after acquiring an effects pedal made by the company Chase Bliss called “Dark World”. I was excited by some of the sounds I was getting with it and that set me off on wanting to create another ambient guitar record. The first Polar Night was always something I thought I’d like to revisit someday and wished to expand upon. This seemed like the perfect time to do so.
FB: The first Polar Night record has a very literal feeling in the way of references to poles and phase. In fact, even the tracks as they progress seem to occupy different parts of the stereo field. Are we making too much out of nothing or is there some relationship between phase and the way the tracks were composed?
KH: When I began recording my ideas for the first Polar Night’ I was originally just making a drone record for myself to fall asleep to, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to release it. It began with the 25 minute “Phase III”, then I wrote the other two “phases”. Indeed, the sequence I ordered them just gets more dark, delirious and dream-like as it goes.
FB: Who are some of the bands or artists that got you into progressive/technical/math music?
KH: I heard bands like Rush and Yes for instance when I was pretty young because they were on the radio and MTV, however I think the real gateway band for me into discovering the world of prog and technical metal was Fates Warning in the late 80’s. Pretty soon after discovering them I got into bands like Voivod, Watchtower, Athiest then a few years later things like the first two Thought Industry albums which were pretty ahead of their time and blended prog and thrash with stuff that was coming more from the noise rock and math rock scenes of the early 90’s.
FB: Obviously, you’re straddling a number of projects right now, from Gorguts to Dysrhythmia, and now back to your solo work. But the dynamics of all of these projects are so different – when you write music on your own, do you know right away what project the ideas will make their way to or does it take time?
KH: I usually do, but there’s been a few times where a riff came to me and I thought it would be for one band but then as the ideas progressed, it made me reconsider. For instance, the Gorguts song I wrote for the Colored Sands album called “Absconders” was written while I was working on Dysrhythmia songs for ‘Test of Submission’. Once I wrote the 3rd riff in the song I thought “this can’t be an instrumental, this needs brutal vocals!” and I showed it to Luc and he liked it.
FB: The two projects above are, quite obviously, fairly heavy – obviously they are two different things, but all the same, is the above question more difficult when writing music in a heavier dynamic?
KH: I could see how one might think that could be the case. I haven’t written many Gorguts songs, just the one I mentioned above. I mainly write my parts to Luc’s existing parts. Also, I can tell when I write if a riff should be for an instrumental song or if it should be something that should have vocals.
FB: The second side of the tape is another record of yours, The Protected Shards – to me, this album sounds like classical music made by inter-dimensional entities. Did you have any sonic inspirations when approaching this album?
KH: My approach with that recording was to write some straightforward solo pieces, or even just improvise a bit and then mutate/abstract those tracks via digital processing and editing in the computer, thus making them unrecognizable from the original ideas. I’d say my sonic inspirations were taken from my previous solo record Kleines Biest, which took a similar approach but was maybe more wild and a little less about ambience.
FB: Did you start on guitar or were you trained on another instrument before? How old were you when you started? Did it take long to feel ‘confident’ in your abilities?
KH: I started on guitar at age 10. I was immediately signed up for lessons and spent most of my free time in my room practicing. I’d say after about 3 years of fairly disciplined practicing, I felt confident enough to start playing music with other people and at age 14 I joined my first band. I grew musically very quickly between the ages of 14 to 17 thanks to being fortunate enough to play with some other very talented bandmates.
FB:Do you have a go-to guitar when you get home and just want to play, or do you wait for an idea to come to you and try to choose the appropriate axe?
KH: Different guitars can bring different ideas out of me for sure. For example when I pick up my Takamine acoustic I mainly find myself writing fingerstyle instrumentals, my Gretsch guitar makes me want to write songs for Veldune, which is a more desert-y, atmospheric kind of band. If I’m playing a guitar in C standard, I’ll wanna work on Gorguts stuff. If a guitar is in some weird tuning it usually means I’m gonna write a Dysrhythmia song with it.
FB:Thanks to the internet, you can find instructional videos for guitar just about everywhere, but some are really special – every once in a while, someone just speaks your language. Are there any guitar players out there these days off the top of your head that inspire you?
KH: Oh yeah, totally, and a lot of them are my friends and peers. Check out Ryan Miller (U SCO), Brandon Seabrook, Harvey Veldes, Sally Gates (Titans to Tachyons), Mick Barr (Krallice), Dan Mongrain (Voivod), Shane Parish (Ahleuchatistas), just off the top of head.
FB:I can only imagine you’ve got more than a couple irons in the fire right now – but I could be wrong! What’s next for Kevin Hufnagel? Are there any records or projects coming around soon you want to tell us about?
KH: Dysrhythmia is entering the studio in September to record our 9th full-length record. I’m very excited to get that finished and out there in the world. They’ll be a handful of shows late August/early Sept in preparation for that. Gorguts is touring in the Fall and will start on new material. Veldune has half a record written and will probably release another album next year. I have a ton of acoustic solo material that I want to record and release next year as well.
Make sure to click the link above or here to visit the Coup Sur Coup Bandcamp and put in a pre-order for the tape! Then order us a coffee here. We’re so tired we can barely stand up and make more coffee. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend! This interview was a great excuse to dig back into our prog metal roots, just before a little vacation time. You oughta try the same!