Though they hail from Salt Lake City, Utah, which is an area more known for its religious affiliation than its forward-looking art scene, it’s hard to deny the thinky thinky sludge of duo Eagle Twin‘s avant approach to extending the parameters of what doom is and what it means to the listening audience. With improvisational techniques, creative drumming from Tyler Smith and the throat-singing vocals of guitarist Gentry Densley, who caught the underground’s attention by means of his collaboration with SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings‘ Greg Anderson, Ascend, in 2008, Eagle Twin‘s debut LP, The Unkindness of Crows relies just as much on its weighty spiritual concept as it does the aural power if its riffs. As a first offering from the band, which has been together for several years now, it is near-terrifying in the accomplishments it portends.
That could well be because neither Densley nor Smith is exactly a rookie when it comes to creative heavy music. As the former enlightens in the interview following, even the years since the dissolution of his initial principle outlet, Iceburn, have been productive, and likewise, Smith has seen kicking around SLC in and out of bands for the better part of a decade and then some. That the two came together for Eagle Twin was, as Densley explains, a fortunate development of circumstance.
The guitarist/vocalist, whose band embarks this month on a two-week US tour with SunnO))), was kind enough to give some of his time for the interview after the jump. Please enjoy.
How did everything come together and what have you been doing since Iceburn?
Iceburn went into a total free jazz improvised music area, and I was doing that kind of stuff for a while, then I decided I wanted to play some more riff-based music. A little louder, heavier stuff. I?d actually played with Tyler Smith, the drummer. Back in ?97 we had a thing called Serious Fire that was a power trio setup, kind of riffy, heavy like Hendrix, Caspar Brotzmann-type stuff, then around 2000, I started doing more of that stuff with different drummer and I ended up back with Tyler Smith. It?s been a few years now we?ve been developing the Eagle Twin idea. In the years since Iceburn I did tons of different things and played in Form of Rocket with Tyler for a while and toured a bit. We had some other side things. Then I started doing Ascend, and after that, Greg [Anderson] had heard of Eagle Twin, so he wanted me to put that out on Southern Lord as well, so in the past couple years, that all came to fruition.
Which came first, the band or the Eagle Twin concept?
The crow concept, using that for the ideas with the songs, that came before and only later did we kind of put it under the heading of Eagle Twin. I had a lot of these songs just kind of floating in my brain and riffs down on tape, and that was well before we started doing Eagle Twin. I was in a thing called Smashy Smashy for a while, a duo.
That?s a great name.
Yeah, that was my first duo. We had an album out. It was a little more frenetic. But yeah (laughs). Good times. That?s what we did: smash stuff. So those songs were around and we started developing an overall mythology with Eagle Twin, more of an animalistic vibe it seemed to go along with what we were into a little better. It?s good to have a theme overall, I guess. I don?t sing about girls or about Satan or something, I kind of have something that I? I grew up with animals and in the mountains, so it?s a better spiritual connection to that stuff.
Was there something particular about the crows that you thought fit?
Well, I work in a jail library. I work in the jail giving people books, I?m the librarian. We used to have a copy of Ted Hughes? The Crow. It?s a book of poems. He was poet laureate in Britain before he died, married to Sylvia Plath who wrote some awesome poems as well and The Bell Jar. I picked that up and the language of the poems would always suggest the music to me, the rhythm would give me riff ideas, and it came from that as well, but the lyrical ideas started meaning more to me and it seems like he takes all sorts of world myths and biblical things and imposes onto his crow character. I thought that was really interesting that you could take these universal myths and embody them into one character, just show how it all connects. So that started to interest me a lot more and so I started using the crow as my own variation on that character. Making up my own stories about him and stuff.
When did the lyrics come into play with the songs?
In almost all cases, the lyrics came first and they totally had structure. I?d never worked like that before. In all my other bands, the musical development was first. I actually liked it a lot, just because it made it more concise. You didn?t have to make a lot of decisions the way you might if you?re purely composing abstractly, but you can also see on the album we take it to some far out places in between some of the words at times. There?s freedom to do that. The words always came first in all the Eagle Twin stuff and we did the music around that.
That makes sense since the concept is so much a part of the record.
All the riffs, I think they?re pretty rich, have a lot to them, maybe because they come from the words. Maybe not, I don?t know. They definitely are a little different than I might write if I just picked up and tried to play something.
Was that just a matter of you sitting there with the paper? How involved was Tyler with putting all those songs together and arranging them?
Arranging them more. The actual note structure and content I would do a lot in my head at work or driving my car, just having words running around in your head. The music flows around. I?ve been playing long enough that I can know what a riff sounds like without playing it on the guitar necessarily, so I would make up a lot of ideas away from the instrument and go pick it up later and see if my imagination matched up with what I was thinking. Me and Tyler live pretty close, so two times a week we?ll get together and practice, and that?s really when I bounce ideas off him and he comes up with his ideas and then we start trying different things with form and structure. There?s a big back and forth and a lot of working on these songs before they actually ever got recording.
So it was all set before you went into the studio? On the record it sounds pretty natural and spontaneous. I don?t know if that?s just Randall Dunn?s recording or what.
(Laughs) Live we kind of reinterpret things and we don?t play everything the same. When we?re in the studio, yeah, there?s a fair amount of improvisational aspects. I was improvising for many years before I came back and tried to reintroduce structure into my stuff. I think it?s pretty vital to have to do that. Live, we even change the stories a little bit and take off in some different directions and since there?s two of us, it works pretty nicely. We just have to follow one another and there?s not a third guy to try and get on the same page. That would be a little trickier (laughs), if we had another harmonic instrument? I would always make things up with Tyler in mind. I guess if you see us live sometime?
Yeah, I?m planning to hit the Philly show.
The shows we?ve done so far have gone off pretty well.
I?m excited to see it. There are so many different elements you can hear in the music and then your vocals on top of it live. It?s a crazy record.
(Laughs) I guess we?re crazy people. I guess I just hear a lot of things and I like this. We were kind of brought into this heavier world and I enjoy all the freedom.
How do you mean you were brought into the heavier world?
Well, Iceburn?s always had heavy riffs and done some things, and I?ve always had a friendship with Greg. We first met in ?89, so that?s like 20 years. We?ve always been on split records together and toured a bunch together and then we did Ascend and all that, and so even though we?ve always lived pretty far apart, we?ve had kind of a kinship and I think I just, in this century anyway, when I started getting back into the louder music, it was definitely the heavy stuff that Southern Lord was doing that influenced me or made me want to play that kind of music. That?s what I mean by ?brought into it,? I guess.
What was the timeline between Ascend and Eagle Twin?
We were doing this band before. I think I?d even sent an early demo to Greg for him to check out. Then I was going to L.A. for some family stuff and he asked me if I wanted to do something in the studio. He had some studio time and so we just met up and tried playing. I had some song ideas and that?s how Ascend started. Then he came out here a few months later to see an Iceburn reunion show that we did and we went in the studio then for a couple more days and then we went up to Randall Dunn?s a while later and put it all together, the album. I think it was about a year after that, Eagle Twin went into the studio. We?ve been playing on and off since that. That?s kind of the way the timeline worked. After the Ascend record, then I started working more on Eagle Twin. Greg hadn?t really asked if we wanted to put something out on his label until a few months after that Ascend record had come out. It might have been after we went and played with those guys. Seeing Eagle Twin live is definitely different. I think Randall did an amazing job of capturing the energy on the record though. This is the closest we?ve ever gotten to having a record that represents what we try to do.
I read online there?s a new EP coming out?
Um, no. We did a 7? and we?ve just been touring with SunnO))) so much that we haven?t been able to record a new thing. The LP has a couple bonus tracks on it and we have a 7?. Most of them sold out, but I think Crucial Blast still has some. It was a split 7? that was recorded before the album.
That was with Night Terror?
Yup. So yeah, no new EP yet. I want to. I?ve got a couple songs ready. We?ve got a whole new record written and a bunch of other stuff. We could do some EPs or a whole other album. The next album?s gonna be about snakes. It?ll kind of relate to the crows a bit. They?re all relatives, I guess.
How does the snake relate to the crow?
Umm, ?cuz dinosaurs (laughs).
(Laughs) I kind of meant conceptually, but okay.
(Laughs) Conceptually, it?s a similar thing. There?s a lot of myths in the world that use the crow that have stories about the crow, like from Norse mythology with Odin crows on his shoulder, or Native American myths about the crow. And so we kind of tried to show the universality of all those myths. There?s also a lot about the snake. The world snake in Norse and the Cherokee horned snake. We have some songs that are more based on the snake, but also may mention the crow too. They?re all this universal myth idea, that all these myths come from a similar place, from some kind of unconsciousness or collective unconscious or just the lineage of the stories handed down? And dinosaurs (laughs).
Tags: Eagle Twin, Salt Lake City, Southern Lord, Utah