Interview: Cremation Lily Project Mastermind Zen Zsigo Dives Into New LP, ‘Dreams Drenched in Static’

I love art that toys with our understanding of pre-existing definitions and norms. We all know what heavy music sounds like, or what horror looks like, or what romance sounds like (oo la la!). However, do we really know what art really is, when it’s often in the senses of the beholder? In that way, the latest release from U.K.-based Cremation Lily is a truly liminal creation, gloriously unclassifiable (industrial psychedelic shoegaze? Chill noisecore?), but it feels incredibly comfortable despite all the noise. There’s a real sense of peace amidst the electronic undercurrents at play to Dreams Drenched in Static, out now via The Flenser. It’s many things at once while being astounding at its core.

Cremation Lily, aka Zen Zsigo, gives a concise mission statement:

“I feel the same way about my sound, too. I’ve never quite understood it, but I’m really happy you clearly understood it (humble brag, at least my ears work!); that’s the biggest thing for me, finding understanding in chaos.” 

The creation of this record was central to how it was processed and the meaning behind it. By writing and recording using whatever was nearest to you at the sparks of inspiration (at the darkest of hours), it feels like a record that almost had to come out of Zsigo. What did the album teach you about yourself or Cremation Lily?
Twenty-twenty-one was an incredibly hectic year for me, juggling painful family situations, past trauma that kept rearing its hurtful head, working a lot, sleeping a lot, and somehow found time to tour the U.K.—but the only thing that was for certain last year was that these songs would finally be free. Due to the travel last year, I ended up recording vocal parts on trains, demos while crisis-solving, guitar while on endless hold to professionals, etc. This meant the sound palette of the record is diverse beyond anything I’ve done before, maybe even jarring—but it’s always held together by greyscale cassette hiss and various lo-fi recording techniques. In that sense, more than anything, it has forced me to find my own voice amongst the tape-mulch, just working with what I had on hand and in mind, allowing all of that to impact the recording.”  

A lot of previous Lily work has been the result of free-form, hands-on expression and obsession with sound. The texture was first and only later turned into songs. Being at home for so long with my own thoughts for a year and then thrust into 2021 meant I had much less time to sit down and obsess with sound. I have recorded sound almost daily for many years. With all the barriers in place, songs started floating around in my head first instead, rather than being created with my hands as before. As I wanted to capture these on record as naturally as possible, I would end up grabbing a dictaphone in the middle of the night to record ideas. My phone was dying in the middle of the day sometimes because I was transcribing these half-remembered songs from the night before to notes all the time.  

That lost-and-found feel has stayed on the record, too. I didn’t want to strip all of it away and kept the roughest elements on equal footing with everything else–Some melodies come and trail off to nothing; Others swell into vivid shocking catharsis before folding back into calm. I have thought long and hard about what genre this record is, and I’m still at a loss but I feel right at home with The Flenser and peers like Planning For Burial, Midwife, Have a Nice Life, Drowse, Chat Pile, Street Sects, etc.”  

The album’s creation is really interesting to me. This notion of using whatever was nearest to you gives me the image that you set out a ton of equipment in your house at sunset just waiting for inspiration to strike. What was the main avenue for you when making these songs? 
It was like that at times; Outside of the hectic moments last year I had space at home I dedicated to the record. That’s where a lot of my post-recording processing happened and where the record was really tied together aesthetically. Taking those original dictaphone recordings and stretching them into disembodied choirs, using often broken and unpredictable equipment to create further instability, and finally getting hands on to physically warp the audio via tape and then held on equal footing as the rest of the record—I don’t want to make perfect music; I just need to get it out of me. The hiss, the warped audio, that’s how it’s all held together, and I think why this project can be so fluid genre-wise. You’ll always feel the hands that make it; with this record, you’re getting the mind, too. 

Lyrically, much like the crashing of waves central to the album’s story, there’s a balance of calm and harshness, despair and hope, that comes through. The story about a traumatic near-drowning experience comes through in the life-affirming aspects of the record. 
Through several traumatic but survived incidents that just unfortunately happened periodically growing up, to the near-drowning several years ago, I’ve really found it hard to connect with the wider world most of my life—masculinity especially was a bit of a nightmarish cage around me, which I have thankfully been able to escape from over time and have found freedom even more so in expression. With that, this record is just open; It’s honest like a journal you never thought anyone would read. There are lies in here, the ones I felt comfortable telling myself for so long; It’s just now, I feel comfortable in calling myself out, too. It’s about being imperfect and tempted to give up but always searching for understanding, always finding comfort in something. ”

Check out the live performance for “Dreams Drenched in Static” here:

For more from Cremation Lily, find him on Bandcamp, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Tim Berkbeck

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