Nebula Interview & Full Album Stream Pt. 2: To the Center

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on February 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

nebula

[Click play above to stream the new reissue of Nebula’s To the Center in its entirety. Album is out Feb. 16 via Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Please note: This interview is part two in a series of three. Part one is here. Part three arrives Feb 27.

Recording with Jack Endino.Road-dogging it on tour so you don’t have to say home and pay rent. Signing to Sub Pop after running into label head Megan Jasper in the produce aisle at a grocery store and winding up signed to of the most influential undergoing imprints of all time as a result. Seeming to consume an entire interstellar mycelial network of mushrooms in the process. To hear original drummer Ruben Romano tell it, it was just all part of being in Nebula around the time of their 1999 debut LP, To the Center.

No wonder it’s one of the best stoner rock records of all time, with a band of laid back electric and acoustic guitars, a bevvy of languid desert grooves and some more driving fare for the punkers in the crowd. Nebula‘s prop=oir debut EP, Let it Burn (discussed here). Still, as Nebula were living out this process of rock and roll daydreams, all was no exactly well in the band, and by the time they got around to releasing 2001’s Charged, their second and final offering for Sub Pop, it would prove to be the final outing for the original Nebula lineup of Romano, guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass and bassist Mark Abshire as well.

But at this point, with To the Center and its languid blend of more-laid-back-than-thou riffs and acoustic strums, psychedelic sitars and space rocking freakout jams, with its Randyo Holden and Stooges covers — “Between Time” and “I Need Somebody,” respectively — it was a goddamn party and it certainly sounds like one on the album. In the interview that follows, Romano tells a couple quick but choice stories about what it was like to be in Nebula at this time.

You’ll find the Q&A under the player with the complete remaster (including bonus tracks) of To the Center, which again, is out on Heavy Psych Sounds Feb. 16.

Please enjoy:

nebula to the center

To the Center Q&A with Ruben Romano

How did the band change coming off of Let it Burn and moving into To the Center? Was there anything specific you knew you wanted to do from one release to the other?

What changed was that we now were total road dogs. Touring was all we did and when we were not on the road we were always in the rehearsal room. The specific thing that we wanted to do from one release to the other was to keep on doing it! All we wanted was to keep Rolling our way to Freedom.

Tell me about writing the album. How did the songs come together and what was that period of time like for you as a band?

We toured so much that we became a super tight band and things happened naturally. Playing with Eddie and Mark came easy. While we were on the road we would be jamming a riff at soundcheck, those brief in between tour moments were spent in rehearsal rooms jamming. Eddie also had a back catalog of four-track demo songs that we pulled from, and one that he wrote with his friend Neil Blender was pulled as well. Then jamming on covers of songs that we all loved, liked The Stooges and Randy Holden started sounding and feeling good. So we included those as well and all of a sudden we had 12 songs that comprised To the Center. At that period of time the band was extremely busy. It kept us from having to pay rent, so the time off the road became shorter and shorter.

You’d already recorded with Jack Endino for Sun Creature and the Lowrider split. What was it about the experience that brought you back to him? What did he capture in Nebula’s sound?

Jack was a cool guy. We worked well with him the first time around and he really dug what we were doing. I think we really impressed him during those To the Center sessions with our knowledge of great obscure underground music, like The Groundhogs. He was the biggest fan of Tony McPhee and The Groundhogs and was stoked when we brought them up in giving him production ideas of what we wanted to achieve. After that he wore his Groundhogs shirt a few times during those sessions. The other thing that he captured for Nebula was clamping the Sub Pop deal. How did that happen? Well, before that session started, we finished a European tour and flew back to New York were we crashed for a good week. That’s when we entered LoHo Studios and recorded the other half of those two EPs. If I recall properly we also just finished a deal and got signed to a label called Zero Hour. So, going into record for them, that’s where the plan to return to Jack came about as we got into the van and toured back across the

US ending in Seattle. That’s where Jack was, so returning to recording with Jack fit perfect. A week after the session started is when Zero Hour just disappeared – no contact at all! The phone was dead. Jack was so cool that he goes, “Let’s finish this anyways and figure it out later.” Now, at the same time we took a food break and, with Jack, we went to a grocery store. In that grocery store we happened to bump into Megan Jasper in the produce department. Head of Sub Pop. Her and Jack spoke a bit and that’s where the spark happened, that’s how we got connected to Sub Pop: a random meeting at a grocery store in Ballard, Washington.

Anything else you’d like to say about it in particular?

I liked Ballard, Washington. What a great memory!

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Six Dumb Questions with Black Space Riders

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on February 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

black space riders

At this point I’ve heaped praise on Black Space Riders‘ new album, Amoretum Vol. 1, in any number of contexts. There was the initial release announcement (posted here), the video posted for “Another Sort of Homecoming” (posted here), the review and track premiere for “Lovely Lovelie” (review here) that went up last month, then another video, this one for the electro-jazz hypnosis of “Movements” (posted here), and even a couple weeks ago a vinyl giveaway set up through the band themselves (posted here).

And you know what? If Black Space Riders had another video tomorrow, or a tour announcement, or whatever, I’d post that shit too. The underlying point of all of it is that I believe — particularly for those who can approach it with an open mind — Amoretum Vol. 1 genuinely has something special to offer. I’ll spare you further laudits and no rehash flowery descriptions of the progressive bent that unites the sonically varied material in its expressive purposes and instead just say that I hope the Amoretum series does indeed continue and that if you haven’t yet, you invest a little time and mental energy into getting to know the album, because it is absolutely worth the effort of the real engagement it demands.

As to the actual talking, this time around I’ll leave it to guitarist/vocalist/organist/programmer JE — joined in the band by the silhouettes above of vocalist Seb, drummer/percussionist C.RIP, guitarist SLI, bassist SAQ and (more recent) bassist MEI — as he explains the motivations behind where Black Space Riders go thematically and sound-wise this time around, their new deal with Ripple Music that will result in wider US distribution of their material, being driven by the music first, letting love rule, and much, much more. He’s obviously someone who cares very deeply about what he does, and I think that comes through here as much as in the songwriting of Black Space Riders as a group.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

Black Space Riders Amoretum Vol 1

Six Dumb Questions with JE of Black Space Riders

How did the Amoretum idea come about? What was it you were looking to say about the world after Refugeeum? Give me some background on the perspective from which you approached the concept coming into this album.

For us the idea behind Refugeeum was very earthly, very concrete, we felt being between anger and hopelessness, coping with the current events that we were facing in 2014/2015, when we were writing the album. We needed to do that back then, because we felt deeply touched by all the pain and suffering, we had to “leave the orbit” and make a statement.

After releasing the album it was very clear that we didn’t want to repeat that in any way but if you take a look around two years later and notice: “hey, the world didn’t really has become a better place since then …. is it really getting worse??,” you can’t just turn around and move on.

We really wanted to reintroduce some additional joyful, less grave and less serious colours into our music and our lyrics. We wanted to write songs and lyrics to dance to and to smile to ….e.g. I always wanted to write about “love” in a non-embarrassing way. And on the other hand there still was the awareness that we all are moving faster and faster towards really dark times.

In the end we opened ourselves to all these positive and negative feelings and started writing about the confrontation and disunity of fear/anger/hate vs. love/empathy/joy. And once there was this picture of a “sheltered garden of love and blossoming,” threatened by all the darkness around, leading us to create a new word for this imaginary place: Amoretum, consisting of “Arboretum” and “Amor.”

Which came first, the idea for what Amoretum would be or the songs? How does the Black Space Riders songwriting process work for you at this point? Do you compose around a specific idea or improvise and see what fleshes out? How much does everyone in the band contribute?

We are musicians and not poets. The music always comes first. The vocals in our idea of making music are additional instruments and timbres. And when we are writing lyrics it’s sometimes more important how these words sound as a part of the music than the exact meaning of the sentences. We want to create something like a holistic picture, consisting of songwriting, sound, attitude, song titles, lyrics and artwork that may trigger the listener‘s association, that can turn on something like an “inner movie” in the listener’s head. And the music is always the starting point.

After recording the songs for Refugeeum and the Beyond Refugeeum EP we returned to our headquarters — our rehearsal room — and just jammed, recorded, created new music without any pressure, without any idea what will be, without any masterplan.

Our way of composing has developed over the years. For the first albums we were often working on and arranging song ideas that I had designed and drafted before.

Now most of the songs result from jamming and letting flow. But of course there is always a starting point: most times a guitar riff, sometimes a drum pattern or a sequencer pattern or a piano melody. Then usually our drummer C.RIP is stepping in as second and is pushing the idea into a rhythmical direction. First everybody is really listening and is then joining at that point, when he feels, he has an idea what he could contribute and what is missing. In the end every member is contributing.

We record everything in the rehearsal room. We had recorded more than 10 hours of new music only six months after Refugeeum. Our drummer C.RIP is listening and sorting out the ideas and then we continue working on the best ideas and spent a lot of attention in arranging the songs. When we enter the studio we have finished songs with finished arrangements.

Tell me about recording Amoretum. How long were you in the studio? What was the time like when you were there? You’ve been through recording sessions many times over at this point. Do you know what you want in terms of sound when you go in?

This time we recorded all together 22 tracks, almost two hours of music, which took us about two weeks. One to two days are for soundchecking (a good and natural drum sound takes time and as we use a lot of different guitar amps, cabinets and setups in the different songs, we carefully work on these sounds as well). Then about five or six days for live-recordings. This was more than for the previous records but it was so much music with so many details this time. We record all basic tracks live and “oldschool,” in one room: drums, bass and guitars. Good friends locked in one room, that’s good for the feeling, the atmosphere and the sound as well. After that we recorded vocals, additional guitar effects and overdubs (e.g. some keyboards or guitar solos) in another five to six days.

We are working with ROLE in his Tonmeisterei in Oldenburg. (Role Wiegner, http://www.die-tonmeisterei.de/). Back in 2009, I had proposed his studio to the other members for the first album, because I liked some of his recordings, his sound and his philosophy. Since that time we are working with him. He has become a good friend and a kind of additional band member. We know each other very well.

We recorded in three sessions spread over about five weeks. When we are in the studio we are working highly concentrated from 11AM-11PM. It‘s an atmosphere of creativity, friendship, concentration, work, fun and a lot of discussion. After 11PM, we are leaving the studio to find a place which is still serving some food and some drinks. Then sleep in the studio, having breakfast together, working on some lyrics (some of them were written and finished during the recording time) or checking the guitar setup.

Our common idea of how we want to sound and how we can get there with recording and microphone technique is growing and developing from album to album. For the first album we wanted a warm fat analogue transparent classic sound — the contradiction to “modern.” My reference album was Paranoid by Black Sabbath then. So I listened with ROLE and the band members to this album in order to understand what made its production so special. We then also listened to other reference albums such as Tres Hombres (ZZ Top) and By a Thread (Gov’t Mule). That was our first album and the starting point. From then on we never used other external reference albums again to find our way, but we started discussing after we had an idea of how the material on the new album would be, what we wanted to change for the next album. We always first discuss it in the band and then I am visiting ROLE in Oldenburg, play the rehearsal recordings to him and tell him about our sound vision. Then we discuss several ways to get there with different concepts.

For Amoretum we wanted to keep our fat, analogue “soundcore” but add a touch of hi-fi (not too much?!). We wanted more openness, a “bigger” sound: more cymbals, more “room,” like rays of light in the darkness.

Is there a set idea in your mind for what makes Black Space Riders’ style its own? How do you feel about the way the band has progressed since the self-titled? How much of that progression happens on purpose?

We don’t have a masterplan. Neither for our musical “career,” nor for progression or development. We have the privilege to be totally independent so we can do whatever we want. We all have a lot of different musical influences, experiences and favourites, from metal, hardcore, punk, wave, pop, indie to electronic music, trip-hop, funk, jazz, folk and reggae.

From album to album we allowed more influences to enter but still we sound like ourselves. That is something I am really proud of. We can add electronics, funky elements, a dub-reggae feeling and new wave and the result is still Black Space Riders. I believe that is because we have a special signature way we sound, a very groovy rhythmic approach compared to a lot of other rock bands and a special liking for melancholic yearning moods, melodies and atmospheric sound textures.

The progression is just happening. We allow more and more and we like it. And as I said above as our music is increasingly coming from playing together and letting flow. It just happens.

When might we see Amoretum Vol. 2 arrive? Is the next installment written? Recorded? How might it differ from Vol. 1, and are there any lessons you’ve learned from making the first part you’ll bring to the second?

Vol. 2 is written, recorded, mastered and ready to embrace the world a bit later this year. And let me just say you don‘t have to wait until the end of 2018.

We focused on 22 tracks before entering the studio and recorded and produced all of them. And somehow we loved each single track, there were no b-sides in our opinion. The dilemma was: what to do with so much music?

We really thought about releasing a triple-vinyl album like Joe‘s Garage (Frank Zappa) or Sandinista! (The Clash) back then. But who has the time, passion, attention span and is willing and able to listen to almost two hours of music in one piece?

And we want people to listen to the whole album and not only to selected tracks. For us making an album is so much more than to string together a couple of recorded tracks. We want to take people on a trip over the entire record. It should feel like an inspiring, adventurous journey. Creating a permanent flow, a kind of symmetry and a special logic is important for us and this requires the best possible sequence of the songs.

This is a huge challenge if you want to do it for 22 tracks. There are so many options. In the end we decided to split Amoretum into two parts: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

In my opinion Vol. 1 is very compact, diverting, almost accessible; eight tracks in 45 minutes. For a band that is used to release albums with a running time between 60 and 80 minutes, that’s very (cough) “short.”

Vol. 2 has a somehow different character. We are talking about 14 tracks and a running time of a little less than 70 minutes. Very diverse tracks concerning mood, sound, atmosphere style and tempo. Compared to Vol. 1, it’s like a wild hunt.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

No masterplan! Let’s see what is going to happen. Good news for North America: our new collaboration with the California-based label Ripple Music will make this album (and hopefully our back catalogue as well) so much easier available for our friends and fans overseas. What else? My pathetic conclusion: we believe that in the end you can’t fight hate with hate. Let us overcome the fear and embrace the world with empathy. Let love rule!

Black Space Riders, “Movements” official video

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Six Dumb Questions with Somnuri

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on January 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

somnuri

You really wanna know what took me so long to come around to Somnuri‘s Somnuri (review here)? Why I wasn’t immediately on the Brooklyn trio’s Magnetic Eye self-titled debut the way I should’ve been? Is the suspense killing you?

Probably not, but the truth is I knew that when it came to Somnuri, a three-piece featuring guitarist/vocalist Justin Sherrell (Blackout, ex-Bezoar, etc.), bassist Drew Mack (ex-Hull) and drummer Phil SanGiacomo (Family), there was just about no way I wasn’t going to dig the album. Then it was just going to be one more CD that I really wanted that I couldn’t really afford to shell out for, and that would only lead to frustration and ultimately I didn’t immediately give the digital promo the time of day it very much deserved because, well, it was going to kick ass. And you know what? It did.

Released in Sept. 2017, Somnuri‘s Somnuri builds outward atmospherically from the traditions of intensity that permeate New York’s particular brand of noise rock. One can hear shades of modern progressive metal noodling in Sherrell‘s guitar — I don’t know this for a fact, but he strikes as the kind of guy who can pick up just about any instrument in front of him and wail on it — and the accompanying turns in Mack‘s bass and SanGiacomo‘s drumming. The proceedings are furious and contemplative in kind, a thoughtful onslaught that runs about 40 minutes and yeah, makes me want to pick up the CD as soon as possible.

Because, by the way, I still buy CDs. Maybe you’ve got room for all your vinyl in that mansion of yours, but I’m working with what I’ve got here.

Somnuri, who could’ve easily blown my ass off and been like, “yeah buddy, you’re way late on our record and you suck therefore bite it,” were kind enough to tackle the following short interview to give some background on how the songs and the album came together, and where they might be headed from here.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

somnuri somnuri

Six Dumb Questions with Somnuri

Tell me about Somnuri getting together. How did the band form and how did the sound start to take shape? Was there a concept behind the sound before you got started?

Phil SanGiacomo: We all knew each other from playing in local bands and it was probably bound to happen. Justin had a longtime project he wanted to bring to life and asked me to try some drum grooves over his ideas. We’re both natural drummers that play guitar, so the dynamic was great. I was really into the rawness and rhythmic intensity of the riffs and tried to emulate them as best I could on drums. Drew came in to play second guitar but I think we all quickly realized that the low end was priority. Being an adaptive and versatile player, Drew filled this role perfectly and added more texture. We all agreed that we liked the rigidness of the power trio and we were on our way. We’ve never really discussed any defining concepts, but those things do develop naturally over time. Nothing is off the table with Somnuri and in many ways, the sound has shaped itself.

What was the songwriting process like for the self-titled? How long did it take for the album to come together and how much did everyone contribute to the tracks?

Justin Sherrell: I had been writing riffs knowing that they wouldn’t necessarily fit with bands I was in at the time and kind of putting them in the vault. At some point, the vault started to get to full, so when Drew and Phil came in the mix there was maybe three or four pretty complete tunes with skeletons of a few more. It was a little difficult at first, being able to take criticism on things that I never intended for anybody to hear. It didn’t take long to settle into our perspective roles and really push and pull each other to get new, fresh takes on ideas that were kind of just sitting around. All in all, it took about two years to write and record this album. At the end of recording, we ended up with more material than could fit on a record, which we plan on using for a split or an EP. Or fuck it, maybe just give it away.

How was your time in the studio with Jeff Berner? He did the guitars and drums, but who did the bass and vocals? How long were you in the studio altogether and what was the vibe like as the album started to take shape?

Drew Mack: Recording in Studio G with Jeff Berner was like meeting some lost lover in a newly built version of your favorite bar. We all immediately became good pals and Jeff really didn’t seem to mind how much nerding out we did over all of Studio G‘s extensive gear selection. We were however on somewhat of a time crunch/budget so the idea was to mainly just get drums in an awesome room and do most of everything else in our practice space. As it turned out, not only did we settle into the process so easily and quickly, we also have a complete beast of a drummer who does everything in one take with no clicks, no flubs, no prisoners. So we just kept moving right along and decided to track some of the guitars there as well! I think we basically had a total of three whole days in Studio G and then moved on to our practice space where we could spend as much time as we wanted capturing more guitar, bass, and all the vocal layers. Having Phil mix the record gave us a lot of freedom to experiment and get the right takes. Most importantly, we feel we captured our sound well.

Talk about the cover art. The piece by Miriam Corothers is striking and gives the album a very progressive look. Where did it come from and how was it chosen to represent the record? What is the significance of its use to the band?

PS: We loved Miriam’s enthusiasm about the music and ultimately trusted her vision, which was a sort of collage of different shapes, each containing juxtaposed elements of nature. The result was a dreamscape like image. I think it’s a great visual representation of how fluid our sound can be, but still bold and unforgiving.

You guys cast a pretty broad sound throughout these tracks. Can you give me any idea where Somnuri might head from here in terms of sonic direction? Is there anything in particular you want to try next time around coming off of this record?

DM: I personally find it extremely exciting to cast a large sonic shadow over all the silly, albeit usefully coined genres in heavy music today. I think all three of us listen to an extensive range of music styles and personally, I find it more difficult in these sonically saturated times to remain excited throughout an entire album. My only hope in moving forward is that we continue to explore ways to stay excited and proud of the music we create, and, for me, that usually means we have to try to remain DIFFERENT.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

JS: Our plans at this point are to keep writing new tunes and keep it fresh! We‘re gonna start hitting the road more and playing out of NYC. Right now, starting with East Coast runs and then putting together some more extensive tours. We’re excited to meet new bands and potential fans alike.

Somnuri, Somnuri (2017)

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The Obelisk is Nine Years Old Today

Posted in Features on January 30th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

9

In the immortal words of David Spade in Tommy Boy: ‘Did I catch a niner in there?’ Indeed you did. The Obelisk is nine years old today.

Kind of difficult to believe we’re at the end of January 2018 already — or, you know, at 2018 in general, which still sounds like and definitely is the scary future to my increasingly dated ass — but the calendar hasn’t started lying to me yet that I know of, and the last weekend of the first month is traditionally when I mark the occasion that Slevin registered the domain, installed the WordPress back end and let me loose upon my own self-indulgence to begin this project that, now entering its 10th year, has consumed a major, major portion of my life and identity.

I had no idea what I was getting into. I’ve always been a compulsive person. Always been prone to setting up routines, forming habits, rituals, etc., but I think if you look back on the last nine years of my life and see defining moments in everything from professional shifts to life changes, moving from my beloved Garden State of New Jersey to my significantly-less-beloved-even-though-there-are-a-lot-of-good-people-here Bay State of Massachusetts, the birth of my son just over three months ago and the shift I’m undergoing now in addressing long-seeded issues of mental illness while also working to become the best stay-at-home dad I can be for The Pecan — it’s been The Patient Mrs. and The Obelisk (very much in that order) as the two constants in my life. Whatever else I have going on in a given day, I’d have a hard time not feeling lucky in considering that.

It’s not always easy. It’s a lot of work, and I get overwhelmed, especially just being one person behind the site on the writing end, but I am lucky to spend every minute of the day that I can writing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, and I know plenty of people who dream of doing one thing and lose all their days doing something else. I fail to see it far too often, but I am deeply, deeply fortunate.

It is worth acknowledging this every chance I get.

I owe my life, my time and my heart to The Patient Mrs. She is the cornerstone and the foundation of everything I am, and while she may or may not ultimately want to include that line among the many accomplishments of her CV, it’s true just the same. Deep and heartfelt thanks as well to Patrick Slevin, whom I miss desperately and don’t see nearly enough (I’ll be in Jersey in March; lunch? dinner?) and remains instrumental in keeping this place up and running. And to Behrang Alavi, who since taking over hosting duties has absolutely killed it in that regard and this weekend even oversaw the awaited implementation of a mobile-optimized version of the site. That’s right. If you’re reading this on your phone, you might notice it doesn’t look like crap.

There are so many others. My family, whose support is endless. Walter and Becky from Roadburn. Everyone who reads and shares links. The bands who get in touch. The labels and PR firms who support this project. The promoters and groups who bring me on board to present shows and tours.

I say I didn’t know what The Obelisk would turn into nine years ago, and that’s very much true, but I also had no idea what The Obelisk would be now a year ago, and likewise, I have no idea now what it will be in another year. That’s what makes this exciting.

Believe it or not, I’ll be hitting 10,000 posts on this site pretty soon, so I’ll save more thanks and whatnot for that, but really, I can’t tell you how much your ongoing support means to this site and to me personally. Thank you for being part of this. Let’s keep it going.

All the best,
JJ Koczan

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GIVEAWAY: Win Black Space Riders’ Amoretum Vol. 1 on Vinyl

Posted in Features on January 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

black space riders amoretum vol 1 vinyl 1

[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]

This week marks the arrival of the new full-length from progressive metallers Black Space Riders. Given the title Amoretum Vol. 1 (review here) and set for issue through Cargo Records in the band’s native Germany, MVD in the US and various other parties in different regions around Europe and beyond, it’s an adventurous listen that, like much of the group’s work to-date, remains underappreciated for its stylistic reach and accomplished level of songwriting.

Well, I can’t make everyone everywhere listen to everything I think is cool. What I can do, however, is make sure the platter gets into someone’s hands who’s willing to give it a shot. Maybe you’re a Black Space Riders fan. Maybe you’re a free vinyl fan. Either way, I can think of no reason why you wouldn’t enter this giveaway and take your chances at winning a copy of Amoretum Vol. 1, which gracefully brings together heavy rock, prog, metal and a slew of other forward thinking impulses to take an honest and engaging look at the world in which we live. Quality record. You could own it.

I’m gonna keep this post short because I’d rather have you enter the contest than read my blathering. Three quick things: Thanks to the band for offering up the platter to some lucky winner from somewhere around the world, and thanks to you in advance for taking part in the giveaway. Also, as always please keep in mind that I have no interest in storing email addresses, selling info or anything like that. I’m neither organized enough nor devious enough for that shit. I’m just a dude who likes to talk about music and hook people up with free platters when I can.

So yeah, have at it. If you win, I’ll drop you a line a week from today or thereabouts. In the meantime, you can hear some of the record on the Bandcamp player below and chase down more info at the links that follow. Dig in.

[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]

Black Space Riders, Amoretum Vol. 1

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Nebula Interview & Full Album Stream Pt. 1: Let it Burn

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on January 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

nebula

[Click play above to stream the new reissue of Nebula’s Let it Burn in its entirety. Album is out Jan. 26 via Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Later this week, Heavy Psych Sounds begins an exploration of Nebula‘s early works by reissuing the California fuzz-psych innovators’ 1998 debut EP, Let it Burn. It is the first of a three-part series of bonus-track-inclusive versions the label will put out from Nebula on CD and LP, and will be followed in the coming weeks by their 1999 debut full-length, To the Center (previously discussed here) and the 2002 compilation Dos EPs, covering the sum total of the output the trio released with its original lineup of guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass, bassist Mark Abshire and drummer Ruben Romano.

Accordingly, as each new offering arrives, I’ll be hosting a full stream of the new version and a corresponding three-part interview with Romano about the making of that given release, what life was like in Nebula at the time, the band’s enduring legacy, what he recalls from the recording sessions, and much more. Today the discussion begins with recollections from the Let it Burn era.

Nebula‘s origin story is fairly well known, with Romano and Abshire departing Fu Manchu and joining on with Glass in the then-new power trio, thereby setting in motion the beginnings of a legacy that, 20 years later, is nothing if not worthy of the attention these reissues are paying it. From the rolling nod of “Down the Highway” to the already-gone-far-out shift from “Raga in the Bloodshot Pyramid” into the scorching, later-added “Sonic Titan,” Let it Burn remains the nexus point of Nebula‘s enduring and international influence.

The new version’s bonus tracks come in the form of a performance of the title-cut from Roskilde Festival in 2000 and a 1997 Glass-recorded home demo of “Devil’s Liquid” that’s as effective in capturing the urgency of the three-piece in their nascence as it is raw sounding. The Stooges would hear it and be jealous. Together, they emphasize different aspects of the force that Nebula were from their outset, and I could not be more thrilled to have Romano telling that story across this and the other two interview chapters to follow. Really. Keep an eye out for the others on Feb. 13 and Feb. 27, respectively, because this is whole thing awesome.

Please enjoy:

nebula let it burn

Let it Burn Q&A with Ruben Romano

Tell me about being in the band at this point. What was the vibe like in Nebula when you first got going?

The vibe was exciting, it was a no-holds-barred, in-your-face-type vibe with a lot of energy. We were free and ready to roll with nothing holding us back and there was nothing getting in our way. At least that was how I was feeling at the time. My ears were open, my eyes were open and my mind was open. I yelled bring it on at the top of my lungs and Eddie was right there beside me. Charge, Blitz, Attack and Kick Ass! Elevate! That was the vibe I wanted to exhibit and include everybody into. That’s the kind of record Let it Burn was and why “Elevation” was a great track to start it off with!

What do you remember about the recording process? These years later, what most stands out about the experience, and how does it feel to revisit these songs now?

We spent three days if I recall up at Rancho de la Luna with Fred Drake. It was a typical recording session in a not so typical place. Man, listening to them again brings it all back. We tracked drums with guitars together live then overdubbed all the spice on top. Eddie played his ripping leads, I played the sitar. When we did percussions, Eddie and I did it all together and live. We totally collaborated on this record.

Eddie wrote the tunes and I wrote a lot of the lyrics on that one. “Let it Burn,” “Down the Highway,” “Dragon Eye” were all majority my words and Eddie throwing in on a verse and chorus here and there. “Dragon Eye” was my favorite as it was about my hunt for the elusive Quaalude or Mandrax in the UK that disappeared around 1985. It had all the references in there like “When you hear the lion RORER, pass the 714″ — Rorer 714 was the inscription on the pill — “the sky is
lemon” (methaqualone), “yellow” (L.S.D.), “got a rainbow outside my door” (barbituates). Like I said, I opened my mind plenty at that time in my life and always had a pad of paper with a pencil in my pocket. It was cool having older cousins who told me stories about the good ones, ya know.

Back to recording, Eddie played bass on it. That’s how the Tee Pee Records version is, (the tracklisting on that version is also wrong, got “Dragon Eye” and “Vulcan Bomber” mixed up). Mark joined the band after we recorded it and then later we recorded “Sonic Titan” and “Devil’s Liquid” with him and that got added to the Relapse version of Let it Burn. At first, It was initially just a six-song demo and we actually duped about 50/100 cassettes, I cant remember how many, maybe even as little as 25, as we were broke. I drew up a silly logo and xeroxed it to make a cover for it and passed it to people looking for a label to release it.

We hooked up with Steve Kutcher and Rob Gill, whom we met at a CMJ conference while we were still in Fu Manchu, and sent them the tape. They were the only ones who would even talk to us, They wanted to manage us so we agreed and then we met Tony Presedo. I was asked to pick him up at the airport in L.A. and when I did, he had no real place to stay so I invited him to crash at our pad and that’s how it happened. Eddie and I were roommates then, subleasing a sweet condo off Alan Glass, Eddie‘s brother. We had some killer times at that place. When the leasing office found out we were evicted so fast!!

How was the response when it was first released, and what do you think has allowed Let it Burn to stay relevant 20 years later?

Our immediate friends either loved it or didn’t know how to tell us that it sucked. People weren’t fully ready for it I guess. We got that “Well, um yeah,” reaction by some and, “F’Yeah! This is INSANE!” reactions by others. As I said before, it was an in-your-face record that took a lot of chances. I mean, we had a sitar instrumental on it!!

Funny story about that: My old high school friend Tommy, who I bought the sitar from, was hanging around a lot at that time, just drifting in L.A. He’s the only one who caught the naive notion that the tune’s title was so geographically wrong! He said, “Funny that you call it a raga, from India, but include a pyramid from Egypt — that’s two totally different continents.” I responded, “Well, its got the sitar and I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Anton Wilson books about the Illuminatus, so for me it fits.” At least I had a response, right?

Anything else you’d like to say about Let it Burn in particular?

With Let it Burn we knew we had to come out of the gate kicking ass with something. The Fu thing kind of beat us down, at least it tried to, as it taught me that typical chewed up and spat out music industry thing. However, mentally we were in full motion still with so much pent up energy that Fu Manchu did not allow us to emit. We, at least I was, “C’mon already!” and when we freed up from all that, we really came on with it! It was definitely an exciting moment in my life! Definitely proud of my involvement with Eddie and this release, no doubt.

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Six Dumb Questions with Atala

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on January 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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One needs only to examine the purposeful creative growth undertaken over the last couple years by Atala to get a sense of the focus and intensity that drives guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton. The Twentynine Palms, California-based trio have, in the course of three full-lengths and as many years, developed and begun to refine an aesthetic as much dedicated to the individualism heralded by the Southern CA desert’s stand-apart-ness as it is distinct from the genre fare commonly associated with the region. Moving from their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) through 2016’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here) and the forthcoming Labyrinth of Ashmedai (review here) — which releases Jan. 26 via Salt of the Earth Records — Atala have worked diligently to find a sonic place of their own, and never has that been more manifest than in the crisp, mindful execution of post-sludge they proffer in the latest collection.

Produced like its predecessor by Billy Anderson (as in, yes, that Billy Anderson; he of manning the board for Sleep, the MelvinsNeurosisAcid King, so many more), Labyrinth of Ashmedai showcases its progression in the melody of “Infernal” and “I am Legion” as well as in the raw scathe of songs like “Death’s Dark Tomb” and “Wilted Leaf,” and through both, Atala have only become more recognizable as a unit. With Stratton at the forward position backed by bassist John Chavarria — since replaced by Dave Horn — and secret-weapon-until-you-actually-hear-him-play-then-way-too-loud-to-be-a-secret-anymore-weapon drummer Jeff Tedtaotao, the band present an atmospheric and conceptual reach that’s mirrored in the leanness of the songwriting and how little there actually seems to be to spare in their material. Labyrinth of Ashmedai is just under 36 minutes long. Not one minute of that time is wasted.

Likewise, Stratton does not mince his words in the interview that follows here, and I very much consider that another example of the forward-directed impulse that fuels his work with his band. Life is too short for bullshit. And it’s a fair enough argument. In talking about the album, Stratton — also a noted tattoo artist responsible for the cover art designs on Atala‘s records — relays his thoughts on the conditions of the world around him, his personal relationships, the status of the group moving into the New Year (and beyond), and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

atala labyrinth of ashmedai

Six Dumb Questions with Kyle Stratton of Atala

Tell me about choosing the title Labyrinth of Ashmedai. What’s the significance for you of Asmodeus and what does the use of that figure represent? Are you working with any kind of mysticism themes in the lyrics? How does the album art tie in, or does it?

The meaning behind the title Labyrinth of Ashmedai was quite simple: I wanted to use this fictional character as a way to conceal my truths in a metaphor. I wanted to vent my frustration towards the ludicrousy of anglo Saxon culture. I find it hilarious that our society is 70 percent people who believe in fairytales.

They use these fairytales to condemn others with different cultures, beliefs or even disbeliefs. At the same time using their religious beliefs, condoning their own horrible behaviors. I thought it would be interesting to wrap my frustrations up on a metaphor about raising the 72 legions of Hell and using the occult to damn souls for eternity. It was fun.

As far as the artwork, it is based off the three-headed demon Ashmedai; it is definitely meant to tie in. I prefer to use the original Hebrew name Ashmedai over the Roman copy Asmodeous. The religious texts were originally written in the Middle East not Europe.

In terms of following up Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, was there anything you knew you specifically wanted to do differently this time around? What lessons were you able to take from making that album and bring into the writing and recording processes for this one?

Truth is I wanted to drive more and be more aggressive both musically and vocally. I held back a lot on Shaman’s Path. I get bored with that stuff. It’s to blah… I want to be more honest in my art and I felt like we did that. I am not always sad or soft spoken. I can be. But, I am also at times aggressive and very vocal. Well, let’s face it: I am super bipolar.

Tell me about recording with Billy Anderson. This was your second time with him. What was the vibe in the studio like and what did he end up contributing to the record in terms of noise? How big a role has he played in how your sound has developed so far?

Most of the vibe and feedback is my guitar sounds, he contributed to the noise at the end of “Death’s Dark Tomb,” which was genius. As far as vibe in the studio. There was a whole lot of tension between John, the former bass player, and I. Our lifestyles were beginning to clash. Lots of tensions. I am a family man; he is something else.

That was something everyone in the studio had to deal with. I thought Billy was really good at channeling it, using the tension for the good of the record. He has helped mold us in as far as ironing out a few wrinkles but ultimately it is our songwriting. He is great at capturing it.

I was fortunate enough to see Atala play at Roadburn in 2017. How was that experience for you guys as a band? Will you look to get back to Europe in support of Labyrinth of Ashmedai?

It was a lot of fun. Especially with my hand-picked lineup. Playing with Jeff and Dave is my ideal lineup, I loved when Dave was in Rise of the Willing. We had a killer connection. Jeff, he is a rock, such a solid drummer and stable person. Holland was smooth and we were treated very well by the Roadburn crew.

I was proud of what we presented. Especially getting Dave prepared to play an hour set of material in just seven weeks. He and Jeff both did great. I am not sure if we are getting back to Europe this year but I am told it is in the works.

What’s the status of Atala overall going into the album release? You had put up a pretty frustrated-seeming post about dealing with making music and preferring graphic art and tattoo culture specifically. Will the band continue? What is the relationship for you between working in design and writing songs?

The band will definitely continue, with a team who wants to push forward in a more professional manner. I like the tattoo industry because I am responsible for my own art. Most artist in the community grind to pay bills and work as a means to earn a living with hard work and focus. My frustration, it was personal. I am tired of the elitism and the whole party scene, I don’t party anymore, so I don’t fit in well.

I am at point where I want to show my family and children you can play music as a career. Not just surround yourself with shitbags who will never amount to anything. I love Pentagram musically but I think characters like Bobby Liebling being marketed as “rock and roll” is embarrassing. I don’t want to be part of that. I would not be able to handle a person like that around me. I would be like, dude, get your shit together. I mean this is what we are told rockers are. Yuck. I don’t want to be that at all.

I just watched a good friend, a brother throw his fucking life away to drugs. That is some hard shit to see. I personally had to step away. In design I don’t focus too heavily on my own head – I draw what others want — whereas in songwriting it is very internal. Getting that far in my own mind is very dangerous.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

You can be cool without being a junkie. We all make mistakes and fall short at times. Just try and live the best way you can.

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Track-by-Track & Full Album Stream: Ozone Mama, Cosmos Calling

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on January 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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Hungarian heavy rock four-piece Ozone Mama will release their third album, Cosmos Calling, on Jan. 19 as their debut on Ripple Music. Whether it’s the element of bluesy Southern twang that shows up in the title-track, “The Alchemist” or the earlier “Straight on Till Morning Light” — pretty much anytime they break out the organ — or the unbridled hook that makes “High Ride” such a shimmering standout, the record boasts a clarity of intent and craft front to back that coincides with its straightforward, frills-need-not-apply ethic of songwriting. And it very much lives up to that ethic in performance and execution — it can sound clean because there’s nothing it needs to mask beneath a layer of sonic grit.

Comprised of vocalist Márton Székely, guitarist András Gábor, bassst Gergely Dobos and drummer Máté GulyásOzone Mama debuted ozone mama cosmos callingwith 2012’s The Starship and followed that with 2016’s Sonic Glory. A penchant for spacey themes notwithstanding, their material is nothing if not grounded on Cosmos Calling, as shown in the shuffling “Cold Light of Day” or the manner in which the swing of “Doppelganger” updates the ideology of ’70s heavy rock so as to allow both the rhythmic shove and the melody come through — a little cowbell there doesn’t hurt either, naturally. Taken in kind with the thicker riffing that shows itself throughout moments like the intro to “The Alchemist” or the winding “Feel so Alive,” Ozone Mama set up a range for their sound that remains unified thanks to the overarching quality of their hooks, the presence of Székely as a frontman and the obvious chemistry shared between the band as a whole.

As the closing pair of “The Alchemist” and “Moon Pilot” — the latter something of a sonic shift from much of what precedes — play out as two of the longest cuts on Cosmos Calling, the message is only further nailed down of a conscientious approach to their work, which is a big part of the reason why, in featuring the album in its entirety today ahead of its release later this week, it seemed all the more prudent to get the perspective of the group itself. I don’t do track-by-tracks so often, but in a case like that of Ozone Mama, where they’re so readily apparent in demonstrating intent and purpose behind their work, it could hardly feel more appropriate.

You’ll find Cosmos Calling in its entirety on the player below, followed by the band’s runthrough of each song on it.

Please enjoy:

Ozone Mama, Cosmos Calling Track-by-Track

(Courtesy of the band)

1. Evil Ways

This one has a dark psychedelic intro with spooky oriental vibe. Along with the use of the haunting tanpura and mellotron, the distorted vocals and lyrics are reminiscent to Blind Willie Johnson, and for such a short song it’s the one on the album that’s guaranteed to give anyone the creeps.

2. Straight on Till Morning Light

This one’s a sequel to “Evil Ways” and our tribute to Gregg Allman, who passed away recently. Southern rock has always been a strong influence on our songwriting. The bridge brings back that gothic vibe of the intro with a chant-like vocal and if you like slide guitars, tasty Rhodes piano and that upbeat/psychedelic ‘Allman-vibe,’ this is the one for you.

3. Doppelganger

A cheerful-sounding song based on a heavy riff but with very dark lyrics. This song is about that ‘evil twin’ which lurks inside all of us; paranoia, schizophrenia, all of those things which can hit anyone at any point in their life. The story is about a sinister parasitic twin living in the person’s head, very reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Dark Half.

4. High Ride

This is an unusual song from us. It was our first single from Cosmos Calling and has a totally different vibe than the rest, with catchy melodies and a heavy fuzz solo. It’s essentially an invitation for a ride to set you free.

5. Shout at the Sky

A melodic piece on the album, a slow ballad-like song about the constant search for the right path and the right decisions of life. The story behind this one is basically about a man who had made a mistake and the regret was so heavy that his misery made him ill. There is a second interpretation too. The other reading of it is a story of a man with cancer and as his moods swing and memories becoming more poignant.

6. Freedom Fighters

A high-octane rock and roll song with a very simple message: set yourself free and take steps to eliminate all the bad things that ruin your life. “Freedom Fighters” refers to revolutionary people, spiritual leaders and the ones fighting for a greater good and equality.

7. Cosmos Calling

The title-track from the album. This bluesy, psychedelic and heavy fuzz number has plenty of Hammond organs, and harmonized vocals and is a very upbeat and cosmic love song with hints of humour in the vein of Kurt Vonnegut.

8. Feel so Alive

This song is about the power of music. When you turn up the volume and the joy and adrenaline rushes through your veins. Heavy fuzz, tight basslines, funky wah-work and a hint of Motown in the verses. There’s also a tape delay under the solo which might bring you back to the best moments of the ’70s space-rock bands.

9. Cold Light of Day

This one is another upbeat song but it does have slight cold and wintry vibe to it. It’s the story of a man who has been in a poisonous relationship and finally he realizes that he’s been wrong all along and a change must inevitably happen. Escaping from the witch’s spell and get rid of those chains before it’s too late.

10. The Alchemist

A fuzz-heavy, riff-based fiction with a very dark vibe this one’s about a guy who’s trying to save his friends in a plague-ridden town but, at the end, he dies just like the others despite all his best efforts at concocting a cure.

11. Moon Pilot

“Moon Pilot” is the climactic point of the album, the last song on the record, longer than the rest and it has a space rock sound with lyrics reminiscent of the darkest novels of Philip K. Dick and a theme not to dissimilar to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Just updated a little for today’s rock audience.

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