What is the Varsagod? Lungs explain their terrifying instrument invention
Lungs have been a band since 2007, evolving considerably over the years as its members changed. Writing has shifted predominantly to its last remaining founding member, vocalist and drummer Jeff Nicholas, but the objective has remained the same: to capture and exploit human emotions, using post-metal, sludge and doom as a vessel.
The band is currently working on a new album to be released late this summer that will incorporate the use of the Varsagod, a self-made instrument utilizing sound elements created by manipulating recovered car parts and discarded trash items to create eerie backing tracks and samples. Bassist Mike Cushing, Lungs' newest member and the Varsagod's inventor, is hesitant to take too much credit for his creation. "It kind of made itself," he says.
The Varsagod looks innocent enough. The slab of wood upon which it was constructed is actually a decorative cutting board that Cushing found one day in the trash, reading 'Varsagod,' or 'You're welcome,' in Swedish.
Cushing is no stranger to invention. A former sound arts engineering student, he first became interested in creating his own instruments when he realized how expensive store-bought distortion pedals can be and decided to build his own instead. "I build a lot of electronic stuff," he says. "I built some more traditional synthesizer stuff that is way more musical than the Varsagod is, but it's all analogue electronic stuff. I design some kind of weird noise circuits and effect pedals for guitars, too."
The Varsagod decorative cutting board is adorned by various metal springs, and a hinge that Cushing replaced while working one day under the hood of his car. Its surface also boasts salvaged bicycle parts and metal screws.
When hitting each individual part of the instrument with a blunt object, the sound reverberates through the springs, creating an echo. The Varsagod may easily be used as a reverb processor for other instruments as well. The screws decorating it are capable of generating different tones, and Cushing has been setting it up so that its output goes directly into a Korg vocoder, working with guitar player Sean Tobin to take its dissonant sounds and manipulate them to generate more melodic content. "We would record stuff, and it would pick up that sound and produce it harmonically along with the weird spookiness of it," Tobin says.
Mike Cushing, creator of the Varsagod
"It sounds kind of like an old wrought iron gate that you open up, and it just makes that weird creaking noise that gives you chills down your back," says guitarist John Olivier. "There's other parts of it that almost sound like you're plucking the strings on a violin." The sound effects are indeed reminiscent of a haunted house or horror movie, complete with thundering rumbles and jarring thuds. Heard through an amplifier, the Varsagod is absolutely terrifying. "Sometimes it just sounds like weird metallic scratching, almost like watching Freddy Krueger as he's taking his nails and scraping them along a pipe," says Olivier.
Cushing is also currently putting time into building other equipment. "Right now I'm building a sequencer so I can control parts of my modular synthesizer," he says. "It builds rhythmic patterns. Also, John and I are working on a baritone guitar project. We have a guitar that we're going to modify, so it will be a six string guitar but with a lower tuning scale."
The Varsagod will be an intriguing addition to the new Lungs album, much of which had already been composed before Cushing joined Lungs last summer. Over the course of several lineup changes before this particular formation of the band, Nicholas found himself taking the reins over writing and composing. He formulates the skeleton of each song, purposefully leaving many parts open in order for the other band members to fill in the empty spaces.
"A lot of music that you find out there, especially when you're dealing with heavy music, is usually heavy all the time," Nicholas says. "Granted, there's a lot of bands that don't do that, but my idea of the music that I write is to try to exploit those emotions, or those extremes people have, whether it be anger, hostility, things like that, and then to the syrupy sweet happiness, to sad and depressed, and try to capture those moments in the music."
Lungs intends to reach their audience by expressing the full spectrum of emotions, rather than restricting themselves to one specific mood or musical environment. "The people who are into us are into us for, I think, being able to relate to those [emotions]. Then, there are a lot of people that I've seen during our sets just can't take it and don't like it, 'cause it creeps them out or they're so used to what they're used to," he says.
"Or maybe they just don't like it," jokes Tobin.
Either way, Nicholas is confident for the success of the band's current formation. With opening performance slots for other established bands within their genre such as Weedeater and Church of Misery under their belt, Lungs is preparing for a summer tour. Tonight, they will open for screamo darlings Circle Takes the Square at the Triple Rock.
"We seem to be doing a decent job just doing what we're doing and getting people interested," Nicholas says. "We're going in the right direction."
Lungs perform with Blood Folke and Circle Takes the Square this evening at the Triple Rock. 18+ $10, 8 PM
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