Do you ever get the feeling you’re living in a Blade Runner sequel, a world where face masks, surveillance cameras, political turmoil and environmental disasters are all part of everyday life? So do Daniel David Larson and Devin Harrison of Elay Arson, a Colorado Springs synth-metal duo who’ve channeled their anxieties into their new dystopian concept album.
Franz is Elay Arson’s fifth full-length album, a blend of electronica, cyberpunk and metal that’s reminiscent of John Carpenter soundtracks and synthwave acts like Perturbator and The Midnight. The album’s 11 songs tell the story of a sentient cyber-truck that comes to life and kills people, including its final victim, billionaire mogul Elon Musk.
“I realized the concept was like [the Stephen King novel] Christine, says Elay Arson mastermind Larson, “and so I wrote a story leaning on that concept as an homage to the film and novel.”
This album started as a collaboration with the Australian comedic band Hard Men Working Hard. “They usually deal with comedy and satire, and they wanted to work with me on something,” says Larson. “They’re funny, and I’m dark and serious, so I was trying to bridge the gap. So I wrote three demo tracks in 48 hours to create this idea that it’s a sentient truck that comes to life, and it kills Elon Musk.”
Larson says the album started with those demo tracks and evolved over the course of a year. “I had to build a whole story around this idea and tie everything together. We developed the songs more to fit the structure of the story until it was a complete idea.”
“It kind of had a life of its own,” adds Harrison. “Three songs just grew to 11.”
While Larson focused on keyboards and production, Harrison was responsible for all of the guitar work. “I’ll zone in on a section and work out a melody,” he says. “I use plug-ins to go right into the computer; it kicks ass.”
Prior to starting Elay Arson, Larson enlisted in the military and was deployed to Iraq for 13 months. He was later stationed at Fort Carson as part of a reenlistment deal and, in 2010, was honorably discharged due to numerous medical issues. Larson says he still takes a lot from his military experience into his everyday life and music.
“Bottom line to military work is to take care of yourself and the people around you,” he says. “That same ethos is what drives all my efforts, including artistic. Know what you believe in, stick to it, make efforts to improve, take care of everyone on your side, and always try to do the right thing.”
Larson began working with Harrison after posting a guitarist-wanted ad on Craigslist. “It was meant to be just a one-song thing,” he recalls, “but I kept pressing him to do more tracks and he was really enthusiastic about it, so we made it an official partnership. Aside from Bloodbath, which I made on my own entirely, every Elay Arson album has been him and I.”
With their sci-fi themes and heavy use of synthesizers, Franz has a definite ’80s throwback feel. The intro song “Another Day in Fremont” sets the tone for the whole album with melodic synthesizers and beautiful guitar parts, before segueing into the driving instrumental synth track “Pointy
The album also features a number of international collaborators who Larson has met through the internet while working on various projects. “Icon of Evil,” “Humanity Is Fired” and “Kill the Truck” are all collaborations with Hard Men Working Hard, while the ferocious track “No One Is Getting Out Alive” has incredible operatic vocals from New York City’s Czarina, who currently resides in Spain.
“They Say I’m Crazy,” the album’s epic closing number, features vocals and raps from Scotland’s Becca Starr. “Not a lot of people who know Becca Starr know that she can rap too,” says Larson. “That’s a skill she’s been developing since she’s been singing, but hasn’t really been advertising it as much.”
At this point, Larson admits he has no idea how the new material will be received.
“People going through tough times want to go to a familiar place, so selling a new idea is more difficult,” he says. “If you’re ignoring the news, you still have to deal with real life. Or, if you’re ignoring life, you’re dealing with the news and your thoughts all day. I can’t imagine it being a good time for anyone right now.”
Franz will be released Oct. 30 on compact disc, cassette and limited-edition vinyl. It can also be heard on Elay Arson’s bandcamp site and digital streaming services.