Inferno Statements: Alan Kirsch on the Recent Compilation and Struggles with California Wildfires

Updated: Nov 24, 2018

AECK, founder of Awkward Aches Records © Alan E. C. Kirsch

Known to many as AECK, Alan Kirsch is a California resident that up until recently, would probably tell you all the right reasons why he loved living in the beautiful state of California. While it is no secret that the state deals with wildfires to the degree that a state like Florida deals with the potential consequences of hurricanes, nothing can compare to the intensity of the destruction of the current ongoing Camp, Woolsey, and Hill fires, and nothing...nothing at all could ever compare to the fear of potentially losing your home or even your life, when a few months back, during another outbreak of one of the worst fires in the states's history, the Mendocino Complex Fire, Kirsch and many of his fellow comrades were forced to evacuate off their property in fear for the safety of their families.

Recently, in an effort to raise money for local organizations dealing with the Mendocino Complex Fire aftermath, Kirsch launched a new label called Awkward Aches Records. Debuting with the compilation "Inferno Statements", which features a very broad range of Electro-Acoustic styles by artists such as Mallon Khan, Travis Rinker, Rick Hunolt, and Ernst Habros, not to mention Electro purveyors PL_anet, Nexus 23, Amper Clap, and Kirsch himself as AECK, this collection of tunes is not just an aim at spreading awareness about what is happening in California, but also a personal statement from many of the artists who have been heavily affected personally by the recent traumatic events, that have found an outlet to heal from what has occurred through their music.

Here in this brief interview, Alan Kirsch talks about the compilation, and gives us a glimpse into the events that unfolded, and how many of the artists on this compilation were affected.

Welcome Alan! I appreciate your time in doing this interview. Let’s talk about the inspiration for the compilation. What is the purpose of its mission?

First off thanks so much for the opportunity to talk about the compilation. The purpose of the Inferno Statements project is to transparently raise and donate funds for community and relief efforts in Lake County, California. During the summer earlier this year, my hometown of Lakeport and the surrounding communities faced the River Fire, which was one of two (along with the Ranch Fire) that made up the Mendocino Complex wildfires disaster.

My county in particular has been dealing with fire disaster consecutively every year since 2015. 100% of any funds generated by this digital release will be donated in full to local Northern California organizations North Coast Opportunities and United Way of the Wine Country. It was a dreadful experience that was easy to feel helpless during. I needed to try and do something to contribute to my home communities while bringing some ease to those with feelings of helplessness. I'm no firefighter but I can make and find music so that's what I did.

Music is a powerful means of communicating often times some tragic things, I think this was a great move! How were you personally affected by the Mendocino Complex Fire?

I went through mandatory evacuation with my family and pets the day after my birthday. We were thankfully given enough of a heads up beforehand with advisory evacuation warnings the days prior to be able to gather our essential belongings. I reached out to friends in the next town over, Kelseyville, and we stayed with them for 5 days before the mandatory evacuation order was lifted. The fire came within 3 miles of my home at one point.

Once we were safe at my friend’s house and had a chance process what was happening, we were able to get a few emotions out. But even during our stay we dealt with power outages and more advisory evacuation warnings. We thought we might have to evacuate twice at one point, thankfully we didn't.

My family’s 14-year-old cat, Thunder, didn’t make the journey. He was afflicted with lymphoma before the fires began and exposure to poor quality air damaged his health further. That combined with the stress of moving him around while evacuating just took it out of him.

That's terrible, I am really sorry to hear that. Have any of the artists on the compilation been personally affected by this as well? Were any songs specifically made for this album?

I was in touch with guitarist Travis Rinker all the way leading up to the mandatory evacuation order, he lives only a few streets away from me in Lakeport, so we were fielding updates back and forth until it was time for us to leave town.

The artist Magicsilverbox, a former resident of Lakeport, was in town helping their significant other who still lives here with evacuating. Luckily for me, MSB then took the time to check on my family and myself and ended up personally helping me evacuate my music equipment. Magicsilverbox helped drive a boat trailer full of my gear and my family's items to safety. I remember covering synths and drum machines in any towels and blankets we could scramble together as the ash rained down on us.

One of the tracks written particularly for this album was Back Burn by LibraBeats. LibraBeats is another former Lake County resident who was heavily impacted by the 2015 Valley Fire and had to relocate afterwards. They tried to invoke phasing sounds to represent the fire, reminiscent of sound design used for fire effects in retro games like Final Fantasy VII on PS1.

Paracas Topara generated one of the most cinematic tracks on Inferno Statements with their piece Phoenix. The documentary samples bring logical sentiments of morale and builds up to an amazing switch in gears and attitude inside this Acid Techno anthem.

Magicsilverbox finalized an iteration of a project I'd been lucky enough to preview different versions of for some months prior. Their audio adventure in the form of the track "Octaves of Acid" went through many different mixes before landing on this unique form for Inferno Statements.

My own AECK track "Extinguish" is an exclusive creation for this project. I didn't plug my gear back in for the first few days after returning home because I was afraid of just having to pack up and leave again. It all felt so surreal and uncertain. I had a lot of built up stress in my body and mind after coming home from the evacuation, I know a lot of folks did. It felt like I couldn't shut off nervous reactions when I needed to, there was no sense of immediate relief really. When I finally felt safe enough to reinitialize my music set up and power back on, I knew I needed to get some emotions out through the track.

Extinguish is an Electro aptitude track meant to drive home the point that we survived, we reacted appropriately, and as scary as it all was, we maintained a type of resilience that you need to dig out of yourself to stay focused in the middle of disaster. I am proud of how my family and I reacted, and how we kept smiling while left with only each other and what we could grab. I am grateful for my hometown and county, and all the neighboring communities, the track was drenched in reverb in their honor. I figured a track with wet effects is harder to burn than a dry one! The sleigh bells mixed in with the drum hits were another cooling touch I tried to bring with this braindance effort.

And finally the guitarist Alicyn Yaffee, who went to school and grew up in the town of Kelseyville where I had evacuated to, had written her track in reaction as the Mendocino Complex fires were happening. The timing of her composing her track and my starting the curation of the compilation so soon after the incidents was a great coincidence in how it came together.

I don't really know what to say...You guys found a great deal of strength during and after, that's for sure!

So in the album, there are lots of styles, from very classic contemporary Downtempo, to Rock and classic Electro. Was this accidental, or did you personally aim to include such a varied range of sound?

The eclectic selection of styles was very intentional, I did not want this project to have any restrictions on genres. From the get go I told everyone I reached out for this, "The compilation I want to curate is open to all genres and styles of music". I am lucky enough to have so many friends, both local and global, who are capable musicians. I simply reached out to people that I trust and am personally inspired by. And what better way is there to display the myriad of moods and emotions that fire disaster ordeals and evacuation can bring, than to use a multitude of musical approaches and techniques? From synths to guitars, to harps and back - no instrument is eager to get burnt!

V/A - Inferno Statements, out now on Bandcamp © Awkward Aches Records

Talk about the artwork, did you know the artist personally? It’s quite beautiful, and expresses the sentiment perfectly. What was the process behind it?

I'm so glad you appreciate the art! I reached out to my dear friend Kayla who I've known for many, many years; also another former Lake County resident. She has been doing amazing things with her design and tattoo business Mink Pokes (please check her out, especially on instagram!), so I reached out to her and she was gracious enough to contribute this stellar colored pencil piece on moleskin. Done completely free hand with no reference! We forget that human life and possessions are not the only thing at stake during these wildfires, nature takes the hit with us. Habitats are altered and pollution is caused. It is a sad thing for all life.

I agree. It gets even more sad that since the release of this compilation, the worst fires to ever hit California started, killing so many innocent lives, not to mention destroying so much property and land. Are there plans perhaps to expand to a 2nd volume, and donate those funds as well?

The Camp Fire that devastated Butte County is hard to even comprehend. What I went through truly pales in comparison to the latest disasters, it is nothing short of awful. There are no immediate plans for an Inferno Statements Vol. 2, but the relief is certainly needed more now than ever so I wouldn't rule it out. When you work with local organizations like I am for my project, you can have them field donations to specific areas and counties that will need the disaster relief, so a second project that can focus on raising money for the communities affected by the Camp Fire is a great idea. I am really hoping this compilation I conjured up can help influence and inspire other people out there to develop and take up their own charity projects. Music and art can help!

Absolutely, and as you mentioned before, as musicians, it's the one thing we know how to do that we can help with. So what do you believe are some of the factors behind these fires? What can be done to prevent this in the future?

There are two major factors worth mentioning: infrastructure mismanagement issues, mostly involving power lines, and the declining regular climate which has resulted in the worsening yearly drought conditions, more severe winds, and higher temperatures later into seasons. To prevent further things we need more awareness: fire safety and education. People need to understand how to analyze fire risk, especially from equipment and even vehicle use. Community preparedness planning needs to be encouraged. There are a lot more small Northern California communities nestled in unconventional geography.

Seeing the hell that Paradise, California went through when people had to try and evacuate was extremely frightening. As for the wilderness issues, California has been realizing the need for regular controlled burns once again. Areas that have unchecked growth because they have missed several fire cycles are the areas where controlled burns would be a good thing, but it all depends on land owners or even air quality regulation factors. Also I will gladly mention that we do not need to take rakes to the grounds of the forests, only a buffoon would think that that would be any sort of actual prevention.

Thanks Santino! Huge regards to Electric Kingdom.

Thanks to you for your time Alan, good luck with everything!

Below, you can listen to a special album mix by Russian based DJ [h]: