In the heart of New York City’s relentless, chaotic rhythm, Andrew Notsch, the driving force behind the avant-grindcore/hardcore solo project MANIPULATOR, dives into the creation of his new album, “Drawing Secret Circles.” Released on November 3rd, this offering presents a maelstrom of twenty tracks, each a testament to Notsch’s multifaceted talent as both vocalist and instrumentalist.
Our interview with Notsch offers an intricate glimpse into the birth of “Drawing Secret Circles.” He reveals how the chaotic pulse of NYC fueled his creati’vity, leading to an album that mirrors the city’s unyielding force. Notsch’s approach to balancing genres, from death metal to hardcore, emerges as a spontaneous yet thoughtful process, unconfined by traditional boundaries.
Notsch also elaborates on the album’s intriguing title, “Drawing Secret Circles,” hinting at its thematic depth and the clandestine undertones that weave through the tracks. He shares his strategy for crafting each song to deliver maximum impact within its brief, intense lifespan, a hallmark of the MANIPULATOR style.
The interview explores Notsch’s dual role in managing the project’s musical and visual aspects, especially under the constraints of his personal life and the ongoing pandemic. He discusses his aspirations for MANIPULATOR’s live performances, reflecting on the potential to bring the project’s intense energy to the stage.
Collaboration plays a vital role in MANIPULATOR‘s latest work, with Notsch discussing his selection process for guest musicians and how they enrich the project’s sound. He also touches on the challenge of conveying lyrical themes amidst the ferocity of grindcore, utilizing an art book to complement the music’s narrative.
A unique aspect of the project is its integration with a video game experience, a concept Notsch explains in detail. This multimedia approach, combined with his background in various bands, showcases the evolution of his artistic vision.
Finally, Notsch offers insights into the resurgence of vinyl and its impact on the listening experience, along with the benefits and challenges of running an independent project like MANIPULATOR.
Stay tuned for the full interview below, where Notsch delves deeper into the creative chaos that defines MANIPULATOR, and shares his thoughts on the local NYC scene, the music industry, and balancing an intense artistic life with personal responsibilities. Dive into the full thing below.
In the crafting of “Drawing Secret Circles,” how did the urban landscape of NYC feed into your creative process, and can you pinpoint specific elements in the album that are direct offspring of the city’s pulse?
NYC is pure chaos. It’s a rapid filled river that’s flowing directly at you and trying to push you far away from it. It is your goal as a resident to swim, claw and fight your way forward. I think there is magic in that chaos, and I tried to channel it into a chaotic but well thought out album that does in fact flow in many directions.
Your work with MANIPULATOR comes as a wild amalgam of death metal, hardcore, and grind. How do you balance these genres to create a unique sound, and are there any other genres that you feel subtly influence your music?
Honestly, I just write. I usually don’t have a specific goal in mind when starting a song and it often twists into something stylistically different from where it started. Of course the 3 second songs are grind-homages, hahaha. I enjoy a bit of synthwave and though I don’t think that is properly represented (yet), the use of synthesizers has been a really enjoyable way to bring another element and dynamic to this project.
With such a short and intense album duration, what is your approach to songwriting to ensure each track delivers a powerful impact within a concise timeframe?
I think Manipulator’s strength is presenting an idea as succinct and exact as possible. There is hardly meditation on a concept and instead moves onto a new idea. This allows me to explore and not be bogged down with writing and keeps things constantly on the verge of exploding, and fun.
Can you share any challenges you faced while simultaneously managing the instrumentation, vocals, and the visual media production for MANIPULATOR?
More than anything, it’s just a LOT. I wrote and recorded the album leading up to my son’s birth (recording vocals in the car outside the hospital during checkups for example (they wouldn’t let me join because of COVID!)) and the visual aspects were built in the wee-hours after his birth. No specific challenges, I just found myself wanting to create more and more and really make this album something special.
Considering the multifaceted nature of your project, can fans expect to see MANIPULATOR translate into a live performance, or how do you envision the live aspect of this music and visual concept?
It’s too early to make promises, but I have a couple of friends who are starting to learn some of the songs and we hope to start jamming after I return to the US early next year.
Featuring guest musicians and vocalists indicates a certain openness in your otherwise solo project. How do you select these collaborators, and what do you feel they bring to the table?
Taking care of most things myself allows the project to move at the pace I like. Bringing in others makes things more fun. When it comes to vocals I generally have the idea already placed. It was natural to have Tim Bradley throw some vocals down as he is the main lyricist for this project. Lucas Wyssbrod is such a great and unique guitarist and I let him do whatever he came up with.
Lyrics in heavy music often get lost in the sheer intensity of the sound. How do you ensure your message is conveyed through the maelstrom of grindcore?
Making an art book that has the lyrics helps! Haha. Honestly, I feel like my vocals are relatively clean in the grand scheme of heavy vocals. I wish they weren’t hahahaha. But, a big aspect of how I convey ideas and emotions is by using a wide range of vocal styles.
The use of extortion scam emails as lyrical material is quite unconventional. Could you talk about the process of transforming these narratives into the fabric of your songs?
I mean, it was just so funny to receive and the content presented itself in a strange rhythm that someone just sounded like a grind song. That was only two songs though, but they somehow fit within the greater context. hahaha.
“Annihilated Prestige” and “The Mask You’ve Made” present listeners with visceral themes. How do these tracks reflect the overall narrative arc of the album, and what are the stories behind them?
Well, Annihilated Prestige was the main extortion scam song, I think it sets a ridiculous and yet fitting start to an album that speaks to the many faces and lies people present to you. The Mask You’ve Made is the most literal example of that concept.
Please discuss the genesis of combining the album with a video game experience. What inspired this multimedia approach, and how do you feel it enhances the listener’s journey through the album?
Honestly, it probably makes the journey way more difficult than it already is. Hahaha. Being that this is not a live project (yet) I wanted to find a unique way to create an interactive experience and my friend Peter Randol from of SpaceMicroscope Games was down to help bring it to life. You can find it on the App Store and Play store, be sure to search “Manipulator!” with the “!” – you should also check out his amazing new game SwordCar at devilmaycar.com
Your collaboration with visual art is evident not just in the music videos but also in the accompanying art book. How does the visual aspect inform and interact with your music?
It sets a tone. Being a visual artist, it’s really important for me to represent my music correctly in that sense. It’s way more work, but it’s great to be able to refine and rework ideas until they feel right. I know a handful of artists I would have loved to have created art for this, but by doing it myself it’s even more self expression and I am then able to control literally all visual aspects.
Given your background with other bands such as This Is The Last Time and Sunless, how has your previous musical experience influenced the direction of MANIPULATOR?
I think Manipulator is sort of the opposite of Sunless while still both being heavy bands. Sunless songs are extremely technical and personally took me ages to learn, whereas Manipulator is raw and to the point, quickly. I am very proud of my time with Sunless and still write the lyrics and do the art, which means a lot to me, but at this point in my life, I don’t think I could dedicate enough time to a project like that. Manipulator is on my own terms and This is the Last Time is a remote project that gets done as life allows. I think Manipulator is more of a mix of my time in YOUWRETCH (hardcore) and Sunless (dissonance) than anything.
New York’s local scene has always been a melting pot of musical innovation. Are there any emerging artists or bands from NYC in 2023 that you’re excited about or feel are pushing boundaries in a similar way to MANIPULATOR?
I can’t get enough Gravesend. It’s such a perfect name and concept for that project.
I compare the two in that Manipulator is like getting your arm stuck in the the door of the subway after weaving through a crowd of people and Gravesend is like getting hit over the head with a baseball bat because you didn’t pay your drug debt. Both wonderfully NYC, but vastly different through similar shared experiences, hahaha.
The music industry has seen a resurgence of vinyl in recent years. What prompted the decision to release “Drawing Secret Circles” in this format, and how do you think it impacts the listening experience?
I think it’s an over-resurgence and the market is oversaturated right now. It’s a blessing and a curse, truly. I was lucky enough to have the first Manipulator album pressed to wax with help from a handful of labels and those fine folks helped release this one as well. I think it helps that the album is short enough that you don’t have to flip the record and the warmth vinyl gives helps for a project that never actually got in a room and played live.
What are the challenges and advantages of running a project like MANIPULATOR independently, and how has the partnership with multiple underground labels influenced the release strategy for the album?
The advantages are I can do whatever I want and approve or veto anything. The challenges are: funding everything and finding time for everything. It’s been great though. I share a lot of idea’s with Tim before they are finished as I trust his opinion a lot and he won’t hesitate to tell me if something needs more work. Working with the labels has helped actually make funding vinyl possible, after the cost of engineering, production, PR and equipment, it would be impossible to release vinyl as a single person, especially considering this band is not yet a live project. The strategy is roughly the same, just have more people promoting it.
With such an intense and all-encompassing project, what does downtime look like for you, and how do you recharge creatively?
Downtime? Never heard of her. Hahaha. I’ve spent the last 9 months traveling and working full time with my wife and now 2 year old son (we’ve been in 13 countries this year). There is no downtime, and the little I do find is usually spent working on art projects, more music or doing interviews such as yours, which was pretty fun! Thank you so much for your interest in the project. I hope you enjoy the new record (there’s more coming soon) and have had a chance to play the video game!