Interview: Divide And Dissolve
I think music has many purposes in my life, personally, but it’s always doing something. I sometimes like to get really meta about this, and I think that it can be used recreationally and medicinally. It’s one of those unexplainable things. It’s really important, and I have a deep longing for not understanding what it does.
For eight years, Divide and Dissolve have been pushing the limits of what an instrumental band can be, and what they can stand for. Artists and activists in equal measure, their message of equality and of the eradication of exploitative power structures is only rivalled by the incredible power of the sounds that they conjure from the ether. As they release their latest full-length Systemic we speak with guitarist and saxophonist Takiaya Reed to discuss the album’s genesis and impact.
E&D: Congratulations on Systemic, it’s just a wonderful release. Am I right in thinking that it’s a continuation of what you were doing on Gas Lit?
Takiaya: Yeah, totally.
E&D: Were you always intending on continuing that work?
Takiaya: I just feel like Systemic is a natural progression. When I listened back to the music, I was like “Oh my gosh, they’re like relatives.”
E&D: Was working with Ruben again a part of that. Was his presence necessary to continue the sound?
Takiaya: I definitely think that’s part of it and also there are other parts too. It was just a natural progression.
E&D: Over the years, how do you feel that you’ve grown as a composer?
Takiaya: I feel like I’ve had more life experiences and that has informed my compositions because when we have these experiences, it impacts the writing process and what is written.
E&D: Do you feel that there is more depth to what you are creating now, or is there a greater sense of closeness to it?
Takiaya: Sometimes I feel closer and sometimes I feel further away. I kind of like both feelings. Distance is nice sometimes and so is being zoomed in to the work and the process. I really enjoy both. I think as time progresses, sometimes I feel like I’m able to get more complicated with the work. But then, I’m also like, “Oh cool, I feel spacious.” There are a lot of contradictory feelings. They all come up and as time move on it gets more interesting, I would say.
E&D: I was looking at the videos for ‘Blood Quantum’ and ‘Indignation’. Both are stunning, striking works. Am I right in thinking that this was taken from four separate pieces, given the distinct narratives that seemed to be present?
Takiaya: I don’t know. The director, Sepi Mashiahof, is incredibly brilliant and she went wild with creative direction, and I loved it! She did an incredible job, just “Wow!” A lot of my amazing friends are in the video and I felt like it was a cohesive narrative but all visually different. I love the videos, both ‘Blood Quantum’ and ‘Indignation’.
E&D: So are those videos intrinsically linked to the message of your work?
Takiaya: They are absolutely linked, and there are many reasons why they are. Some of them I am aware of, some of them I am not. It’s kind of like a feeling.
E&D: Was it that you could trust that the people involved were kindred spirits in pursuit of the same goal?
Takiaya: I absolutely feel that way. I feel like we are all connected, and we all want similar things. I hope that comes across when looking at the work.
E&D: I was curious as to your own exposure to music as a tool of activism. Not so much how you got into it but more when you realised that music could be such a powerful tool in that regard?
Takiaya: I really just started having a lot of dreams about this stuff, it’s that simple, just for myself and my music. But I know that music is a powerful tool that has been used forever. Music is amazing, it’s medicine and people have been using it since forever since music is so profoundly powerful.
E&D: What do you hope people are getting out of your music, either live or on record?
Takiaya: I hope they get whatever they need from it. Lots of people will be getting different things from the music so whatever is necessary for them to feel good.
E&D: What role does music play for you, then? Is it a lifeline, is it always medicine or can it just be recreation?
Takiaya: I think music has many purposes in my life, personally, but it’s always doing something. I sometimes like to get really meta about this, and I do think that it can be used recreationally and medicinally. It’s one of those unexplainable things. It’s really important, and I have a deep longing for not understanding what it does because I would like to learn more and more. I don’t want to figure it all out.
E&D: Were you originally a saxophonist or a guitarist?
Takiaya: I started playing saxophone a long time ago. I’m classically trained on that and then guitar came to me a lot later.
E&D: Do you feel like you express yourself more clearly with one of the other?
Takiaya: I express myself differently on both instruments. I use different parts of my brain and my emotional being to play both of the instruments.
E&D: That comes across very strongly on the new record, where both instruments effect massive shifts in tone. When it comes to composition, is everything approached intuitively?
E&D: So nothing is mapped out?
Takiaya: Sometimes I use mapping to give myself reference points but it is really intuitive.
E&D: Is it improvised in any way?
Takiaya: No, we’re not an improvisational band.
E&D: How long did the material for this album come together?
Takiaya: The writing process is pretty quick. The dreaming process takes a while though, which is my favourite part.
E&D: How do the songs come to you? Are they in little snippets that you can then piece together or are they coming in chunks?
Takiaya: It depends. Sometimes yes, sometime no, and not knowing is one of my favourite parts. Like, “Oh, that was different!”
E&D: Have you tried experimenting and trying to influence the dreaming process, or would you rather let things flow?
Takiaya: I prefer things to just happen naturally.
E&D: The contributions of Minori Sanchez-Fung have been such a major part of your work. How did you originally come to work with her?
Takiaya: Minori is one of my best friends, and I asked her to work with some of the tracks. I really love Kingdom Of Fear, such a great song. It’s so powerful feeling!
E&D: Has she had the chance to perform any of this with you live?
Takiaya: A couple of times, but I hope that changes. I would like for that to happen more, it’s more down to logistics.
E&D: Are there any discussions between you on her direction with the pieces?
Takiaya: It feels more intuitive.
E&D: Do you find that your older songs have continued to evolve through playing live?
Takiaya: I think over time, playing live is something to refine. It’s something you can only get better at, really.
E&D: One thing I remembered from your Glasgow show was the sheer power of it. What’s your current setup?
Takiaya: I use two guitar amps and two bass amps. For guitar speaker four 4x12s, two 8x10s for the bass speakers and saxophone, guitar, there’s a drum kit but that’s my setup.
E&D: Are you working with the same rig in the studio?
Takiaya: It’s similar, actually. I’m always wondering if it’s a lot bot oh well, there’s nothing to lose. Just get more sound, more density, right? But yeah, a lot of amps and it was very warm in there.
E&D: How long was the recording process this time around?
Takiaya: A week and a half, I think?
E&D: Is that about standard now?
Takiaya: There’s no standard, it’s just when it gets done. I don’t want to overthink anything but if it’s done, it’s done. Just let the work breathe, y’know?
E&D: How are you feeling about taking the material out on tour?
Takiaya: I’m really looking forward to it.
E&D: Are you someone who is always keen on being on the road?
Takiaya: Oh yeah, definitely! Being on tour is sometimes challenging but also really rewarding. I love playing this music live, that’s the intention for it.
E&D: Are you working on anything outside of the band at the moment?
Takiaya: Yeah, sometimes I do. It’s still cooking though. I’d love to share but soon!