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danielgraves2021 01Interview with

Daniel Graves (vocals) from Aesthetic Perfection

“Conflict and contrast are built into my DNA” he said during the interview. Indeed, Daniel Graves is one of the most expressive, though-provoking and original artists I know. Fierce live shows, strong opinions, symbolic, meaning-loaded lyrics and energetic music - all of it being an expression of fascinating personality of the front man who is behind AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s success.

The most immediate reason to have an interview was his recent collaboration with Isaac Howlett from EMPATHY TEST and the song ‘Save Myself’, but the fact is I have always wanted to ask him about his live show experience, approach to creative process, inspirations and his social media presence. I got my answers and indeed they something to think about.

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Please tell me more about your new release ‘Save Myself’. You created it with Isaac Howlett from EMPATHY TEST. It’s a very moving and beautiful song. Why did you decide to record a song together?
Daniel: Isaac and I have been discussing a collaboration for years. The issue was just time and logistics. He lived in London and I lived in Los Angeles and we were both incredibly busy touring. After relocating to Austria and the ensuing pandemic, I suddenly found myself having much more time than usual, and, ironically, Isaac had chosen to also move to Austria. These days we’re practically neighbours, which means we see each other quite often, and one night after a few beers, we had the discussion about finally realizing the collaboration we’d spent years putting off.

RoD: Is it the opening for further cooperation, or was it a one-time thing?
Daniel: Isaac and I have recently discovered our mutual love of a long dead music genre, and are pondering what might happen if we were to revive it.

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RoD: You experimented with many music genres through the years. After this many works, do you think you find any particular one closest to you? Or, on the contrary - your artistic path will always be based on discoveries and reinventions?
Daniel: I think every one of us understands that change is a part of life. The person you are as a child is not the same person you are as an adult. Throughout our lives, our tastes, beliefs, friends, politics etc… grows and evolves. AESTHETIC PERFECTION is 21 years old. I was 17 when I formed this band. I’m not even close to the same person now as I was back then. I understand why a lot of bands are afraid to allow those changes to manifest in their work, there’s a lot of risk involved with that. However, I choose to embrace that change and let my art honestly reflect who I am when I create it. How other people interpret that is irrelevant.

RoD: You often publish honest comments upon various things, such as the business industry, and these are not always flattering comments. Do you feel the music business has changed through the years? Or perhaps you changed as an artist or a person? Or both?
Daniel: When I was first starting out in the music industry, I didn’t have anyone to give me advice or guidance. My posts are essentially messages to my younger self, sharing thoughts that I wish someone had shared with me. The hope is that they will be helpful for other up and coming artists.

RoD: The lyrics you create always carry a strong message and provoke questions; they also seem very personal - do you think art should be personal? Or is it a construct made for entertaining mostly?
Daniel: There is something magical about art that can make you think, while also keeping you entertained. Pure entertainment is fun, but it’s also hollow and doesn’t nourish the soul. On the other hand, art that exists solely to make you think, can be very profound, yes, but it can also be uncomfortable and difficult to digest. For me, the goal is to find harmony between these two sides of artistic intention. I imagine it like an iceberg. The surface, what comes out of the water and is immediately obvious, which you can observe from a distance if you so choose, but there’s also a larger mass underneath the waterline, which requires you to dive into uncomfortable territory to appreciate.

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RoD: AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s music is very energetic and dancy, but the lyrics are very heart-rendering and thought-provoking.  Do you like operating with contrasts? Do you like energetic sounds more than melancholic ones?
Daniel: As a person who struggles with being both outgoing and introverted, happy and easy-going yet horribly depressed… someone who is a pessimistic optimist… I would say that conflict and contrast are built into my DNA.

RoD: You are renowned for your very expressive and inspiring aesthetics and scenic image. Is your scenic representation a costume created for your scenic self? Or is it all you we see on stage?
Daniel: During my years in school I was never particularly attractive or cool. The visual side of my work is simply me living out my fantasy of being someone worth looking at. Now I get to control how the world sees me, which is fun because I’m torn between wanting to be seen as either an ugly monster, a stereotypically attractive man, or a gender-bending alien.

RoD: Further to that question - I had luck to see you playing live, and to me, your performance was not only music experience, but also a bit like a cabaret or even a theatre - with the image, music, and the shadow/light play combined it was almost like a monodrama at times. Is the final effect being a crossover of various arts - both visual and musical - intentional? Do other forms of art inspire you?
Daniel: AESTHETIC PERFECTION is, first and foremost, a musical project, but I think it’s a mistake to ignore the visual side of performing. I’m just as inspired by artists like Goya, Bosch and Bacon as I am QUEEN and MICHAEL JACKSON. So much of what I write about is related to transfiguration and the pursuit of horror and beauty, so I’m drawn to creators like the Belgian duo Mothmeister and the French surrealist Olivier de Sagazan or the paintings of Marco Mazzoni and George Martin.

RoD: Do you like live shows, or do you prefer creative process rather than performances in front of the audience? In short - are you a stage animal?
Daniel: I would not play live if it wasn’t part of the job. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I do… but I don’t feel particularly comfortable onstage. My happiness comes from the act of creating, not performing.

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RoD: You also perform as a DJ - last time I saw a bit of it in Prague during Prague Gothic Treffen. How do you choose music for your sets? Do you like parties yourself?
Daniel: Ironically, I don’t like parties. I don’t like dancing or live music. I much prefer a quiet pub with a handful of friends to a loud disco. However, I *do* like club / party music. I just listen to it when I’m driving. The music I choose to spin is the music that makes me wanna stomp on the accelerator.

RoD: Moving on to different topics - as mentioned before, your public presence - be it in social media or at the concerts - seems symbolic and meaningful. I particularly like the photo where you pose bare with a fake smile covering your mouth. Do you think people now pretend more than they used to? Or is it simply more visible and striking because of the social media influence?
Daniel: We live in an interesting moment in time. On one hand, we’ve never been so open and honest about mental health and the importance of it, and on the other, all of us are on social media trying to present an unrealistic image of our lives to the world. This practice actively contributes to the mental health crisis we’re facing as a society. I’m no different. I do my best to present an authentic version of myself to the world, but of course I curate that image and leave out the unflattering elements (or at least frame the unflattering elements in a flattering way). In the end, the only people who win are the social media companies.

RoD: What is your opinion on social media in general?
Daniel: Social media is simultaneously the best thing and the worst thing that has ever happened to society. It’s incredible how it simultaneously connects us all, yet drives us apart.

RoD: You moved from the US to Austria. Do you feel it changed your perspective on things? On people, music, art? If yes, in what way? Is it reflected in your music in any way?
Daniel: My art has certainly been affected by my move, because, as I said earlier, art is a reflection of the creator. This move has changed me. Probably in more ways than I am actually conscious of. It’s been a crazy couple of years, and I’ve no doubt that who I am now is not the person who moved here in 2019.

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RoD: The videos you make, like e.g. ‘Bark at the Moon’, are very spectacular, almost baroque in terms of colours, imagery and overall effect. How do you plan the production - do you have a team of people working with you on a regular basis on such undertakings?
Daniel: None of my projects would have been possible without the super talented group of people I’ve been lucky enough to work with over the years. For example, all of my artwork for the 12 songs in 12 months project was shot by me in my home, but the final design was done by my friend Sammy “Pancake”. He takes my images and helps elevate them to the next level. Same with the music. Yes, I have written and recorded the majority of this year’s songs myself, but I also had Krischan Wesenberg giving me mixing notes and doing the final masters. He actually did the mixes for ‘American Psycho’ and ‘A New Drug’ while I was in LA shooting the ‘Bark at the Moon’ video. And the ‘Bark at the Moon’ video was my concept, but Chad Michael Ward and his team found the location, shot and edited the video and turned it into the beautiful piece of work it is. And the makeup? Everyone always compliments my makeup as if I was the one doing it. No, Pompberry is one of the most amazing and talented makeup artists I’ve ever seen, and I’m just lucky enough to know her. AESTHETIC PERFECTION *is* a solo project, but I’m definitely not alone.

RoD: You once asked, “Is there such a thing as fulfilment, is there such a thing as happiness?” Is there? Do you think it’s possible to reach fulfilment? I’ve always had a feeling you’re a perfectionist in what you do, so I guess the process of getting to the point when you are satisfied with what you do may be hard to get.
Daniel: In my opinion, happiness is not a destination, rather a transitory emotion that you experience in the moment. You never reach a point where you can say “Now I’m happy”. No, you CHOOSE to find happiness in the things that you do and the experiences you have. I CHOOSE to allow myself to enjoy writing music or spending time with my wife and family. I CHOOSE to not dwell on the things I want, rather I CHOOSE to appreciate the things I have. This is not easy. Humans aren’t wired for that kind of outlook. It’s something you need to work at every day. However, I think if you put in the effort, you can slowly have more happy moments than unhappy ones. That’s the goal, anyway.

RoD: We started our conversation talking about the cooperation with Isaac - are there any other such collabs planned? What can we expect from you in the upcoming months?
Daniel: This year has drained me. I’m empty. I have no creative drive left. I don’t even want to think about music, to be honest.

RoD: Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate that you found time!
Daniel: My pleasure.

Pictures by Karo Kratochwil

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