Ghosts & Goblins 3: Cursebitten
Best experienced in the Ghosts & Goblins 3 PDF zine
Hello friends! I’m Trev, and my musical contributions to the dungeon synth community are released under the moniker Cursebitten. I also host Castbitten, a dungeon synth interview podcast where I have casual chats with other members of this wonderful community.
Tell us about the story / world building / themes behind your project
I think this is an interesting premise to get into. While Cursebitten has plenty of consistent orreoccurring elements across releases, I’m not sure if I would say there is a grand story being told or world being revisited there. Compared to other projects in the scene, I feel that I’m somewhat atypical here, as I don’t usually find myself to be directly inspired to write music about specific narratives or worlds. As far as world building goes, I typically have some sort of general thematic exploration and overall mood that I want to induce, but I don’t aim to nail in any specifics and try to just use these themes to develop an atmosphere that is reflected in the music.
In general, I’m much more commonly drawn to musical ideas. There’s absolutely an overall sonic profile that I consider to be ‘Cursebitten’, and each release explores variations that can be found within that profile. Both on a song and album level, I’ll identify a handful of musical ideas and themes as well as a sort of ‘sound palette’ that I want to explore, and I’ll start from there. I think that this is something that I’ve improved at over time, with my albums feeling more focused and consistent as they’ve come out. The album that I’ve been writing this year is certainly the most focused and concise sound that I’ve worked with.
Tell us about the art & design associated with your project
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with tremendous visual artists for my releases. Artwork and design are absolutely not my strengths, and I’ve taken advantage of that by putting together collaborations. The way that visual artists are able to take nebulous, shadowy ideas and create something perceptible and discernible is astounding to me, and I’ve always considered the artwork phase to be one of the most exciting parts of doing a release.
My strategy has always been to share the music with the artist and give them a general idea of the themes I’m trying to cover and the atmosphere I’m aiming to cultivate. From there, I mostly just let the artist interpret how to represent the release visually, giving them a little feedback along the way. I’ve always felt that the more freedom I give the artist, the better the artwork turns out.
I’d love to take this opportunity to point out who I’ve worked with on my two existing releases. Avery Bradshaw was responsible for the cover of Seize It with Thine Own Hands, and Grackle created the artwork for Northwarder, Castbitten, and my two individually released singles.
What are some of your influences (musical and otherwise)?
Something that I’ve spoken on in a few episodes of Castbitten is the different ways that one can find influence. I’m a huge fan of using reference tracks while writing music and in general find myself laying out a handful of albums that I try to consistently come back to for inspiration when working on a release. Lately, these have been some Dungeon Synth artists such as Erang, DIM, Aindulmedir, and ORCUS, as well as artist from other genres, namely Hania Rani, Oliver Patrice Weder, Ólafur Arnalds, Stevie Wonder, and Sigur Rós.
On the other end of the spectrum, I feel like there are plenty of artists and albums, oftentimes from my teens or college years, that have more or less ingrained themselves in my subconscious. With these influences, I’m not actively drawing inspiration from them throughout my writing process, but they’ve helped define how I approach music as a whole. These are harder to identify, but a few examples are Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Phil Elverum. I place a huge emphasis on texture and on the interaction of different timbres in music, and I can attribute this greatly to these artists.
Maybe a greater musical influence than either of these groups comes from my musician friends. There are a handful of people in my life that I constantly go to to talk about music with and to share ideas and projects with, and these people have a huge impact on my relationship with music. I cannot stress enough how important I think it is for musicians to have a small circle of people who they can trust to stimulate them and to provide strong feedback on what they do, and I’m enormously thankful for the people who fill this role on my end.
Although less direct and more on a philosophical level, non-musical media has been hugely impactful on my relationship with music. I’m a big literature person, and the literary approach of exploring themes and provoking thought without simply stating a position is something that I try to use to guide my musical writing. Authors like Cormac McCarthy and Virginia Woolf have really taught me how much I appreciate when a piece of media trusts the person consuming it to take their time and lead themselves to whatever conclusions they may come to.
Show/tell us about your creative space
I write all of my music at my workstation in the corner of my tiny apartment. I try to keep it free of too many distractions, but I have my small tape collection nearby and have books lining the windowsills on either side of me. It’s honestly surprising how much of an impact my workspace has on my music writing process, and it’s something that I try to pay attention to. I’m somewhat of an ex-gear collector and don’t typically play live shows anymore, so the nitty gritty of my setup is actually fairly minimal. I have this full-sized keyboard that I absolutely adore, and I run that directly into an interface as a MIDI controller. From there, I play straight into Reaper. For my two current releases, I’ve done the mixing and mastering on my own, using a mix of my headphones and a pair of speakers.
How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?
My sense of place has an enormous impact on the music that I write. I live in the upper Midwest of the United States, and nothing influences me more than the long, brutal winters that we get here. The constant build-up of snow as well as the large frozen lakes that I live between keep me mesmerized and stupefied. One of the tentpole themes within Cursebitten’s identity is the effect that this harsh and captivating environment has on me. Gearing up and going on cold winter walks is my constant cure for writer’s block and is something that I find myself doing partway through almost every track I make.
Other sources of identity and inspiration come heavily from my career outside of music. Many of my friends in the scene know this, but this is a great time to mention that I’m a scientist specializing in agricultural research. This means spending long summer and fall days doing working in the field, caring for crops and collecting data. There’s a huge contrast between these parts of my life and the time I spend during the winter, and this contrast is a theme that heavily impacted my sophomore album Northwarder.
What does dungeon synth mean to you? How would you describe the Dungeon Synth community?
First off, I just want to say that I think this is a wonderful topic to bring up. I’m always surprised at how much this answer can vary from person to person, and I love hearing what people think of it all. I personally see dungeon synth as a vehicle for experimentation. It’s a place where you can take any idea and run with it, seeing it through to whatever end you’d like. For myself, I think I interpret the dungeon synth world as more of a scene than a genre. It’s wonderful and inspiring to see that despite how much variety there can be in the actual sound of different dungeon synth projects, there’s something that still ties them together. I’m not around in all the places that dungeon synth gets discussed, but in my experience any approach to music, no matter how strange or esoteric, is met with welcome arms. That hasn’t always been my experience with music scenes, and it’s something that
constantly inspires me.
Tell us about your gaming habits: video games, RPG, tabletop, other? Past & present.
In complete honesty, I’m generally not much into gaming. That being said, the Dark Souls trilogy is massively influential on all of my releases as Cursebitten, as well as on myself as a person. A core philosophical idea from Dark Souls is this concept of being introduced to a challenge that feels absolutely insurmountable at first, and then gradually overcoming the challenge, eventually getting to a point where the things that seemed impossible now become second nature. This idea is something that deeply resonates with me and makes the games truly feel like something special.
Beyond that, playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends was the way that I was first exposed to dungeon synth. The process of being creative in a group environment and collaboratively telling a story with your friends is something that I hold dearly, and has both directly and indirectly influenced my writing with Cursebitten.
If you could step through a portal to any realm of fantasy, where would it be?
My gut reaction? Seize the opportunity and learn a thing or two about dungeon synth by stepping into the Land of the Five Seasons! Erang was my main introduction to the genre, and I’d love to get a glimpse at what’s going on over there.