What is the Varsagod? Lungs explain their terrifying instrument invention

Categories: DIY or Die
Adam DeGross

Lungs have been a band since 2007, evolving considerably over the years as its members changed. Writing has shifted predominantly to its last remaining founding member, vocalist and drummer Jeff Nicholas, but the objective has remained the same: to capture and exploit human emotions, using post-metal, sludge and doom as a vessel.

The band is currently working on a new album to be released late this summer that will incorporate the use of the Varsagod, a self-made instrument utilizing sound elements created by manipulating recovered car parts and discarded trash items to create eerie backing tracks and samples. Bassist Mike Cushing, Lungs' newest member and the Varsagod's inventor, is hesitant to take too much credit for his creation. "It kind of made itself," he says.

Mike Cushing

The Varsagod looks innocent enough. The slab of wood upon which it was constructed is actually a decorative cutting board that Cushing found one day in the trash, reading 'Varsagod,' or 'You're welcome,' in Swedish.

Cushing is no stranger to invention. A former sound arts engineering student, he first became interested in creating his own instruments when he realized how expensive store-bought distortion pedals can be and decided to build his own instead. "I build a lot of electronic stuff," he says. "I built some more traditional synthesizer stuff that is way more musical than the Varsagod is, but it's all analogue electronic stuff. I design some kind of weird noise circuits and effect pedals for guitars, too."

The Varsagod decorative cutting board is adorned by various metal springs, and a hinge that Cushing replaced while working one day under the hood of his car. Its surface also boasts salvaged bicycle parts and metal screws.

When hitting each individual part of the instrument with a blunt object, the sound reverberates through the springs, creating an echo. The Varsagod may easily be used as a reverb processor for other instruments as well. The screws decorating it are capable of generating different tones, and Cushing has been setting it up so that its output goes directly into a Korg vocoder, working with guitar player Sean Tobin to take its dissonant sounds and manipulate them to generate more melodic content. "We would record stuff, and it would pick up that sound and produce it harmonically along with the weird spookiness of it," Tobin says.

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