Making their case in potent hooks and thickened newer-school riffing, Los Angeles trio Moab debut with Ab Ovo, a self-recorded full-length released via the ever-chic Kemado Records. The title, translated from the Latin, means “from the beginning,” and it’s appropriate enough for both Moab‘s first outing and the band’s approach to heavy rock, which takes what’s commonly thought of as the rudimentary basis of the genre and shapes it into a surprisingly individual form.
From the start of “So On,” which opens the record, Moab has a bizarre kind of cinematic feel to their songwriting. Guitarist/vocalist Andrew Giacumakis keeps mostly to a high register in his singing without veering into metallic silliness, and as Ab Ovo runs its course, his methods increasingly create their own context. The foundation of Moab‘s style — heavy riffs, hard-landing rhythms — is familiar enough throughout the ultra-Sabbathian verses of “Dimensioner,” but stylistic miles are traveled by the time “Lugh”‘s seafaring crunch or the bombast of “Fembot” take hold.
You could sit for days and trace the roots of the grooving swagger behind “Sated” or the unrepentantly wretched “More Love,” but Giacumakis — also Moab‘s principle songwriter and joined in the band by drummer Erik Herzog and bassist Casey Barclay — has Ab Ovo set with a definite progression in mind, and honestly, it’s more fun to follow it than analyze the footprints it leaves behind.
Giacumakis and Herzog are both former members of late-’90s indie outfit Buellton, and in the interview that follows, the guitarist explains his shift to a heavier aesthetic and discusses the recording and studio-building process that went into making Ab Ovo, what he learned about engineering from Matthias Schneeberger (who helmed Moab‘s demo, from which the cowbell-centric track “Dimensioner” is taken), the way the album crash lands into the two-part beast “Staring Wall,” and much more. Basically I thought the record was cool and figured a feature would be a good way to introduce people to the band.
Full Q&A is after the jump. Hope you dig it:
The drummer and I have been making music together for quite a while in different bands, as far back as the late ‘90s. Not necessarily metal. We were in an indie rock band called Buellton going back a ways, and we just kept having recording projects together. I’m a recording engineer by trade, too, and we, over the years, kept making music together, and around 2007, something like that, we decided we wanted to make heavy tunes and we starting recording these heavy songs, just for ourselves. I played it for another friend who I work with, Casey, who ended up being our bass player, and he ended up saying, “Hey, we should make a real band and play some of these songs live.” Casey and another guy I worked with had heard some of the recordings me and the drummer had done, and said we could make a real recording out of this, and we did, and we started playing shows in and around L.A., and it went from there.
How did you end up signing to Kemado?
That was actually Slim, from True Widow, kind of stoked us out. He was friends with our bass player, Casey. We recorded the record ourselves at our practice studio, because I have quite a bit of recording gear. We did the record ourselves and had it mastered and had it done and tried shopping it to labels. We had been pushing it around to different labels, and we were friends with True Widow, and we asked them, “Hey, could you give this to Kemado?” and they said, “Sure!” And they did, and something went wrong with the download or something, and Keith [Abrahamsson] couldn’t listen to it, so another two months went by, and then Slim from True Widow called Keith again and said, “Hey, did you ever listen to that band?” He said, “No, send it to me again,” so he sent it again, he listened to it and loved it, and it went from there.
It’s the worst when that email doesn’t go through.
That was a good six months after we had finished the record, and you know, we had been shopping it. We sent it to Kemado ourselves, but I don’t think it ever got listened to. We sent the record out to a bunch of different indie labels, and it’s just hard to get a record listened to, so we owe True Widow for that.
You said you had been playing in indie bands and things that. What prompted the stylistic shift on your part?
We’d been playing in bands – I wasn’t really the main guy in those bands. I wasn’t the songwriter or the singer. I was just the guitar player/utility guy, and at the time, indie rock was more bands like Pavement and Grandaddy. On the West Coast, that was kind of the hip thing, but I grew up on metal, so around that time, bands like Sleep and all that stuff was happening, and I was like, “Whoa, this is really cool, I wish I could do something like that,” but I couldn’t. I didn’t have an outlet for it. I didn’t even know I could sing. At the time, I hadn’t even tried singing. So when that band broke up, the drummer and I started writing riffs together, but we were looking for a vocalist, and he said, “Why don’t you try to sing?” so I tried and kind of had to learn and teach myself what my strengths were singing-wise. It was a process, but eventually I arrived somewhere.
How does recording yourself fit into that process? Is it different for you hearing those strengths as an engineer?
Absolutely, yeah. Thinking your voice sounds powerful or good at a certain register, and then hearing it recorded, are two different things. I kind of had to learn where my strengths were, and it turned out that I can sing high pretty well, and so that’s where I go with it. But yeah, being a recording engineer has even more to do with songwriting. Songs that sound good in the room as you’re jamming might be that entertaining of a listen. I think the years of doing that, years of recording, helped with songwriting too.
How did doing the song with Matthias Schneeberger come about?
There’s a guy in L.A. who books a lot of shows called Martin De Pedro, and we were first introduced to him, I think it was 2009. We’d played a couple shows live, and at the time, we were a new entity and we only had maybe five songs written. We were playing our originals, but we were playing a bunch of Pentagram covers and we played a Witchcraft cover or something like that. He heard us and was like, “I know this guy Matthias, you should record with. He’ll give you a bro deal, just go record with him.” Originally, Matthias wanted to do an album with us, and we knew we didn’t have an album’s worth of material ready, so we just decided, “Hey, let’s make it a quick demo with him,” and we went and recorded a few songs. Of those songs we recorded, only the one song made it on the record, because the other three songs – one was a Pentagram cover, and we couldn’t put that out – and the other two songs just weren’t strong. I learned a lot from watching how Matthias recorded drums and stuff, and at the time, we had just gotten a new warehouse facility, and the warehouse sort of had a similar vibe to Matthias’ drum room, so I figured I could spend a little bit of money on gear and probably get close to a similar drum sound. That’s half the battle of making good-sounding records, is getting the drums to sound right. Not that our drums are perfect, but I think we got a pretty good… a lot of people can’t tell that that song’s recorded any differently than any of the others.
It doesn’t really stand out when you listen to it.
The reason at the time I pushed for doing that was because it’s really hard to be nitpicky with mixes and stuff like that — and I generally get nitpicky with mixes – when you have to schedule somebody or pay this person on an hourly basis, or a daily rate or whatever you’re trying to do, but more scheduling than anything. It’s hard to get stuff done, and I think we figured if we want to get the album perfect, just how we want it, every little detail and we can get as hung up on minutia as we want to, recording ourselves was the way to go. I like that process. I hope I can keep doing it. It’s a lot of work, though. It’s a lot of work to wear all those hats, to be the engineer, mixer and songwriter, writing lyrics.
(Laughs) Yeah. Not that the other guys in the band don’t do anything, but a lot of time, my availability for mixing and working on songs, to do vocals and do guitars – basically, the drums are done and the bass is done usually in a day – but then there’s all these details with how much guitar gets laid down. I ended up doing a lot of that on my own in the middle of the night, and it got pretty lonely. I was always appreciative when my bandmates were there to record with me. The drummer, Erik, has a lot to do with the production on the recordings. He’s like a genius with production ideas and stuff like that, and he’s instrumental in that part of it.
Tell me about the process of building the studio. I’m assuming a warehouse space has high ceilings, and I think you can hear that space in the drums, but was there specific equipment you wanted to use?
I would love to get even better equipment. I was really just using what I have. I have some good stuff, but not a lot. I have three good preamps, but I don’t have 12 good preamps, which I could use. Our recordings could get better as we get better gear, but over the years, I’ve just collected mics and preamps. …Don’t tell anybody, but we recorded it on a computer (laughs). And we actually built, in the warehouse itself — we have a friend who’s a construction guy who helped us build a control room, soundproof. We actually practice in there too, it’s kind of a control/practice room, but then we have the whole outer warehouse to do drums, a drum room that has a lot of reverb in it. We actually built a room within a room to practice in, and that helps with keeping our practices at a reasonable level for our neighbors, but yeah, we built the room within a room with a friend of ours who’s a construction dude, and the recording gear was stuff I’ve collected over the years.
And what about your writing for the record? How did everything come together, song-wise?
Pretty much our writing process is, I come up with a verse/chorus-type thing, or a riff. I have a little recorder with me all the time, and I forget all the riffs on there, but it’s really handy to have one of those, because I can’t write music out with a pen, so I figure having one of those little recorders, every riff that pops into your head, you can jot it down. But generally I take an idea, a riff or a verse and a chorus combo thing into the band and we usually jam it out, and arrange the song. Sometimes I have songs totally written, sometimes I don’t, but usually when I take it to the band and we flesh it out and maybe add a bridge or decide that it doesn’t need this, we usually decide this as a unit.
How did “Staring Wall I & II” come together? You have “Sated” before that, and it’s all rock and roll swagger, and then “Staring Wall I” hits and it’s darker.
“Part I” was actually supposed to be another song, and the other song wasn’t quite working, and I suggested, because the songs were in the same tuning and ballpark, that, well, we should make this, on the record, we should cut the song – that whole “Staring Wall Part I” was part of another song that was supposed to have vocals and everything, and we decided to cut that whole part of the song out and make it sort of this weird instrumental thing. It turned out to be, I think, what the record needed. You get hit with some accessible tunes right off the bat, and then I wanted to take the listener on a different trip and not have the record be the whole same thing. We basically knew that that song was in the same tuning, and same ballpark, as “Staring Wall Part II,” which was actually just “Staring Wall” at the time, and decided, “Hey, we should make this sort of an epic thing.” That’s what happened.
It sets you up that, for the end of the record, you don’t really know what to expect after that.
Right, and I’m not sure how critics are gonna take it, but I did fear that the album was going to be perceived as un-cohesive, because there’s so many stylistic sort of heavy rock/metal things going on. That was when we were assembling the songs, I thought that. I didn’t know if we had a cohesive record on our hands, but when we put all the songs together how we wanted and we heard it, and we listened, we were like, “No, this works.” It works as a unit, and it reminds me of a Beatles record. If you listen to Sgt. Pepper’s or Abbey Road, they’re stylistically all over the place. I think that’s our strength too, in songwriting. We like to be varied and do different things – and not that I don’t appreciate bands that do the other thing and have a record that’s a mood all the way through – I think True Widow does that and they do it really well, where it’s just a mood the whole way. Black Cobra does that. It’s just a really good mood all the way through the record, and that’s a strength and I appreciate that strength in bands, but I think our strength is writing hooks and that kind of thing.
Do you know what you’re going to be doing show-wise? Are you going to tour?
I don’t know what we’re going to be doing. Two of us have families and mortgages and career jobs, so we can tour, but it would have to be limited to six weeks or something like that, whatever we can get off work. If the demand got greater, we’d deal with it at the time. Everything’s hit kind of fast lately. I put the question to Kemado, and that was Keith’s first statement to me, was, “You guys can do what you want to do. You don’t have to tour. You can if you want, but we want to put the record out.” They kind of opened it, so we couldn’t say no. I do want to support the record. I need to get in touch with a booking agent and something like that, and I just don’t know where to start with that.
Tags: California, Kemado, Los Angeles, Moab