Metal Mash Monster? Interview with Wabi-Sabi Fyūjon

WSF in front of the tour yacht
Sometimes, even veteran metalheads need a break from the screaming, the shredding, the sweeping and the summoning of demonic forces. Not long, mind you. About the length of a bridge or a chorus will do nicely. They haven’t gone soft. All the more punch packed into the musical meatgrinder when it returns. That’s why Marty and M-Ray of Wabi-Sabi Fyūjon have been mashing myriad musical ingredients into their metal cauldron and have created a Fusion Frankenstein that can both blast beat and boogie. Even though the dynamic duo have just started, their umami amalgams cater to the tastes of many, or perhaps no one, by combining metal with jazz, funk, flamenco and trap, with many more styles soon to follow. Besides talking about their audio alloys, Marty and M-Ray shared many observations with me about the production side of writing (Marty is a sound technician and producer), social media and getting noticed in the age of Instagram and TikTok (M-Ray’s video production skills come in handy). As always, it is inspiring to see musicians just really go for it, and these guys do. We talk about the work, the journey and the sacrifices. They’ve just released their third single, Chi Ga Tagiru (血が滾る – ‘My Blood Boils’ in Japanese), featuring South-African vocalist Cindy-Louise and English black metal great Richard Shaw and more exciting stuff is on the way. 

How’s it going guys?

R (M-Ray): Busy, busy, busy, but ‘lekker bezig’. We’ve got a single, Chi Ga Tagiru, coming out next week. We kind of pushed ourselves to do a second show. It’s in this place called Touchstone in Utrecht. It’s more like an art studio. It’s a sensitive place. Normally they do a lot like folk music and poetry. Experimental stuff, but more lyrical.

I’ve heard you say that confusing people is one of the goals of Wabi-Sabi Fyūjon’s music, but I’m afraid I was more confused with your first two singles. The third one seems almost coherent! And you have vocals now.

R: Oh, I see, that makes sense, We have a guest, our first vocalist; Cindy-Louise. I think her vocals really tied it together. 

M (Marty): Vocals give people something to rely on when they’re listening to the music. Since our first two songs were instrumental, it was a bit of an experiment. 

R: Yeah, but I really enjoyed it. So one of the things that we have at our disposal is that Marty is a full-time producer. So he has a lot of artists that he works with day to day and, yes, he gets excited about our music, shares it with them, and then they get excited about it. Then they’re like ‘Hey, can we do something together?’

M: Yeah, even yesterday. I have this friend who did the Voice of Holland. I mean, he did really well. But this guy… He sounds like Usher, you know? I mean, why not? 

So, what’s Wabi-Sabi? 

R: Wabi-Sabi, actually comes from Japanese philosophy. It’s a complicated concept. It is embracing the beauty in imperfection. But it’s way more intricate than that. It reflects on your day to day work. For example, when building a temple. If you have ten statues in there, you make sure one of them is actually purposefully built wrong. The concept is that nothing is perfect. And that’s okay. So sometimes with audio, and I think Marty suffers from that a lot, he’s always trying to get the best sound and the best production, but you know, you get to a point where none of that matters anymore. And I know a lot of people who get stuck at that. Instead of just putting it out there and, you know, making sure that your art is now communicating with people and you’re connecting and people are feeling your story, material just rots away in drives. That really breaks my heart. 

M: For me, it was mainly just: go HAM (laughing)! The biggest problem with music is that people are just stuck. If you’re trying to sound like one of your idols, you will sound close, but you will never exactly sound the same and you just get stuck at that point. And like I said, with productions in the studio, we don’t finish them, we abandon them, like at a certain point, this is the best way. I know. I do too.

R: Yes, it’s like chasing a dragon sometimes. 

I guess there’s a very healthy attitude for creative people, which is, ‘there’s actually no perfect and if you try to get there, you’re gonna drive yourself crazy. So we’re gonna make something and put it out there and be happy you made something, not happy that is the best you could ever do. Because otherwise we’ll never finish anything. But striving for imperfection is another thing. Is that something that you do? You put it together and think: ‘this sounds too good’?

M: That is literally it. This breakdown sounds okay now, but how can we make this sound as annoying as possible? People feel it needs to be all smooth. But no, we’re not making pop music, guys. Like it should sound poppy sometimes, but it’s not pop music. Sometimes you need to add something ugly to make the other thing stand out. “Oh no, it’s so dissonant!” No, we need that to make the next part sound right. 

R: And Wabi-Sabi is kind of like Yin Yang. There’s beauty when there’s also chaos. And, yeah, Marty’s very chaotic. I’m the organized guy in the group, relatively speaking. We complement each other.

Alright, so you’ve explained what the Wabi-Sabi philosophy is, but what’s the Wabi-Sabi Fyūjon project and how did it start?

R: Well we go back all the way to the School of Audio Engineering (in Amsterdam), when he was my audio engineering teacher. But that was ages ago. 

M: No, we met before that. I just started working there. I was like, well, it’s been two years since I used the studios here. I might as well just ask one of the students if they have a band and record them. 

R: Oh yeah, that was my band called Terra. And we were doing alternative rock, kind of hard rock. And we did this overnight session, because the studios couldn’t be used on the day. One of those rock and roll nights. And that was actually when I first met Marty. That’s true. And that was one of the best days I’ve ever had in my life. 

M: What about your wedding?

R: No, that was better (laughs).

I now pronounce you bro and bro.

R: But then years went by, and lots of things happened. You were still in the business, but I was knee deep in my corporate life. And I wasn’t really happy with that. So I kind of took a really long break and I was just trying to find myself again. And one thing that I started doing was doing guitar themed content on TikTok. And that’s where I found this guy again. So we started chatting and stuff. And under one of my videos, he just goes like, Hey, do you want to collaborate? I thought ‘why does this guy need me? Doesn’t he already have a bunch of musicians?’ But, yeah, let’s do it. So we just went in. Day one, we already had like, 90% of Nabemono (なべ物 – the first single). That was January. Then we released it in May. Pretty fast. 

R: Yeah. A huge inspiration for us is the band Polyphia. One of their songs is Ego Death, where they featured one of their heroes Steve Vai. In an interview they talk about their encounter with him who’s so far away from any hint of ego. So they get inspired to be more like him, asshole-ness free. Meeting Polyphia ourselves in a VIP meet and greet we got to experience how down to earth our heroes are. So we try to be the same. For example, when composing, you shouldn’t get stuck on an idea. Like if Marty says, ‘this part doesn’t work. Let’s remove it’, we remove it. So a lack of ego speeds stuff up too, you don’t get stuck in the process.

So why not just be a metal band, or a metal project? 

M: I was just gonna say that it’s boring. You can look up memes on the internet of, how many bands play the same riff in metal core bands? They all play the same kind of patterns, and you don’t want to get stuck in that bubble. So the easiest way to get out of the bubble is literally do something different and then go through the metal. The metal is important. It’s more important than all the other bits. But what we are fusing with it is actually the driving factor for what we write actually. So it’s better to come from a different genre into the metal, than coming from metal into that genre, because you hit a wall immediately if you do that. Because you’re not thinking ‘what does this bring to metal?’ but ‘how can I squeeze this into this little metal box?’. 

R: Very often we start with a non-metal genre that we’re interested in at that point. Flamenco, R&B, Trap, Synth Pop, Post-punk. And we’ve tried to find their metal counterparts. That keeps things really fun. If it’s not fun, and you have no motivation to do it, you’re not going to challenge yourself. Learning how to blend these things pushes me to become a better musician. 

M: If it were only metal based, every song just kind of sounds the same at a certain point. You want to do something no one else has done before. Do something that doesn’t sound right at the moment, but the more you do it, the more right it becomes.

And are there any particular bands that are an inspiration, that are also trying to match different genres together? 

M: I think so. Probably the biggest for me is the band Igorrr. For you it is Polyphia.

R: It’s mainly an instrumental band that really blew up last year. But they mix a lot of trap with classical music, instrumental guitar. They actually were the main reason I wanted to write music again. There is this instrumental revival, and I said, ‘okay, this is the time to come back’. So that was a huge motive. But then also Igorrr. Igorrr I ran into while I was at Hellfest in France. They’re a French DJ that gathers musicians like a jazz band.

M: It’s also a good thing to notice most of those musicians are actually living here in Holland.

R: If you check out Igorrr’s stuff, there is choral work, opera singers, insane vocal melodies. So that’s a huge influence on the latest track. It’s really insane. It’s nuts. Samples of random noises, like chicken sounds. And so now we have a cow sample.

So what is the Japanese connection? 

M: We’re just huge weebs (anime fanatics). 

R: The Wabi-Sabi concept was the main instigator there for the Japanese. And I think we also were trying to be a little bit different.

M: We just want to go against the norm. Whenever you have the feeling it needs to be one way, just go the other direction. 

R:  In anime, they quite frequently use English words. They ‘Japanize’ them and it sounds funny. So the fusion for us there comes from Dragonball Z. Symbolically, it’s about the fusion of two characters. So why don’t we come up with a name in English and translate it and it actually sounds very funny. Yeah. 

So is that the process? You start with a name?

R: ‘Shinda Furamingo (死んだ フラミンゴ – meaning ‘Dead Flamingo’) comes from death metal and flamenco. So we just played with the working title using these genre names.

Do you always start with a name? 

R: We just played with the genre names at first, but things switched up when we got vocals. With the latest track it had to really connect. 

So, let’s talk about the process for a second. You guys are both guitar players. 

M: I don’t write guitar parts. Technically I write parts where the guitar works. So I’ll start with guitar. I just listen to what Ray is doing and try to find what he needs to just go all the way. I don’t want to write for me, I want to write for the music. Ray is more connected to playing with feeling on the guitar, which makes it sound a lot more like music. 

R: He’s the technical guy. And he has a rule where he gets annoyed when he hears the same melody three times. So he tries to always switch things up. But I’m the guy who goes ‘we need something relatable’. You know, I do a test sometimes: I ask people to kind of sing parts from the songs and they usually end up singing the hook. It’s a rap philosophy where you need people to be bumping their heads to a certain section. That part is engineered but it comes through a feeling, so Marty sets up everything, he gives me the pass, and I just score in an empty goal.

What is the template that you work off?

M: At the moment, we’re mainly using a lot of program sounds, but they’re all custom sounds. So when Ray leaves, I’m spending my evenings programming drums, which is actually way too much work. 

R: We could have wasted time finding a drummer and the bass and having a full lineup from the get go. We also have a hidden member, Wilco Koster, who plays keyboard and drums. He points out when the drum parts are shit. Really, that guy has no filter.

So, are you actually trying to maximize confusion?

R:  I think it’s fun. Yeah, definitely. Maybe another reason for it is ADHD. I think sometimes we’re just like, ‘how can we distract ourselves while we’re doing this song?’. And I think that also links to a lot of the distraction out there with people in general right now, with social media, everything kind of going down to one minute, 10 seconds or little snippets of stuff. If you look at the songs that we’ve done so far, it’s got that dynamic. It changes at maybe just about the point where you feel you’re getting bored. A lot of friends that I shared with that aren’t metalheads say ‘this is the perfect dose of metal for me because it’s exciting, but it never gets repetitive and boring. So I think we’re careful about keeping people interested, but we do go kind of overboard sometimes. To make it fun. 

M: It’s almost like we’re making metal for non-metalheads. We’d like to be like a metal Snarky Puppy. We love metal and then we switch back, really fluidly back into jazz or whatever. 

R:  But there’s a downside. I think , if you’re just a plain metal band, it’s easier to advertise yourself as a certain label and that you can maybe find better gigs and an easier audience. Whereas with us it’s a little bit like ‘what are you guys?’. ‘I don’t know!’.

M: Genre-fluid (laughs). 

So what are some genres we can expect, or what are some that you really think are going to be so hard to incorporate?

M: Yesterday I dealt with a guy, who is just pure early 2000s R&B. Trying to mix that and metal is hard, because the sounds are really small and then you have to add a big sound on top of it. Making that transition go smoothly is really fucking hard.

R: In terms of contrasts, we don’t necessarily have a list in our heads so much. I do have things I want to do. I love country, and I want to put in a banjo, or something. But I’m also originally Turkish and we haven’t tapped into Turkish folk music yet. There’s a lot of microtonal music there. There are notes in between notes. And a lot of people are weirded out by that. I want to take that and mix it with something. 

M: I don’t think there’s any limit on what we want to add to metal or anything.

R:  Yeah, but it’s also circumstance. When musicians want to collaborate, we ask, ‘what can they bring to the table?’ And then you start thinking, ‘how can this work?’. 

So the goal is more to push the boundaries and to create an experience.

M: The music is gonna sound more like an adventure the more we get into it. 

Is that a concern?

M: I am concerned I gotta mix that shit (laughs). And I think that it’s sometimes better to not get the other musicians in until you start making the music. Because if they enjoyed the music, musicians will just want to stick around. If you look at any professional musicians, most of the time there’s only two people doing the writing. 

R: So we have a big feature on the new song. He’s an ex-guitarist from the black metal band Cradle of Filth. It’s a pretty big band. When I heard it for the first time I was at Graspop festival and I had just come from two hypnotic bands, Gojira, and then Meshuggah. I came to my tent at three in the morning, and I opened my phone for the first time and there it was. And then you hear it and you’re like, ‘oh my god, this is amazing’. He managed to glue everything together. One part is melodic and sad, but the other one, it just rips. He knew exactly what we were going for and we could also see his excitement being part of the project. And I think that motivated us even more. I want to collaborate with more of my heroes. If I can have a record and bring them all in… How amazing is that? 

M: Chi Ga Tagiru feels really heavy and after Cindy and Richard finished their part, it was just done. I didn’t want to change anything. 

R: It’s really beautiful when you share something personal that you wrote with someone else, they feel it and tap into it, and put something on top. 

M: Exactly. I am a little sad I didn’t film anything of Cindy, but if you were there, the fun part was she actually only wrote little bits for the intro which goes ‘Let the blood run dry’. Everything else was just her trying ideas. And I was like: ‘I love this. I’m just gonna use this’. 

How did you get these guys on board? 

R: So we have two sources right now: Marty’s network, and we actually have a manager, Nermin. She’s my friend, mentor and ex-manager from my corporate life, so she knows me for a long time. AND she’s an insane metalhead and a huge fangirl of all these people that want to feature. She actually has connections with them by just interacting with them online. She just talks to them. Some musicians, like Richard, accept features, so you can hire them to play on your song. So we did that, but we reached out to him via Nermin, which made it more personal. You could see how much he cared. And we’ll have another power metal legend coming in soon, but it’s still a secret. 

M: Nermin is actually really perfect because she’s somebody that is willing to invest the time. And I think one of the biggest problems when we are working on music is that you can’t do everything. Working with these kinds of artists, you need to build a connection with them first, before they’ll even consider it. Let’s be honest, we don’t have time for that. We’re just working full time jobs and working on the music on the side. 

Where do you guys want to go from here?

R: Touring is one of my biggest dreams ever, and I mean any form of touring, right? I’m also happy with playing bars in Germany.

M: If we can play at 10 festivals, I’d be like ‘fucking let’s go!’. 

R: But I’m not thinking too much about that though, you can get distracted. Yeah, put it that way. I tried to not plan more than 6-12 months ahead. So a plan is to at least have a 30 – 40 minute setlist, so that by winter, we’ll probably move our priorities to gigging more. To establish a base. 

M: Don’t focus too much on your band. If you don’t have a catalog of music to show people then you can’t get anywhere. 

R: So right now we’re burning ourselves out.

M: I mean, it makes some sacrifices. That’s the fucky point. Yes.

And Cindy-Louise? 

M: Cindy-Louise is actually one of the artists that are working in the studio. We got her playing the Launchpad here in the Helicopter in November. She’s looking forward to that. She actually makes pop music, and she wanted to do more rock music. She was telling me “We went to Hellfest and Jera on Air and I said: ‘Wait. You love metal?!’ I already knew her background was opera vocals, so this song is perfect for her. I told her “just do your thing”. And she was like ‘Fuck yeah’. 

R: And I get excited every time this happens. Sometimes we’re musicians for musicians. People see this as an opportunity to work on something crazy without having to change their own style. 

Yeah, they can just come in and do the thing with you and you’ll take care of the rest. 

R: Yeah, and now I’m learning Richard’s guitar solo. 

M: When we did the first announcement yesterday, with the new track, he posted it on his own feed and this guy has thousands of followers. And I was like, “oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh, my God”. Yeah, I got into Fangirl-mode. 

R: I mean, Let’s not lie. It is a form of marketing as well, at the end of the day. But that’s not our primary goal. 

I want to ask about that. You guys are obviously media savvy, and are thinking about how to release all this material and get attention for it. In the videos, there’s a lot of meme culture, right? I’m basically a noob, but I do realize that if you want to put something out and get noticed these days, then you do have to have a base on Instagram, maybe on TikTok, and have a visual counterpart to your music. It’s something I’m a bit nervous about, cause I never voluntarily post anything online. 

R: Oh, alright. So that’s where me and Marty are so compatible. We just show ourselves as ourselves. And I think we haven’t had to remove anything, so far. We don’t have any shame. 

M: Yeah, I think that’s where we fit perfectly also. You’re front-end and I’m back-end. Because everything that’s in the front he handles.

R: Well, I do like aesthetics. I want it to look nice and stuff. But I also don’t care if it’s not that perfect.

M: We can be an aesthetic potato. 

R: At the moment, I’m focussing on the ‘must haves’. The fancy stuff. The good videos. That stuff doesn’t get views, but it’s there now. I have a whole backlog of content and I’m sitting on a hard drive full of memes and jokes. I usually just press record when we’re in the studio. There is a crazy amount of idiotic stuff that we’ve done that the world hasn’t seen yet. I can’t wait to put that stuff out there, because I think it’s funny. To be honest, I do not enjoy video editing. Let me put that out there. Like with editing and mixing, it gets to this point where you’re just, you’re not creating anymore, but I’m also super aware that this has to be done in this day and age. 

That’s hard for independent musicians. You can release your own music, but you’re also the video editor, marketing…everything you do has to be accompanied by visual material. It is a lot, especially if you don’t have to know how. I’ve never edited a video in my life. 

M: We’re lucky you’re good at video editing and I’m working in music production. Musicians think 90% of the work is your music. No, it’s maybe 20% of what you do. Then you start realizing, ‘fuck, it’s a lot more work than I expected’. 

R: And the audience is looking for a story. That’s what they connect with. I think we have a ton of stories, both in terms of what the songs are about and how we do it. That was the feedback that I got from the people who watched our show at Helicopter. I asked ‘do we talk a lot?’ Then they were like, dude, if you had not talked and not shared what the songs were about, we would not have understood. So it’s not just music, but it’s a whole package 

It’s a story. 

M: Exactly. That’s why there’s at this atelier, at Touchstone, it’s gonna be a musical mindfuck 100%, but I think the storytelling is gonna really grab the people’s attention.

So it’s also about the characters.

M: Did we think about the characters? I was just being my natural self.

R: We try to not take ourselves too seriously. 

I enjoyed seeing how quick you’re doing this stuff and how purposefully, you’re just putting this stuff out. And that makes me very optimistic. I can see this line, just flying, increasing until it’s an unstoppable force. 

M: Yeah, but it makes me scared. Artists think that they get to the top and they can settle down, but it just gets more intense and steeper. 

R: There’s always a cost. This week on Monday, my wife left to go to Fiji for a year and a half job. It’s a pretty big deal. And, of course, I support her, because it was her dream to do this. I’ve been focusing on how I can do more creative work, every spare minute that I have, which meant that, maybe I didn’t prioritize things too well. But then, I can’t help it. This is what I want to do. I link it to one of my favorite bands, Down, with frontman Phil Anselmo. He has a line in the song which is ‘I cannot replace where I’m going’. This is also something I shared with her when she had to leave. I think everyone’s just trying to do what they want to do and you just can’t stop it. And I feel now that I’m on the highway, I’m just gonna cruise.

And what about us here at Helicopter? Do you guys have any announcements to the Helicopterers specifically?

M: Oh, yeah, you want to join on any of these tracks, let us know! Just make sure you send some music so we can actually hear what you do. With the third track, Chi Ga Tagiru

I thought for sure it meant ‘the Sugar Tiger’…

R: That can be the next song… Actually we’re gonna have a unicorn. 

M: Just send some music over if you want to join us. Let us know in advance what you are making and what you’re good at. (Guus walks in) ‘Guus! You’re gonna join us on the cello, right?’ There’s my ADHD kicking in, haha. 

R: So if anybody wants to collaborate, let us know. Don’t tell Marty, but I really want brass. So if a brass artist is in town, please, trumpets, saxophones…

You heard it: Wabi-Sabi is open to collaboration. Can you bring that polka, that tango, that fandango to the table for their next musical monstrosity? You can reach them at Follow Wabi-Sabi Fyūjon and Helicopter on the social media channels to be the first to know about upcoming shows and tracks.



Chi Ga Tagiru on Youtube

Wilco Koster’s Instagram

I now pronounce you 'Bro' and 'Bro'