the sixth record from samuel kinsella. obscura is a masterful endeavor to explore concepts of loneliness, existence, meaning, mental corridors, counterparts, and longing to create something of depth and importance. created in a period of tension and change, this album presents a challenging view into the intricacies of living. samuel creates a world within this forty minute journey of moody rhythmic alternative art rock with a rich and connected tonal palette, exploring themes of love, loss, identity, counterpart, and interconnectivity of the body and mind. the counterpart pieces of the album balance the listener to consistently shift between darkness and light, loss and hope, destroy and create. this album is a definitive showcase of the musicality of samuel kinsella, and serves as the first record created exclusively with only his taste in mind.
“ The opening notes of Obscura might reference an RHCP radio hit but it’s just a tease in advance of a much more expansive art rich composition. Samuel Kinsella arranges an intricate brain teaser. The timing quips are illuminated by the tone design, as the guitars tickle with a stabbing percussive palmed brilliance.
The musicianship is top notch, as every note lands impeccably accurate like a perfect puzzle. The artist cites the expanded musical universe known to Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood as high inspiration. Like them every parrellel guitar part creates a savory musical dish, one where every ingredient shines both in its own essence and within the community of the design.
For us that feature also recalls the pioneer guitar works known to art punk pioneers Television. Obscura is the opening single that introduces an album by the same name. The expansive twelve song release features additional stand outs like Seethe and Fauna. Guitar enthusiasts will delight in its experimental surprise. ”
Now that this album has been out a while, where do you think it lies on the spectrum of your other work, do you think any other albums you’ve made surpass this one?
i think that it’s finally what i want to be represented by. it’s on a different scale than anything else i’ve made. don’t get me wrong there’s a… great deal of value that my previous work holds, but when it comes to what i want to be making, obscura is it. i’ve had time to sit with it and see it for what it is, and even taken some time to step back and try to hear it and interpret it as someone who hasn’t heard it before. i think it’s interesting to try and see how it may impact someone who’s listening to it for the first time, you know? as far as the other albums go, again i love them in different ways for different reasons but they don’t compare to obscura. i’ve recently considered making everything before obscura private and making obscura my clean slate. not that i’ll do that necessarily, but i think it is worthy of being the sole thing that represents my creativity.
Is it one of your goals to make your music timeless?
[…] my records have sort of …arrived there on their own. i don’t consciously tell myself “well, i have to be very cautious not to date myself with a certain sound or what have you…” i, i feel as though whatever sound interests me at the time, that’s what you hear. theres a consistent transposition from what’s in my mind to the audio file. i’ve gotten really good at that. you know, someone recently said something about obscura that i think is seriously one of my favorite things i’ve ever heard about my music. they asked someone who showed it to them “how can a person make music that sounds like this?” that really hit me, like yes. that’s EXACTLY what i want, i want it to be this almost intangible thing of, “how the hell did he do that?” i love that. i feel like that makes my work what it is. so i don’t know if i’d specifically call it timeless, i feel like if i make something that either looks ahead or looks within, it can be heard and identified with. no matter when it’s heard. i hope, anyway.
Do you feel like you have full control over your work?
that’s a place i’ve waited a long time to finally get to. i’ve always felt like… my stuff needed to reach the right people, like anything i made had to pass some imaginary litmus test of oh… you’ve got, “danceability, memorability, uniqueness, relevance, etc etc etc.” just an endless cycle of searching for approval from these imaginary people who would hypothetically like my work if only it had a little more of this or that! “well, these people won’t like my music if it’s not verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus!!” god, i hate that all of that plagued what i made for so long. anything i made i had to put under that scrutiny, when… who gives a shit what i make? it all ended up being useless after all’s said and done, anyway. i said during the making of obsolete technologies (which was a record made by and with my annoyance for this subject) that i could spend a year on a song or record myself pissing for five minutes, they’ve both got the same chance with how oversaturated everything is now. so i got that out of my system with that record, that i made in a week as an experiment. i finally stopped… stopped caring SO much about well, will it sell? will it get people interested? well will i get on this playlist? i don’t know, it just doesn’t matter to me anymore, what matters to me is… is it, is it interesting to me? is it what i’m thinking? is it something new, something i want to hear? if yes, then i make it. at this point i don’t care if someone thinks it’s unmarketable. i’ve always felt unmarketable. i don’t have an angle, you know? i don’t have anything to hide behind, i don’t have some reason for people to support me other than just my artistry. i can only rely on what i do. and now i have control over that. full control. it’s freeing.
What does your process look like? How do your songs start?
almost exclusively i start with a record in mind. i come up with nine to twelve song titles and go from there.
From the title, do they often follow the same path?
sometimes, i mean… at this point i’m working on the next project in the midst of other things here and there, not really concerning myself too much with it until probably mid next year, but the songs on obscura all came about in a similar way. i had titles, then i’ve had lyrical ideas and concepts that i always write down, so when i get a significant sound, a significant glimpse of “oh damn, that’s something really cool” i’ll jot that down, i’ll work on it, make a quick version and build off of it. —something different about the way i work is i’m the only person involved. with every step of the process. so i don’t make an iphone demo and then send it to some producer to make the song for me, i make it from scratch every step of the way. i usually start with an idea and build off of it until it’s finished. that’s why i’ll have files titled in sequence like “cool polyrhythm idea” then “Tapestries (First Sketch)” “Tapestries (Second Sketch)” “Tapestries (Almost done)” “Tapestries (Final).” most of what you hear still has the original basis still somewhere in the mix.
Would you say you enjoy the record process? Start to finish being able to produce something in a package like that?
yeah it’s really unique. i got into music because i wanted to make films, and when i had no budget to make films, i had to make my own soundtracks, so there i was, making my own colorful landscapes to accompany these images i had made, and i realized i couldn’t go back. i could convey so much more in music than i could with a single image or a series of them. with an album, you can tell a story, you can bring in so many colors, characters, sounds, it can be incredibly diverse, it can be its own universe. i love being able to put something like that together.
Have you ever considered producing for other artists?
i’m someone who has… consciously avoided collaboration in the past, and… that’s not because there aren’t artists i respect or want to be involved with, i mean i’ve collaborated with some amazing artists, but i’ve had my fill of bad experiences to keep me just handling myself for now. i’m also so busy now, i feel like if i were to take anybody on and do their work for them, and they were even half as idea driven as i am? i mean i do 190 layers in a song. it’s too much even for myself sometimes. i’ve gotten a lot better about that, but i think i’m far from being able to do that much work with someone else. plus i’ve been asked to produce a lot of different projects and it’s usually something that doesn’t align with my work at all. i’ve been asked to produce hard metal more times than i can count on one hand, isn’t that weird?
There is some sentiment, from yourself or otherwise, that your music alienates the common listener, would you still agree with that?
yeah i mean, unfortunately the average “audience member” is someone who’s just… just has music on as background noise, listening to something that they put on cause it’s just what everyone else is listening to, so it must be good, right? so my friends won’t make fun of me if i don’t listen to whoever ( can’t think of any names ). which i mean, whatever. is what it is, i’m not trying to change that or affect that cause i honestly don’t need to care about that right now. my music is for people who enjoy music. complex (or not complex) music for people who dig something that makes them think, makes them take a step back and go “wait, there are four ways to bop your head to this song cause there are so many different rhythms in the guitars? oh dude that’s sick!” you know? like i want to have people enjoy my stuff who can wrap their head around it, but i’m not holding my breath. my music is only going to be more and more of what interests me, sorry. i’ve tried to reach people, i’ve tried to make something popular, it leaves me empty. if that alienates people, i guess that’s just how it is. join the club (a laugh).
Do you feel alienated?
hard yes. all the time. going through a rough bout of that now. again, is what it is. i’ve never really fit in anywhere, anything i try doesn’t change that. i’ve found some kind of strange comfort in it though. confidence in myself and what i make. i have an incredible amount of respect for my work, no matter how alienated or estranged i may feel. that helps sometimes.
How do you go through that, deal with it?
i mean, i don’t. really, i think it’s just a part of life for me, and you know, i just try to be here to make something people find interesting, see themselves in, find humanity in. i always try to see that from the outside, to know that other people deal with that too, to know i’m not always alone with that feeling.
Is music the end goal? Or do you see yourself ending up somewhere else?
i mean it’s something i’m obviously deep in, something i’ve spent so many hours, months, years of my life doing. i don’t think i’ve ever felt like i was going to be some big famous musician or anything ridiculous like that, but i clearly have the talent and the passion and the discipline to make something truly unique and powerful. as far as i’m concerned i’ve already achieved everything i’ve wanted to achieve from the beginning. for me, it’s just making sure that whatever i’m making is interesting. i want to creep into other endeavors here and there, i’ve done a lot of that in the past couple years, but i’ll always return to music. i can’t not make it.
If you’re remembered for one song, what would you want it to be?
that’s a very difficult question, i mean, i don’t know if i’ve written it yet! but so i’m green and in the ground in this scenario, what ah, what track do people play at the funeral?
Yeah let’s say years and years down the line, one song that defines you as an artist.
sure, i mean again, i don’t know if i’ve written it yet, but currently one that always resonates is we will change. i feel like everything on that record, especially that song has this timeless message of not losing hope, whatever you’re dealing with. it was written about everything that was going on in 2020, but it’s applicable to anything anybody ever goes through. i think that message of hope, that guiding light is something everyone needs, and if they get it through that song, there aren’t many better places to find that, it’s amazing. i’ve had a lot of people tell me that’s their favorite thing i’ve made. let’s go with that one for now, put a uh, put a pin in it.
You like the idea of being an artist?
yeah! i mean, i feel like in this world of “well anybody can do it, now everyone has access to be a charting artist with just your silly little phone and a beat from youtube!” i have a bit of a different approach where i demand such a high standard from myself that i… i can’t let myself put something forward that i’m not comfortable with, or not impressed by. that can create huge spells of writer’s block, because if i think everything i make has to live up to beating the last thing i made, it’s gotta be pretty damn good. i don’t know, yes. i love being able to create. i don’t love being wrapped up in everything the artist label adds to you and your work, but i love to make what i make.
If one track on ‘Obscura’ gives us a peek into what comes next, which track is it?
well again i mean, i’m planning the next record, doing a lot of experimenting. i’m actually steeping myself in some obscure jazz for inspiration right now. but the only track i’ve got formed at the moment is the title track. it’s about our codependency on our little electronic friend in our pocket. fun song! if you want a sneak peek into the next record, in all honesty listen to all of obscura. that’s the direction i want to go. obscura, earth eater, fauna, natura, more music that i love. i want to make something truly unique and interesting, and give more compelling music to the people who enjoy it.
by WHCH / living ent.
so the album is probably the most tonally consistent piece you’ve made to date, what inspired that tone and what inspired you to keep to it throughout production?
it started with fauna, and kind of grew from there. i feel like every track sprouted from the one made before it in a way, that’s one of the reasons [‘obscura’] is so connected. counterpart also played a big role in that. it’s something i’ve had rolling around in my mind for ages now, i’d just never been able to fit it in any of my previous stuff. this idea of connectivity, one and two, push and pull, predator and prey, etc. this record started with fauna almost having this feeling of dread around it, a moody whatever it is- it’s not silly or cheery or anything like that, it’s animalistic, tapping into a drive of the creatures on this planet, to kill and eat each other. there are two voices in many of the songs on this record, on fauna it’s predator vs prey. on pushing a pull door it’s two parts of someone’s mind, both experiencing the same difficulty. on seethe it’s two ends of a “love triangle,” the winner and loser. on flow it’s someone finding themselves in another person’s dream. tonally this record stays… dark? i’m not sure how to say that without sounding like i wear all black. it’s not a “dark” record but it’s complex, based mostly in very obscure and extrapolated versions of subjects, and artistic. i’m insanely proud of it.
you’ve said this album came to be amidst a time of change and uncertainty, did this affect the record in any way?
[…] that’s hard to say, there are some songs that came before that rocky period, some after, but none of the songs suffered because of that time, nor did any songs gain a new meaning or subject because of it. i went through some things that were just rug out from under your feet situations. things i had no control over, but were already there so all i could do was recover in my own way. some of that is reflected on the record but oddly enough i think i was writing about that feeling before those things even happened to me, so maybe once it was my reality i stopped wanting to write about it.
do you have a lyrical favorite on this album?
having just gone through and transcribed all my lyrics from this record, it’s a tough ask to narrow down a favorite song- i was really struck by the lyrics of natura. “it's a time that we can't evade, though we try. eventually nothin' sticks, so we lay down, and nothin is liftin' this weight of mine. i believe in you, i believe in me, and we all will be set free in natura.” something about that really stands out to me, not that i can place it. i love the imagery of pushing a pull door, all the lyrics really evoke that feeling of being stuck. the canvas has a lot of really great lyrics that portray the struggle of wrestling with artistic freedom really well. one of my favorite lines i’ve ever written is in fauna, it’s “bite the hand that feeds the dog that bites you and your friends.”
and an instrumental favorite?
there’s so much musical intricacy on this project, so many things that make me really proud. the polyrhythms throughout the record are fantastic, especially on obscura and the canvas. obscura is one that i didn’t expect to click with people but i was pleasantly surprised. seethe is really fun obviously, but i love the intro to it as well as the similar sections on earth eater. so much of what i pay attention to in a record is the the flow of it, i’m really happy with how the transitions turned out.
there’s some strange production throughout this album. natura, flow, flora to name a few. what drove those production choices throughout the making of the album?
you know, every bit of all the music i make is 100% made by me, from scratch. all production, all recording, all writing. nothing to fall back on. i wanted this record to be my most challenging, but also one of my easiest records to make. what i mean by that is i didn’t hold myself back anywhere on this record. in the past i’ve retcon’d my music out of fear of negative reception, out of fear of my ideas being too forward or crazy for what the project was, etc. on obscura i didn’t hold myself back once. any crazy cool musical idea i had is something you hear in the record. this is a record you can hear a hundred times and pick out something new every time. it’s dense like all my music, but i let it be strange. i like strange. it’s so much more interesting than a face singing and dancing to music that someone else wrote and someone else produced. it’s incredible that i can do all of it.
you’ve said this album is “music you want to hear.” what about this album fulfills your desires musically, and what’s something you want to hear that you didn’t get to include in ‘obscura?’
i recently was asked to list live acts i’ve seen recently and realized there was a trend in all the performers. it’s all music i find musically stimulating, it’s musicians who write and make their own stuff, it’s creators of albums of songs that are musically interesting. i get so bored with music if it has no heart or style or intrigue. there’s not much that i want to hear that’s not included on this record. maybe saxophone music. i listen to albums fifty times if they have what i love, and out of all my music, this is a record i’d listen to fifty times. it’s wild, it’s different, it’s got depth, it’s got me, it’s honest, it’s something special. it’s not easily classifiable. it’s not something you throw on the charts and forget about in a week, it’s something that sticks with you. there’s a place for all my music, but if i continue creating after this, this is going to be the rule, not the exception.
“organica” closes out the album as this large orchestral piece, what made you settle on that being what you leave the listener with?
organica was something that really couldn’t fit anywhere else. i could have included it in my score work, but this was something that felt connected to this record. something about it that i really enjoy is that i included lyrics with it that bookend the whole album in a way i love. i haven’t heard anybody do anything like that, it’s really unique. while you hear this massive orchestral thing you can see these lyrics, read them in your own voice or mine, and have a lovely cap to the whole experience.
with ‘obscura,’ are you going for success?
haha well if history is any guide, i can expect to get a pat on the back from .01% of my followers and the people i sent the record to early, but for this album that’s not what it’s about for me. i love when my stuff connects with people but this record is only meant to connect with me. it is me. it’s what i find interesting and attractive, so if i like it, thats the success i need.
there’s a complexity here that isn’t present on a lot of your other work. did that intimidate you to include something more intricate or less accessible?
it’s gonna stay that way. on other records i shelved material for being too out of the box, so yes, this one is complex, intricate, dense, by design. it was less intimidating and more just accepting a fate. i’d love for people to broaden their musical horizons a bit, you know. i hear some of these indie artists and wonder why i’m not up there with them, hopefully with this record and other possible records in the future i can start paving the way to my unique voice in all that. or not. it doesn’t matter ultimately. “what becomes of all my words? who looks on all my works, and says what the eulogy will say?”
do you anticipate a positive response to this album?
i’ve been surprised by the reactions to the singles i’ve released, so i hope the same will be said for the rest of the album. i’ve worked hard on it and i’m incredibly proud of what i’ve made.
what’s next after this?
if there is anything next, i don’t know what it is. i’m tired. i’ve spent long enough doing music, if more comes then i’ll be grateful. all i know is it’ll be more like this.