The Heart of Darkness; An interview with CaveofswordS

Photo by Adam Newsham
St. Louis darkwave trio CaveofswordS produce synth and beat heavy music that is  influenced by forerunners of shoegaze, dream pop, new wave and post punk. Comprised of multi-instrumentalists and family members Sunyatta McDermott, Kvn McDermott and Eric Armbruster, the group started as a writing medium for Kvn who was becoming less and less enthusiastic about his DJ endeavors. After working together for a short time, it became clear to the trio that the project should be their primary focus. 
The driving force of the music though is Sunyatta’s voice. Combining elements of social and political commentary with deft insights into interpersonal relationships and even touching of futurism, the lyrics Sunyatta writes explore heavy subject matter and are delivered via her compelling voice and bewitching stage presence. 
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with the group to discuss the project, politics, and family dynamics. This is what they told us.
Was it always clear that CaveofswordS would become a full time endeavor?
Sunyatta: It wasn’t always clear to me that I would be dedicated to CaveofswordS to the extent that I am. In the beginning, Kvn gave me a bunch of demos, which were dense and short. It’s hard to describe them using single metaphors, so I’ll use two. They were both immersive worlds, and also flower buds, which needed space to bloom. I was surprised, because I’d known Kvn as a DJ, and not a musician, much less a musician who played many instruments well. At the time, my previous band was mixing what would turn out to be our last record, so I was too busy to start a new project, but I loved what Kvn had made, and I wanted to work with him. Shortly after we released our last record, my old band broke up, and I had the time to focus on Kvn’s music. It only took a month or so for us to be convinced that we would be focusing on this full time.
Eric: As someone who had felt a strong kinship with Kvn over music and art, and as someone so impressed by Sunyatta’s talent and musicality, I needed to work with them and strengthen those ties. How could I not? The bonds have indeed grown and, in my opinion, so has the music, in direct proportion.  Looking back at our trajectory, I can say, with certainty, that CaveofswordS deserves to be a full-time endeavor.
Kvn: We started as just a recording project really. I gave a CD of songs to Sunyatta and another to Eric’s dad, my uncle to give to him — which he actually never gave to Eric, thus the year when Sunyatta and I were a duo and Eric was just coming to our shows kind of hurting my feelings by not acknowledging the CD he never got.

Is it different working on a musical endeavor when you are family rather than just friends or collaborators?
Sunyatta: Working in a band as a family feels a lot like being in a band with friends, honestly. Being in a committed band feels like family already. I would say that the three of us have an amazingly easy rapport. There’s a lot of love and trust between us. We’ve added fourth members occasionally, drummers, but ultimately, our songs work better with the beats that Kvn writes, uncomplicated by the layer of live drums, and we work better as a band uncomplicated by a fourth member. It doesn’t hurt that we live in a two family flat, Kvn and I in the upstairs apartment, and Eric in the downstairs apartment. We record at home too, so we can work on anything, at any time.
Eric: CaveofswordS is my first experience playing out, so, they are my frame of reference. Since starting with them back in 2012, I’ve collaborated with only a few other musicians. But it’s always democratic; always a boost to my musical education and my ego. I’ve been super-fortunate.
Are you all multi-instrumentalists?
Sunyatta: All of us are multi-instrumentalists, playing what serves each song the best. So far, I am the only singer and lyricist, though the guys have suggested a few great lyrical edits, which have made the cut.
Eric: I was classical piano training for over five years.  Later on, I got this cheap electric guitar and a fuzz pedal and spooned them in my sleep. I also learned how to play a bunch of songs with them.  I picked up a bass guitar after Kvn asked me to join, and that became my favorite thing instantaneously. I started acquiring keyboard synths a few years ago, learned how they work, and I’d say they’re my main contributions to the band right now. All this stuff is employed in CaveofswordS.
Kvn:  I’d say I’m more of a producer than a natural player like Sunyatta and Eric.
Is the writing process democratic or does one person write and arrange most of the material?
Sunyatta: Kvn basically wrote the music on the first two records, and we arranged them together. I contributed substantially to one song on our first record, and not much on our second, though I added flourishes here and there. Eric contributed a bit on the second record. This one we’re working on now has a lot more Eric on it, and a bit more me.
Eric: Sunyatta writes all those unbelievably gorgeous lyrics and vocal melodies. I started in the midst of Sigils, and Kvn had all the music mapped out. I was lucky enough to write a handful of parts on top of those beautifully fleshed-out tracks. On this pending record, I’ve mostly been patching synths and tracking those a bunch.
Kvn: Now it’s def more democratic. We all sit in a room in front of a huge monitor and arrange/record parts in Ableton Live.
When did {Sunyatta} realize she had an affinity for singing?
Sunyatta: I have always loved to sing, to the dismay of parents and grandparents, who were subjected to my young mind, displayed through my throat, on repeat. I learned guitar to have an excuse to sing, and started writing songs at 12. Around that time I studied opera with a vocal coach, and soon joined the chamber choir at my public school. I started playing my original songs in bars at 13, which were as terrible as you’d imagine, but clubs booked me, and people came out, ha ha.

There is some social and political commentary mixed into the lyrics here. Have the lyrics gotten darker since the political election?
Sunyatta: Most of the lyrics I write that seem political, are cultural commentary.  I have major beef with consumer culture, and what it does to everything and everyone living under it, or worse, living in the way of it. And yes, my lyrics have sharpened since the election. The focus is more specific. But that’s not the only reason our songs have taken a darker turn. My father died last year, and a lot of my grieving process is written out in our new unreleased songs. He was a beautiful and unusual man, living out of time in a world that didn’t suit him. Our relationship was complex, and burdened, so there’s been a lot to unpack. Is there any sort of visual accompaniment to the live performance in the way of video or lights?
Kvn: We pretty much had projections going from the get go. Coming from a more DJ/rave background there were always visuals to go with music so I wanted to incorporate that into our shows as well. At first I just made a massive folder of gifs with movie clips, lo-fi video graphics and other imagery that just played over us randomly. I was specific about what I curated but not what order it played in. I was into the unintentional synchronicities that would occur for the audience when some video and audio would accidentally line up. Now I shoot all the source video w our GoPro or my phone, tweak them in Ableton and/or other video apps and cut them specifically to match up w our live tracks.
How quickly after starting did the material for the first two records come together?
Sunyatta: The material would come together much faster if I wrote the lyrics faster. I tend to make a lot of edits. Lyrics are incredibly important to me and I need them to be just so. Kvn is a prolific producer. Though this record we’re working on now is coming together quickly.
Kvn: It took awhile for us to even figure out how to approach the process for the first record but then it sailed along. The second record moved much faster for sure, but I spent way more time mixing and engineering it.
Are there benefits to being an unsigned band or are you seeking a new label?
Sunyatta: We are absolutely seeking a new label since our old label dissolved and now have a better idea of what kind of label we’d love to work with.
Kvn: I’d say the main benefit and drawback is that we can spend as long as we want on the record! But it was also nice to have the label doing a lot of the promotion, phone calls and emailing that needs to happen.
Where are you in the process for your third record?
Sunyatta: We should have this album finished in fall. We’d love to release it in fall.
Kvn: Some are basically finished but others need a bunch of mixing and a bit of programming still so, um, I don’t know, a couple days?
What are your loftiest future goals for the band?
Sunyatta: I’d love for our music and songs to be a vehicle for us to travel the world with some amount of safety and comfort. I’d love for our work to be deemed important and relevant to a large audience of people I can admire.
Eric: Playing live in coastal cities and in other countries is the most romantic thing to me. And not just playing, but being heard and seen in those places.
Kvn: I’d say to just share our music with more people and keep sharing stages with as many of our favorite bands as possible.
(Visit CaveofswordS here:

Catch them on tour now:
Thursday, April 27- The Back Door (Bloomington, IN) with Hunter Child
Friday, April 28- Indy Vinyl & CD (Indianapolis, IN) INSTORE 6:30
Saturday, April 29- Northside Yacht Club (Cincinnati, OH) with Skeleton Hands, and Playfully Yours
Sunday, April 30- The Brass Rail (Fort Wayne, IN) with March On, Comrade and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs
Monday, May 1- Jimmie’s Ladder 11 (Dayton, OH) with Goodnight, Goodnight
Thursday, May 4- Ottawa Tavern (Toledo, OH) with Good Personalities, Cry Face, and Spilled Milk
Thursday, June 8- Foam (StL) Farfetched presents- The Linkup- with Mo Johnson (Chicago)
Friday, June 23-Arbor Bar (Fairfeild, IA), with Sex Husk
Saturday, June 24- Cafe Berlin (Columbia, MO), with Enemy Airship and Goodnight, Goodnight
Friday, April 28-  State Street Pub (Indianapolis, IN) with Never Come Downs and There Are Ghosts