“Music just always mirrors what is happening in my life,” says Dana Schechter. “What I’ve been really experiencing and interested in lately is doing things that simplify and de-clutter and open up the sense of space. The reason for that is because I feel that life has become more and more chaotic.
Everywhere, in the world, and in personal life as well, and so the need to strip things down to their basic essence is something that has brought me a lot of calmness, which is really crucial for staying alive because my predisposition is to be more on the A-type personality: get things done; have a list; always trying to push and push, and what I’ve started to realize is, not only is it bad for me, as a person, and really unhealthy, it also doesn’t make good work to have this sense of trying to control things because the world is not in control. Everything is just out of control, and as soon as you recognize that and accept it, I think that you enjoy being alive a little bit more.”
Since the conception of Insect Ark, founder and multi-instrumentalist Schechter has been crafting uncomfortable soundscapes that feel both intimate and ice-cold. Terrifying, horror film-like visions, outer space travel, and realistic, noir textures were explored on Portal / Well(2015) and Marrow Hymns(2018). In 2020, Schechter is back with a new band member and a new album, The Vanishing, out in February via Profound Lore Records.
“The album’s title refers to a recurring daydream. It’s something that I’ve seen in my head, specifically about this thing with the ocean and this sort of expansiveness of it, and it doesn’t get any clearer or more empty than that—the horizon and water, being in a small boat, and never coming back,” Schechter explains.
“It has to do with the impermanence of life. That we’re just here for a minute, and then we fade off. I want to not forget that life can be over so quickly, and not to take it for granted because, at any point, we can just fail to exist. So, in essence, you can vanish. It’s wild, because we all know people who have died unexpectedly, and it’s impossible to grasp this idea how you can have a life force that is so real, and then one moment changes, and they’re just gone.
“They’ve basically dissolved into the ether, their spirit. It’s kind of more about that than the literal thing of the ocean, but it’s something that’s been in me for my whole life. This feeling that you just can’t forget that we’re here right now, and this is really a struggle for all of us to recognize because life is short, but it’s also long, and it’s easy to forget. We’re not immortal, and we tend to forget that.”
These feelings are well represented in The Vanishing. It’s heavier, darker, and denser than anything Insect Ark has ever done, without losing any of the writing characteristics that have become synonymous with the band’s personality.
“The process is pretty organic, and it all starts with wherever my head is,” Schechter clarifies. “But, the actual process is pretty consistent in the sense that there is no one way. Basically, I sit down with whatever instruments I have available to me, or whichever one seems interesting to me at the moment, and come up with something, and then it leads me to another idea.
“What I’m oftentimes doing is recording them as I’m going, and the process of listening back really helps me develop the interplay between the next thing, and this sort of demo-ing process is actually really crucial to the writing process because it allows me to have some distance, listen back to it as it’s developing, change it, and not get really attached to ideas and be able to listen to it, like, when I’m really sleepy, or take a few days and come back to it, and in a way, I become like an outside person, and I’m able to approach it with some objectivity.”
Known for her collaborations with Swans (she is now part of the touring lineup), Angels Of Light, Gnaw, Zeal & Ardor, Wrekmeister Harmonies, and Årabrot, Schechter is now joined by former SubRosa drummer Andy Patterson, also known for his bands DØNE, the Otolith, INVADRS, and as owner/operator of Salt Lake City recording studio The Boar’s Nest. This partnership appears to have completed the true essence of Insect Ark.
“I come from being in bands,” Schechter says. “The band I had for over ten years, which was called Bee and Flower, for which I was the main writer and vocalist, that was not so different. I was writing the songs and people would write their parts, or I would write their parts and then we would make records, but Insect Ark was started really as this experimental solo project.
“And with that in mind, each record has been really different. The first 7-inch, the first EP, and the first full-length were all just me playing everything, and so I was just working on it until it was done, and I was satisfied, and then it came out. Then, when the second full-length came, which was Marrow Hymns, when Ashley Spungin was in the band. She joined when half that material was already finished, and I had written all the parts for everything,” she continues.
“When she entered, it took us a while to get that material together, and that was a whole new thing. This whole thing with The Vanishing, it was different again because, as you know, Ashley and I broke up before The Vanishing was made. So, the way this one was the same was that I did most of the basic writing, chord progressions, melodies, and things like that, but there was really a lot of flux—you might say—during the writing process, both in the band and personally.
“I was also traveling a lot because, while I wrote most of the basic songs in New York City; I continued developing them in Portland—where Ashley lived—in Berlin, in San Francisco—where I used to live—and all these places. So, once the first pass was done, Ashley and I did a lot of work on developing the songs that I brought in. That took a month, and then I finished writing all the melodies and over-dubs, basically anything that we couldn’t play between two people, I went and I finished writing them in New York City.”
“When she and I parted ways, which was in July, I revamped a lot of that music and sort of changed the parts that she had written, because she wasn’t involved anymore, and I just wanted to have some separation from that. So, I reworked the drum parts with Andy Patterson, but at that, point I had already done all these steps, so the music, in many ways, was already written.
“So, there is no normal way. But this one in particular was pretty chaotic initially because the split was Ashley was not anticipated, and the plans for going on tour with Oranssi Pazuzu a couple months later, and making this album, and then having it come out in the spring, all these plans were in place. So, I really had to sort of crank through some of the creative ideas in a way that was not very relaxing, but Andy was great, and he totally pulled a lot of shit together.”
The album artwork, a stunning painting by French artist Sonia Merah, is in and of itself a work of art, but when paired with the sounds of The Vanishing, it becomes a truly haunting and mesmerizing vision of some terribly twisted, alternate reality.
“I’d been following Sonia’s work on the internet for a couple of years, and I actually lost track of her for a little over a year, and I was trying to find her, and then she came back,” Schechter says. “I think that in a way, it totally fits with the title of the album–just so mysterious and kind of scary, and really dark. It’s human, but not. You can’t tell if it’s an animal, or you can’t tell what the hell it is. I see all different kinds of things in it. Like many of her paintings, there is this surrealist quality in it, but there’s also, like, this abstract impressionism thing going. For me, it’s somewhere between like Dalí and Francis Bacon, which are two of my favorite painters.”
“I used to be a painter, actually,” Schechter says. “But I stopped because I decided that music would be my focus. I have tried to not do music before, and it didn’t work. It’s a little bit like not eating, and when you suddenly realize that, you feel horrible, horrible, and you realize that you’re completely depleted, and that there is something horrible missing that you didn’t realize.
“Music has always helped me. I’ve been doing it since I was a child, and it does help me to communicate ideas that there aren’t any words for, actually. Words have never been my best vehicle for expression. They just never have been. So, this is one of the reasons that I don’t really worry about having vocals in this project. Making music in general is very important to me. I don’t get to do it all the time like I would like to, but when I go too long without it, I feel like I’ve been really neglecting something important inside of myself.”