Interview With NULL FACTOR (ebm/industrial)

Null Factor is the ebm/electro machine at which sole operator Dan Harvell is in control.

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Dan Harvell – Null Factor

The project was born out of the ashes of industrial metal band, MiLLENNiA in 1999.  After a recent 5 year hiatus, Null Factor has just released the highly-anticipated album After Forever; a 15 track monster featuring a cover of the 16Volt song, “Alkali.”

We’d like to thank Null Factor’s sole operator, Mr. Harvell for his time in answering our interview.

For the readers who might not be familiar with NullFactor, could you give us a brief insight and bio?

Null Factor came about as a result of my first music project – Industrial Metal group MiLLENNiA – dissolving.  The other members of MiLLENNiA were starting new careers, starting families, and otherwise finding their own paths, in life.  Around that time, I found myself starting a family, as well.  It would have been impossible to keep MiLLENNiA around in any workable form.  But, I wasn’t quite ready to hang up my synthesizer and call it a day, so I started focusing on more rhythm-based music.  My initial influence was “Tactical Neural Implant” vintage Front Line Assembly.  I released a few of these Electro-influenced tracks as MiLLENNiA, but decided that the Electro/EBM music I was writing was too far of a departure to file it under a name known for Industrial Metal.  It was at that point – June 1999 – Null Factor was born.

So it’s been a number of years since your last full-length studio release, AntiCitizen.  What took so long and where have you been?

That’s a good question!  Those eight years seemed to go by in less than an eye-blink.  I think there are a lot of excuses that I could use:  being diagnosed with degenerative disk disease in my neck (c-spine), starting my own photography business (and actually winning some awards along the way), and the biggie… writer’s block.  I had become so self-critical of my music that, no matter how good (or bad) what I was writing sounded, it just sounded like garbage to me.  I figured that it was the natural order of the creative process, ultimately meaning that Null Factor just didn’t have anything left to say.  I did release an album under the name I/O (“Changing Shape”, 2015).  But, once I realized that there are about 1,024 bands calling themselves I/O, I gave up on that project, as well.

What’s changed since the last album in terms of studio-hardware/software since AntiCitizen?

It was actually the change in software and, eventually, hardware that sparked life back into Null Factor, reanimating it with a fury!  To my dismay, I had read that software company Synapse Audio would be discontinuing their DAW (digital audio workstation), Orion.  At that point, Orion was the only DAW I knew.  In a bit of a panic, I purchased Studio One by Presonus and instantly fell in love with it.  Recording with Studio One was so easy and intuitive, my writer’s block lifted, almost immediately.  I could toy with various ideas, changing the ideas in real time.  Writing music was almost like sculpting with clay, with Studio One (except better, because I don’t know how to sculpt, with clay or otherwise).  Before I knew it, I had over 100 songs in various stages of completion.  I had fallen in love with writing music, again. 

With this new rush of inspiration, I decided that I also wanted to expand my instrumentation from strictly software-based synthesizers (mainly A.N.A. from Sonic Academy and Elek7ro/Elek7ro II from TAL) to hardware synthesizers.  So, I added the many-knobbed MS-20 MINI from KORG and the MINIBrute 2S from Arturia to my set up.  To round out my rhythm section, I also grabbed the DrumBrute, also from Arturia.  While expanding my synthesizer palette, I thought it would be a good time to expand the sonic palette, as a whole.  So, I added an LTD Electric guitar that I got at some pawn shop for $150, a halfway decent Ibanez bass guitar, and even an acoustic guitar to my list of possible sound tools.  This new set of instruments further inspired my journey out of writer’s block, setting the stage to what would become the new Null Factor album, 2019’s “After Forever”.

In tracks like “Hollow Man” I can hear some rather psychedelic influences like early Pink Floyd.  Is that accurate and who else do you cite as influences?

Wow, great ear!  Around the time I wrote “Hollow Man”, I was demonstrating a little bit of rock history to my youngest daughter, with quite a lot of emphasis being put on Pink Floyd.  I was thrilled that she loved their sound, so I was happy to dwell on Pink Floyd for quite a long while.  During the writing of the “After Forever” album, I was listening to a lot of 16Volt (hence my interpretation of 16Volt’s “Alkali”), and of course my usual influences of OhGR, Skinny Puppy, Front 242, Front Line Assembly, and Circle of Dust.

You clearly don’t rely on much vocal effects.  So is it more important to you that the listener connects with a lyrical message or is left with a visceral impact of the music?

The fact that I don’t use a lot of vocal effects is actually kind of funny.  When I started Null Factor, I envisioned everything saturated in a blanket of distortion!  But, it really depends on the song.  I definitely try to add elements to the music, itself, so when the listener hears the second verse, they are hit with an element that wasn’t there in the first verse.  Just a little rhythm or sound effect that grabs the ear and makes the listener say, “Hey… that little synth line wasn’t in the first verse!”.  Sometimes, I just switch the entire feel of the song, for that musical impact.  Songs on “After Forever” that are good examples of just changing the entire feel of the song are “Pissant” and “Progress”. 

As for the lyrical message, I usually like to write in a manner that keeps any literal interpretation up to the listener.  It always amazes me when a listener tells me how a certain lyric spoke to them.  Usually, the message they received from a song is beyond anything I could have ever come up with, myself.  Of course, there are some songs that are a direct result of my personal opinion, emotion, or thought process.  Some of the more obvious examples would be “It’s Over, Now” which contains a lot of direct quotes from President Trump – mostly in a semi-mocking nature (“Stable genius / obsolete and needless / loud mouth / Click bait / Tweet this / Checkmate”).  But, for all I know, somebody could listen to those words and get something completely different out of it.  And I love that!

Some of your work appears almost to have not necessarily a “negative” vision but definitely one that is apocalyptic.  Is that accurate and if so, what do you attribute that to?

I think a lot of that comes from my obsession with science fiction.  Apocalyptic sci-fi is my favorite.  Something about the whole dystopian future idea appeals to me, in terms of entertainment.  But, seeing how a lot of those dystopian themes – constant surveillance, an over-reaching government, artificial intelligence – so many of those concepts are actually becoming real life.  This adds a real-world urgency to those themes, so I find myself diving in and investigating the world through that lens. 

Could you take us inside a select few of the tracks of the new record?

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After Forever – Null Factor

Absolutely.  I think I’ll start with the track that seems to be the largest departure from earlier Null Factor: “Follow You”.  “Follow You” is the first acoustic guitar-driven Null Factor track.  It was inspired by a medication I was put on, for my degenerative disk disease.  I think the medication was an antidepressant based on the generic duloxetine.  Though this medication does a lot of good for a lot of people, it ended up stripping me of any and all emotion and is another contributor to the long hiatus between “AntiCitizen” and “After Forever”.  I was such a robot on that stuff that it almost ended my marriage.  Once we identified the problem, I immediately weened myself off of that medication and rediscovered myself (and my family).  “Follow You” is about that journey.  Wanting to care about something, but not being able to.  It was a terrifying chapter of my life and that of my family, but one that we figured out.  I followed them back “up”, really. 

Next, I have to mention “Snogbox”!  Although I am not that big of a fan of the way Jodie Whittaker’s thirteenth Doctor has been handled on the BBC program, “Doctor Who”, I have been a huge fan of the series, up to that point.  “Snogbox” is a reference to Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor, in the episode “The Bells of Saint John”.  Clara Oswald asks the Doctor if that’s what he does – hooks his finger and people just jump into his snog box and fly away.  That line just gets me every time, so I wrote a song around it… complete with an introduction that consists of the eleventh Doctor’s T.A.R.D.I.S. ambient noise sound effect.  I hope the writers of “Doctor Who” get back on their game and give Jodie Whittaker’s thirteenth Doctor the chance that she deserves.  This past season (series 11) just didn’t do the trick, for me.  No “Doctor Who” inspired songs came from that season.

One of my favorites on “After Forever” is “Progress”.  It begins as a bit of a romper with a 16th note snare ride under a tongue-in-cheek stream of lyrics that were recorded at half speed, then sped up in post-production.  The song transforms into a moderately paced, heavier ending and one of the best improvised endings I have ever put together.  A lot of the ending was done “live”, as opposed to programming it all out.  The real beauty of “Progress” is that it really is not based on anything, in particular.  It is purely one of those songs I do where you could ask ten different people what the song means to them and you would get eleven different answers.  I love writing songs that allow the listener all of the lateral space they need to assign their own meaning to them.  “Progress” is one of those songs.

How do you feel that you have evolved both musically and personally since the previous full-length?

Much of Null Factor’s back catalog – from “Re:modulated” (1999) to “AntiCitizen” (2011) – was written while feeling like I was confined to a certain workspace.  It had to fit within the “classic EBM” sound.  It also had to appeal to the Christian Industrial scene, as it was assumed that, since MiLLENNiA was a Christian band, Null Factor was intended to be one, as well.  My intention when I started Null Factor in 1999 was to NOT be placed in the Christian Industrial package, as that would limit the topics I had hoped to touch on.  I wanted Null Factor to be a completely personal project where I could project anything from political opinion to just my current frame of mind at a particular moment. 

When I decided that Null Factor still had some things to say, I put a condition on myself – write the music that I want to write; not what everybody else might want me to write.  As a lot of Christians do listen to Null Factor (as do a lot of children), I still wanted Null Factor to be mostly safe, as opposed to a band that a parent might listen to, but with the mute button at the ready!  It made sense that, since I don’t use profanity in my everyday conversations, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to use it in lyrics that are designed to reflect my thoughts. 

On a personal level, probably the biggest change since “AntiCitizen” would be my religious beliefs.  While I used to be a Christian in the traditional sense, I would consider myself more scientifically-minded, these days.  My faith tends to go toward the things that can be reliably repeated, such as scientific experiments.  But, with that said, I see absolutely no reason why religion and science have to be mutually exclusive.  Christianity places infinite power on God… why couldn’t God use science as His tool in creating the universe?  I tend to think about matters of spirituality and science as almost one and the same.  It just seems logical, to me, that in order to have spirituality, you have to lend a lot of credit to science.

Are you involved with any other projects, music or otherwise?

Musically, Andrew Paul (the guitarist for MiLLENNiA), Brad Wilkinson (drummer for MiLLENNiA), and I have been sporadically bouncing musical ideas amongst ourselves, hoping to spark some new MiLLENNiA material.  So far, we have completed one lyrically-based song “Blank Stare” and one instrumental that has yet to be given an official title.  I’m not entirely sure if Andrew and Brad are up for a long-distance collaboration to knock out an entire MiLLENNiA release – even an EP – but I would love to see that happen.  Otherwise, I have a few creative Null Factor ideas that I am working on.  The most exciting of these ideas is the Monthly Freebie project that I will be doing, throughout 2019.  To celebrate Null Factor’s 20th anniversary (1999-2019… and going), I will be releasing a brand new, freshly written track on the last day of every month in 2019.  The first freebie was released January 31 (“Ember”) on Null Factor’s BandCamp (nullfactor.bandcamp.com/track/ember-january-2019-freebie). 

I am also working on a 6-track instrumental EP, which will be a concept album where each track is based on a certain set of coordinates.  For example, the first track will be called “11º 33′ 54″ N, 165º 5′ 54″ E”.  This will take you near the Bikini Atoll, a beautiful, tropical paradise.  Also, a former nuclear testing location.

Outside of actually writing music, I am starting to build some custom, analog synthesizers under the name Null Labs Synthesis.  My first synth will be based on the design of the Moog Mother 32, but with the heart of a Doepfer DIY synth circuit board.  That synth will be called the Null Labs Mothership.  I also plan on creating a 5-oscillator drone synth (called “Dark Matter”), and an oscillator/LP filter module called the Pulsar.  All of these designs are in the concept stage and are untested, at this point in time.

What do you cite as influential to your work outside of the music arena?

Probably the biggest influence is my current mood or state of mind.  Outside of my head, though, I tend to grab inspiration from some very odd places.  Anything from a literal industrial complex – the bigger and more apocalyptic in appearance, the better!  Scrapyards, refineries, and foundries are at the top of this part of the list.  Large cities also inspire me.  The undulating rhythm of cities such as Chicago, or New York are both treasure troves of influence, for me.  My experience with synesthesia can play a pretty large role.  Some sounds spark a colorful, visual response, for me.  There are times where I go about writing music in a similar manner as someone who works with paint.  I decide on a palette, create the sound textures (similar to shades of color) and start painting… just with sound, rather than literal paint.

What plans do you have for the rest of 2019 in the coming months?

Of course the creation, writing, recording, and release of the Monthly Freebie tracks to celebrate 20 years of Null Factor will take up a lot of time.  Beyond that, I really want to use 2019 to explore areas of photography that I have not yet perfected – particularly in terms of weather photography (I have to get that tornado picture!) and artistic portraiture (dramatic lighting, story telling through photography, etc.).  I really want to push myself to the very brink of my creative limits, this year.  For some reason, I have this desperate feeling that doing so is somehow necessary for my mental well-being.  I want to do something that, when I look at it, I am impressed.  Since I am my own worst critic, that will take a lot of effort… and that is the whole point!

thanks very much for your time.  These last words are yours.

First, I want to thank you for the opportunity to answer some questions that really needed answered, such as the reasons behind the long hiatus.  And to everybody who have followed me, listened to me, and continue to do so for the past 20 years, a huge thank you.  Although my goal is to write music on my own terms, it is really those who give my music their ear that I hope to please.  I am having a blast writing music, again and it’s my hope that my music conveys that feeling of satisfaction to those who hear it.  Here’s to another 20 years!

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