Rezn’s singular universe

tom morgan
Rezn interview

The best music activates all of your senses. While you can’t literally smell the White Album or run your hands across Kind of Blue, great music induces varying degrees of synesthesia. Music can be vast or claustrophobic, cool or warm, sharp or blunted, metallic or fleshy. It also conjures images; incredible auditory landscapes of peaks and valleys. REZN’s heavy psych rock nails this. The Chicago band’s panoramic vistas feel like exploring alien planets; exo/intra worlds that exist solely in the infinite space between your ear canal and temporal lobe.

The prolific four-piece’s latest full-length Burden (out June 14th via Sargent House) serves as a companion piece to their 2023 album Solace. Recorded back to back with one another, each offers rich world-building but different emotional textures. Whereas Solace was a resplendent sojourn, like ascending the mountain that adorns its cover, Burden is intense and doom-laden, descending to the fiery netherworld depths of the album’s cover art.

Treble spoke to REZN’s vocalist/guitarist Rob McWilliams and synth player/saxophonist Spencer Ouellette to discuss how the band construct their dense musical universe.

Treble: I love your album covers, are they supposed to represent or convey the audible landscapes that you’re trying to create?

Rob McWilliams: Absolutely. Almost from the inception of the album, that’s our goal—to guide us through the landscape. When you have this environment in mind, it helps us write a bunch of different songs. It makes us ask “what might exist in this world, what peaks and valleys and hidden areas are there.” The mountainous landscape of Solace is upbeat and triumphant, while Burden’s landscape is fiery and hellish. We write towards the art.

Treble: It’s interesting you say it’s there to inspire you, I’d imagined it being more for the listener. At what point does the art come in?

Spencer Ouellette: I’d say about halfway. Once we get the bare bones down. Once you have all the pieces scattered around, then the imagery comes. 

Treble: So how does the cover of Burden represent the musical approach that you’ve taken this time around?

RM: Definitely a heavier approach, in the simplest terms. We wanted to push into heavier territories, without going full metal. Trying to imagine our sound in the heaviest terms possible, while retaining the psychedelic elements and the dreamy, atmospheric stuff. It meant slower tempos, sometimes faster tempos, a lot more guitar chugs, I think I do one insane pinched harmonic on there.

Treble: It reminded me of the most recent Russian Circles album. It’s more riff-focused and there’s more black-and-white hues.

RM: I think that’s a good description. The colors are still there, but the hues are much darker.

Treble: So you recorded this back to back with Solace, did you always know it would become two separate albums and if not how did you piece each one together?

RM: We didn’t know. We hit this fork in the round and debated making a double LP and crafting these songs to create an engaging journey. We also had the idea of it being connected, like the upper and lower worlds. We realized we could just split the album into two approaches and focus on both. It was also 2020-2021, so we had the time to write towards each direction. 

Treble: Does the finished creation resemble the thing you imagined it would become when you were making the album?

SO: I think if we had achieved what we imagined we probably wouldn’t be happy with it. When we were envisioning the deepest darkest sonic depths, it looked good on paper, but it was sometimes too much. I think we ended up with a good compromise of the over-the-top thing that we imagined when we were drafting it all out. I feel like we got where we should have.

Treble: To move onto the content; lyrically, I felt like there was a lot of stuff about mental strife, being locked inside a broken mind. Is that a correct assessment of the psychological state you were going for?

RM: That’s awesome, yeah that’s totally it. We were trying to go further into the emotional, psychological realm. REZN lyrics of the past were more sci-fi and otherworldly, but on this one I wanted to do more psychological sci-fi; imagining  what it would be like to be in this world. In a way it was easier to write about, but also the listener can place themselves there, rather than just thinking; “why’s he talking about ancient tombs?” It’s about delirium, which is fun to write about.

Treble: I found it amazing that until recently you didn’t have a label. Are there factors you can point to, besides the fact you’re a great band, that you think have helped you kick on without label backing?

SO: We all come from a music industry background. We’re familiar with a lot of the venues over here in the states and we kept playing smaller, DIY shows like everyone else and just kept at it regularly. And, honestly, from day one Rob has just been a complete powerhouse of a human being. There’s something wrong with him, in the best way possible. He’s been adamant about staying on top of everything it means to turn this little project into a fully-fledged thing. We’ve always been committed to interacting with everyone that wants to interact with us, keeping our side approachable.

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