Imagine a monarchical ruler with despotic inclinations, acting on impulse, crazily wincing all over the place constantly, while being driven by something that could be characterized as lunacy. Now imagine how that exact picture of a delirious figure with a fuming mouth and a scattered mind would transform into a purely audible setting. That’s pretty much what today’s featured artist is all about, minus the throbbing communism and horrendous behaviour. I’m pretty sure there are some other possibly relevant key differences when comparing the two, but oh well.

Czar are a four piece from Washington, playing experimental, hyper-violent, and psychedelic avant-gardistic mathgrind. Makes very little sense, yes? Sonically as deranged as what I described above, the band is a definitive oddity that, for some reason, has managed to stay on a grass-roots level for a decade. I guess that a lot of people reminiscing the MySpace-era can’t see the forest for the trees, as Czar‘s atrociously tingly blend of noises should be right there on the frontlines, basking in the bright spotlights of broad recognition. Surely, going down the rabbit hole of said genres and styles will eventually lead any music enthusiast into the particular round room where this quartet is ever so eloquently freaking out.

Czar‘s particular kind of crazy reaches back to ten years ago, when the band came together in a very conventional and natural way. Named as Osama Bin Rockin up until the release of their first album Old Haunts back in 2011, the group’s made up of like-minded people, wanting to do something that hasn’t been done before, while bathing in a pool of peculiar humour and odd inside jokes as a unit. I was fortunate to chat about the band’s career with their vocalist and front man, Dr. Landon Jared Wonser, who was kind enough to elaborate on how Czar came into existence, amongst other matters.
‘The catalyst of Czar, was likely the displacement of frustrated ideas and nowhere to put them. In a way, Czar can be humorously described as the local supergroup nobody asked for. We all came from the demise of MySpace era grind bands. Chris being the most successful, in THE. Amusingly, all of our separate bands would fight each other for opening slots with Psyopus, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Behold the Arctopus, etc. I tried out for the band when it was initially Pete (bass)  and DJ (drums), and couldn’t commit to it. They were very talented, but it seemed unfocused and very jam-based. They called me back when they had a guitarist (Nick) and there suddenly seemed to be some semblance of coherence in the song ideas. Keys would come a little later on, but we all bonded over the idea that there was a certain music we all wanted to play, that didn’t quite exist, so it was up to make it. Like we heard a similar song in our heads and finally found the right group of people to bring it to fruition.’

The described, minor birth pangs and newfound mutual language resulted in Czar‘s grand opening on Old Haunts. The album is a furious and venomous concoction of different styles and approaches, placeable under the extremely broad stamp of mathcore. Taking influences from a variety of genres and bands led to an overly fascinating outcome that takes its time to unfold and to make proper sense. Easy to sign off as hurtfully organic and cinematically dramatic, the material bulldozed through the wreckage of an entire scene, leaving everyone dizzied and gasping on its path.
‘When we started, I believe we did set out to play in the mathcore style. In reading the room, or music community at the time, we noticed that deathcore, grind, and Black Sabbath riffs were prevalent. Being the career contrarians we are, we decided to play more off of our interests in bands like Botch, The Locust, Cephalic Carnage, The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Ion Dissonance, etc, while also utilizing our prog influences from The Mars Volta, Yes, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The mathcore aspect felt deliberate in the early days, but I think we recognized over the process of the years passed that we like to play it a little loose, and everything is more by feel now. For instance, I have a laugh sometimes when Pete counts out two beats, because sometimes his two has three or four syllables. One two-woo. One two-wooo-woo. A lot of the early material was jammed out in the riff to riff to riff format where we would have marathon writing sessions, but over time, we have come to appreciate that you don’t have to write songs the same way twice.’

The final sentence above is what rings through the first album as well as everything that followed later on. The opening track “Elwood” is a monumental, spastically branching piece that takes its sweet time to play around with the listeners emotions for nine minutes, whereas the following track “Never Shoot the Pilot” does this in less than one and a half minute’s time. The spacey synths provide and ethereal atmosphere to the artistic but coherent pummeling throughout. I don’t think it’d be far off to portray Old Haunts as an adult version of Between the Buried and Me.
‘We provide jokes and challenges for each other. I have written and recorded vocal parts that the rest of the band wrote around, for example. It is important to stay fresh, challenging and amusing for us within the band. “Shark Cancer” is a good example of a song that should never have been a song, and is on almost every recording we have ever released. Around the time we were ready to record Old Haunts, Pete and DJ used to do this weird thing thing, where DJ would shred the kit, and Pete would grab a drum stick and start slapping his bass with it. I was like, “what is that thing you guys keep doing and why isn’t it on the album?” We went from there, and Pete named it “Shark Cancer” because he had watched Deep Blue Sea the night before and, well never mind that. We try to take a new approach to almost every piece we write.  Sometimes it’s methodical, other’s it’s hangover poetry yelped over improvisation.’

As mentioned, humour is what colours Czar‘s existence prevalently. It doesn’t define the band any more than its other components, but is definitely more visible. Despite the fact that the lyrics are approached with a twinkle in one’s eye, there are dead serious underlying narratives and stories, that you just need to dig up.
‘I would say that we all identify as humorists. A sense of humor is kind of the last healthy coping mechanism, in my opinion. The song titles remain relevant (to me) the material mostly, and I try not to go for totally ridiculous titles just for their own sake, but yes, I/we do name the songs for my/our amusement. My writing is more informed by literature than influenced by other lyricists. I actually try to avoid reading the work of my contemporaries, if possible. Not to be rude, it is just a little difficult to avoid influence, however subtle or subconscious it may be.’

Influences can be obviously driven from a multitude of sources. The stated avoidance of concurrent lyricists further supports Czar‘s position in always sounding a little bit different than the rest.
‘I think the works of Milan Kundera and Haruki Murakami have had the greatest impact on my writing, for their own respective reasons. I read once that a good writer should read no less than 10× their output, and I kind of ran with that. Speaking of Murakami, a character in one of his novels said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” That’s a little bit of a stretch, and definitely out of context, but it certainly does start to seem like a bit of an echo chamber if everyone is listening to and reading the same material as they get to work on their own artistic expressions. We lead different lives and have vastly different experiences, but I think we need to pull from different wells if we don’t want the waters to stagnate.’

‘I would say that I’m somewhat of a frustrated novelist that is severely incapable of focusing, and decided to funnel this into music, since I already had a band going. I believe there is a clear story behind each album, and the lyrics play into each of them quite well for me, but I like to let people run away with the ideas as they see fit. I have had people ask if particular lyrics were about them. I usually respond with something like, “if the shoe fucking fits” or something equally dismissive, though I really do get a kick out of that sort of thing. I like that what I have written resonates with people, because really this is all just my way of processing.’
Six long years passed since the debut until the band released their second opus Life Is No Way To Treat An Animal. There’s a clear shift in atmosphere, as the successor sits tighter in perhaps a tad more calm milieu. It’s not so much of a harsh space opera as it is lounge music for a murder scene.

This album should be treated as a one continuous piece of music, as all the tracks flow into each other, sharing themes and references, together forming one bigger entity through nineteen smaller parts. Musically, it’s a wildly different journey than it’s predecessor. The chaotic feel is still sharp and cutting, but is simultaneously more controlled. Experimentalism rears its head everywhere, as you simply have to listen to the album from start to finish to actually make sense of it as a whole. The tracks are all different, and skimming through it with bits from here and there will only leave you confused. Opposite aspects create a distinct juxtaposition, and Czar thrives on that grey are in between.
Some moments in time flew by before the band released their latest effort, last year’s Minus. On this EP, the band found themselves in a rather disrupted position, as some humongous changes had taken place between it and the previous album. I characterized Minus as a eulogy of sorts, which is something that the band echoed as well.
‘I’m glad you picked up on the Minus as eulogy aspect. The band was in a weird and broken state during and after the recording of Life Is No Way To Treat An Animal. It was kind of unclear as to what we needed to do and who was on board to do it. We are now one member down (amicable terms, with an open door policy), but with Minus, we really just wanted to showcase a snapshot of where we were at that moment. We realized that we didn’t do this because we particularly like it, we do this because we have to. Minus was 100% DIY. Writing, recording, mixing mastering, self released, the works. We wanted it to be an honest representation of where the 4 people in the room were at. Most of it was first take, because they sounded the most honest and passionate. It was ugly, but it was us.’

The EP’s artwork also differs from the rest, representing the band’s momentarily fractured state, feeling like a grim snapshot of life, depicting some ornaments through a saturated and dirty lens. It’s like the brief moment between two breaths, when your mind wanders to somewhere where it really shouldn’t for a lengthened second, until being snatched back to reality.
‘The cover photo is actually outside of the home studio where we recorded it. I took a photo of the flamingos with a broken Polaroid camera, using expired film. I included a statement on our Bandcamp kind of mentioning the state of things, but that was nearly 2 years ago, and we have proved to ourselves, mostly, that we have the will and the lack of brains to keep going. We are well under way with the writing of our next release. The recording has been slightly postponed because Pete suffered from a compound fracture recently, but he is well on the way to recovery. We played some of the new material at this year’s Mathcore Index Fest. We really like how people have responded to some of our more sleazy and almost math-pop stuff, so we are kind of leaning in on that a bit.’

That pretty much brings us to the present day. Czar has evolved tremendously over the course of the years, almost like following the traits of everyday life. Even though the newest batch of material might be a bit more mature overall, it’s still abrasive as hell and just as uncompromising as the earlier, therefore actually emphasizing progress rather than recession. New material is well on its way as said, and I personally couldn’t be more excited about it.
Czar‘s pursuit so far has been a reflection of real life, its exhilarating highs and exhausting lows, joys and difficulties. My last question to Landon was about the deepest meaning of the band’s presence, as I apparently find questioning people and their motives as a jolly good time. Though, treading on being intrusive and borderlining being offensive, led to an interesting conversation, or conversensation even, offering a lot of insight and interesting details for those interested. At this point I’d just like to direct you to the feral cartwheel drive Czar has to provide, and leave you off with a pondering about the keynotes of their vividly complex and raging existence.
‘Our goals when we started were to challenge the listener, tour and have a great time. I think we have succeeded at at least two of those. The goals we have now, are to make better decisions about touring and stay on task with writing and recording. No one problem is ever that large, but the “everything all the time” aspect of life has been our consistent stumbling block. We have families, jobs, passions, etc, and don’t necessarily want to live in the van, so I think if we can just make concentrated efforts count, we will be in good shape.’

With the exclusion of the currently absent, Czar is…
Dr. Landon Jared Wonser – Vocals
Peter Joseph Ruff – Bass
David Joseph Dorran Jr. – Drums
Christopher Duenas – Keyboard

And as usual, go and throw the band a follow on Facebook and acquire their tunes from Bandcamp. The photographs in this article were taken by Holly Strack. ‘Nuff said.

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