The 2014 debut of synthpop project Glass Apple Bonzai was a coming home of sorts for Daniel X Belasco. Previously most well known as the force behind the Ontario-based science fiction-themed EBM group Defence Mechanism, Belasco was finally able to indulge a lifelong love of classic 80s synth music of the sort plied by OMD, The Human League, Jan Hammer. Just under a year after the release of the project’s self-titled debut, Belasco has released Night Maze, a brand new full length that takes the project in even more melancholy and danceable directions. We recently caught up with Daniel and had him walk us through the new record track by track.
“I’m trying to give people the memories without giving them the same songs.”
ID:UD: You’re on a roll with your second LP in just under a year. How much of Night Maze was actually written and produced after the release of the full length?
Daniel: Actually, the vast majority of this new album was written in the last few months. I had acquired some new gear and found it to be so incredibly inspiring that I was very quickly writing new songs that were replacing some of the original songs I had on the first track list for Night Maze. Though, most of the first draft of songs for the album were written within the last year, save for one song that was actually an old Defence Mechanism demo that had been tossed around for quite some time until finally being given the GAB treatment. That song is “I Don’t Mind”.
Originally the vibe of Night Maze was regressing back to the late seventies and early eighties in terms of simplicity and instrumentation but I found that as I was writing with the new gear that I got that things very quickly went from 1980 to 1987, hahahah!
ID:UD: The current climate for retro-synth music often relies on irony or a camp appreciation of fashion and style, where GAB always feels like it comes from a genuine place. Is that something you consider when you’re making music?
Daniel: With GAB I’m on a mission of sorts to recreate the feeling of the music I grew up hearing and have since become somewhat obsessed with, focusing on good songwriting and not relying upon sparse elements of 80s kitsch to propel my music. I once explained to someone that I’m trying to give people the memories without giving them the same songs. Meaning that by being faithful to the style and the feel of 80s synthpop I can give people something that’s familiar without them feeling like they’re just reliving the past.
ID:UD: There’s a definite them of space and nighttime on Night Maze that informs the lyrics and mood of the record. Did that develop naturally over the course of the record, or was it something you had in mind from the outset?
Daniel: The title track Night Maze was actually the first song written for the album and subsequently set the tone for the whole journey. From the beginning I was intending on writing an album that tells a loose story of an emotional journey that starts essentially in a pit of despair and goes through a struggle of admitting there’s a problem, coming to terms with change, daydreaming of something better, conceding to defeat, and then ultimately feeling ok with how things are. Because that’s been my life. If you want to look at Night Maze as a story, it’s a true story. Lyrically this album is my most personal yet, and though it did develop itself through the recording process I most certainly did set out to do that from the beginning.
Almost immediately after Bonzai’s debut album I began working on the next release. I’d come up with the concept of being trapped in a dreamlike state and finding myself in a vast maze entrenched in permanent darkness. Happy, I know. The song was written quite rapidly and in a few days I had which is pretty much this final version, minus full lyrics and vocals of course. Night Maze definitely sets the tone of this album, and was always my first choice for an opening track.
“I Can’t Feel”
A strong, slightly upbeat pop song about emotional strife. Who doesn’t love that? The song was written over a period of 3 days in total. Some songs feel almost like they’re writing themselves and you’re just a tool to some ethereal being moving your hands and mind in the right direction. The lyrical content is pretty straightforward, and in my opinion very personal, while also maintaining a certain ambiguity that allows anyone else who’s ever felt unable to express emotions properly to identify with it. That’s always an important aspect of songwriting to me.
“An Astrophysicist Love Story”
Astrophysicist was written for a person named Van Owen, who was a big contributor to the Indiegogo campaign I ran last year to get the first album finished. He gave me the plot outline and I wrote the song according to that. It’s about two scientists who are separated by a great distance and the man, while working on some top secret government scientific curiosities builds a machine to bring his love across the universe to him. I love sci-fi and I had an absolute blast writing this song. It’s a great theoretical love song as well and it’s one of my favourites.
A while back my girlfriend and I split up. I won’t go into anymore details past that but the lyrical content of “The Stars” is about her and I. It’s personal, but still open to interpretation and so far most of the people who have heard it have found that it resonates with them as well. The song was crafted using mostly hardware synths. I had recently acquired the Roland AIRA TR8 drum machine and System 1 synth and they’re all over this tune. That also contributes to its simple, mellow vibe.
“The Legend of the Anti-God”
An instrumental based on samples from John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. I had signed up to be part of a John Carpenter influences synthwave compilation but instead I felt this song would fit best on the album as an interlude. The dialogue touches on the idea that God is, in his very essence, matter and therefore the Devil, or “evil” is a form of anti-matter or “dark matter”. To me that’s a fantastic concept. That with every omnipotent positivity there’s an equally omnipotent, eternally destructive antithesis of that and the two work against (and for) each other at all times. The song itself is sort of a mix of the score from Blade Runner, John Carpenter scores, and various other 80’s style soundtrack material.
“Dancing on the Moon”
Written entirely on hardware and thrown together quite fast, this is one of my favourites on the album. Lyrically it has a “Safety Dance” kind of vibe in that the lyrics are definitely about some socio-political movement or touching on the oft-used idea that humans are destroying the planet, but done in such a way that you just want to dance around and pretend everything’s fine. One thing that stands out to me is the idea that by dancing on the moon we can change the ocean tides. Not sure why that stands out, but it does. So there.
“The Edge of Morrow”
The Edge of Morrow was a late addition to the album. With the acquisition of some new gear and what seems to be a completely refreshed and invigorated flow of inspiration I wrote the song in a day, using mostly hardware, and cranking out demo vocals in mere hours. The song took me someplace and I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t want to follow. Lyrically it’s essentially me calling someone out on their irrational fear of stepping forward into a new day, into their own future. I’m a victim of constant self doubt myself, and perhaps this song is just me calling myself out for not taking the steps I really need and want to. Who knows. Vocally it marks a definite change in the right direction. It’s in a bit higher range than I normally dwell but it’s actually more comfortable and more expressive. Definitely one of my favourite songs on the album, and the one I’m most proud of.
“I Don’t Mind”
This song is an old unused Defence Mechanism demo that has been floating around in my collection for years. Reworked probably 5 times before I finally found where it really belongs. It’s rife with lyrical ambiguity, chock full of vocoder, smacked with big vocals, and really rad drums. Basically a solid dance tune with a good amount of energy and that quirky 80’s bounciness that I absolutely adore.
The latest addition to the album. I wrote it a day before I left for a 10-day vacation and thought very little of it until I got home and was taken over by some ultrasonic force that begged this song be completely and turned into something unique. The song marks the first time I’ve ever added a saxophone solo to one of my songs. A fucking SAX SOLO. So rad! It turns out that my main live member Steve has played sax since he was a kid. Naturally I got him to play it. It has a slickness to it that isn’t over the top, but still the just slightest bit cheesy. Smooth, so smooth. ”Blue Satellite” is a term I used to describe Earth. In fact the term is used in the first line of “Night Maze” and since I do like to use continuing themes throughout an album I felt it was perfect to close out the album. Lyrically it’s a personal view of a world in turmoil, but with a message that ultimately everything will be ok.