Interview with Stone Healer

Interview with Dave Kaminsky- guitars, bass, vocals.
Interview by Annalisa Orlando

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Hey thanks for having me! My name is Dave Kaminsky and I write the music, play the guitar, bass, sing, and handle recording and mixing for Stone Healer. As it says in the liner notes, “everything but drums”. Haha! My brother Matt Kaminsky obviously handles the drums.

For first-time listeners and readers, could you tell us a little how Stone Healer came to be?

Stone Healer actually began as the continuation of my brother’s and my old band Autolatry back in 2015. At the time we started that band, Matt was only 15 and I was 19, so as you can imagine over the five-year lifespan of the band we did a lot of growing as individuals and musicians. Our sound evolved from us trying to emulate our favourite black metal bands to gradually finding our own voice and taking on a more progressive approach, all the way until 2015 when we felt it was time to begin something new with a clean slate. I was ready to start writing much more introspective pieces – both lyrically and musically – and transmit more honesty with my art than I had ever dared with Autolatry. I think it also helped that we didn’t have other musicians involved. By taking on vocal and bass duties in addition to composing the music and playing the guitar as I had always done, I began to take much more ownership of the music which only helped expedite the evolution of our sound as the newly  minted Stone Healer. About half of the musical ideas present on the He Who Rides Immolated Horses EP were originally written for Autolatry, but later re-worked and transformed to fit our evolving musical aesthetic.

The art for the record is striking. Who drew it? What is the symbolism of it?

Creating artwork for Conquistador that would match the intensity of the music and be a companion to the lyrical concepts was a primary goal from the very beginning. I have always been deeply inspired by oil paintings, especially with an abstract and impressionist feel, and spent weeks of time digging on Instagram in search of the perfect artist. I eventually happened upon an extremely talented visual (and musical) artist in Leo Ulfelder, whose oil work was absolutely spellbinding to me. His use of vivid colour and transformative subjects immediately grabbed me, and I felt he would be the perfect choice to create an original depiction of the Conquistador.

Working with Leo was a dream, and he took my concept and ran with it. The Conquistador he depicted is a representation of egotistical arrogance, the illusion of invincibility, and self-appointed divinity, all of which are opposed by the purity of unconditional love in the form of the sunflower that appears to rip his chest open. In the end, this is the love that defeats the Conquistador’s ugliness, as his aura literally disintegrates into gaseous nothing. Each song on the album illustrates this story in its own way, and I’m immensely proud of how Leo’s work depicts this very personal chapter in my life.

What have been the pros and cons of creating music just between the two of you, as opposed to in a larger group?

As I kind of alluded to in my response earlier, creating music as a two-piece with my brother has had a freeing and empowering effect on me as a songwriter and musician. Being in control of every creative and compositional decision makes me feel the most comfortable, at least when it comes to music that I consider “personal”. Playing in a full band is something I love to do as well, but I prefer to be more of a collaborator in that context than the principal showrunner. So when it comes to the music born solely from my heart, it’s important to me that no creative compromises are made and my own vision can be executed exactly as originally envisioned.

Did the shared love of music help create a stronger bond for you as siblings?

Matt and I have been playing music together since we were little kids and it has absolutely bonded us together over the years. Matt started to get serious about drumming at about 10 years old (I would have been about 14 at the time), and we pushed each other forward by learning Lamb of God and In Flames songs in our parents’ basement! Even today as our personal tastes have grown far past our heavy metal roots, we have a brother-chemistry as individuals and musicians that I think could only exist as a result of playing together all those years.

How was making this record different from your previous E.P. He Who Rides Immolated Horses?

The Horses E.P. was originally intended to just be a demo showing a small portion of what Stone Healer could be in the future. While I obviously still cared about the overall presentation, I didn’t scrutinize details to anywhere near the extent I did with Conquistador. With Horses, the songs were the songs and the recordings were done in much more of a “demo” style, fleshing out certain parts on the fly and working in a very “stream of consciousness” method. Since the EP was the band’s debut, I had nothing to live up to and no deadline other than my own anxiety to release fresh music under my new moniker. Conversely, with Conquistador, the processes of writing, pre-production, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering was done methodically and with every conceivable detail scrutinized over the course of three-plus years. The vision for Conquistador was a polished, pristine sounding piece of sonic art, rather than an “anything-goes” demo debut. I spent over two years re-recording guitar and vocal parts, agonizing over guitar tones, mixing parts of the album and then starting over, and nearly giving up entirely, before I finally broke through the proverbial wall and walked away happy with the album’s mix and master. The process of making both albums was painful and arduous in their own ways just as they were rewarding, but the sheer amount of time Conquistador took from start to finish makes it extra satisfying to me.

Do you ever get nervous before releasing new material? Did you feel confident before receiving any feedback from the wider world about releasing this album?

I think most artists feel at least a small amount of nervousness or anxiety when releasing an introspective and highly personal piece of musical art. In my case, that nervousness was assuaged by the length of time it took for me to complete Conquistador, and because by the end of my mixing process, I found myself truly satisfied with the album I created. Finally being happy with the composition, sonics, and visual accompaniments of the album, I honestly just stopped caring about what other people thought. What little self-consciousness I had melted away the day I received the final album master because, for the first time, I felt absolutely confident that what I had painstakingly created was worthwhile.

You describe the record to be “a cathartic retelling of my spiritual extortion, in which the themes of allowance, forgiveness, letting go, and mistaken divinity plays central roles.” Could you please tell us a bit more about the themes which you were trying to explore in the record?

Like many artists, I make my music in order to heal myself and release the pain of traumas and experiences past. In my early 20’s I experienced something of a “brainwash situation”, where I fell under the influence of a very destructive person and ended up having my life controlled and nearly stolen from me. While allowance, forgiveness, and letting go allude to my own process of moving on from the situation and coming to terms with the specific events, they also tie back to the foundational pillars of unconditional love – a key piece of the Conquistador concept. The mistaken divinity part is quite nuanced but refers to the way my tormentor believed herself to be ordained by God as a spiritual translator on Earth. The way she spoke and acted with divine authority yet truthfully existed in a massive delusion of grandeur, whose walls came tumbling down in a deluge of tumult – it was all a farce that she believed beyond a shadow of a doubt. That to me is what a mistaken divinity looks like, and let me tell you – it is absolutely terrifying to behold up close.

Would you say the record was designed to be more of an acoustic journey rather than a collection of separate songs?

Absolutely. While Conquistador is not a concept album in the traditional sense, all the songs tie together thematically and paint a picture of the concepts detailed above. The only outlier is “Whence Shall I”, the second song on the album. This is the only song that Matt wrote lyrics for, and was actually written during the Autolatry days back in 2014. While the song underwent a bunch of structural and arrangement changes, it serves as a cord connecting my current songwriting evolution to the very different place I was six years ago. All that being said, I think the musical and lyrical content still interfaces with the rest of the newer material seamlessly, as the lyrics could be interpreted as a meditation on the themes of allowance and letting go.

Once the world has gone back to normal, do you have any plans to tour this record?

I definitely have hopes to take this show on the road eventually but without a clear end to the Covid pandemic insight, and Stone Healer currently just being a two-piece, there are no solid plans currently. Matt’s life isn’t set up in a way where performing live is possible anymore, so any future touring will involve putting together a live lineup from the ground up. I miss performing just as much as any artist and would love to take these songs on the road, but I suppose we’ll just have to see how this year plays out!

Many artists describe the act of creating as a force that they cannot contain, others claim more to be left drained by it. How would you describe the way you experience creating your art and music?

I’m definitely in the camp of being drained by the creative output. Especially considering this music, in particular, is so deeply personal and rooted in my own catharsis, I tend to feel a massive energetic let-down after writing sessions. Even listening to Conquistador front to back is an energetically taxing experience because these songs mean so much to me on every level.

Could you give us any insight or advice to those who admire your music, and generally struggle to create and remain motivated in making art?

Regarding the struggle to remain motivated, I think patience and perspective are major keys to prolonged success. I find that creativity and motivation flow as waves within the greater context of one’s life, and I feel that it’s perfectly alright to take long breaks away from the act of creation. Hell, Conquistador sat shelved for close to a year because I needed to distance myself from the emotional relationship I had with the music – and I think it was hugely beneficial to the end result! Not to mention that despite my restlessness to just release the damn thing, giving myself regular breaks from working on the album allowed me to find renewed motivation and confidence in all aspects of the album’s creation. The task of staying focused and motivated is only made more difficult when a musician is solely responsible for the writing, execution, and technical production of an album. The more hats one wears, so to speak, the greater the need for intentional perspective adjustments and breaks from the art itself.

Was music always the main focus of your life, or did you make some artistic (like painting, writing etc.) and practical (day jobs, education etc) detours on the way?

Yeah, it has always been my primary focus. I think I knew I would be working professionally in music from the time I was 19 when I decided to withdraw from a traditional 4-year university and pursue audio engineering. For the last 10+ years, I haven’t had a Plan B to my career as a recording engineer; it has always been my passion, my obsession, my love, and my outlet, and to that end failure simply wasn’t an option. Admittedly, this tunnel vision has been encouraged and at times enabled by my family of musicians and artists which raised my brother and I. Without their understanding of my musical/artistic/professional goals, I may have felt pressured to find day jobs along the way rather than focus solely on building my recording studio business and spending my free time creating music of my own. It’s a privilege that I am eternally grateful for, and giving back to the musical community through being of service as an audio professional is my way of passing on the kindness and understanding my support system has shown me through the years.

Do you have any favourite and least favourite fan interactions?

These days most of our fan interactions come online, but anytime we receive a message from someone who really “gets” the music, it absolutely makes my day. We recently received a message from a long-time fan of the band, reacting to the latest single we released. In discussing his takeaways from the music and lyrics, he clearly had grasped the intent behind the song and the album as a whole, and I was smiling for days as a result. It’s so deeply satisfying for the truth of one’s art to be seen and recognized by complete strangers, especially if my art helps to heal someone else or serve as inspiration for their own cathartic release.

What are the challenges and opportunities for you as a musician, in the era of internet releases and live gigs dwindling down to absolutely nothing?

I think in a sense, not having live gigs during the pandemic “levelled the playing field” for artists who were otherwise unable to perform live and tour extensively during normal times. Even before the pandemic began I didn’t have a live lineup for Stone Healer, so it wouldn’t have been possible to develop an organic following through live performances on the local and regional level. I think this past year has been a great opportunity for the merit of one’s recorded music to speak for itself. That being said, it’s an absolute travesty what has happened to the live music economy and to artists who rely on touring for an income – not to mention the audio and music industry professionals who built successful careers on live music. I certainly hope that we can return to a world ripe with live entertainment soon, but I feel equally optimistic that the musical community will continue to find new and innovative ways to reach hungry ears and remain financially solvent during this incredibly strange time.

Would you like to say anything in closing to our readers?

I just want to extend a bellowing THANK YOU to the readers who have checked out Stone Healer! The support from our friends around the world new and old means everything to us, and we can’t wait to share the new album with you all!