Mask Era and {in-boxes}'s Daniel Elijah Novem's New EP Shows That: "God Is Love"

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Daniel Elijah Novem, frontman of {in-boxes} and new Mask Era guitarist, is a hard act to follow. We interviewed him over a year ago, back when he was Daniel Elias Fernandez, and referred to his band, {in-boxes}, as more of "a multimedia collective than just a band," a conceptual project that seeks to explore different themes. This hasn't changed, and Novem's project is more complex than ever. 

Insisting that he's not a skilled musician and instead functions as a storyteller, {in-boxes}'s first release, an EP entitled Nook & Cranny #1- A LOVE Between Frequency & Time (The Analigital Sessions), is indeed a story, one of sleeplessness, growth, and love -- especially the struggle between human intimacy and technology. 

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Released earlier this year, it contains only three songs and spans over forty minutes. It's emotive, earnest, and deliberately unpolished, which, says Novem, represents the honest flaws of humanity. A musical representation of life's nuances has been an ongoing theme with {in-boxes}, but now that they're more grown up, it's taking on different forms. Read about it after the jump.

New Times: What is the significance of the album's title?

Daniel Elijah Novem: There is a lot of significance to the title of the album, and for the reasons I chose it to be so lengthy. I wanted the album to have a very encyclopedic feel, even with the actual cover, which is meant to look like the cover of an old book with the diagram of a soundwave being broken down into an MP3 format, laced with encrypted spiritual connotations. The actual disc is meant to look like a printed piece of book paper. However, when I started {in-boxes} in 2009, I always knew I wanted to title our full-length albums Corners or Walls. Originally, I had not planned to release an EP, but since I did I realized I couldn't call it a Corner or Wall, so I figured that the next best thing thematically to do was to title it a Nook and Cranny due to the nature of it being an EP, which is a mini-album.

Eventually the goal is to have listeners realize that while every album has its own theme, style, and tone, it is slightly correlated to the previous one, till eventually they realize that the albums build a box according to their title. 

Perhaps it's the visual and performance artist in me, since my degree was in art, but I really hope people don't think I'm trying to be pretentious. I know Fiona Apple got hell for the title of her second album, When the Pawn..., but the truth is I didn't see her as pretentious for it at all.

In what ways has the band changed since we last talked?

Before the actual release of our EP, our longtime bandmate Kenneth Martinson, who's pretty much the guy who helped me start {in-boxes}, moved to New York City to seek a computer engineering career, and while it's left a big hole in our unit, he's definitely left with our blessing and we love him very much. Since he's left, it's been interesting to see how our live performances from April till recently in August have had to evolve. We were really blessed to have Kenny on board, but we've pressed on and, in a way, we've grown a bit more closely knit, including our performances as a unit.

You mentioned that this EP is very thematic, emotionally and personally speaking. Can you say more about that?

I wanted to focus on creating an album that could be viewed more as a piece of music, like The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky or F♯a♯∞ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, rather than focusing on creating a hit record. Different projects need different goals and I didn't want to strain myself more than I already do, with my restless ideas and sleep deprivation, by trying to make music that made others happy instead of personifying truthfully what was in my head. 

When I was recording this album, my sleep disorders were so bad, I was falling asleep at the wheel. Then, all of a sudden, the sound of the music playing in my car would begin to slow down and modulate, although part of me was still conscious enough to notice. My body would remind me that I was driving and to wake up; when I would, the sound that had slowed down would quickly warp and speed up into regular time. A lot of those sounds gave me ideas for the intervals of noise art that I experimented with throughout the album. I came up with a hypothesis: If that's the way sound modulated and was perceived by me in my state of sleep, would it be possible to recreate similar sounds that, when heard awake, would induce sleep? It's definitely a night album, good to listen to in a dark room as a form of sensory deprivation to solely focus on the layers of sound and to see how your body reacts to it.

That push and pull between tension and peace had a lot to do with my other goal thematically. The album opens up with the song "Cold-War[m]," which could be interpreted in a way as the sexual tension between two lovers that want to be together but can't; that would be my example of a digital (time) relationship based on instant gratification. 

The second song is actually my favorite church hymn, titled "Come Thou Fount," and is meant to coincide with my own faith and the belief that God is love; sonically, because hymns are often nicknamed spirituals, I wanted the hymn to have this feeling as if it was sung in an ethereal realm. 

Then track three, "StigMature(ity)," is thematically the aftermath of track two. It is pretty much the idea of how an individual encounters the true source of love and it changes them, then when taken and applied within the context of a man and a woman, it becomes a love of substance and endurance, one that I associate with an analog (frequency) love. The funny thing about "StigMature" is that when I wrote it in the fall of '09, I was actually celibate and had no interest in being in any relationship. The song is about waiting on God for the one person that he's designed for you in the proper time, the flip side of that being the maturity God sees in you for waiting on him. Three years later though, the woman I love, M.T.S., arrived, and when she and I looked at the lyrics, we realized it all pointed to her.

How has this release prepared you for future ones?

I can definitely say that the follow-up release that we are working on now, which will be our first LP, sounds like it's headed in a more linear direction. That is to say, there's more of a cohesive train of thought between the nine songs that are on the follow-up, because they're all about one single individual. I wouldn't say that I'm aiming to create another album with the band that is solely "hits," but a lot of these songs are songs that we've been playing live for a while and they may cause some foot-tapping when heard. Nor have I lost interest in making another concept album; I always need concept in order to tap into the intuitive psyche of the album's mood.

I think the most important thing to remember, if there is anything important about {in-boxes}, is that initially we are telling a story. Tori Amos once said that her songs are all individual girls that come to her, and in a mystical sense she stated that those girls would always promise to appear to her so that she may tell their story as long as she didn't try to change their nature. That is a statement I not only agree with, but that leads me to respect another individual's craft. I'm not a good musician -- yeah, I play several things and I'm capable of singing, but I'd never consider myself a real musician. In essence, I'm just a storyteller and a visual artists archiving these stories in a tangible format. In a way, that's why our music feels more like a soundtrack or a score versus a hit record.

I understand that a big {in-boxes} theme has been the connection between an external dissonance -- analog vs. digital -- and a more internal one -- human warmth and closeness vs. distance.

Well this is just my opinion, but I'm one to believe that we as a people are socially evolving into individuals that are becoming too dependent on technology.

Like I mentioned before, I've noticed that, in the process of communicating, our ability to do so with proper quality between one individual to another is degrading. Technology is helpful, of course; I'm not denying that. But, for instance, while the invention of the phone helped us communicate through long distances, we were able to still hear people's tone of voice. Then came email, Facebook, and texting. These new forms of technology promised efficiency by making things quicker, and we have succumbed to that notion of quicker equals efficiency. 

I've noticed that now, as old and new generations are progressing, our relationships are becoming so desensitized by how we communicate. We rarely want to speak on the phone because it's "awkward," so we resort to a synthetic form of communicating: Texting and anything that involves being behind a little screen. You can't see, experience and discern facial expressions and the subtlety of one's tone. Then the aftermath is communication and all the associations that follow.

Why is this a big deal for me? I genuinely feel that our relationships and our perception on what love is are being affected. The whole technological theory of "quicker equals efficient," I believe, is laced with the notion of instant gratification. What will happen if instant gratification becomes our sole pursuit in life instead of anything that has substances and challenges who we really are? 

What's next for {in-boxes}?

I've made the conscious decision and ran it by the band, and they agree that it would be in our best interest to hold off on performing so that we may focus on recording and creating a great album that we are happy and at peace with. At least for this fiscal year, possibly till June, we want to disappear for a bit and then reemerge hard with the release of our first LP: Corner #1 - An Apiary for a Swarm of One (The Honey-Be[e] S[t]ung Sessions).

What else are you working on? I know you're in Mask Era now.

A few individuals have asked me to help them out with their projects. The first is the Gray Girls. My friend Martin Gaza, who created the band, kind of asked me to take up the mantle of being the band. He wanted the band and the incredible album that he put out, titled HONEY I, to have a life of its own outside of him. So he's given me total artistic freedom to work with the Gray Girls as I see fit. I'm focusing on reviving the band, starting with recording a re-imagination of HONEY I and titling it, at the request of Martin, HONEY YOU. I'm honored to do it; it's such a delicate feat, and I don't want to half-fast it. I'd rather wait until the most opportune time to focus on it as a labor of love.

Aside from that project and {in-boxes}, I'm happy to say that I'm able to be playing supporting roles with other bands, such as the folky alt-country band David Saul and the Southern Gentlemen, and the avant-garde post-punk group Mask Era, in which I focus solely on playing guitar and pushing my androgynous alter ego, Novy Græy, on stage. Novy, conceptually, is the hybrid of what happens to both male and female when they become one in the process of making love.

Aside from that, Mask Era's drummer, who happens to be a great friend of mine, Emile Milgrim, approached me about starting another band with her called Quarter Horses. It feels great to finally be able to support someone else's dream, goal, vision, and music as I've been supported. It's a very humbling experience to finally be part of a community.

If you would like to purchase The Analigital Sessions, contact {in-boxes} at inboxes139@gmail.com, check out their Facebook page, or head to Sweat Records and ask for their EP. If you would like to purchase the Gray Girls' HONEY I on vinyl for $10, contact Daniel at inboxes139@gmail.com. They are a limited edition red vinyl and come with an MP3 download card. 

Mask Era performs with Retrocities and Eons, 11 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 15, Green Room, 108 SW Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Entrance is $5. 

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