TRZTN, also known as Tristan Bechet, will be releasing his new project, Royal Dagger Ballet, on January 22nd, 2021 via Octopus Hotdog Records. His first two singles and videos, “Black Exit” featuring Interpol’s Paul Banks, and “Ruby’s Wheel” featuring Yesh, are out now, with another one arriving on December 10th. About every two weeks until the full album’s release we can expect a new single to arrive. Royal Dagger Ballet is a new development for TRZTN, since it’s very much the product of intense collaboration, allowing the contributing vocalists to write their own lyrics on these songs. However, his experience as the frontman of bands like Services and Flux Information Sciences, as well as further movement into writing music for film, TV, video games (Where The Wild Things Are, Hanna, Rise of the Tomb Raider), art projects, and the fashion world, have led him into a zone of experimentation. Moving out of the driver’s seat, musically speaking, he embarked on an odyssey that resulted in the haunting and otherworldly domain of Royal Dagger Ballet.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Was Royal Dagger Ballet a project that’s been forming for a long time for you? Were you working on songs individually before you decided that they should form a collection and be released together?
TRZTN: It was a gradual realization. It started about three years ago, with one or two notes, which was a strange thing. The idea was that Paul Banks’ voice would go well with these riffs that I wrote, so I got in contact. That was the first seed for the rest of the record. At the time, there was no idea that I’d eventually be collaborating with other artists for this grouping of songs. When that happened, I was very happy, and I didn’t really ask myself about the endgame, I just kept going. At about the mid-way point it became clear that there was a goal and I should do it.
HMS: Wow, so this really did start with “Black Exit”, which is also your first single?
TRZTN: It did. I was playing around with some synthesizers and had laid down the groove, then I made a mistake of some sort and down-shifted the tempo and the pitch. By doing that, it created something totally different that was far more arresting as a sonic experience. Then I just ran with it. Paul and I then slowly built up this concept and he wrote the lyrics. He would send me some takes and we’d edit those, and we’d build on that. Eventually the song came to fruition and that process took a year. Paul was busy at the time and I wasn’t in a rush.
At the end of that year, I approached a director, who was a friend of mine, Tim Richardson, and he did a video. We actually did one video, and there was a problem with the wardrobe, and we soured on the idea very quickly. Unfortunately, it was a lot of effort, but we had to let go. Instead, Tim took it and did this extraordinary graphic video for it. Then that song was kind of in the either, though I hadn’t officially done anything with it. It was a floating agent out there.
HMS: Something that’s mind blowing to me about the way the whole album has been created is the way in which you collaborated with all the vocalists, having them write their own lyrics. Was that a totally new approach for you?
TRZTN: Yes, this was completely new. This whole project and so much of what I do now is entering the void, so to speak. My past as a musician was very much part of a band and being part of the magic that happens when people come together. In the past, my role was frontman and vocalist, and I had a different relationship to the music. In this project, I wanted to explore something new and be a different cog on a musical project.
I was also going through a period where I was doing a lot of music for film and fashion shows, as well as individual art projects and dance projects. My whole had shifted so that I wasn’t the guy in the front, though I wasn’t the guy in the back, either. I was having fun being in that position, so asking someone to collaborate seemed like the right thing to do to meet my goals. Also, I was enjoying myself sonically rather than lyrically. I really wanted to get down to the details of production and I really wanted someone else to bring the glue to this project.
Now, I also had some collaborations for this project that didn’t work out. And I love that. There were tracks where I was never able to lift them from their world to this one. Some lyrics had to be changed. It was not cut and dry at all. This all led to a generally more zen state about how to collaborate with people.
HMS: It’s wonderful to hear your explanation of that process because it’s easy, once a project is complete, to gloss over the things that might have been difficult along the way. It brings more significance to the things that did work out for us to know that some things didn’t, so thanks for sharing that.
TRZTN: This is very much a journey that I took on this album, and I was very much aware of that when I would travel to record someone, or when I would take a little studio somewhere in another country for a few days of missing some tracks. All of that really enriched my existence, really. It was a big odyssey. I think I wanted that. I didn’t want to just go into a studio and bang things out. I wanted the mythology behind it.
As an independent person without a lot of people to bounce things off of, sometimes that can feel like you don’t know where to go, and for a good year, this record was titled “Last Days of Power” for these reasons: This idea of letting go and achieving collaboration, as well as taking a journey. Even that eventually left the project, and it was no longer necessary to emphasize that as a project. Instead I was able to let that go and let the project breathe as a work of art as opposed to some kind of statement.
HMS: When you went into the studios you used, did you compose there, or had you already laid down the instrumentals, and then the vocals were mixed?
TRZTN: Every song was a little different. One of the collaborations is with Karen O, “Hieroglyphs”. For that song I had a particular structure and a melodic format, and I kept that, but I changed it around so much that it became an entirely different song. So I had something, she sang to it, I brought it back and I turned it into something else. I would say that Paul’s song [“Black Exit”] was more established, more straightforward. It’s a very simple song within the structure. “Ruby’s Wheel” was something that I had sent Yesh as just a few bars, just a little bit. It was very simple, just the intro part with staccato synthesizer notes. We built and improvised from there, like a sculpture. So every song has a different story.
HMS: So in many instances, you were very responsive as a composer, and once the vocals existed, you did make changes based on them?
TRZTN: Yes, though that depended on the song. Jonathan Bree, who has a studio in New Zealand, sent in vocals that were so warm and beautiful that I tried not to destroy them too much. That’s another thing about being a Producer and composer rather than singer, there was always the question of just how much to meddle with things. My instinct is always to mess things up, to move things around, to destroy, but in some cases I didn’t.
HMS: Did you feel you should restrain that urge a bit in these cases?
TRZTN: Yes. At the end of the day, you have to build that world, and that world has to be as best designed as you could make it. If it was about destruction, it had to be a good destruction. It was about saying, “I don’t know.” There are many ways to design a chair and you can design a pretty bad chair if you want.
HMS: I love that example. Some of the language surrounding this album mentions wanting to make songs feel deliberate but not wanting to tame them too much? Is that similar what we’re talking about here?
TRZTN: That is actually a little bit of deeper examination of production, I think. A lot of people who produce records will know what it’s like to over-produce something and to kill it. That was something I was struggling with all the way through: “How interesting can I make it without losing the plot? How interesting can I make it until it feels alive? But how much can I tame it so that it’s as robust as it can get?” I’m often confronted by over-producing and I’m scared of that because it’s so easy to do. I love character and I love grit. Those are my altars of admiration.
HMS: How does all of this relate to your experiences working with your two instrumental pieces on the collection, “Astra” and “Royal Dagger Ballet”? Were you as careful with your own work as you were with other peoples’ contributions, like the vocals?
TRZTN: Great question. No, I would say that I was not. For “Astra”, that song was a discovery that I made going through my archives while chatting with a producer friend in Germany. He said, “Wow, that’s pretty good.” And I thought, “Yes, that’s pretty good.” Honestly, I don’t even remember making that one. In the studio, you can create magic, and sometimes you don’t even know how things work. I love that. This was probably something I did after a long week, probably in the last hour of the day on a Friday. I think I said, “Let me just let go and not try to make so much sense of things here.”
“Astra” actually has a similar chord structure to “I Want To Be Your Slave” by The Rolling Stones from Tattoo You. I promise you I didn’t think about it, but it’s the case, except it’s five times slow. I’m not sure if I was trying to do a cover, but there’s little resemblance. I discovered this later. It was interesting, though, to put it among that block of tracks with vocalists because it adds another dimension to things. It’s also kind of an overture and opens up a portal to what’s coming next.
The first version of the song, “Royal Dagger Ballet” was a piece I was working on for a dance company. That project never came into being. I had been recording friends of mine, then resampled their vocals and took pieces out of that. There was something that I couldn’t let go of. It was such a cinematic experience, and it was so guttural. It helped to book end this experience of the world of Royal Dagger Ballet and also might open things up to what’s coming next.
HMS: For you, it left enough suggestions and possible directions that you felt compelled to keep moving in those directions?
TRZTN: It’s possible. What’s next is still up in the air. I’m still digesting things and putting things together. This was something that I felt could be in the future. I don’t know. I might just start playing with spoons next!
HMS: Anything could happen in the world. It just feels that way right now. I love the fact that you were sampling vocal elements in those two songs. I find it really interesting to speak with musicians who think of the human voice as a musical instrument alongside other instruments rather than vocals being the driving force of songs. Here, it has a really amazing result because it brings in an organic aspect.
TRZTN: I have a really primitive instinct when it comes to music, actually. I don’t really hold onto lyrics that much. I’m very susceptible to hearing things that are non-musical and thinking that they are music. This is all just another step in trying to put all of that into something cohesive. The classic, traditional song structure is something that I’m trying to head toward in order to try to understand it. I try to invite myself into that world.
HMS: Were all the sound elements on this album created for this music, or did you use any sounds from the outside world as a “found” element?
TRZTN: Every song has an element that is a bit out of control that is not studio-based. There’s always something in there. “Ruby’s Wheel” is, for the most part, is more synthesizer work and “in the box” work. There are a few things with Paul’s track which are out of left field that are hard to hear. There’s some guitar work that was taken out of context from something I had done and I sped it up, moved it around, and used it as a layer since it seemed to work. It wasn’t, rhythmically, in line with the tempo, but was “against it”.
I’ve tried to break rules with every song so that it feels like mine and there’s a story behind it. For some of these songs, I struggled to find that, and I had to revisit them and change certain aspects of them. It was always a dialog, like putting a puzzle together, really.