(This Saturday’s edition of Andy Synn’sWaxing Lyrical series presents thoughts about lyrics from Joseph Martinez of Junius, whose most recent album, Eternal Rituals For the Accretion of Light, was released by Prosthetic Records in 2017.)
There’s a certain argument (not that it’s one I agree with) that proggy Post-Rock/Post-Metal collective (and celebrated Synn Report alumni) Junius don’t really “belong” here at NCS.
After all, their music is certainly far from “extreme” (though it does have its heavier moments), and the vocals are almost entirely clean-sung, meaning that the band’s whole existence essentially runs counter to the site’s original ethos.
But the truth is that NCS has grown far beyond its original remit, and the fact that we often cover lighter, more melodic fare is balanced out by the way in which we also give coverage to bands and artists who are leaps and bounds heavier and more abrasive than anything the site’s original founders could have predicted.
Personally I’m proud of the way in which we’ve broadened our scope, while still retaining our focus on quality and integrity as two of the key values in all the music we feature, just as I’m proud to have been able to convince Junius frontman/vocalist/lyricist Joseph Martinez to participate in this latest edition of “Waxing Lyrical”.
I started writing lyrics out of necessity. I joined a band that Dana (Drummer) was already in, initially just as a guitar player, and eventually the singer left and I took over vocal duties. I never really considered myself a lyricist which is quite evident on some of the early pre-Junius stuff (it was embarrassingly bad) but i powered through and I feel relatively comfortable with my writing now. I am the only one who writes the lyrics as it’s just more efficient for me to work alone.
The whole Junius process starts like this… I read a bunch of esoteric books, and when a concept jumps out of the page that I just can’t stop thinking about, I’ll start to try to formulate a story. I outline the main points, breaking it down into 10 parts and then that becomes the template for the album.
I’ll write song titles out before lyrics and those pretty much explain what the song has to be about. Once I feel the concept is properly broken down, then I begin to write the music (no lyrics). I attempt to go in order from the first song to the last so the journey unfolds for me as well, although this never works out 100%.
Once I have the musical skeletons finished, I send the songs over to the band and they add their ideas and we go back and forth shaping the full band versions of the song. I do send them rough vocal melodies with made up words to help give them a broader idea of where the song is going and it helps to keep some of the other musical parts from interfering with my vocal melody.
Once the music is basically done I’ll start on the final vocals and lyrics. This is the bane of my existence. All my self-loathing and insecurities come out. But once that is done, life is good.
For me though, the melody dictates the lyrics. You can take a mundane, trite lyric and put it on a beautiful melody and it can transform into something much more powerful. Unfortunately that can make you a lazy lyricist, so I work on making the lyrics stand out on their own. I almost never have any phrases written down before I start with the lyrics. I generally think about the song for a couple of days and then grab a microphone after a drink or two and try to freestyle a rough draft and more often than not that first attempt will have a decent amount of the final lyrics.
That being said sometimes nothing comes to me and I agonize over it for months, hating myself.
A line that inspired me to write our first album The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist came from a collection of essays about Immanuel Velikovsky, about how he believed the planets were physically closer to us in our recent past and that something sent them out of a closer orbit and how this greatly affected both our planet physically and our psyche as humans.
The essay ended with this line “with the absence of our gods so began the violence of man”.
It gave me chills, so I bought all his books. And while his theories can be pretty rubbish he had such an eloquent way of writing and his personal journey is incredible. He did predict some seemingly unknowable things based off of ancient mythology too. A very fascinating man.
I’ve definitely developed a process that works for me over the years. For one, I need limitations to write. Concepts and melody keep me in the sandbox. Without boundaries I’d never finish anything. Knowing this early on helped me continue with Junius for such a long time. Hopefully I’m a better lyricist than when I started out, but who knows? It’s all pretty subjective.
To an extent I’m not totally comfortable breaking down lyrics. I’ve done this before with a couple of fans and once they find out that I’m not talking about vampires or depression or whatever, they seemed pretty crushed, so I just stopped getting too specific about things.
But I think “At the Age of Decay” from our second EP, Blood is Bright, is pretty safe so I’ll attempt to deconstruct this a little bit.
This song was written around the time when most of the people i knew were getting “real” jobs and making “money.” So this is me trying to justify my poor life decisions.
It’s probably the last of the more personal songs I’ve written with Junius. Since then I’ve learned to hide behind broader concepts and abstraction. It’s very short, but the following breakdowns will be very basic, it’s just the core motivation for the line/lines.
In the end you know the life we live / lays out on a grid
point out peaks and curves / down we spin
This line is pretty self-explanatory… death is imminent.
As I look upon my future self / I see a kind of hell
the parts I’ve tried to save / are the ones I’ll sell
I had this fear that if Junius became super-successful that I’d compromise my “artistic integrity” and just write music that people wanted to hear. We knew of some bands who would write songs for their fans and not completely for themselves. That always felt wrong to me and of course those bands became pretty successful and we became whatever we are. Also, someone told me this is very similar to a Shakira lyric, so…
As I age I see a dying light / in all our hope and sacrifice
with one last gasp and a late embrace / the breath it took is the breath I hate
Watching people give up on their dreams and losing that spark of hope sucks. When you’re younger it seems like the end of the world, but most people end up just fine.
I fight / with open eyes / forced on the sun / my life / will take a while / to hollow
This line is about me not giving up no matter what.
They take my eyes last / with every new strike / I forget my past
And this line is about me giving up.
So this next song is “Beyond the Pale Society” off our newest release, Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light, and it’s another very short one (lyrically).
Everything written after 2006 was written with a broader concept in mind. All our full-lengths and one EP (Days of the Fallen Sun) are all connected to each other. So the following song is a part of a greater story about a neophyte’s process of initiation, although I do use some personal experience to help keep the song grounded to me.
The following lyrics explain the part of the initiation process where the neophyte seeks out a master/masters and must give himself/herself over to them in order to begin their training.
Again, this is just a basic breakdown, I’m not revealing all the secrets.
All my life I’ve begged for this / and now my name is on your lips
Hand me hell and let me in / a serpent’s touch from end to end
The seeker finally finds what they’re looking for and is ready to begin their training no matter how far it takes them. I end it by alluding to the ouroboros.
Can you fill the void with all of your light / can you bring the sound of love?
This is the initiate stating what they are looking for from these Masters.
We will fill your silence with our timeless sateless truth
We will fill your silence while we bind ourselves to you
The chorus to the song is from the perspective of the Masters, who repeat their promise of enlightenment to the initiate.
Just say to me, we’re the one true love / just say to me, I’m the one you want
The Masters here are asking the Initiate to devote their life to them.
I have to face the knout, the pyre / my life is yours, I’m ready to break out
And the Initiate here confirms they are willing to suffer for enlightenment and are ready to begin.
I am the son of no one / I am in search of meaning
I am the last to suffer / I am the fear in healing
This is about the Initiates underlying causation for seeking this higher truth. It’s also a piece of my personal truth… and that’s pretty much it.
I chose two very short lyrical songs, but hopefully it was little interesting to people. These two songs were written about eleven years apart, and looking at them now, I’ve definitely gone off the deep end as far as subject matter.
As far as some personal news from Junius, Dana and I now live in the same state for the first time in about a decade, so we’ll probably start working on new material very soon. I’m going to try to be a little more prolific in the next year or two and release at least one other Junius album and maybe some other related projects. Not sure how many more proper releases and tours we have left in us, but we’ll keep you updated.
If you want to stay in touch with us personally, sign up on our mailing list at www.juniusmusic.com. And thank you No Clean Singing for the interview.