Adam Michael Kozak, aka Burial Grid, makes music that goes head first into loss and grief. Electronic music that veers to the melancholy lean of Giallo and into industrial-tinged metal reminiscent of the Melvins, NIN, and St. Vitus. Kozak is honest in his work, dealing in the realities of our existence in our mortal coil. Along with love, happiness, and contentment there’s also death, loss, pain, and anguish that’s part of the human bargain. Burial Grid makes heady electronic music that deals with the other side of the coin. Someone has to.
Kozak started Burial Grid as a means to deal with the inevitable loss we all must face, that of a loved one, with the idea that facing it headlong would make that gaping loss easier to manage. I’m not sure it worked that way, but there was something therapeutic about writing about death and decay in such a visceral way. From his debut Where We Go in 2018 to 2019s My Body Dissolves As I Watch And Dissolve to Negative Space, his score to BR Yeager’s book of the same name, Kozak and Burial Grid managed to soak in the darkness and turn it onto itself. While maybe not transcending it into something like hope, it at least seems manageable at the very least.
Plus, the music is pretty amazing.
Burial Grid is back in 2021 and with a brand new album. We’ve Come For Your Flesh was created largely during quarantine and sees Adam Michael Kozak dealing with the death of his father to cancer. It’s a harrowing trip. But also mournful, deep, and beautiful. I spoke to Adam about the record and his process in making it.
J. Hubner: How are you Adam? I know 2020 was challenging for many of us, but especially for you with losing your dad to cancer. Do you feel like you’re seeing the light at the end of a very dark tunnel? Or does the tunnel just continue to grow?
Adam Michael Kozak: At this very moment I’m doing well. That has a tendency to change like New England weather though, but I’ve been working on that a lot. I have winters off from my business, so that’s my goal for this season is to kinda seek out a neutral state of mind where I can learn to let circumstances and people exist as they are without so much judgment. That really feels necessary after this past year or two. I guess that is the light at the end of the tunnel. Adaptation. Making lemon squares out of lemons. Maybe leaving a mark of benevolence wherever possible, but mostly adapting to an increasingly chaotic external environment so as to not become a total boring, bummertown.
J. Hubner: So let’s talk about the new Burial Grid album We’ve Come For Your Flesh. It’s one hell of an album, man. You have a way of making some of the darkest music, yet still retaining a touch of light in there. It’s not for the sake of just being doom and gloom. It’s all very relatable and based in the human condition. You’re dealing with grief, anger, disillusionment, and helplessness. Obviously losing your dad had a big affect on the writing. Can you tell me about the writing process and the concept of the album?
Adam Michael Kozak: Hey thanks! You sure know your sweet nothings. My dad had been sick for a few years, steadily declining the whole time. It was a bit lonely because no one else in my family was accepting it or wanted to discuss or admit it. I think I actually started Burial Grid as an endorsement of the “death positive” movement, and specifically as a way to help me cope with the inevitability of everyone we know and cherish dwindling around us, and eventually our own process of dying. I think most of that was me preparing for my dad to die, bracing myself, thinking that the sooner I processed it, the better off I’d be. Unfortunately grief doesn’t really cooperate so neatly haha. I especially wasn’t prepared for his final three weeks where he was experiencing visions of dead friends and relatives and other entities. Reading up on it though, it’s a fairly universal phenomenon, with most cultures that we have historical records for inventing names for these various demons and spirits, each one responsible for devouring differing aspects of the slowly fading worldly coil. Shame. Memories. Anger. Fear. As harrowing as the process feels to those of us witnessing it, the dying seem comforted by it. That was an incredibly therapeutic concept.
J. Hubner: Tell me about the vocals. What was the idea behind the robot/demonic sound of the voice. Is it you putting a voice to your frustrations? A digital narrator?
Adam Michael Kozak: I think it’s a few things. I don’t think my more melodic voice makes a lick of sense in the world of Burial Grid. And I’m too old to scream anymore. But I wanted the vocals to be atonal as the lyrics are written from the point of view of, I guess you could call them “non-worldly entities”, and also from my father who no longer really resembled himself in any capacity toward the end. I didn’t want to impose the limitations of the personality of my own voice into the story. Even though… I wrote the lyrics haha.
J. Hubner: Who were some influences on the tone of the record sonically? “Baiting The Undertow” puts me in mind of ‘Fragile’-era Trent for sure. But I do still hear Italian film composers, Giorgio Morodor, and even modular cats like Morton Subotnik and Mort Garson in there. But very much a Burial Grid trip.
Adam Michael Kozak: Oh man those are ALL big influences in general. I remember tinkering with the Wavestation during the intro of “Baiting” and it reminded me of *something* and I couldn’t place it, but you totally just nailed it! “The Way Out is Through” by NIN. I usually have pretty specific ideas of what I want to go for as I’m starting a new batch of music or a record, and create a mood board in my head. For this one there was a lot of contemporary electronic musicians that I admire – Cory Kilduff, Tim Fife, Anna Meredith, definitely Anthony Paterra’s solo work – tons of old noise, death and doom metal from the 80s and 90s like Melvins, Entombed, Barkmarket, St Vitus. Lots of early synth work from Laurie Spiegel, Susan Ciani, Delia Derbyshire. Definitely Frizzi, Maglione, Nicolai, Rizatti, and other film composers. But there’s a crapload of improvisation that carves out the journey and the end result usually sounds nothing like what I initially had in mind.
J. Hubner: Oddly enough, as I listen to the new record I’m reminded of an ELO album, ‘Time’. Jeff Lynne experimented a lot with vocoder on that record. I hear strange similarities. “Sunset Over An Ocean of Marrow” I feel Lynne could’ve tackled that. I’m not saying your album sounds anything like ELO, but the way my mind works I just go to odd places.
Adam Michael Kozak: Oh man I don’t really know Time! I was in a band that covered “Hold on Tight” though. I’m all about New World Record. That’s like, a reservoir for Jeff Lynne’s biggest, loftiest, ridiculous ballads. Love that shit.
J. Hubner: Are you inspired by gear? Going into this album were you thinking of specific hardware that would be perfect for certain tracks? Or is the synths and modules simply tools? A means to an end? What were some tools of the trade that you found particularly valuable for the record?
Adam Michael Kozak: Something that I didn’t really realize until recently is that so, so many artists who use synths either use presets or they craft patches specifically for the piece of music they work on. As soon as I get a new piece of kit, so long as it has patch memory, I load it up with hundreds of new sounds. Sometimes I’ll start with an inspiring sound. Other times I’ll just write songs and all of the arrangements on guitar or Rhodes and then find sounds that fit the mood that I’m going for. Other times I’ll sequence things in Ableton Live and replace all the parts with live playing or replace sequences with hardware via MIDI. For this album I think I was most inspired by pummeling drums and modulating my voice with unorthodox sources in the vocoder. I sampled the screams during the notorious degloving scene from Gerald’s Game and used them to modulate the vocals in “Bhoot”. In another song I used drums stacked together in Live to modulate the vocals.
J. Hubner: The album cover is particularly apocalyptic and visceral. Tell me about it.
Adam Michael Kozak: Right?! That’s Derek Vukusich. I found his work through Twitter. He has a vast body of work, from sculpting to charcoal and puppets. His stuff has a Francis Bacon quality of leaving some of what he’s depicting shrouded in darkness or obscured with motion blurs, which lets your imagination fill in all of the gaps with terrible things. I sent him the album and gave him some notes on the concept and he delivered like a complete BAMF.
J. Hubner: Do you look at your art as therapy? Are you working shit out when you compose and create? Or is art just art? When I listen to a Burial Grid album I feel like I’m going into something heady and therapeutic. Like primal scream therapy. But engaging and darkly beautiful.”I’ll Cherish Your Skull” feels that way to me especially.
Adam Michael Kozak: Oddly enough, that track was the remnants of something I wrote for a past album (My Body Dissolves as I Watch and Dissolve) but rejected. I picked it up, dusted it off, and reconfigured it over one night. It’s definitely therapeutic. I don’t easily connect with people in an entirely honest and comfortable way. At least not very often. Art is very humanizing. We might sit in a room with a coworker day after day and be subjected to their assholery and not relate to them in any discernible way. But then you learn that they make short movies, watch a few of them and are deeply moved. You’re now connected in ways that lousy chit chat doesn’t offer and have insights into their soul that might otherwise be inaccessible because of any number of social barricades. Even when art is at its most esoteric, I think it’s when people are at their most honest. That and behind the wheel of an automobile…
J. Hubner: Besides music, you have a landscape company with your partner. There’s a real ying/yang thing there, to me anyways. You deal in the darkness when you write and record. In the daytime it’s about planting, pruning, and giving the scorched earth you write about new life. Seems like a good balance. Does it work that way?
Adam Michael Kozak: I’d say so. Making music, creating a garden, cooking… they all feel so similar to me. It’s about throughlines, motifs, complementary textures, contrast, and having something immersive at the other end for others to enjoy, all while diverting your attention away from the horrific fuckery of life and the world in the process.
J. Hubner: I wish I could say 2021 is a new start for us all, but there’s quite a few folks that still want to watch it all burn and in the name of God and country. How do you feel about where we’re headed? What are the odds we’re still a society in five years? What gives you some semblance of pleasure or peace in the times we’re living in?
Adam Michael Kozak: 2021’s inhabitants – and especially Americans – have grown so accustomed to the luxuries that we’ve been afforded via the burning of fossil fuels and pillaging of rare earth minerals from mines in Vietnam. Obviously that comfort is disproportionately distributed. It’s a lopsided gradient. But what we all need to remember is how temporary all of this is. No one appreciates health until they’re sick or even vaguely democratic stability until a wave of plutocratic fascism floods those institutions into a blurry smear. Appreciate every bubble of joy or comfort before they burst and, when you can, FIGHT.
‘We’ve Come For Your Flesh’ will be released 1/22. Preorder the album here.