Are you a fan of trip-hop? Dense lyricism? Modern gothic aesthetics? Have you spun Mezzanine by Massive Attack a bit too many times? Then check out Agiris, the musical project of poet turned musician and Cardiff resident Ryan Draper. His sound skirts the border between poetry and trip-hop, delivering a sound that pushes electronic music to catharsis. Ben Newman sat down with the songwriter to discuss all things music, poetry, lyrics and metropolitan life.
Agiris is a collaborative project, correct? How did this collaboration with Sunbane come about?
You’re partially right. Agiris is the solo manifestation of my artistry as a writer and performer. You could say it’s a sort of character for me to explore my creativity, but it also allows me to exhibit an artform that I wouldn’t necessarily express as just Ryan. As Agiris I’ve been working towards the completion of my first mixtape, ‘Anima’ and a lot of the work produced for this project has been a collaborative effort. I’ve worked with a range of producers including Sunbane, Jonatan Bäckelie and Bexxo, composer/pianist Ezra Nixon, photographer/videographer Seanen Middleton, make-up artist Lauren Labram and iron-cast melder Ashleigh Harrold. Sunbane has contributed a significant amount to my work and we’ve got a pretty co-operative partnership going on. As well as helping me to enhance some demos and producing some of the tracks for my mixtape, I’ve performed alongside him at this year’s HUB fest and supplied vocals for a track on his upcoming Alchemist EP (out Dec 14th), which will be my very first release to hit all the streaming platforms. Synergistic vibes all round.
Q. Do you tend to write lyrics after listening to his production or does lyric writing come first?
My mixtape has been written for a long time now. I revealed Agiris back in May of this year and the time since has been about finding the right music to dissolve the words in. There was one production that I received from Jonatan where I wrote a completely original track over it, but everything else has been lyrics first.
Q. You’ve defined your music as “poetrip” which indicates a fusion between trip-hop’s aesthetics and poetic lyrics. Aside from this genre-lyric relationship, what else does poetrip stand for?
It’s mainly that the focus is on the words. As mentioned before, most of the tracks were written and performed as poems or spoken word pieces before having the music to accompany them. The mixtape itself flows between very structured and rhythmic verses and fluid, soft spoken interludes with a more poetic delivery. I’d like to think that the reader could delve into the lyricism of any of my tracks and extract the messages or the emotions of what I’m trying to say from just reading or listening to the words alone. I suppose the music is there to enhance the experience but also act as a gateway to the lyrics. I’ve also found it uncomfortable to express what I do as rap. Rap brings to mind very specific connotations which I feel I don’t quite fit into. Poetrip, to me, suggests a more image invoking or story-telling genre and one that allows for a bit more flexibility.
Q. Considering your background in writing poetry, how have you found the transition to writing lyrics? Do you tend to follow a similar writing style/method or is it a totally different thought process?
It’s odd. I’ve always written with the rhyme in mind so that hasn’t changed. With spoken word you can sort of take the structure any where but with music I’m very aware that I need to ride the instrumentation just right and allow for more constriction. I’m discovering the art of flow!
Q. Both lyrically and sonically, Agiris tends to delve into dark sounds and textures. Who are your major inspirations for this sound? Are there any lyric-writers/vocalists you tend to look to for inspiration?
For the past few years my favourite music to listen to has been dark electronic pop and alternative R&B (FKA twigs, Banks, Abra, James Blake, Sevdaliza, Kill J). My mixtape has been massively influenced by the likes of Portishead and Tricky, but particularly Massive Attack and their Mezzanine album. I’ve always wanted to re-create its deliciously atmospheric soundscape. Lyric wise- I love the way Bjork writes. She writes without any sort of conditioning. The freedom in her lyricism is tangible to me. Lorde is also a terrific writer. I could just read her album and feel the music in the words.
Q. Out of these inspirations, who would be your dream collaborator?
I’ve actually thought hard about this because I wouldn’t want to feel too intimidated if I were to work with someone I look up to. I’d get too nervous and make a t*t of myself. So bearing that in mind, I’d have to say NAO. Some of her darker tunes are my favourite songs and I LOVE her unusual, honey-sweet voice. Her lyrics are so poetic too: “You’re a holiday, a glass of ocean slipping down my throat and landed on my hopes”. I’ve actually met her and she was incredibly humble- it was like talking to an old friend, so I think we would actually write something great together.
Q. Do you view and evaluate music a little differently now that you’re making it?
Yeah, sadly it has sort of diminished its impact ever so slightly. Before, I would be mesmerised by music and wonder how the hell the artist could come up with something in bewilderment. I still get that! But now I’m working on the software and recording for hours at a time, I’ve started to view the whole concept of music in more technical terms. Sometimes I just need to be found in the right moment and the magic comes flooding back.
Q. Your last track, Monstratum, was sonically your most challenging song yet, nodding to genres such as drone and industrial. Where do you see your sound going in the long-term? Was this more left-field and confrontational sound an indication of your future work?
Monstratum’s concept is about the universal capacity for evil and so I wanted music that was aggressive and haunting to convey its idea. It’s probably the heaviest moment on the Anima track listing. Anima is a very conceptual project and my aim was always to tie it together with a cohesive sound. Before Anima and Agiris, I was making music as part of a duo that was very sarcastic and humorous with simple pop/hip-hop beats. Anima was born out of a need to want to be taken more seriously and to use Agiris as a vessel in which to challenge myself and my insecurities. I was sort of hiding behind the humour before because I was afraid to be sincere and declare myself as someone with true, artistic intentions. Now that I’m getting more comfortable with it, I’m excited to continue to use eclectic sounds and maintain an alternative aesthetic.
Q. Before releasing Monstratum, you released a quote from Carl Jung’s essay ‘On the Psychology of the Unconscious’ regarding the nature of evil. Do you derive a lot of intertextual inspiration from psychology and literature?
It’s funny, it’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy for me. I was trying to find a stage name for myself and I kept coming back to the colour silver, the moon and the soul. Eventually I decided upon “Agiris Anima” as a sort of indirect translation for “Silver eyes to the soul”. I cut it short with Agiris but I realised that most of what I was writing about fit with the Anima title. I knew it translated from Italian to ‘soul’ before I knew of the Jungian archetype. I’d also written the basis for Monstratum before I knew of Carl Jung and then I researched some of his quotes and particularly his concept of integrating the shadow. I noticed my poetry aligning with his philosophies and the notion of the Anima became the catalyst that sort of made everything slot into place as a project. I’ve also used a snippet of a philosophical conversation between Dr. Jordan Peterson and Russell Brand. I found the dichotomy of these two individuals, who are both viewed as radicals of the left/right paradigm, just calmly talking about philosophy together to be a notable anomaly in today’s divisive political climate. I took a snippet of where they mention Jung’s alchemical axiom ‘Insterquilnies invinetur” (that which you need will be found where you least want to look) and I used it to introduce a track called “Truth Is…Vacant” which talks about how, in my opinion, the ignorance of truth has been elevated in our culture.
Q. How was HUB Festival? You’ve got lots of experience performing poetry, but I imagine performing music live for the first time was nerve-wracking. Got any live dates planned soon?
For a first-time performance, I think it went well. But it’s that thing where you know you can give it so much more. It’s going to be a challenge to deliver on stage exactly what I have envisioned in my head, but I’m determined to get there. I’m hoping to secure a Mixtape Launch gig next year.
Q. For lack of a better term, your aesthetic is underpinned by something that’s distinctly urban. How does living in a city like Cardiff affect your writing and artistic approach?
I write a lot about mundanity, pessimism and feeling stagnated. I thought this derived from the isolation of the valleys, but I seemed to write more about those concepts living in Manchester and Cardiff. I lived right in the centre of both cities and could still feel intense isolation amongst the metropolitan buzz, perhaps more so than Tredegar. Despite that, I still get motivated living in the city to want to share my work and meet other creators. I like to use Cardiff’s locations for a lot of the scenes in my music videos too.
Q. Cheeky question: when is the mixtape dropping?
If all goes to plan, it’ll be an initial free download release on the 1st of March 2019. Hopefully with a full-platform distribution to follow.
If Agiris seems to hit the right note with you, then keep your ears primed for a new single that drops December 14. For more, check out his music and keep up with him on: