Name: The Invincible Czars
Members: Phil Davidson (Violin, Keys, Glockenspiel), Josh Robins (Guitar, Percussion, Bass, Sound Effects), Skunk Manhattan (Keyboards, Vocals, Guitar), Henry Q Vines (Bass Guitar, String Bass, Keyboards, Vocals), Chuck Fischer (Drums, Percussion, Vocals, Horns, Winds, Keyboards), Katie O'Neil aka KatieO Radio (Vocals, Flute), Zelda Younger (Woodwinds, Percussion, Keys),
Interviewee: Josh Robins

Nationality: American
Current event: The Invincible Czars' soundtrack to Nosferatu is out now.

If you enjoyed this interview with The Invincible Czars and would like to stay up to date with the band, visit their official website. They are also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.

Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

I’ve always felt compelled to create by some innate desire to do so. I remember an interview with Vernon Reid where he said that there are people who choose to create and those who must (or something like that) and I’m definitely in the latter category.

Dreams are helpful inspiration. I dream a lot and usually write my dreams in a journal. I’ve been lucid dreaming since I was a kid. Sometimes dreams inspire lyrics (which I rarely write anymore) or just a mood and I’ll use them as inspiration to improvise a melody or a story.

Sadness, anger and humor have been my favorite creative fuel of choice and, yes, those are often a result of personal relationships.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

I’m increasingly more intentional about what I do but I prefer to create a framework for chance to play a role.

When I embark on a new project, I’ll often do what I call “10 Themes in 10 Minutes” where I simply record 10 shortish ideas for a project.

For Nosferatu, I looked at some stills from the movie and then played 10 quick riffs. Several of them made it into the soundtrack we created for the film.  
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?

I’m definitely a fan of doing multiple drafts and work-shopping through live performances. I’m very scattered and I like using software (like Cubase and Sibelius) to give me some structure to get started.

Yes, I do research what others are doing in similar area so I can do something different or I’ll find music I like, learn it and then use that as a leaping point.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

Exercise does help but doing mundane tasks often puts my mind in the right place to be ready for inspiration. Doing dishes, walking the dog or just taking a shower help. Staying off my phone also helps and I’m a big fan of leaving it in the other room for hours at a time.

I tend to drum with my left foot and hands while driving and I sometimes get rhythmic ideas that way. In the summers I eat a lot of watermelon while working. In the cooler parts of the year, I tend to binge on herbal tea.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

Not very difficult. Creativity, for me, comes from action rather than pondering on something for long periods. (like that 10 themes process above.) I sometimes just sing an idea and then transcribe it or use it as a rhythmic leaping point.

Lately, I’ve begun to feel like I’m repeating myself so I’ve been trying to listen to new music for ideas.

Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?

I usually work until I make something that feels really good and then I let it incubate a bit. Then I’ll do more. Maybe I’ll work on something else and come back. This can be a years-long process if I don’t have a deadline. Hearing stuff with fresh ears is important to me because MOST people will probably only hear a song or passage once and I want to make sure I’m being clear with my ideas.

Too often, I’ve pursued a mediocre idea simply because I’m too close to it to see that it’s mediocre. When I do the 10 Themes process I mentioned above, I sometimes purposely do not listen to them for a couple days after the session. If I come back and they sound good with fresh ears, I know I have something that will inspire me to finish.

Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?

Definitely the latter, but I generally already have an idea of where I want to be, I’m just not particular about the path I wind up taking to get there.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

I think it must happen to all creators. I tend to store the ideas and, often, I totally forget them. I’m sure I’ve had some useful ideas that I’ve totally forgotten.

Occasionally, I’ll find some record of an idea and wonder why I discarded. Other times I’m glad I discarded it. Practicing letting go and strategic abandonment serve me because I tend to have too many ideas.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

“Flow” is the closest thing I’ve heard to describing how creating feels to me. I lose sense of time and become super focused. It does feel spiritual but it’s very individual.

I don’t sense that something is inspiring me, I’m simply inspired and once the snowball starts down the hill, it becomes more mechanical. I start to know what I want to do next. I don’t have to stop to figure it out and the greater the momentum the harder it can be to stop. I sometimes let this go longer than I should and reach a point of diminishing returns.

I laugh at my silly habits. I often find myself staring into the fridge with no intention of getting anything out of it. Then I wonder why I’m standing there. I guess it’s just a destination for when I need a break.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?

I don’t think any work is ever totally finished. I usually call something “done” when I hit a deadline.

Example: If I hear, “We need the final score by Monday at 9 AM so we can break out parts for rehearsal,” I’ll use that as the point at which to call it “done for now.”

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?

Evaluation is important but once I’ve decided something is “done for now,” I usually don’t look back for a long time. I used to feel embarrassed of pieces or albums just a few months after calling them “done for now,” but I look back with much more fondness on the stuff I’ve done in the last 10 years.

I’m rarely satisfied with my work. More often, I get sick of it. I guess that’s kind of like satisfaction. “I’ve had enough of this and I’m moving on!”
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

Production is so important but good production seemed unattainable early in my career (late 90s, early 00s) and I cringe a bit when I hear stuff I released pre-2012. I and the rest of the Czars have gotten much better at self-recording but I still entrust mixing to others.  

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

I’ve usually felt more of a sense of relief than emptiness but it still results in a big “now what?”

I don’t seem to have much trouble returning to creativity these days. I don’t even let the idea that I need to top what I’ve already done bother me anymore. It’s all so subjective.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

The food / music analogy is one I think of often.

My intentions when cooking and creating music are different. Like most people, I tend to make the same food the same way each time. I follow the recipe that I know will result in max satisfaction.  I’ll change things here and there with a food recipe, but when I’m creating music, I intentionally change the recipe hoping to do something different and satisfying at once. It’s a harder target to identify much less hit.  

It’s even harder to break out of habits and tropes. But, if music goes wrong, I’m less annoyed because I don’t have to eat the mediocre or even gross results.