The Chicago-area Bryan Kingsley’s music as HARM LESS paints a picture of making it to the other side of a dangerous ravine you’d been crossing on a tightrope. The pulse-pounding intensity you might expect in that situation definitely makes an appearance — but on his new album Safe’s Pace, there’s also a wave of not just catharsis but enthralling, melodic moves in a positive, constructive direction. Calling his totally instrumental music “posi-djent,” he mixes some of the heaviness of “djent” and wider styles like post-metal with straightforward melody, letting each element get enveloped into that push forward.
Check out a stream of “Unviolence” off that album below, which very well encapsulates how Kingsley brings heaviness and melody together into an absolutely striking creation. Make sure to keep reading afterward to hear about how this song and the album it’s on came together.
In what he explains as a nod to the Japanese post-rock band Toe, “Unviolence” begins with an isolated drum beat that leads into the introduction of a methodical, gently pressing groove and together, these elements lay the groundwork for the intense heavy haze that drops in just after one and a half minutes have passed. Even in the face of this almost oppressive backdrop, the song remains strongly and alluringly melodic and moving forward into a flourishing conclusion. The full album is available August 9 via Flesh & Bone Records, and you can pre-order at this link.
Dealing With Destruction
Kingsley notes that “Unviolence” is definitely one of the most intense songs off Safe’s Pace, and that extends to the subject matter that inspired it as well. “It begins with a deliberately sparse arrangement that pushes and pulls on you as it builds, grabs a hold of you, shakes you up, and leaves you with a warm embrace,” he explains, adding later on: “The title Unviolence and the song in general are inspired by a co-worker of mine who was killed in a drive-by shooting at his family’s auto shop just a couple blocks from my practice space. I actually tend to think of it as one of the more melancholic selections on the album — but the positivity is definitely still there just under the surface. It was recorded a half step up — in drop A# — which changes the character just slightly and makes it a little more moody compared to the rest of the album.”
The shadow of these destructive situations is not confined to this song. Kingsley asserts that he has “to keep it positive as much as possible” because “it might be surprising to hear this, but the music for this project actually comes from some of the lowest emotional places you could ever find yourself in.”
He explains further: “In the past I have alluded to the death of my dad in 2015 — I dedicated my first album in his memory later that year and it’s kind of been part of my story from then on. In the years since, I’ve lost extended family, close friends, the family dog, one of my own dogs, and now my brother… all within a short time of one another.”
That is not, however, where Kingsley’s story ends, which he’s still lucky enough to be here sharing. He adds: “I’ve also had a great deal of joy and celebration in the past several years and I try to give that equal bearing on my music. I’ve watched my infant nieces and nephews grow into awesome little kids. My partner and I got engaged, we rescued another dog and she’s brought so much love into our lives. We’ve gotten into hiking and fishing and spent a lot of time admiring nature’s beauty together. I have had the opportunity to put out music and tour a couple times with my other bands, travel a lot for various reasons, been to a ton of good shows, been to a lot of friends’ weddings and danced my butt off. All of this gets distilled into my music too.”
In other words, the feeling that Kingsley transmits through Safe’s Pace of coming out on the other side of something absolutely monumentally intense is drawn from his own life. He explains the album as “a positive creative outlet towards which I can channel all of this energy, without the need for any words whatsoever.”
Sparking The Music
He brings the sounds of his music together in similar fashion to its themes, drawing from his own life — he explains that he has “guitars all over the place in my apartment” that he aims to use daily, even if just for a couple minutes. The sonic creatures we hear on Safe’s Pace emerge in those kind of “accidental” writing sessions, since Kingsley quips that if he sits down with the explicit intention of writing something, it doesn’t always go so well. The unique process leads to some poignant features like him having phone recordings of “very early iterations” of some of his songs, since they started in everyday moments when he happened to like something he came up with.
Besides his own creations, he’s apparently consistently immersed in music of all types, leading credence to the notion of good quality music really opening up the mind. He explains: “I think that I just try to take the things that I like most about the bands that I like most, and find ways to make it all play nicely together.” These bands range from Smashing Pumpkins that he spent some of his earliest music-listening days with to more recent additions to his collection of what he describes as “slowcore, shoegaze, vaporwave and sad boi kinda stuff.” Some of his other recent favorites include 2018 records from progressive heavy bands Hopesfall, Taken, and Holy Fawn along with releases from similar, entirely instrumental bands Night Verses and Tides of Man. It doesn’t even stop there, since he says that his partner is a hip-hop and R&B fan, and they even “nerd out” about that material together too.
These elements combine to spark music that is a result of Kingsley’s life. This is not contrived — it’s raw and able to be held close to the heart.