Happy in the Darkness, an Interview with Crown of Pity by Bret Miller

Happy in the Darkness, an Interview with Crown of Pity by Bret Miller

by Bret Miller

A self-confessed former goth, David Dutton began Crown of Pity with Natalie Rakes after his solo projects genCAB and Aesthetic Perfection, and Natalie‘s time with The Midnight Shakes and Natalie Nylon, and having a song featured on American Horror Story. Together, they create a dark, chaotic, heavy yet melodic collection of songs that are sure to please current or retired goths and fans of dark rock the world over. I came upon the duo via our shared love of certain bands and soon bought up all their singles and EPs, hearing Dutton and Rakes work towards a sound of their own was a thrill. Their first full length album is available from their bandcamp page and I have to say their music makes me happy.

I had that couch you sat on in the Leviathan video. Really! I Got it at a charity store. 

Natalie: No way! Thats rad. I don’t remember where we got that couch but maybe at a charity store too haha.

So you had a video game made for your band. How many bands can say that? Was it playable?  What did you think of the likenesses?

David: Yup, totally playable! It started out as an 8 bit mod of Mega Man 7, but they left bitmaps of all the sprites. I just made my own sprites for Natalie and I and even I was surprised that it worked, because I never tried to mod a game before! If I ever have time I’ll go deeper and really complete it,  but I only went as far getting the sprites in and practicing to get good enough to defeat a couple of bosses. The intros I all did in Premiere. I do still have all the files though and maybe I’ll put it in Dropbox some day.

You’re in-laws. Is that correct? Did you know each other beforehand? How has your relationship changed since starting Crown of Pity? I’m sure there’s tremendous respect between you two.

Natalie: Yup in-laws! David and I had mutual friends beforehand but we never really hung out until my sister started dating him. I was living in CA at the time. We’ve definitely become closer after starting CoP. He is such a talented songwriter, guitar player and singer. I’m totally blown away by his ideas and what he throws at me. Its unreal and I’m honored to work with him.

How do you share the creation of the songs?  Please give an example of a song that began with each of you and how you put your own stamp on it.

Natalie: We were just hanging out one day and I started playing a riff on my bass and David looked at me and asks me what that was. I told him I just came up with it and he thought it was rad! So we wrote a verse and bridge that flowed with it and that song ended up being Rather Be Nothing.

How would you differentiate your personalities as far as what we hear in the songs? 

David: The goal with a lot of it is kind of like that meme of the crashed ice cream truck in the cemetery, where if the song sounds happy, the lyrics should probably be darker, or vice versa. And as a former goth, I think that describes me pretty well haha. Though I’m all about laughing more than being a miserable bastard anymore.

Who wins the most fights in Crown of Pity?

Natalie: Have we ever fought, David? Lol I might have to start one so we can answer this haha.

David: Haha, I don’t like to fight but I used to train Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. Wait, are we talking about verbally?

Do you have a permanent drummer or will you ever? Who played on the songs on Just and what did they bring to the dynamic?

Natalie: No but we are actively looking for one! This whole album was recorded by David and I. My sister laid down some additional vocals on Drink To the Sky and their cat made an appearance lol. But other than that it was just the two of us.

David: Yeah I would love to have a drummer, but they’re in high demand and they don’t seem so interested out here? or maybe we smell. I’ve had to program all the drums and it works out, but I stress over that more than any other aspect of getting the songs done. Does anyone know a drummer on the east coast that wants to play and write with us please?

What is your musical background? How does your non-musical endeavors fuel your music? (Family, job, bills, politics, hobbies, etc.)

David: I started out writing EBM and industrial music for most of my life, and only learned how to really play guitar about 6 years ago. But I work from home and had a lot of time to practice and get better fortunately. I’d still suck, but I’d suck more if I didn’t make my own schedule! Before I was doing music like this though I mostly played keyboards for bands like Aesthetic Perfection and genCAB (that latter was my own project, but I covered Siren Song on our first EP). I feel a lot better playing guitar than keyboards. I never really got so into synthesizers, but guitars and I just click!

Have you performed live and if so, what was your best-received show?

David: As Crown of Pity we haven’t yet, but mostly cause of the lack of drummer situation. We’ve gotten a few offers and I always feel bummed turning them down. But a friend of mine suggested changing the drum programming to sound more like a 707 or something like that and just going up there with a Doctor Avalanche inspired “machine” and just doing it anyway. If we can’t get someone soon, that might be an actual reality.

Your sound has evolved, along with a few outliers, over the past few years. How have you refined what is best for Crown of Pity?

David: Our first EP was recorded by Jeff Zeigler (War on Drugs, Sunny Day in Glasgow, Nothing) because all our demos sounded a bit sterile and cold, and I loved what he did. I actually wanted to do this album with him too, but Natalie and I had trouble lining up our schedules. So I started learning about engineering and mixing while I was getting stuff together and eventually thought that maybe I could do it all myself. I bought all this outboard gear and plugins, got through Rather Be Nothing by myself and basically made a template from that mixing project. That let me get through the rest of the album a lot easier. There’s still a lot going on, but its a lot more encouraging when you record your parts and plug them in, and you’re already like 60% done mixing the track. But getting through it all also gave us room to add things. There are a lot more guitars and vocal harmonies and synthesizers and samples on the record now, and I think that this one maybe sounds a little bit more us than I had initially thought it would. It was a happy accident!

What do you think you’ll sound like on the next album?

Natalie: I guess time will tell! We had no clue what Just would turn out like but we wrote what came naturally and are super proud of the results. I feel like if you try to force writing, it doesn’t sound organic so we just write what we write and go with it.

David: I agree! But from some of the stuff we have now, it’s sounding a little bit more goth. So I might have to write about puppies and ice cream trucks and then flush that all out as an EP or something lol.

Will we see you tour and if so, will you make it Los Angeles?

Natalie: We’re hoping! And of course! Its on our list. I used to live there and would love to play The Echo or The Troubadour. I went to shows there all the time and always dreamed of playing on their stages.

David: Even if we don’t get a tour going yet, I think LA will be inevitable because I know people out there that want to book us. But I guess we need to get through the Philly gauntlet first to find out if we suck or not.

What are your favorite instruments and pedals? What sound on a particular song are you proud of using a specific combination of pedals, tunings, vocals etc?

Natalie: David’s the pedal guy. I keep it simple with my Fender American Elite Precision bass which I love.

David: I just found out recently that I love short scale guitars, so I’ve been using a Fender Johnny Marr Jag lately. I started accidentally collecting pedals as well haha. I’ve been in love with the 1981 Inventions DRV OD lately, just discovered the Boss CE-2 is my favorite chorus after a lot of trial and error. I’m a huge fan of EQD stuff, like the Avalanche Run and Transmissor. All of those pedals are all over the album. A special shout out to tuner pedals too, since I meet so many people that don’t think they’re important, and that drives me crazy! Tunings I still use a lot of D# standard, but I have some stuff I need to record in open tunings. I also got a Distressor for vocal compression and that was really the turning point to getting good vocals recorded. You can do that all in the box, but that thing really gave me the confidence that we could lay tracks down easily.

Who is a favorite or influential musician or band that has inspired you?

Natalie: The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, David Bowie. There are so many.

David: Slowdive was big for me. Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Deftones, Failure. Same thing, this list could go on and on pretty long!

What is your favorite lyric on Just?  I like “I’ll bury this fairy tale far below”.  But there’s so many.

Natalie: I think the lyrics to Dirty Little Headaches resonate most with me, as a woman. Especially “Her eyes were never with pride, just lacked of justice inside. This crown of pity we share feels like its dancing on air.”

David: Thanks btw! Most of the lyrics kind of describe these fictional scenarios, but Drink to the Sky in it’s entirety is important to me because it’s actually about how I mask my social anxiety by drinking too much. I mean, that’s the heavy answer. The fun one for me is the verse in Unbearable Burden talking about the flowers burning in this guy’s wife’s coffin.

Is Crown of Pity a way to free yourself of your demons as well as be creative?

David: Haha, I’m actually the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life! If anything, the only demon I have is the need to write stuff, record it and hope people listen to it. It’s almost like a compulsion, but if people like it then everything is all good. It’s great to have this though to build something up, because that’s way healthier than tearing things down.

Thanks for your time David and Natalie!

David: PS – As far as the sense of humor, my jokes are way more nuanced than Natalie’s so I’ll take that crown. Plus, I didn’t even tell her that was a question, so now I have to win! 😉



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