Six Dumb Questions with Six Sigma

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

six sigma

One imagines that, to a band coming back after a 15-year absence, there are few words as gratifying as ‘Funded.’ New Jersey trio Six Sigma, who entered the fray of a busy post-Monster Magnet scene in Long Branch that already boasted names like Halfway to Gone, Solarized, Solace and The Atomic Bitchwax, among others, with 2000’s The Spirit is Gone EP, well surpassed their goal when it came to asking listeners to help them pick up the tab through preorders on pressing the long-awaited follow-up, Tuxedo Brown (review here). The album is out now and the PledgeMusic page currently reads it at 121 percent of its funding goal. That has to feel good, right?

As to what caused the delay in the first place? Guitarist/vocalist Doug Timms (ex-Drag Pack) is perhaps brutally honest when he attributes it to “stoner rock.” And as somebody who’s waited on bands to deliver various assets from tapes and CDs to mp3s, jpegs and YouTube embeds, I can attest that not much more needs to be said than that. I call it the “two weeks phenomenon,” as in, “Yeah, should be done in about two weeks,” as years go by. It is a real thing. The band comprised of Timms, bassist Scott Margolin and drummer Mappy, Six Sigma‘s case is obviously an extreme one, but they’re by no means the only ones and by no means is 15 years the longest stretch a band has gone between releases. To wit, The Obsessed.

Tuxedo Brown, however, has the added advantage of speaking directly to the three-piece’s initial run, since that’s when the bulk of it was recorded. Save for the extended psych jam “She Burn in Blues,” which is newer, songs like “Curb Feeler” and “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem” successfully convey the tones and energy of turn-of-the-century heavy, but come across as fresh in their presentation thanks in no small part to the blend of old material and new. Topped off with a David Paul Seymour cover, the album is a successful return for a group who seem genuinely relieved to finally get it out, and who were kind enough to discuss the odd origin and timing of the release in the Q&A that follows here.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

six sigma tuxedo brown

Six Dumb Questions with Six Sigma

How many years has it actually been since these songs were written, and what made you finally decide now was the time to release them?

Mappy: Most of the songs were written in 2000-2001. We were still relatively young as a band at the time, having got together in 1999 and having just put out our first EP a few months earlier. We put this record out because we felt we had unfinished business. Bands like Atomic Bitchwax, Core, Halfway to Gone and so many others were part of our local NJ scene. The common thread in that music scene back in those days is that every band came to play 100 percent and everyone was just kick-ass musically. Being part of that, we would try to go toe to toe with each band on a musical level every night we played and this album put a bit of a light on that setting in time. It needed to come out if only for our own satisfaction and it was a great feeling to finally hear it after fixing the little things that bothered us for a decade and a half. I think this album is a testament to our dedication as a band and that we felt strongly about getting our music out there.

Scott Margolin: I suppose there are a lot of reasons why this is happening now, but a little history on the gap first. We had a record deal in place to put this all out in 2001 – these tracks were actually on our demo and were to be recorded as part of our new full-length record. Without going into drama detail, record company reneged – they are long gone and we are still here. Karma. I guess like we said on our last record, the spirit was gone at that time. We kept doing shows here and there until 2004 – very much enjoying playing as ever, however, we just plum ran out of energy to go back into the studio. Writing, rehearing and playing was far more fun anyhow.

Fast forward to the here and now… Doug had a project from his old band (Drag Pack) that was being put out digitally, and we collectively realized that: a) we didn’t have a digital release of our first record and b) we have Tuxedo Brown on 2” tape sitting in a closet, so why not dust it off and give it a proper release in the way we wanted? That was the initial spark that got us back rehearsing, creating and entertaining the idea of putting music out again. 2017 is such an unbelievable time to get your music heard and to be in total control of doing that. PledgeMusic provided us with an amazing platform which enabled us to setup preorders and fully-fund the record – we were able to offer formats that we probably never have been able to convince a record company to put out (180g vinyl, 8-track), merch for the first time and the ability to reach new fans. Digital distribution is such a trip nowadays in that your music takes on its own life form very quickly once it’s out.

Of course, who knows what it would have been like if we put it out in 2001, but that wasn’t meant to be. With all that said, this was exactly the right time to get it out.

What do you remember about recording the album? Is it strange to have it come out now when it has to be so far in hindsight for you as a band?

Doug Timms: I don’t really think it’s that strange at all. I guess a lot of people record something and then release it within the year, but it’s quite natural for me to procrastinate things for decades at a time. So, while this may seem unusually slow for other people, it’s just normal protocol for me. How can someone consider themselves stoner rock and NOT take 15-plus years to get something done?

M: I remember a sense of anxiousness as we didn’t have much time to knock this out and how cool Charlie [Schafer]’s (Word of Mouth Studios) full-analog recording setup was. We’ve been listening to it for years so it’s strange to think of it as new. It’s great being able to share it with people finally.

Who is the character of Tuxedo Brown and how does the record relate to him? Is there a story being told in the songs?

DT: It’s 1976; the album is a movie soundtrack and Tuxedo Brown is the star. He’s a streetwise scalawag, roaming the town with style and grace and a busted-up face. The songs are meant to work together to tell the story of Mr. Brown.

Tell me about writing “She Burn in Blues.” That song is such a standout on the album. Where did it come from?

DT: This was the one song entirely written and recorded in the past year. So, it’s very encouraging every time we hear people singling out that song. It gives us confidence that we can still make good music together. We came up with a great blues riff, I set my pedals loose, we smoked up a little too much, and then just recorded the jam – we filmed the entire thing as well – because, 2017. We ended up cutting a good 10 minutes off that jam for the album. The song describes what happens when Mother Nature is a jilted ex-lover, fed up with your shitty-ass ways, and decides to unleash her full vengeance upon you and your kind. She burns in blue, and you better run. 

M: My favorite song right now. Maybe because it’s new. It came together quickly (in like… we discussed what we were going to do, played it through two times, then recorded it) and it evolved in a lot of ways in that short amount of time. I’m psyched because someone commented it was Zeppelin-ish [it was me – ed.] and that was the exact vibe I was feeling when I started playing it. It’s a bit of a different sound for us and may hint at what the future of Six Sigma sounds like.

Will there be new Six Sigma material? If so, how do you see the band as having changed in the years since Tuxedo Brown started to come together?

DT: Definitely. We have one-to-two albums’ worth of material already written. Now it’s just a question of whether we can break our record and finish it in under 16 years. We could potentially drop the next album at the end of this year.

SM: In terms of how we have changed over the years, it’s always hard to judge for ourselves. We play to our own tastes and are more committed than ever to creating music to that end. Our influences remain the same, but we are definitely more united than ever on what our sound is. One other thing that changed is that nobody will help me carry my bass cab any longer!

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

SM: Just want to thank so many people for gently pushing us to do this along the way. Lots of gratitude to those that have supported us from so long ago and never forgot about us. We are very much looking forward to performing again soon – we expect to be playing live again this summer.

Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown (2017)

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Six Dumb Questions with Rozamov

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rozamov

There is an odd duality to Boston three-piece Rozamov at this stage in their career. With numerous tours under their collective belt, years of experience slogging it out at fests like Psycho California, that time they opened for Slayer at a Converse show in their hometown, numerous short releases, lineup changes, and so on, it seems improper to think of them as anything but veterans. And yet, some five years after the arrival of their first, self-titled EP, it’s only now that Rozamov have hit the point of releasing their debut album. To call it “awaited” feels like a definite understatement.

The record is This Mortal Road (review here), issued this past March via Battleground Records and comprised of five darkened tracks that unquestionably benefit from Rozamov‘s tenure leading up to hitting the studio. Their doom finds heft in ambient stretches as well as in its most crushing moments, is patient when it wants to be but capable of a noisy assault, and when Rozamov want to punish — as on the 11-minute finale “Inhumation,” discussed below — the results leave bruises on the inner ear. They’ve proven to be as much a force in the studio as they have been on the stage. No small feat, but one hell of a debut.

Recorded with the trio of guitarist/vocalist Matt Iacovelli, bassist/vocalist Tom Corino and drummer Will Hendrix, the band is now comprised of Iacovelli, Corino and drummer Jeff Landry, and I’m happy to say that all three took part in this interview to talk about making the album, their experience to this point, the shift that brought Landry aboard and their plans going forward. You’ll find the Q&A below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

rozamov this mortal road

Six Dumb Questions with Rozamov

Where did the title This Mortal Road come from? It’s been quite a journey for Rozamov to get to the point of releasing your first album. Was there an element of self-reflection in naming the record? Why is the road “mortal?”

Tom Corino: The title came basically out of some brainstorming and some in depth conversations between all of us. The road to making this record was certainly plagued or (or blessed in some cases) with twists and turns so I felt that the title was fitting.

Matt Iacovelli: The mortal road would be a metaphor for life and death and everything in between. The band feels like a crazy journey and ride that you don’t want to end.

Tell me about your time in the studio with Jon Taft at New Alliance Audio. How long was the recording process, what was the vibe like in the studio, and how do you feel about the sounds and tones you were able to capture?

MI: The time in the studio was a really great experience. Jon pushed us all to be tight and play tight. It took five-to-six days in the studio.

TC: I think Jon brought an outsider’s perspective to the record and a non-metal approach. It was really important to him that we not fall into certain trends he saw in other recent heavy recordings, so I think the album doesn’t necessarily have a prototypical modern metal sound. I’m pretty sure we used only amp distortion for the guitar tracks, which was a completely out of the box idea for us. I got to fiddle around with a bunch of distortions and amps. Nerd Knuckle Effects boxes had a huge hand in the way my bass sound came together on the record, Brad [Macomber] is really making some interesting stuff in his lab and has been a long time friend and solid dude.

What was the timeline on the recording in terms of when Jeff joined on drums? My understanding is he came aboard after the tracking was done. How has his joining changed the band?

Jeff Landry: Yeah it’s been about a year now, I think. I joined after the record was tracked but I helped with a lot of the physical record itself, so I still feel attached to it. As for the songs itself, Matt and Tom gave me free range on rewriting the drum parts without drastically changing the songs, which I am grateful for. My initial goal was to give these songs more energy live and I really feel we nailed that. They ended up a little faster then the recordings.

MI: Jeff has brought a real songwriting aspect to the band. It’s good ‘cause now we are working on all cylinders.

TC: Our previous drummer, Will Hendrix, recorded all of the drums on the record. After recording we did a tour with our friends in Destroy Judas and Trapped Within Burning Machinery. It was shortly after that tour that Matt and I decided we needed to find a new solution behind the kit. Things had come to a head personally and musically, it was just impossible for the three of us to move on “as is” and be able to promote this record the way we wanted to. We wish Will all the best but it was just time for new blood, and Jeff has supplied that and then some.

Tell me how “Inhumation” came together.

MI: “Inhumation” was written right after Psycho Fest 2015. I remember putting the opening riff together in the jam room. I had one of the change riffs sort of around. The end riff… it’s really one set of chords played in a revolving order. It’s the doomiest we had ever been up to that point. I think it was all of the built up tension that Slayer, Psycho Fest, flying and eminent fact that changes need to be made. A ritualistic burial.

TC: It was the last song we finished for the record and cemented This Mortal Road’s “doom” feel. I remember walking in to Matt working on the last riff in the song and being very excited because we had never done anything that slow or noise-based before. As with all of the songs on the record, Jeff has breathed new life into it.

JL: This is the song that is the most drastically changed from record to live. We recorded it live in Chicago on this past tour and it will be hitting Spotify and Bandcamp pretty soon. Just waiting for some final mixes.

You went coast-to-coast on tour this past March. How was that experience for you as a band? What were the shows like? How was Austin Terror Fest and the rest of SXSW? You’ve of course done tours before. Is it strange to feel like a veteran while touring on your first record?

JL: I’ve been on a bunch of tours before, big and small. I have to say that spending almost a month on the road with my homies was a blast. We were able to establish a routine pretty quickly due to fact that I get a massive discount on hotels with my job. That was a huge deal. It enabled us to be pretty comfortable and focus more on our sets and getting better every night. We don’t really drink too much ether, so that helps. I think I had like three beers all tour. We did smoke a ton of weed though so I promise we are not boring.

TC: It was definitely the healthiest I’ve ever been on tour, both mentally and physically. We’ve done shorter tours before but this was by far the most ambitious outing yet. It is a little strange to have been a band for so long and to still have all these firsts happening; first LP, first full US tour… it’s odd I suppose, but in some aspects we’ve already done a lot in our five years or so as a band. This lineup is far and away the best we’ve ever been. I’m excited for the future of this band, now more than ever and this tour cemented that feeling.

MI: The tour was great, absolutely great. With each tour you learn things, you come back a little older and a little bit more experienced. You realize how your own personal world is so small and exact. We as humans are very ritualistic in nature so on tour you have to change your tune and adapt the best you can. You see other parts of the country and it’s not like home, but strangely it’s similar, strangely we are all in this together as I whiz by going hopefully 75 mph.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

JL: Yeah, we are more than halfway through writing our next record. We have a bunch of shows coming up too. We are playing Stoned to Death fest in Western Mass early next month; doing a few gigs in New York this July with Blood Sun Circle; doing a run with our homies and labelmates The Ditch and the Delta out to the Pacific Northwest, then down to Salt Lake for a fest out there, as well as Forge Fest down in Providence in Sept. We have this really rad tour/recording project we are working on for October that will be announced later.

TC: I’m eternally grateful for all of the people who had a hand in making this record a reality and who have supported us throughout the years. I want to specifically thank David [Rodgers] at Battleground Records for taking a chance on us. It’s a really tough climate for independent music and he’s been an absolute rock, and I’ve honestly learned a lot from him. He’s a man of his word and that’s a hard thing to find in today’s underground music “business.”

MI: Like the great Kid Rock once mused: “It’s been a couple of months in this smokey room/Eaten shrooms drinking Boones writing tunes/And hoping to get one of these mother fuckin’ songs to hit.”

Rozamov, This Mortal Road (2017)

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Rozamov on Bandcamp

Battleground Records website

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Interview: Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment

Posted in Features on May 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

christian peters samsara blues experiment

This one’s been a while in the making. Like, years. And as Samsara Blues Experiment guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters says below in his answer, the question I’ve been waiting to ask him as well is the one about his band’s experience touring the US for their 2013 album, Waiting for the Flood (review here). I had been thinking of this as a tipping point for the group to enter into something of a semi-hiatus as they did after that record, touring some in Europe but ultimately stepping back for a few years as Peters pursued solo work, his Electric Magic Records label, and other creative outlets.

My narrative, as ever, was off. It was a long European run that set Samsara Blues Experiment to the task of reevaluating who they were and what kind of band they wanted to be, and as the Berlin-based trio make their return in 2017 via their fourth full-length, One with the Universe (review here), Peters seems nothing if not clearheaded in his feelings on the issue. Joined in the now-three-piece by drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt after parting ways with former bassist Richard Behrens (who nonetheless recorded the new album), Peters seems to be embracing the opportunity to refresh his band’s sense of purpose and direction, and as they’ve never sounded so much like themselves on tracks like “Vipassana,” “Sad Guru Returns” and the album’s title-track, so too do Samsara Blues Experiment come across as assured of the methods by which their creativity is brought to life.

As it turns out, that sense of being assured was hard-won, both on his part and that of the band as a whole, and that tour in the US did seem to be a factor in how they’ve wound up where they are, for better and worse alike. In talking to Peters about that trip and about the album in general, I wanted to get a sense of where they were and where they might be going, and though he was reluctant to speculate on the latter, the honesty and at times philosophical approach to everything his group has been through underscores his knowing how vitally important the band is to him. It’s not something he could just leave behind — it’s an ongoing work driven by passion and a shifting creative spirit.

And after a full decade together, one shouldn’t be surprised to find One with the Universe also is Samsara Blues Experiment‘s most mature offering to-date, but what seems even more resonant to me in reading Peters‘ answers about its making is just how much more a work of spirit it is than simply another batch of parts thrown together. Not every artist is brave enough to admit that about their own output; some like to pretend these things just happen by mistake. Granted a song can come about spontaneously, and often those results are among the most satisfying, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. To pretend otherwise is silly. This is important to Peters. Crucially so. Especially in light of the quality of the work they’re doing, it’s hard not to respect the hell out of that.

Complete Q&A follows here. Please enjoy.

samsara blues experiment

It’s been four years since the last Samsara Blues Experiment album. Tell me about what’s changed in the band over that time and where you feel you are today as a group as opposed to where you were when you did Waiting for the Flood?

The most evident change is the turn back to a three-piece, as it was already in the earlier days of the band. In November 2013 we did this one long EU tour which sort of set the tracks for what had to happen right after this. I for myself was at one point pretty close to a burnout situation then, not sure if everything in the rock ‘n’ roll circus really was made for me, and I had to take a time out from the whole thing then. So right after this tour we had a few weeks of no rehearsals or playing live, and when the four of us met, it was mostly for talking about where everybody wanted to go with the band and with his life.

It pretty soon turned out that Richard, in total contrary to my ideas, wanted to tour even more, play more, turn it all into this sort of a job. Which then was something like a worst-case scenario for me, also because I thought that the four-piece sound really had to be thought about and worked out much more than we did then. I was not always happy with two dueling guitars too. And also, you know, in my belief there has to remain some kind of freedom which probably cannot be maintained if my while life sort of depends only from what I do in the band. I wanted to play better songs, better shows, not necessarily more! But I also wanted something else, of which I wasn´t specific about… I needed to find that out for myself.

So at some point it all seemed to have become a pretty tricky situation because everybody wanted to first of all find a “let’s stay together”-solution, but several other personal things led towards Richard leaving the band and Hans switching to bass. At some point it just happened kind of naturally, also because Hans was a bass player before, and btw one whom I always admired. We had to get used to this new situation and work a lot behind closed doors… So we spent the years 2014 and 2015 with shaping “the new band sound” and the new band as well. And besides from that I also got pretty deep into playing synthesizers and recorded a whole bunch of solo albums and EPs as Surya Kris Peters. I just needed to find other ways to be creative, I guess.

So after these weeks and months of “reshaping,” Thomas, Hans and I agreed that 2016 would be pretty much the year for coming up with new ideas for a new album, and not playing live at all. But since a year without one show can be long, at some point we decided to at least play one Berlin show and aside of that did what we needed to do to record One with the Universe in January 2017, again in Richard’s studio with him on the job, as a friend, now also a “hired studio technician” but sometimes still also a fourth creative input, not more on bass, more like a co-producer.

What’s the story behind “Sad Guru Returns?”

It started as a wordplay, because whenever I went through Berlin last summer I saw these Sadhguru-posters. I just like words, how words sound, how words interact, and I then made up this sad-guru thing and later found these samples of him speaking which could be pretty much be my own thoughts when he says, “we are the most comfortable generation ever, but we are not happy,” etc. — to me it’s like almost everybody seems to be looking for something but rarely anybody starts with him- or herself.

Life’s not about things you know. Not at all. In my humble opinion, it’s mostly about making real connections with people. Then there’s a lot of potential in each and every one of us, to be positive and loving and happy, to be creative, to be an even more important part to the whole thing than we are already. You know, I just don’t dig people dragging themselves and others down, especially if there seems to be no reason for that. All the negativity in people right now it seems to be just too much. At least that’s how I see it. Too much sadness in this world, way too much fear too these days… Everybody can make decisions, to a certain point at least. You can be happy and poor too. We all live, we’ll all die. Think about it. How do you want to spend your time on this planet?!

In the interim between records, you embarked on several solo outings as well. Did this affect your return to songwriting for Samsara Blues Experiment at all?

Well probably, because some of the songs have quite a lot of synths in them, like the whole intro-part of “Eastern Sun and Western Moon” or the title-track. I am just happy that both and Hans and Thomas share some of my enthusiasm for sounds from these “little keyboards,” as someone once described them…

What ultimately made you decide it was time to bring back Samsara Blues Experiment?

Honestly, I went through a really rough time from 2015 on. I lost contact to this once really important person. It was pretty much the first time I thought I had this love-relationship-thing sorted out, but then it turned out I knew nothing at all. I spent a long time in despair, in a dark room with nobody but myself. I was almost crazy and at some point nearly suicidal and I am not saying this to show off or something but it was just one of the darkest periods of my life for sure.

Then I heard of Rutger [Smeets] from Sungrazer committing suicide and it was really like a shock. I barely knew the guy, but we occasionally met and all the guys in Sungrazer were like these happy dudes, always sharing a good story, a BBQ, a bottle of limoncello (I didn´t forget.), whatever… I have no idea why Rutger finally did it, but at this point I pretty much just thought: WHAT THE F**K?! THIS IS JUST WRONG!!

I had a series of other not-too-happy-moments but then really felt like I needed to put myself together and started to finally look at the good things that remained there with me, and as one of the main things, there is this band. Honestly, at that period I also pretty much left Hans and Thomas in the dark, which wasn´t very nice of me to do but I just couldn´t handle it otherwise. Again, I canceled rehearsals and I even went out to play with other guys, just to find out where I belong I guess.

And I still belong with SBE, the band that Thomas and Hans I have formed in these last years and even earlier on, for all the songs we wrote when Richard wasn’t with us, when he was working his sound technician job and we already rehearsed or played live as a three-piece (we played one show in Kiev, Ukraine, as a three-piece when Richard wasn’t allowed into the country because he forgot to bring his passport… one of the many stories).

So to sum it up, I basically had to learn to appreciate thesamsara blues experiment band and to find again my place in the puzzle. I am a musician. Right now this is pretty much what I’d say to some stranger who’d ask me what I do in my life. I live music 24/7 now. Nothing else.

Oh, and at some point some of our fans helped as well to realize what we have here with this band. So, thank you there! We all are part of this picture.

Which came first, the album title or the song “One with the Universe” itself? Tell me about how that song came together, and how does it tie into the album (and, I suppose, the universe) as a whole?

Most times the music comes first, as it was also with this one. In 2016 we always did this one long jam session, based on two or three basslicks from Hans and a few parts from me, and it seemed almost impossible to bring all these pieces together to just one “proper song,” but after something like a half-year we miraculously did it. It was for sure among the hardest tasks in my almost 20-year-long career as a productive musician. I still refuse to learn too much about music theory, writing down notes or tabs or any of that. I know it’s maybe a bit stupid and limiting, but then I also often don’t have a lot of patience, nor a real interest for learning this to be honest.

The title “One with the Universe” just seemed to fit some of the overall topics that are connected with the album. In the first place maybe also that there is a new unity within the band. But also the idea that we all belong to a more “wholesome concept,” that no one really is nor should be isolated. That there is no “us versus them” as it is so often implied with the very cultivated society models we live in, and as it’s also projected even on artists, musicians and their work and recordings. Hey everybody: This is not a contest, you know?! And also, even while I am not a big philosopher or something, but also this man against woman thing, which seems to be part of “our culture.” To me all of this is just not right at all! Again, it’s also pretty much what Sadhguru says, and he is not my guru as more a person with whose thoughts I can partially identify myself.

How was it working with Richard as a producer/engineer as opposed to also having him in the band playing bass?

By now all or most the problems of the past seem pretty much solved. Richard seems to be very happy with his new role, and we are happy with the “new band.” It’s pretty much of a karmic relationship, but if you let all the ego-stuff aside, there´s a lot of great memories to share and a lot of good memories to be made for us still, if we want. You know, I could be angry for a whole lot of stupid reasons that lie back in the past, and so could be Richard or anybody else, but at some point you realize that you made a deep connection as friends and you either cherish that, or you go on bumping into the next karmic relationship. Simple as that, complicated as that.

You came to the US to support Waiting for the Flood. Tell me about that experience, what you learned from it and how you’ve been able to take that and move forward with this record. Will you be back at any point?

Well, this is the question I have been waiting for and it’s a tricky one to answer indeed. As you know we have been in the States as early as we had our first demo recordings, which back then seemed very naive and maybe a bit stupid, but the more the bravest thing a young band could do. Since my childhood I have been heavily influenced by the American way of life. I played baseball with a wooden stick when kids around me thought I’d gone crazy. I even fantasized of once going to US high school and college and becoming a professional in either baseball or basketball, or maybe the funniest: American football! I introduced all my friends to all these “cool things” from America, as in the GDR or the young reunited Germany we did not really have an idea what the real life in the USA would be like: All of it just seemed to be magical. So it was the first and greatest dream to come to the USA, and I made it not earlier than 2009 with the first long tour SBE ever did. It seemed all to be dreamlike still. We slept on dirty floors, we played for a few bucks for even fewer enthusiasts or music nerds or people who just came to the shows because they had some ancestor from Germany, I don’t know… it was okay back then, when most of us were like big kids in a candy store, basically.

Change of scenery, the band now has played a bunch of festivals and longer tours in Europe. We have grown up to adults in our early-to-mid 30s. Some of us have families and jobs and need to compromise on all the things that life brings along when you realize that not all of it is happening in candy stores anymore. Following the call of our not-so-few fans in the USA — as we had recorded three studio albums in the meantime since our first US tour — we found people to help organizing this return, as we thought, until a few weeks before this tour was supposed to happen all crashed down like a castle made of sand. I still have a lot of reason to be angry and frustrated here and I could name a few names, but there is no reason for that as more to say; we do not have very good and trustworthy contacts in your country. People whom we can rely on and who do this for the sake of the music and not because they need to earn their living from this, which just won’t work at all.

We are not a commercial act. We do not think very much in commercialist patterns. We are just not like most of the bands you know, we really basically play for the sake of expressing feelings though music, but when we travel we also expect to be treated with respect and honesty. We would love to return to the USA, but at this point it does not seem much practical or even possible. I am sorry for our fans there, but we will see what the future will bring, and not give up on trying to make “deeper connections.”

I hope this wasn’t confusing.

In the meantime, Samsara Blues Experiment toured South America already this year for the first time. How were those shows and how was that experience overall for you?

In one word: incredible!! People in South America seem to be starving for a good live show, even while we in particular always had quite many fans there, thanks to the miracles of the internet. I am just so grateful for having met Felipe [Toscano] of Abraxas booking, who started out as a fan of our music and now runs this amazing organization, in his free time from work and private life. What an amazing guy, really. What an overwhelming positive vibe on all shows on that continent. I still may be under the illusion of a first naive impact now, but I have rarely felt as welcome as there. It was just amazing, incredible, lovely.

You’ve now made four albums with Samsara Blues Experiment and it’s almost a decade since the first demo surfaced. How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished in that time? Where do you see the progression continuing to go?

I think we’ll just go with the flow, more or less. I am pretty much happy as it is now. I only would like to see us more widely exposed, like playing on more different occasions than just mostly stoner festivals, which isn’t wrong at all but I think we are much more than just another stoner group that likes Black Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong or so, I know where we belong the most, but then we also belong to the universe, and the universe is big. I would like to get things solved with the USA really, also in terms of distribution, but we are samsara blues experiment one with the universeworking on it and hopefully solving some of these issues.

You’ve just done Desertfest and have other festival dates coming up as well. Any plans yet for the Fall or anything else you want to mention?

Maybe we will be doing new songs then, maybe we will travel, or just be with the ones we love the most. Who knows? I think we’ll really try and go with the flow for a bit.

Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe (2017)

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Six Dumb Questions with Vokonis

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

vokonis

On May 13, Swedish riffbringers Vokonis will issue their new single as a herald for the June 9 arrival of their second album, The Sunken Djinn, via Ripple Music. That June release puts The Sunken Djinn at about 13 months after Vokonis‘ first full-length, Olde One Ascending (review here), came out on Ozium Records as one of the best debut offerings and best albums of the year. Such a quick turnaround can be a tricky proposition in terms of one record being too informed by its predecessor or listeners not being ready yet to embrace a new collection, but this is something that Vokonis have subverted through palpable, willful sonic growth.

Comprised now of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, the three-piece began life as Creedsmen Arise, putting out a demo, Temple (review here), in 2015. When they brought in Johansson to take on the bassist role, they became a different band, and as they move into The Sunken Djinn, they’re clearly engaging in the work of finding out and conveying the band they want to be. In the meantime, a formidable response for Olde One Ascending led to their signing with Ripple and has placed marked fan expectations on what their second record will be. Hazards of the trade.

Listeners who took on the prior offering will be glad to know, however, that Vokonis‘ propensity for crash and nod, heft and groove remains intact throughout these seven tracks. The key difference is a tightness of delivery, an efficiency of purpose, that makes a song like sub-five-minute centerpiece “Blood Vortex” swing as much as it lumbers, and gives the airier vibe of “Calling from the Core” and the noise-wash finale experiment of “Maelstroem” their proper breadth amid an onslaught of chugging, dense tonality. Ohlsson was kind enough to discuss some of the shifts Vokonis has undergone to get to where they are, and you’ll find the Q&A below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

vokonis the sunken djinn

Six Dumb Questions with Vokonis

Tell me about writing The Sunken Djinn. Was there anything in particular you wanted to accomplish coming off of Olde One Ascending? The songs are shorter this time around. Something done purposefully, or just the direction the writing took?

We took some time listening to Olde One Ascending after its release and tried to summarize what concepts we wanted to bring forward and use in our progression and what concepts we felt we where done with.

Some of those concepts that we left behind were the ”rock” elements we had. We felt that we didn’t really have anything to add in that direction. So we went with shorter, more direct songs.

In conclusion I would say that it was both done on purpose and that it just happened. We tried to be conscious about certain stuff regarding the songwriting process like structures and the length of the songs more on this album, but at the saMe time, what happens happens. So the general sound was just a natural progression.

How did “Blood Vortex” come together? What went into the decision to make it the centerpiece of the album?

It was actually the first song we wrote after we had recorded Olde One Ascending. It’s probably one of those songs that have had maybe three or four iterations before we settled on the form it is on the record. We felt that we wanted to convey to people that we want to do new things. That we won’t release the same kind of album three times in a row. And I think it’s a kickass song!

It seems like Vokonis have built considerable momentum since the name change from Creedsmen Arise. What do you think has allowed you to garner such a response? How much is your audience a factor when you put together songs?

Yes, it does feel like that. And we are happy with the change. It was very well needed for all of us. A clean break and a fresh start. I don’t really have an answer to that other than I hope people understand that we are very grateful to everyone following us and to everyone enjoying our music. It feels like a blessing and we want to make the most of it.

And I think that ties in with how we put together songs. We kinda owe it to the audience to be the best we can be in terms of writing, performing or even our online content. So the audience factors in not in what direction we want to go rather than we try to push ourselves above and beyond for them.

How do you feel the band has developed since Jonte joined? How has the dynamic developed between you, him and Emil over the last couple years? I can hear you on this album beginning to move past your influences and really find your identity as a band. What do you hear when you listen to The Sunken Djinn?

Jonte acts as the glue of the band. He’s a lot older than me and Emil. So he has a lot of wisdom we simply do not have yet. It has definitely caused us to grow closer as a group.

That translates to us knowing exactly where we are musically with each other. Even if we’re listening to a lot of different stuff we know what we want to do with Vokonis.

That’s assuring to hear. To me, Olde One Ascending is a record I am very proud of. It gave us a lot of insight of what it’s like to make a whole album, so we tried to capitalize on that and have The Sunken Djinn become a lot more ”us,” if that makes sense. So when I listen to it, I get this feeling of how much we’ve progressed and how we are able to realize our goals in terms of songwriting.

Tell me about your time in the studio for this album. How long did the recording process take? When were you in, and how do you feel about the tones you were able to capture, and how on earth did “Maelstroem” come about?

We were in Studio Underjord, a really cool studio in Norrköping, Sweden, with a guy called Joona Hassinen. He really brought the best out of us. And we had this enormous live-room to track in. So drums, bass and guitars all have this gorgeous natural reverb.

Recording took about four or five days. It was an extremely pleasant experience for us. We wanted this fat, modern production that I think we managed to get. And that’s just something I’m very proud of. Us being able to record that fast makes you understand how much we’ve grown individually and as a group. I have much more control over my voice now. So I had no problems doing all of the vocals in maybe a third of the time it took to record for OOA.

I should mention that like last time around, this album is a concept album. It deals with the themes of escape and search for something better. I won’t go into detail, But the lyrical content is much closer to my heart this time. And ”Maelstroem” ties in to that. It acts as the aftermath of a certain disaster occurring to the main subject of the album.

Any tours in the works, closing words or other plans you want to mention?

Tours are in the works, but the only shows that are confirmed at this rate is two awesome festivals both located in forests actually, though they’re in different countries. Electric Meadow north of Lviv, Ukraine and Krökbacken festival in Leksand, Sweden.

Thank you so much for having us. It was a pleasure.

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Six Dumb Questions with From Oceans to Autumn (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

from oceans to autumn

[Click play above to stream Ether / Return to Earth by From Oceans to Autumn in its entirety. Album is out today, May 5, via Argonauta Records.]

After debuting in 2013 with the full-length A Perfect Dawn, North Carolinian heavy post-rock outfit From Oceans to Autumn return with the sophomore outing Ether / Return to Earth on Argonauta Records — a broad-scoped two-disc vision of experimentalist textures and weighted progressive crunch. Led by founding multi-instrumentalist and engineer Brandon Helms, the band seeks to convey precisely what it references in the two-part title, which is the duality between the nonphysical and the physical, the ether and the earth.

This comes through in a methodological split between the two sections of Ether / Return to Earth, the first disc of which is comprised of four tracks, three of which are over 13 minutes long, that conjure a patient and often drumless ambient wash, resonant drones emerging, existing, subsiding in succession as each piece develops, culminating with the 19-minute “Stratus/Vapor” as a singular moment of immersion that cuts on the second part of the record like “Visible Light” and “Isle” seem to directly counteract with their heavier thrust. Of course, there’s still plenty of atmospheric depth to Return to Earth as well, as From Oceans to Autumn show in “Reconnect” or even the latter stages of opener “Arrival,” but there can be no question they’re working from a foundation that is, fittingly enough, more grounded in creating it.

All told, this huge undertaking of mood and exploration comes close to hitting the two-hour mark, so it’s safe to say it’s legitimately two albums put together. I wanted to talk to Helms about how the concept fed into the construction of the material itself and get a sense of some of his motivations in the making — namely whether where he lives in North Carolina played a role in how Ether / Return to Earth ultimately took shape. As you make your way through the full-album stream above, you’ll find the results of the short Q&A below. How’s that for duality?

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

from-oceans-to-autumn-ether-return-to-earth

Six Dumb Questions with From Oceans to Autumn

Tell me about the recording process for Ether / Return to Earth. It’s been four years since your debut. Was there anything specific you were trying to accomplish here to follow-up on that?

We are always trying to push ourselves in the writing and recording process with each release. We also really wanted an album that had two identities, one more experimental and free flowing with the other more focused and straightforward, at least for us. And I think we accomplished this goal on Ether / Return to Earth.

At over an hour and 45 minutes long, Ether / Return to Earth is massive, but that hardly captures the sprawl of the tracks themselves. What goes into writing a song like “Stratus/Vapor” for you? How much is based on studio experimentation as opposed to being thought-out or planned beforehand? What about “Visible Light II” or “Keep a Watchful Eye?”

Honestly a lot of Ether was experimented while in the studio recording. “Stratus/Vapor” is a perfect example of studio experimentation. “Visible Light II” was recorded very much like “Visible Light” on our last album, A Perfect Dawn. It’s more heavy noise/distortion than anything else on the album. “Keep a Watchful Eye” was actually written a few years ago and revamped and rerecorded for this album. It was never released prior to now. Funny thing is we recorded an entire album in 2014-2015 that featured this song that was never released!

What is the difference in mindset for you between the two discs of the album? How do you feel each represents its title, and how intentional was that going into the project?

Ether is more ambient/experimental in nature. The songs are more drawn out and free flowing. Return to Earth is heavier, more straightforward in nature. Together they are opposites of each other.

Tell me about where you’re from in North Carolina. For music so atmospheric, did the physical landscape surrounding you play into the songwriting at all? Do you take inspiration from your surroundings, or is it more just about the musical exploration?

We are from Charlotte, NC, right between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, hence our name. Both landscapes offer a huge amount of inspiration while writing and coming up with ideas. It also inspires us musically to experiment more with different sounds.

Where do you see From Oceans to Autumn developing from here? Will you continue the Pareto Analysis series, and what is the concept behind that? Do you see future works developing along a thematic line like Ether / Return to Earth?

Pareto Analysis series is now complete and available for download on our Bandcamp page. We are currently working on rerecording parts, remixing and remastering our last album, A Perfect Dawn. We also are mixing and mastering an album we recorded last fall, some of it has been released in the form of demos but the final version will sound nothing like it!

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Thanks for having us!

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Six Dumb Questions with Electric Moon

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on April 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

electric moon

When an artist takes on a stage-name, the proper format is to write it in quotes, like a nickname, but somehow whenever I end up putting together a piece about the work of founding Electric Moon guitarist, synthesist, sitarist, producer, label honcho, etc., Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, I always feel like I’ve got it backwards. Like it’s Dave Schmidt that should be in quotes and Sula is the true identity beneath. Ditto that for bassist/vocalist/graphic designer “Komet Lulu” Neudeck. A big part of the reason why is the continued stamp Sula, Lulu and drummer Marcus Schnitzler have left on heavy psychedelia over the course of this decade.

With a slew of live offerings, a strong improvisational foundation in the tenets of krautrock, classic prog and of course all things kosmiche, the German three-piece long ago set the controls for the heart of creation itself. Their works are often raw glimpses at their own making — the songs captured as they happened, unfolding as organically as possible to rich and singularly immersive effect. After years outside the studio, Electric Moon have newly released the four-track album, Stardust Rituals (review here), through Schmidt‘s Sulatron Records imprint, and for being six years after 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here), the arrival could hardly be more welcome.

Whether it’s the dug-in sitar-laced 22 minutes of vibe they decided to call “(You Will) Live Forever Now” or more song-based pieces “Stardust (The Picture)” and opener “The Loop,” Electric Moon gracefully subvert listener expectation and adjust the balance between improv and structure, and to call the resulting liquidity of Stardust Rituals one of 2017’s best in heavy psych is probably underselling the actual quality of the work itself. Even putting aside the fact that a studio outing from Electric Moon doesn’t happen every day, month, or year, Stardust Rituals gives its audience a solar system to inhabit and worlds or swirl to explore, and if it needs to carry over for a while as the band once more hits stages around Germany and greater Europe, recording and releasing sets as they go (never something to complain about), it should have no trouble doing so.

Sula and Lulu were both kind enough to take some time out to talk about the record and Electric Moon‘s methods in general, and you’ll find the results of that Q&A below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

electric moon stardust rituals

Six Dumb Questions with Electric Moon

Tell me about how Electric Moon has grown since you started the project. So much of what you do is based on the chemistry between the three of you. How has that developed over time?

Lulu: When we founded the band with the drummer Pablo Carneval, we found out that we had to do nothing else than just start to play and we became one… Over the years, it changed a bit into more frame-based improvisations to get a picture. If you’re on tour, it’s important NOT to fuck up cause 100 percent free improvising night after night can kill creativity and you’re empty then. But we still do it, of course.

Over the years, we had many different drummers so there were also different influences.

But we always try to keep our thing: LET IT FLOW and feel the love. If we feel the love, the music floats automatically!

Sula: In the very first recording sessions we did everything alone, I mean Lulu and me. But then Pablo joined us and we knew we are able make this on stage! That was a great feeling!

What made you decide to go for a more song-based approach on Stardust Rituals? Each track still goes pretty far out, but tell me about incorporating more vocals in the studio. How did these tracks come together to be what they are?

Lulu: First I must say, we did what we’ve always been doing: keeping our studio albums more “song-based” than our live albums cause we have the possibility to do overdubs and recreate stuff, etc.

Sula and me also have so many ideas for songs so we can put them into the music in the studio! “The Loop” for example, was Dave‘s idea on the organ and he showed Marcus and me what he thought and told us what he thinks we should play, and then we did. It took not much time and we got it. It was a lot of fun playing this, by the way!

Also it’s much fun creating vocals for the music while listening to it. The music just tells you what is good for “her”… That’s a loop, haha, but really! I’m spacing out every time I think about these things… So I’m sorry for my weird sentences! Hahaha.

The second thing is, that our live albums are the essence when we three play together. The last records we’ve put out were live albums and we just needed a new impulse, again. So we’re happy that we got the impressions for Stardust Rituals to get it ready. Sometimes it’s hard ’cause the ideas wouldn’t find the way to your soul. But most of the time it’s pure magic.

For me, overdubbing is like talking to myself and, of course, the band. It’s very intimate! Having an idea, sitting down, listening to the song, being alone in the studio, feeling the energy of the music and then do the overdub. It’s really magic. I love doing my overdubs being on my own and it’s also always big excitement when the others listen to them the first time… Do they like what you did or don’t they? It’s big fun to make music with yourself, by the way.

Sula: The first basic recording was in 2014, and was untouched till we started overdubbing. Three of the track’s basics were within three days before we went to the Freak Valley Festival for a gig. That was in early summer 2015. In 2016, we slowly started cutting/arranging the recordings and doing the overdubs. Finally the mastering was done (by Eroc) in early 2017.

Is there something specific about the spirit of jamming that speaks to you with Electric Moon as opposed to other bands you’ve been involved in? Can you hear a part as the foundation of an Electric Moon jam as opposed to, say, something that would become a Sula Bassana piece?

Lulu: No, that never happened yet! It’s more like you hear the Sula Bassana soul in Electric Moon when he did most of the instruments, for example, cause he would influence the song then!

The specific in Electric Moon from the beginning is: Becoming one, let it flow, let the music lead your hands playing your instrument!

Sula: The spirit in the improvisations in the other bands is slightly different, because everyone brings his soul, mood, feelings in. For example, Rainer [Neeff, of Zone Six]’s way of playing guitar is different than mine. So the whole thing has a different energy. The music in Krautzone has a completely different feel and intention as the Electric Moon music. And as Lulu already told, I would never take a Electric Moon recording for a Sula song. Maybe one day I use a lick I played in an Electric Moon concert for a Sula song. But I would do new recordings, with everything played by myself, which will lead to a totally different result.

Lulu: I guess this sometimes happens “by accident” that you play the same lick twice!

Sula: Exactly what I mean!

Where does the title Stardust Rituals come from, and what does it mean for you?

Lulu: I had this idea when I was thinking and feeling a lot about life and death and space!!!

I was reading loads of space magazines and books and thought a lot about the fact that we all are made of stars! Everything and every creature, every plant and every ANYTHING is made of stardust! Our whole planet earth is made of the sun powder… That is so great, it feels so familiar and it’s so soothing when you are sad, for example…

Imagine – nothing and nobody could ever get lost – even if we die! ‘Cause we’d still be stardust in some way… And where should we disappear to? We’re all in space and will be… It feels so true to me.

So the title and also the vocal themes for the album were born. Stardust Rituals is like a complete reflection about this all. The music was talking to me…

And when Sula did the Mellotron in the last track, the complete thing was changing so much – it was so stunning – suddenly the whole piece turned into something different, more intense and beautiful so it made me cry… And then I wrote the vocals and it became the track “(You Will) Live Forever Now.”

Has releasing your own work through Sulatron changed your perspective on writing or recording at all? If so, how? If not, why not?

Sula: No. We always did everything by ourselves and the labels, who released our non-Sulatron-stuff, never told how to do it. They always accepted our music and artwork. So we can say we always produced our music the way we want it! Which is great!

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Sula: We have a lot plans for recordings, releases and so on. Also we could talk about the horrible situation on this planet. But that would take hours… and I hope everyone who is interested in our music is some kind of same-minded, trying to be a good person, without being aggressive or a racist, being without hate, and full of love and positive vibrations. Mankind needs love, peace and freedom. That’s it!

Lulu: And if there are any racists listening to our music we hope they can feel love and forget the racism…

Also – remember: We’re all made of the sun….. We’re one indeed! Physically! We’re all in the same space(ship)! LOVE! Man, I sound like a hippie, hahaha, but my heart feels it like this!

Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals (2017)

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Roadburn 2017 Trip, Pt. 8: Guess I’ll Go Live on the Internet

Posted in Features on April 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

weirdo canyon dispatch 2017

04.24.17 — 09.14 — Monday morning — Schiphol Airport Gate B15, Amsterdam

Yesterday, after the folding ritual was done for the last time for the 2017 Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, I sat for a bit in the office of the 013 by myself. I had put music on basically because it was quiet while Lee wrapped up putting stuff online and he’d gone to meet somebody, so I was on my own and it was even quieter. Sometimes you need a minute to process, or to breathe, or to do whatever it is you need to do to have your head right. That’s when I took the picture above. I knew it was going to be a long last day of Roadburn 2017, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

No regrets. Fond memories.

I was up before the alarm this morning. First time that’s ever happened in Tilburg for me following Roadburn. The alarm, by the way, was set for 05.45. A shuttle would be arriving at the hotel circa 06.30 to bring me to the airport. After packing and going to sleep circa 2AM, I was up between three and four and never got back to sleep. I read the recaps of what looked to have been a crappy baseball game. I checked the Times to see if the world was ending yet. I dicked around the way one does when one is just trying to eat minutes.

Speaking of eating, you should’ve seen me pouring and stirring the protein powder into my coffee on the line for the Lufthansa check-in here at Schiphol. Can’t imagine it was difficult for anyone to pick out who was the American in the crowd. With his little battery-powered stirrer like something he bought from a Sharper Image catalog circa 1991. Thing cost me $8 on Amazon. Worth every penny.

A couple Roadburn types around the airport this morning. I’m pretty sure I saw the bassist from Pallbearer going the other way while I was on the people-mover. Another dude in an Ulver t-shirt with his buddy who got the fest hoodie with the John Dyer Baizley cartoon tits on it. Sundry others.

windmillsIn about an hour, I’ll board this death-trap-looking-thing and go to Frankfurt, which if I’m not mistaken is the opposite of the direction in which I ultimately want to go. It was the same deal connecting in Toronto to come to Amsterdam in the first place. Because that’s the kind of sense Boston makes. World class, khed. Local fuckin’ sports.

I’ll hope to sleep on the plane — definitely the second if not the first — and when I land, I’ll magically have back the six hours of day I gave up so willingly last Tuesday to make the trip out. Before that happens, there are almost too many people I need to thank, so I’m going to try to do that.

First, The Patient Mrs. always. So much love. I’m so lucky. Also Walter Hoeijmakers, Becky Laverty, Lee Edwards and all involved with the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch: the amazing, humbling staff of writers that includes Sander van den Driesche, Andreas Kohl, José Carlos Santos, Kim Kelly, Guido Segers, Ben Handelman, Jamie Ludwig, Dom Lawson, Cheryl Carter and Peter van der Ploeg, the artists Cavum and Kim Holm, the photographers Paul Verhagen and Niels Vinck, as well as Jaimy, Gijs, Miranda, Rian and all behind the scene at the 013 venue. What a group we’ve assembled over the last four years. I frankly have no idea what I’ve done to earn a place among any of them except consistently fuck up. Like I say, humbling.

Thanks as well to Jens Wassmuth, Dante Torrieri, Falk-Hagen Bernshausen and all in the photo pit for their kindness and professionalism. I hadn’t shot anything in a while and it was easier to step back into that process knowing I was among the most pro-shop group of people one could ever hope to find.

I was pretty beat this year. Significantly so. I’ve got a lot on my mind. I’m about to lose my job. And there were times over the last few days where I felt like I was so out of it I wasn’t really doing justice to the experience. I tried my best. I really did. By yesterday I kind of felt like I had it right. I don’t know if I could’ve done a fifth day of Roadburn, but by the time yesterday came around I a little bit had my head back. Inclined to take what I can get.

Tomorrow will be Tuesday. I took the day off work. What’re they gonna do, fire me? I’ll make myself good coffee in the morning and a peanut butter protein shake for lunch, have a nice salad for dinner with The Patient Mrs., scritch the Little Dog Dio and get caght up on all the Obelisk stuff that’s fallen by the wayside while Tilburg happened. Lots of news to catch up on, and an interview for Wednesday and this and that. I might actually post some stuff tomorrow or I might just hold it all off. I’ve been social media-ing a lot and see the value in maybe taking a day and not. We’ll see how it plays out. I’m also going to shave my beard. Off. Gone. Done with it. Not much left by now anyway. I decided that in the van on the way to the airport this morning.

As I’ve done for the last however many years, each post in this series (minus the Hard Rock Hideout review) has derived its header title from the name of a song. They are as follows:

Trip Pt. 1: “Dos Soles” by Cavra. I got that record sent to me while I was at the airport in Boston.

Trip Pt. 2:: “Sanctuary” by Elder. A track from their new album that seemed fitting for having made it to Tilburg.

Day One Review: “Wound of the Warden” by SubRosa. Self-explanatory.

Day Two Review: “Death’s Dark Tomb” by Atala. I was arguably at my most ass-dragging and that seemed dark enough for the mood.

Day Three Review: “And Yet it Moves” by Slomatics. Like Roadburn itself, that song is so unbelievably heavy, and yet it proceeds along like the third day of a four-day fest.

Day Four Review: “God Particle” by The Doomsday Kingdom. I wanted to celebrate something rare, like this experience itself. That seemed to fit.

Trip Pt. 8: “Guess I’ll go Live on the Internet” by All Them Witches. It had been a minute since I put that record on. It’s always good for tired mornings. Plus the airport connection is absolute shit, so there’s an element of irony there too.

This will be the last post in the series, and before I bring it to an end, I want to say thank you one more time for reading. All the social media likes and shares and comments are awesome, but even just knowing that when something gets posted on this site someone might actually see it is validating beyond what I can tell you and so deeply, hugely appreciated. It’s been an interesting year and it’s going to continue to be one, but your support means a tremendous amount to me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So yes, thank you again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I’ll hope to talk soon.

All my best,
JJ Koczan

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ROADBURN 2017 Day Four: God Particle

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2017 banner (Photo by JJ Koczan)

04.23.17 — 22.26 — Sunday night — Hotel room

The last day of putting together the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch started with a panic when the office coffee machine was busted. At first I didn’t believe it and plugged the thing in to see if the sign that had been taped onto the front was bullshit, but indeed, it was not. Could’ve cried. Instead, went downstairs to the backstage area where they serve the meals and got coffee there. Survived.

Thus, the final issue of the 2017 Weirdo Canyon Dispatch came into being. Download the PDF version here.

What used to be known as the Afterburner, the traditional easing between a given Roadburn and the transition back to real life, is now basically just another day of the fest proper. They’ve dropped the name, and fairly enough so. Running across four stages this year, it’s hardly a means of becoming less immersed in the Roadburn experience at this point. If anything, it’s Roadscorch. The absolute last blast from the furnace that is this festival. My brain has turned into Roadchar.

I had no fewer bands I wanted to see today than yesterday or the day before, and a few others that I wouldn’t have minded catching had I been able to do so, so yeah, it was definitely Roadburn. It started early and went late and was packed for the duration. I did one more bounce between venues as I had earlier in the weekend — none at Cul de Sac for me today, but two at Het Patronaat — and was back and forth a few times between the Main Stage and the Green Room at the 013 proper, running past the merch area as well for good measure. Can’t be too careful. Wouldn’t want something to get by unnoticed.

It was a 15.00 start in the big room with Temple of BBV. I knew from seeing Gnod the other night (review here) that the culmination of their residency in a collaboration with Radar Men from the Moon was one I didn’t want to miss, so while it was early, I figured a head-first dive into willful prog oddity was well in order. I won’t like to you — it was a lot for three in the afternoon. Or three in the morning, for that matter. It was a lot, period. 10 people on Temple of BBV (Photo by JJ Koczan)stage, including two drummers, a near-constant throb and pulsations pushing outward into psycho-psychedelic reaches of the bizarre.

They were aggressively strange. On a strangeness crusade. They wore their strangeness like a badge of strangeness honor and as the room filled up slowly, people seeing to be hungover perhaps from the sensory assault Mysticum had provided the night before as much as from actual inebriation of whatever sort, the crowd had no choice but to be subsumed by what Temple of BBV were doing on that stage. Hair of the cosmic dog that gave you demonic space-rabies. Was it weird? Why, yes. Yes, it was.

I couldn’t help but try to remember when last I actually saw Pallbearer as their set got underway, also on the Main Stage. Turns out it was 2013 (review here). I’d also caught them at Roadburn that year (review here), as part of what was then the Afterburner in the Green Room. While I didn’t think it’d been that long at the time, the reason I thought of it was because of how much the Arkansas doomers seem to have stepped up their game in the intervening years. Their third album, Heartless (review here), is newly issued and fresh in mind, but live that material became heavier than it is on record and their presence in delivery was unmistakable. Since the last time I saw them, Pallbearer have become a headlining band.

No question they belonged on the Main Stage at Roadburn 2017. They not only held down that Pallbearer (Photo by JJ Koczan)spot well, but were in full command of their material and their sound, and with shared vocals across the front of the stage, they offered a richness to their doom that only underscored just how much they’ve made the genre work to their interests rather than working to the interests of genre. Heartless cuts like “I Saw the End,” “Thorns” and “Dancing in Madness” were high points in emphasizing their progression, but the churning heft of the whole set was dead on, whether it was those or “Fear and Fury,” “Worlds Apart,” or “The Ghost I Used to Be.” Remarking from the stage that playing Roadburn felt like coming home since it was where they’d done their first European show, they were welcomed as returning heroes and clearly rose to the occasion.

I know they’re like the hottest shit in the world and everyone knows it and Heartless is going to be everyone’s album of the year and blah blah blah so I’m giving away state secrets or anything, but Pallbearer fucking killed at Roadburn. I’ve seen them before and I was still genuinely surprised at how good they were.

Just for fun, I poked my head into the Green Room to catch a minute of Author and Punisher. A boy and his robots. The space was packed out so I didn’t linger, and instead sauntered back over to the big room again to watch Pallbearer finish and await the arrival of Les Discrets, who are also supporting a new album, Prédateurs, released just this week on Prophecy Productions. The moody vibes that the Parisian outfit proffered would make a lot of sense leading into Ulver, songs like “Virée Nocturne” having an element of the dark and urbane to them, progressive even beyond what one might’ve come to expect from their past work in post-black metal and Alcest-style melodicism. Guitarist/vocalist Fursy Teyssier, who also had a showcase of his visual art upstairs in the 013, had a quieter presence than when he led Les Discrets (Photo by JJ Koczan)the band when they played Roadburn 2013 at Het Patronaat (review here), but it worked for what they were doing.

In hindsight, it probably would’ve made narrative sense to stay put in the big room and await the arrival of the aforementioned Ulver. I didn’t do that. First, I went and grabbed dinner — chicken salad over lettuce and arugula with bacon and a bit of chicken/peppers in curry sauce; some bean sprouts in there, no corn, no onions, no celery; two plates, second void of curry and bacon — and was fortunate enough to sit in the company of Norwegian artist and Weirdo Canyon Dispatch contributor Kim Holm, and then I made my way back up to the Green Room to catch at least some of Valborg. I knew that I wanted to watch somebody from the Green Room balcony, and the underrated German martial metallers seemed like the perfect occasion.

And so they pretty much were. I watched as the space below filled up and when the German trio — whose new record, Endstrand, is also out on Prophecy this month (it came out April 7) — took stage, it was pretty clear the crowd knew them well. “Werwulf” from the 2016 single of the same name (review here) was like a riff-led wrecking ball that highlighted how perfectly paced Valborg‘s material is and the genre lines their songwriting so fluidly crosses between death metal, progressive synth textures Valborg (Photo by JJ Koczan)and goth atmospherics. They demonstrated clearly they can roll a groove with the best of them but seem to have little interest in heavy rock or anything quite so not-extreme, but wherever it was ultimately coming from, their sound was on its own wavelength and its complete lack of compromise notched a mark in the skull of everyone who was there to hear it, myself included.

I didn’t get to stay for Valborg‘s whole set because I knew Ulver were soon to go on the Main Stage. I worked my way off the balcony much to the delight of the person who’d been standing behind me while I leaned over the rail to take a couple pictures of the band and down around the back way to the Main Stage room — still kind of strange to me how the 013 works since it was remodeled last year; there’s a hallway with bathrooms there now that I think used to lead to the Bat Cave/Stage01, but jeez, don’t quote me on that. I’d have to look at the blueprints to be sure, and that would probably take hours because I’d have to find a YouTube video on how to read blueprints first. Sucks being useless sometimes. Most of the time, actually.

Anyway, I did manage to get myself one room over in time for the start of Ulver, and when the Norwegian more-post-everything-than-everything outfit got underway, I was really, really glad I’d already heard the new album which was the focus of their set: The Assassination of Julius Caesar (review here). Otherwise all that dark post-New Wave moodiness and nighttime ambienceUlver (Photo by JJ Koczan) might’ve thrown me for a loop. It’s usually safe to assume two things about Roadburn attendees. One, they’re open-minded. Two, they’re pretty well informed. Still, of all the men and women assembled at the 013 to watch Ulver play, I have to imagine there was at least one person who had no idea what they were in for, and so when the band broke out the laser light show and the electronica beats and the Depeche Mode gone prog sexytime vibes they were completely taken aback by all of it. Now that I think about it, it might’ve been fun to be surprised like that.

But when it comes to Ulver, part of the appeal is the band’s willingness to dismantle their own formula, or more precisely, to not have a formula in the first place, so it’s safe to assume that whether this hypothetical Roadburner knew or not what they were getting with the songs featured from The Assassination of Julius Caesar, they were still able to get on board. Still, one day someone’s going to trick Ulver into playing 2007’s Shadows of the Sun front to back — or at least doing live variations based thereupon — and that’s going to be incredible. One for Roadburn 2022, maybe?

I didn’t stay for all of Ulver either. Not for lack of patience or anything, but I could feel my Roadburn 2017 crunch winding down and knew I had to try to pack as much in as I could. That meant getting my ass to Het Patronaat to see The Doomsday Kingdom. Every year I’m lucky enough to be at Roadburn I let myself buy one piece of vinyl. This year it was the special edition 12″ The Doomsday Kingdom were selling at the merch stand. Why? Because Leif Edling, god damn it. The founding Candlemass The Doomsday Kingdom (Photo by JJ Koczan)bassist and crucial architect of what we know to be true and traditional doom metal — yes, I mean that — was making a live debut with this new four-piece at the church, and I knew I didn’t want to regret later not getting that record when I had the chance. It’ll probably get damaged in my luggage on the trip home. Still worth it.

Their set was likewise. Songs like “Never Machine” and “The Silence” offered classic doom very much of the style one might expect from Edling‘s long-established craft and methodology, but hell, I’ve got no problem with that whatsoever. It hasn’t been that long since Candlemass put out their 2016 EP, Death Thy Lover (review here), and they’re still doing shows as well, but before he took over lead vocals from mesh-shirt-clad frontman Niklas Stålvind — who’d been righteously belting out the material up to that point — for the set finale “God Particle,” Edling called The Doomsday Machine his “therapy band.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I sure was glad I stayed to watch their full set, because they were awesome. A couple first-show-type hiccups, but nothing major by any stretch, and after “God Particle,” they even came back out in made an encore of the metallic-galloping “Hand of Hell,” with Stålvind back on vocals, guitarist Marcus Jidell tearing into solo after solo and drummer Andreas Johansson fueling the big rock finish before coming out from behind the kit to take a bow with the band. If that was therapy, sign me up.

From Sweden to Boston. Come to Grief were on next at the church, and if I’d tried, I don’t think I’d have been able to come up with a more appropriate ending to my Roadburn 2017 than to watch the native Beantowner offshoot of Grief play a set of ultra-misanthropic extreme sludge. Tones of home. You Come to Grief (Photo by JJ Koczan)have no idea how hard it was not to shout out “Go Sox!” in a Boston accent before they played. You cannot possibly know. Fortunately, before I could muster the gumption to do same, guitarist Terry Savastano began to unleash maddening floor-shaking undulations of feedback. He, fellow guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Hébert, bassist Justin Christian and drummer Chuck Conlon would soon loose a set that spanned all the way back to the title-track from Grief‘s 1992 debut EP, Depression — which Savastano noted was the first song that band ever wrote — all the way forward to Come to Grief‘s new four-tracker compact disc, The Worst of Times.

“No Savior” and “JunkLove” from the latter (and later) release were featured, but at their core, wherever they were drawing material from, Come to Grief were a mainline shot of visceral abrasiveness. Intense, pummeling and straight from the gut, they crashed each riff with maximum intensity and left no mystery about the sincerity of their intent to kill. It was impressive the way one thinks of primitive humanoids bashing in each other’s heads as a sign of evolution at work. Like I said, the perfect finale to my Roadburn 2017 — one last raw scrub to get the unwanted pieces of myself gone before I get on that plane and go home tomorrow morning.

Did I just say tomorrow morning? Yuppers. It’s 01.40. Shuttle comes to take me to the airport in about five hours, as it happens. When I left Het Patronaat, in addition to looping through the merch area to pick up the aforementioned Come to Grief CD, I made one last run through the 013 hoping to find Walter and say goodnight and thanks, but no such luck. Tired, beaten, missing my wife and with my earplugs still in, I trod past the assembled throngs in Weirdo Canyon and back to the hotel, where packing still awaits and pictures want sorting.

So yeah, I’m going to go get on that.

I’ll have another post up at some point tomorrow, but in the meantime, thank you so much for reading and please find the rest of those pics after the jump here:

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