Matthew Ellis

You can't stop having the dream. A nightmare. Night after night, it comes, ripping you from sleep to scream. In the scene, it's night. You stand on the edge of a cliff overlooking an ocean infested with great white sharks. Hundreds of them circle hungrily in the water below, scowling with teeth, watching you with black, soulless eyes. There's a piece of glowing ember on the bottom, with a key inside. If you can swim down to it, it's yours. But the sharks haven't eaten for days. Then the rocks you're standing on become knives, forcing you to jump. The sharks see you diving toward them. They converge into a frenzy, and the shriek that wakes you is your own.

Nightmares are anxiety dreams, associated with psychological disturbances and severe stress. It's how the subconscious processes our fears. A nightmare fortress is a mental construct, where symbolic monsters are kept sequestered from our waking world. The fortress locks the negative image either in or out, depending on the dreamer.

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Nightmare Fortress are also a Seattle grave-rave, construct-embodying rock band. They are Alicia Amiri (Lovesick Empire), Cassidy Gonzales (Sleepy Eyes of Death), Colin Roper (Cobra High), and Blair Field. Their sound is a synth-drenched Velvet Underground/T.Raumschmiere/Nine Inch Nails triptych. Amiri's vocals evoke Nico's Velvet Underground drone. Amiri sings handsomely, distantly sedated, veiled in melancholy. She and her tones reside inside the sequencing of the songs, where dark, thickened, gothic synths and guitar cycle and arpeggiate. Nightmare Fortress cast electronic shadows from a candle. The raven of which their Edgar Allan Poe writes is a Yamaha Sequencer. Live, the band is backlit and performs mostly in silhouette. We spoke, not on a cliff.

What's your song "The House Is Empty" about?

Amiri: It's about the banality of wanting a nice house and nice things, and how even buying what you want leaves you feeling empty.

The song is scary. The good kind of scary. The sexy "I fear you" scary. Like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, where everyone thinks she stabs people with an ice pick. But it's the police psychologist who's killing everyone. And Michael Douglas, who plays the steely cop, has sex with both of them. And for some reason, Sharon Stone's character hangs out with an older woman who killed her own husband and kids. The older woman is totally freaky and wears too much lipstick. Alicia, I'm afraid of your dark, sensual goth power like I'm afraid of Sharon Stone.

I could definitely get down with the imagery of a woman using her sexuality to further her murderous urges.

I kind of want your character in the song to have sex with someone and then kill him with an ice pick. Or an electric turkey carver. Is that okay? The whole praying-mantis thing.

We actually have a song about wanting someone so much that you want to kill them and wear their skin, because you simply can't bear to share them with the world.

Just for the record, have you ever killed anyone with an ice pick or a turkey carver? Or thrown anyone in an industrial tree shredder?

I've killed quite a few houseplants.

Do you like praying mantises?

Love praying mantises. Love spiders. Love insects. I have collected dead bugs for a long time and have a bunch in my room. You should come over sometime.

Do you have nightmares?

I smoke too much weed to remember my dreams.

Is darkness something you set out for, to elicit fear? What is your version of darkness?

Darkness is the only place one can see clearly.

I hear goth in your sound. Are you a goth band?

We're all pretty into darkness; this includes the Kingdom of Goth.

I love seeing hardcore goth people out during the day. I saw a guy at QFC in knee-high boots with like seven-inch heels, all leather, white face makeup. He was Marilyn fricking Manson. It was 2:00 p.m. We were in the cereal aisle, and he was buying Froot Loops. I was like, "You're that goth and you eat Froot Loops?" I would have thought he'd be getting something dire, like Mueslix, or one of those wheat brick cereals you crumble yourself, or Fiber One.

It's not easy to be goth anywhere. Especially in the summer or at a mainstream store.

I've always wanted to stick an ultra-goth person in a McDonald's play fort for a day and see what happens. Where would Nightmare Fortress like to stick a goth person for a day?

Come to my basement and I'll show you.

What's this Octopus Fest you are playing?

Octopus Fest is the first annual Eastlake Block Party. Shows are at Black Lodge, Lo-Fi, and Victory Lounge, with some DJs and beer-garden happenings in the parking lot and on the roof. It's one cover for all the venues for the night. Going to be good. I might bring my bug collection.

I'd like to see the bugs. But the lights have to be on. Back to your song "The House Is Empty": How did it come together as a song? Who sequenced it? Were there bugs in the house?

Field: Colin and I both have sequencers. No bugs. Colin has a Yamaha sampler/sequencer/synth that does some of the drums. He also has a Korg Electribe that does some drums on that song as well. I have an MPC, which is the master sequencer that triggers his stuff and our lights. For synths on this song, we have an old Roland string synth doing the "reggae" stabs, a Novation doing the arpeggios, and a Dave Smith Evolver doing the bass at the end.

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Cassidy, what's it like shifting from Sleepy Eyes of Death to Nightmare Fortress? What's different? What's similar?

Gonzales: I'd say the biggest similarity is that I've somehow managed to surround myself yet again with a bunch of cool gear nerds who make packing up all the gear in a Honda Civic to play a "House Show Tour" impossible. SEOD and NF are both are predominately synth- and electronics-based and both originated with trying to drive the beat into people with drum machines. Over time, Sleepy Eyes learned that a drum machine couldn't match the intense dynamics that we were becoming known for live, and eventually we started having live drums on every track.

With Nightmare Fortress, Blair, who has been SEOD's light and fog master for the last year and a half, and I have made a very conscious decision that we wanted to start a band that got people dancing a bit. SEOD has always been a band that you can't do much more than brace yourself for, with the massive wall of sound and the grandeur that the syncopated lights and fog bring to the viewer as an overall full-body experience, which I love. So in a way, that's what Nightmare Fortress are about—making people dance, but maybe making them question whether or not it's immediately the type of music they can dance to, and if so, how to do so. recommended

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