Nebula Interview & Full Album Stream Pt. 3: Dos EPs

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on February 27th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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[Click play above to stream the new reissue of Nebula’s Dos EPs in its entirety. Album is out March 2 via Heavy Psych Sounds.]

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

With its graceful execution of desert psych in “Back to the Dawn,” the full-on fuzz assault of “Fall of Icarus” and the quintessential nodder groove and Rhodes-infused jammy excursion of “Fly On,” Nebula‘s Dos EPs represents the end of an era. It was originally issued in 2002 via MeteorCity, and it’s the last of the band’s releases to feature the trio’s original lineup of guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass, bassist Mark Abshire and drummer Ruben Romano. That in itself would be enough to earn it a place as a footnote in heavy rock history, but while it was culled together by collecting tracks from two prior short outings and thee previously unreleased cuts, here’s the thing about Dos EPs: it worked really well as a full-length album.

Eerily well.

Better, certainly, than it should have. Credit to the flow in Nebula‘s material generally, I suppose, that the 11 tracks on Dos EPs should just be molten enough generally to ooze together as a cogent single offering despite being captured in different sessions and initially put out separately in 1999 as the Man’s Ruin-released Sun Creature EP — “Rollin’ My Way to Freedom,” “Sun Creature,” “Smokin’ Woman” and “Fly On” — and a split with Sweden’s Lowrider — “Anything from You,” “Full Throttle,” “Back to the Dawn,” “Fall of Icarus.” These plus the new songs “Rocket,” the maddenly infectious “Long Day” and “Bardo Airways” comprise Dos EPs, and in so doing end up summarizing the scope from hard-driving heavy rock à la most-stoned-Motörhead to kraut-inspired layers of acoustic and electric guitar swirl. Though technically speaking, 2001’s Charged was the final Nebula long-player to be recorded with GlassAbshire and Romano, more often it’s Dos EPs marked out as the last full-length work the band did before they jumped from Sub Pop to short-lived Century Media offshoot Liquor and Poker Records and, losing Abshire in the interim, released  Atomic Ritual in 2003.

The new remaster of Dos EPs from Heavy Psych Sounds — aside from sounding fucking fantastic, as you can hear in the player above you stream the album ahead of its official March 2 release date– reorders the songs so that they apprear not mixed together as they originally were, but in the order from their initial releases. That is, you get the Lowrider split tracks, then you get the stuff from Sun Creature, then you get the material that had yet to show up anywhere else. Then of course on this version there are two bonus tracks included. This gives Dos EPs a somewhat more organized and linear feel, though again, the real highlight of the thing is the vibe Nebula are able to bring to bear in these songs. It’s something that, across whatever the band did afterwards and no matter who was involved, would never be quite the same again.

Before I wrap up this series, I’d like to thank Ruben Romano (now of The Freeks) personally for taking the time to discuss these three releases. It’s been great getting his side of the story about what any consider Nebula‘s highlight years. Thanks as well to Claire Bernadet for facilitating. The final Q&A follows here.

Please enjoy:

nebula dos eps

Where did the idea come from to compile Sun Creature and the Lowrider split onto a single disc? What about adding “Rocket,” “Long Day” and “Bardo Airways” to that mix? Do you consider Dos EPs a full-length album?

I think it was recording those three songs that gave us the idea to combine the two EP’s. It was like, we got three kick ass songs! What are we going to do with them? Man’s Ruin was done and the Sun Creature EP reverted back to us. MeteorCity was looking for a second release, whether it was a contractual thing or not I don’t know. Can’t remember everything. But Jadd Shickler was stoked on putting the MeteorCity stamp on it, so yes, we turned it into a full-length that never got released on vinyl until now with these reissues.

How did working with Man’s Ruin come about for Sun Creature? What did you think when you first saw Frank Kozik’s cover art? How about getting paired with Lowrider for that split? How did the two of you get hooked up?

I think that just being on the road a lot at that time, being a band from that era and in that scene is how it really came down to happening. Having the Fu Manchu connection, the Kyuss and QOTSA connection on top of kicking ass is how we got in with Frank and Man’s Ruin.

I have always enjoyed rock art! I have no idea how it happened but all of a sudden, in high school, I started receiving “art rock” catalogs. They were like 10-page pamphlets selling old rock posters from Rick Griffin, Stanley “Mouse” Miller, Victor Moscoso, etc. I would gaze at them for hours. It also featured comic art like Furry Freak Brothers, Wizard of Id, and a lot of Crumb. So when Kozik came around and then started dealing music I was thrilled. I expected more of that Kozik comic book character cover, like the label’s cat logo or his classic bunny rabbits, so when I saw this girl eating a mango I was totally surprised. And I thought to myself, She’s HOT!!!

We had nothing to do with the pairing with Lowrider, Man’s Ruin did all that. However, I remember the first time I met Peder [Bergstrand] from Lowrider, it was at Loppen in Christiania. This was way before that split happened, I believe we were touring with Unida at that time. I feel bad now because at that time he kind of annoyed me because I was trying to eat and he kept asking me questions that I couldn’t answer because I had food in my mouth. But after that, and then with the split, we became friends. Then I once had a random encounter with him in Barcelona, Spain. Ran into him while we were both on holidays, so we got our ladies and went out and had dinner together. I can say I’m totally still friends with him, a cool and funny person for sure.

This was the last release with the original lineup. Looking back on it now, how do you feel about what you, Eddie and Mark were able to accomplish in those early years together? Any specific memories of recording or touring you’d like to share from this time?

They were my brothers, I was completely and totally loyal to Nebula at that time. I mean, I was totally loyal to Fu Manchu as well when I was a part of that. When I’m into something, I’m into it 110 percent. I declined so many invitations and missed opportunities to jam with other people and other bands because I was already in a band that I truly believed in, admired and was devoted to. We were a gang! We did accomplish a lot, there’s no doubt about it. The memories I have could fill a book — how cliché is that? — but it’s true.

From tour managers getting into fistfights with bus drivers to getting teeth knocked out trying to tackle the roadie. From getting left behind in Sweden while the bus is already in Denmark. Hitting every go kart track that we saw on the highway no matter how late we were. Having to save someone from imminent jail time for tossing a cigarette butt on a Spanish tarmac while flipping the bird at the pilot because I was the only one who spoke Spanish. Always looking back and Ninja Luke always being there without fail and on cue ready to torch the gong! Being told “Hey, those aren’t walnuts, those are psychedelic truffles! Did you eat all those?”

All those times and many more were all specific! The places I’ve seen, the people I met and the friends I’ve made. Man, I loved touring and those two were right there beside me.

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

Out of all these reissues, I always loved the cover for Dos EPs the best. Taken from a book cover I found in the children section of the public library entitled “LSD” and having Mark superimpose us within it. It came out beautiful! I am so stoked to finally see that one released as a 12”.

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Six Dumb Questions with All Souls

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on February 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

all souls photo Memo Villasenor

There is an entire league of brutally underrated crafters of heavy rock and roll whose greatest misfortune, perhaps, was being active before the ascendancy of social media made ‘word of mouth’ as simple as cutting and pasting a link to a news feed, and it is to this number that Tony Aguilar belongs. Together with Meg Castellanos, Aguilar stood at the helm of the raw, bold and deeply individualized outfit Totimoshi for more than a decade before their 2011 outing, Avenger (review here), served as their final triumph and swansong, and after a few years of exploring flamenco and folk influences together in Alma Sangre as well as tour managing for the likes of Sleep and the Melvins, the urge to reestablish a footing in heavy music asserted itself, and All Souls began to take shape.

Of course, no story is ever quite that simple, but as All Souls issued their self-titled debut (review here) on Feb. 9 through Sunyata Records and quickly took off on a UK tour alongside Fatso Jetson, that footing sure seems to have been found. Comprised of Aguilar on guitar/vocals, Castellanos on bass/vocals, Erik Trammell of Black Elk on guitar and backing vocals, and Tony Tornay, also of Fatso Jetson, on drums, All Souls offer nine songs of varied moods but universal impact on the self-titled, reminding of the strength that was in Aguilar and Castellanos‘ songwriting process during the Totimoshi days but building outward as well and covering new ground thanks to the contributions of Trammell and Tornay to the mix. A production job by Toshi Kasai blends weighted crunch with fluid layering on songs like “Money Man” and “Sadist/Servant,” the latter of which trades between open stretches of melancholia and some of the record’s most forceful percussive impact, making the entire experience more engaging, cohesive and sincere.

I’ve already reviewed the album, so I’ll spare you any further blah blah blah about how I think it’s worth your time and the effort of an active listen and just get to the interview. As All Souls just wrapped that tour with Fatso Jetson — Tornay pulling double-duty at his kit — it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the story behind the band’s origins, how they came together after the slow dissolution of Totimoshi, and where they might be headed after this initial collection. Fresh from the road, Aguilar was kind enough to accommodate.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

all souls all souls

Six Dumb Questions with All Souls

Tell me about getting All Souls together. How did Erik Trammell and Tony Tornay get involved? Was there a specific impetus behind forming a new rock-style project, and when it came to it, what was behind the decision to not simply bring back Totimoshi? What are the differences between the two bands for you?

The rock music community is a small world, especially if you’re in a touring band. All the members of All Souls have been friends for years. Before the forming of our band, Meg and I had known Erik Trammell and Tony Tornay for probably 20 years. We met Erik back in the ’90s when he was in the band Wadsworth. Later his band Black Elk used to play shows with Totimoshi. Meg and I met Tony Tornay back in the ’90s as well when Fatso Jetson opened for Kyuss at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.

When Meg and I moved to L.A., I got a job working for the Melvins, which turned into working for Neurosis and Sleep, which led to me being on road for nine months out of the year. I really believe that cost me Totimoshi. Being absent is not good for a band. Eventually, Chris Fugitt, the drummer in Totimoshi ended up moving back to Kansas City because of a job offer. Totimoshi tried to continue with new drummers but it just didn’t feel right. After Totimoshi ended, Meg and I started an acoustic band called Alma Sangre that incorporates Spanish guitar with flamenco dance. It was sort of a venture into a completely different type of songwriting and singing (I sing in Spanish with sort of a Chavela Vargas-type of delivery).

As that went on I got the itch to be in a rock band again, which eventually led me to starting a band called Last Days of Ancient Sunlight with my friend Ferdie [Cudia] from the band 400 Blows. We were a band for about a year and a half — even recorded a full length that never came out because of in-fighting. All this time, Tony Tornay and I would see each other occasionally and throw around the idea of starting a band. We even jammed a few times. About the time Last Days broke up Erik Trammell moved back to Los Angeles from Austin. I had set Erik up with a friend of mine that rented a room to him. Erik and I talked one day and the idea of writing together came up. Which is how All Souls basically started. Erik Trammell and I sitting in my spare room — him playing guitar and me mostly singing. Over the course of a few weeks we came up with the bare structure for three songs which I sent to Tony Tornay. Tony liked it; then TornayErik and I talked and decided on Meg for bass because we liked her playing and felt a female vocal would add something special. That’s how All Souls was born.

Personally, the difference between All Souls and Totimoshi is All Souls is way more developed. It’s 10 times the visual, 10 times the feel and strength of Totimoshi. It’s literally the band I always dreamed of being in. It is also more art by committee that Totimoshi ever was. I tended to be a bit of a dictator in Totimoshi. With All Souls, the I has turned into we. We all write, we all write well, we all trust. All Souls involved.

When were the songs for the self-titled written, and were they written with any specific goals in mind? Was there something in particular you wanted the album to express?

Before the band ever played together we sat at a table and discussed how we were going to proceed. This was Tony Tornay‘s idea and I still think back with fondness to that evening. We drank wine and discussed music… more importantly we discussed what we wanted All Souls to be. From what I remember we wanted female/male energy (no overly macho bullshit). We wanted the songs to decide the length of the song — not some ridiculous formula. We wanted dark music that illuminates, and we wanted deep complex melody. We talked about bands that we loved, but that’s a secret. Over the course of about a year we made this all come to fruition.

Tell me about being back in the studio with Toshi Kasai. How long were you there? What was the recording process like? You worked with him of course with Totimoshi, but how was it different this time and what did he bring to the table as a producer? What was it about him that let you know he was the guy for the job?

Meg, Erik, and myself had all worked with Toshi Kasai prior to All Souls. Tony Tornay listened to his work and agreed that Toshi was the guy. We are all friends with him, know and love him and respect his vision as a producer. Toshi has a very specific way of recording and mixing that we love. Personally, I feel that because we have worked so much together — we understand and trust each other. We recorded with Toshi in three different sessions. The goal was to write three songs, rehearse the shit out of the three songs, record the three songs, then move on to the next three. Over the course of about a year all nine songs were recorded at Toshi‘s Sound of Sirens Studio.

Is it any different working with Meg in All Souls as opposed to Totimoshi or in Alma Sangre? Not looking to pry, but how do you view the interaction between the personal relationship and the creative one? How interrelated are they?

Meg and I have been in a relationship for 27 years. That is 27 years of dreaming, writing, traveling and working together, and I don’t see us slowing down. We understand each other very well as people and as artists. That dynamic plays very similarly in each artistic endeavor that we have been a part of but I do feel that All Souls is our first real and true collaboration with other people. I feel like for the most part Totimoshi and Alma Sangre was basically Meg and I doing most of the major work and allowing input from other people that were involved. All Souls is a real and true circle of collaboration. Not only do we all write, but we all work on the forward movement of the band. I’ve never really been in a band until now that literally has every member of the band networking, setting up shows, tours, and dealing with PR. Namely, the business side of things. Before All Souls it seemed that it was always up to Meg and myself. It is truly a great thing to see, but I’m not surprised — we all sat at the table and drew this thing up. That is the strength of this project.

How was touring the UK with Fatso Jetson? How did Tony handle pulling double-duty on drums, and how much road Eme do you ulEmately think All Souls will do in the US and abroad?

The tour was amazing. There is nothing like playing and touring with not only friends but a band you consider a true inspiration. Tony Tornay was powerhouse on this tour — and he did it while fighting the flu!! He’s part man, part machine. We were well received everywhere we went, we got to see some incredible towns and meet some great people. One of the most amazing things we saw was people traveling from great distances to come see the show, some flying in from other countries. Some fans came to multiple shows. I think I can speak for all the members when I say we are hoping to tour as much as humanly possible. What better thing is there in life?

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Our first album is done and we are already writing for the next. All Souls forever!

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Full Album Stream & Track-by-Track: Supernaughty, Vol. 1

Posted in Features on February 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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From Kyuss-style careening to toughguy creeper chug, it’s abundantly clear throughout their debut album that Italian four-piece Supernaughty have done their homework when it comes to engaging with classic heavy rock. They pull influence from masters of the form throughout songs like “Bad Games,” “The Slicers” and “Kiss the Death,” executing crisp songcraft and a subtly varied approach along the way, the penultimate “Y.A.T.” pushing into lumbering instrumental exploration as it nears the seven-minute mark while opener “Mistress” and closer “Fuck’n Drive” opt for a more straightforward tack.

Comprised of vocalist Angelo Fagni and drummer Alessio Franceschi, both also of Cora, bassist Andrea Burroni — since replaced by Luca Raffoni — and guitarist Filippo del Bimbo, also of underrated Argonauta Records labelmates Bantoriak, despite their Sabbath-referencing name, there’s very little about Suprenaughtythat veers into doom. If one looks specifically at the interaction between “Mistress” and “Fuck’n Drive” at the beginning and the end of the record — not to mention “The Slicers” in between — there are elements not only of ’90s and ’00s-era greats like Kyuss and Dozer, but their acolyte practitioners like Truckfighters and Deville as well.

It would seem to be the latter class that Supernaughty are trying to enter with their debut release, and it’s an ambitious league to enter for a band their first time out. Still, for having their sound as tightly presented as they do, Supernaughty give a clear impression of knowing who they are and what they want to do as a band. I don’t imagine they’re finished growing together as a unit, and Vol. 1 has some bite to its mix that the band might smooth out overtime in terms of balancing the vocals and guitars and so on, but it’s a raucous, classic-minded heavy rocker that winds up looking to have a good time, and as the motor-ready “Fuck’n Drive” hits the streets to make its final statement, the band sound like they’re nothing if not ready to get on the move.

Today they take us briefly through the Vol. 1, one track at a time, and you can read what they had to say and check out a full stream of the album below. Vol. 1 is out now on Argonauta Records.

Please enjoy:

Supernaughty, Vol. 1 Track-by-Track

01. Mistress

The heavy riffing opening track “Mistress” wants clearly show the powerful sound of the band. It talks about different relationships between women and men and the need that the slave has towards his mistress.

02. Bad Games

Most ’90s-influenced track, mixing heavy rock style with early grunge attitude. On “Bad Games,” we wonder who ‘drives the human race’ underlining absurd choices that ‘the power’ make everyday.

03. The Slicers

Mostly influenced stoner rock song, “The Slicers” moves through powerful riff and melodic singing. The meaning of this song is about unsatisfied persons ruining other people’s lives.

04. Andy’s Abduction

This is one of our favourite tracks. Freely inspired by the ’90s movie, Robert Lieberman’ Fire in the Sky. The story of Trevis Walton’s alien abduction, here, is re-adapted for our friend Andy. It’s a monolithic riff slowly that becomes a kind of psychedelic trip.

05. Kiss the Death

The story behind this track is about a dream interpretation: It warns from any wrong choices that we could make in our life but we do it anyway. Starting with acid guitar intro, “Kiss the Death” has a heavy verse and melodic refrain.

06. YAT

Literally “Young Amoeba’s Theory,” recalling the destructive nature of parasites. Unlike predators, parasites typically do not kill their host, but live on their host for an extended period. Here the parallelism is with a young lady. Music switches between powerful and granitic choruses and verses, that guide the listener to a psychedelic final vortex to hell.

07. Fuck’n Drive

This classical rock ‘n’ roll track was chosen to close the album just because sounds different than the other tracks, while the heavy bluesy closure along with the lyrics, sum our vision to be in band and have fun.

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

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

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[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 proper 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 artwork for 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

Black Space Riders webstore

Black Space Riders on Thee Facebooks

Black Space Riders on Twitter

Black Space Riders on Bandcamp

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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)

Somnuri on Thee Facebooks

Somnuri on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye Records on Thee Facebooks

Magnetic Eye Records website

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The Obelisk is Nine Years Old Today

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

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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

Black Space Riders webstore

Black Space Riders on Thee Facebooks

Black Space Riders on Twitter

Black Space Riders on Bandcamp

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