Heir to Madness – Journey Through NightflyersSaturday, 3rd June 2023
Texas musician Jason Wiscarson developed Heir to Madness to express his musical thoughts in a progressive rock/metal context – adding alternative/gothic strains to expand horizons. Releasing two albums fifteen years apart, the latest of which is Nightflyers, there’s an emotional depth to this DIY product rarely heard in today’s scene. Everything from Dream Theater to Katatonia with Porcupine Tree or Riverside comes up on the bank of influences when taking in these songs, the vocals, melodies, and hooks very thoughtful in an alluring, calm manner. We reached out to Jason to answer some questions about the band, the long break between albums, thoughts on the DIY model of developing the material all on his own, future plans including bringing this material to the stage, and worries related to capitalism and personal education.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories concerning music in childhood? At what point did you start gravitating to heavier and more progressive forms of music – and eventually want to pick up instruments to play in your own bands?
Jason Wiscarson: I had a few experiences very early in life with music that really stood out and had a large effect on me. The first one in memory occurred when I was about 6 or 7. I was with my older sister and she was listening to music, the song “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” by Chicago was on. I found myself entranced by it and the chorus lines sounded so sad to me that I felt moved in a way that I couldn’t understand at that age. I broke down sobbing with the sadness of it. It was sad and yet beautiful. To this day, I love sad music.
The next was when I was a little older and a friend’s family invited me to go somewhere with them. The dad was an older ‘rocker’ dude and he put on some music in the car. I don’t remember was the band or song was, but I remember that I’d never heard anything like it before and again I was enthralled and entranced. These two experiences along with always beating a rhythm on things around the house and humming tunes convinced my parents to put me in school band in the 6th grade.
Heavier music really didn’t come around until my teens when I found things like Pearl Jam, Tool, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, etc. Since I stayed in school band all the way through middle and high school, it seemed a natural extension to form bands to play in.
Dead Rhetoric: Nightflyers is the second and latest Heir to Madness album – hitting the streets fifteen years after The Citadel debut effort. What circumstances took place for the long break between records – and where do you see this album compared to the debut in terms of songwriting, performances, and overall output?
Wiscarson: After the first release, I decided to “get a real job”. I had been listening to everyone, including musicians themselves, saying how hard it was to survive as a musician financially and being a somewhat pragmatic person, it seemed like a good idea to get a job and then keep doing music on the side. From my perspective now, I wouldn’t choose that again. I won’t call it a mistake necessarily though; I learned a lot about life and the world.
I think this current release is more representative of what I want my ‘sound’ to… ah… sound like. Technically the performances are definitely better.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you want to come across with the lyrical themes for this record? Do you place as much importance on the melodies and words as you do the music – so that they match up as seamlessly as possible for the listeners to enjoy?
Wiscarson: Probably like most lyricists, I write about what I’m currently thinking about or going through. The themes of this release have a lot to do with ‘big’ subjects like life itself, our place in the universe, the planet/environment, capitalism, and personal growth. I do put a lot of emphasis on the lyrics, it’s as important to me as the music itself, maybe even more so.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there any specific challenges that take place doing all the instrumentation, vocals, songwriting, and recording/production duties yourself for this band?
Wiscarson: Yea, I’m an independent artist, so I wasn’t in a position to use super expensive gear or a really nice studio. Luckily, I have some great friends who let me borrow several instruments and other equipment to help with the process. I wanted to do that whole process myself due to financial reasons but also because I wanted the experience of doing it myself. I ran into numerous challenges, mostly due to my inexperience with production, mixing, and mastering. You can hear that on the finished product, but it is what it is. All and all, I’m very proud and happy with the end result.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the cover art to Nightflyers? Was it a collaborative process between the artist and yourself to reach the final outcome? And where do you see the importance in the visual arts with music to give off the best impression for what people can expect from albums – have there ever been times you’ve picked up on artists solely based on cover art alone?
Wiscarson: I actually found the artist surfing around DeviantArt’s site. I just loved the aesthetic of the art and thought that the single character facing these very expansive and awe-inspiring scenes was reflective of the general perspectives of the album and lyrics. For me the visual aspects of the art are a supporting element to the rest of it, not to say they aren’t important. I think they are a necessary backdrop and can provide interesting overtones of feeling and meaning to the music and lyrics.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of the music industry today and the tools currently at your disposal to expand reach and your audience compared to the start of Heir to Madness? What do you consider some of the biggest challenges currently facing you that may prevent you from becoming bigger or more successful with your music?
Wiscarson: I don’t know what to think about the industry. I’m not deep in it, so I probably don’t have the wherewithal to comment. I think more people can make music more easily these days due to the lower costs and availability of tools and services. That equals more music coming into existence, which is great! My biggest challenge currently is trying to find band members for HTM in order to take the project live. It’s a specific type of music with a somewhat high barrier of entry for technical skills, especially the drum work. Other than that, I think it’s just the normal challenges of any band—booking shows, finding fans, getting on tours, etc.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are three of the most important albums that helped shape your outlook and viewpoint on music – and what is the best, most treasured concert memory you have attending a show as a member of the audience – plus what made that show so special to you?
Wiscarson: Oh man, this is so hard. I’d have to say 1. Porcupine Tree – In Absentia, 2. Opeth – Blackwater Park, 3. Karnivool – Sound Awake. Obviously, there are many more. I started out as, and still am, a drummer. So, anytime I get to see Gavin Harrison live is a real treat. Seeing him with Porcupine Tree and Pineapple Thief a few times was amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the expansion of progressive rock and progressive metal over the years? What do you enjoy most regarding these styles, and what changes (if any) would you like to see for the overall states of these genres?
Wiscarson: I think it’s been great; I enjoy seeing these genres evolve. Hard to pick what I most enjoy about them, it would probably depend on the artist, or even the particular song in question. I don’t think I ‘want’ any specific change; they will continue to evolve on its own and I’m just sort of here for the ride.
Dead Rhetoric: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for a later success (either in music or life in general)? And do you have a favorite failure that happened, and how did you end up pushing through?
Wiscarson: Wow, hard one. I don’t know, I think my failures were really opportunities missed or paths I could have taken but didn’t. Usually because of anxiety or fear, or thoughts like, “oh, I can’t do that.” I think realizing that about myself has given me the impetus and strength to ‘grab’ opportunities now and push forward on projects like HTM even if I have doubts in myself. Which I do! Plenty!
Dead Rhetoric: What worries or concerns do you have most about the state of the world today? Where do you think the average person needs to put more time, energy, and focus on to make things better for their community and lives?
Wiscarson: Oh no, I thought the last question was hard LOL. I’m really worried about capitalism in its current form in the world. It irks me that the world could, pretty easily, be set up in an entirely different way to support people with more than adequate food, clothes, and housing. We could support human needs, creativity, community, and health easily. But we don’t, and we can’t while we are all under the dangling sword of starvation, destitution, wage-slavery, homelessness, and war.
At a very basic-level, people should educate themselves, vote, and support causes/movements that are in alignment with inclusiveness, freedom (real freedom, meaning the freedom to do what you want and still get to eat food for god’s sake), equal access to resources, science-based solutions to social/planetary challenges (as opposed to faith-based).
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for any activities, promotion, etc. relating to Heir to Madness over the next year or so? Will you be working on more material down the line – and if so, how do you see the next set of material progressing compared to the first two albums?
Wiscarson: I’ll keep trying to stay up on social media and attract new listeners that way. I have tentative plans for some videos and other content. Also, I plan to start playing live shows as soon as I can complete the band line up.
Yes, I’ll keep working on new material. I plan to put out at least one album per year going forward. Honestly, I’m not sure how my sound/writing will evolve, but I hope that the quality of my production, mixing, and mastering will continue to improve.