Six Dumb Questions with Bong

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

bong

The extensive back catalog of UK drone ritualists Bong can be as foggy as the band’s sound itself. Between studio full-lengths, they have a history of EPs, splits, periodic compilations of EPs and splits, and no fewer than 23 live albums that goes back over a decade. Still, they’ve been pretty quiet since issuing We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been in 2015, with just two live recordings that followed. All the more reason to approach their 2018 long-player, Thought and Existence (previously discussed here), with a marked curiosity. What have the trio been up in what one assumes is a bunker deep below the surface of their hometown in Newcastle? From whence does the new album, delivered appropriately through Ritual Productions — with whom the band has worked since 2011’s Beyond Ancient Space (review here) — arrive?

As ever, Bong present more questions than answers. With the lineup of guitarist Mike Vest, bassist/vocalist David Terry and drummer Mike Smith explore a textural range that spreads out across two massive, immersive, compulsive tracks in “The Golden Fields” (17:31) and “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius” (19:01), emitting a slow moving swirl that draws the listener in with its well-honed patience and fluidity. You’re hypnotized. They’re hypnotized. That’s kind of the whole point. Not to say it isn’t expressing a sonic idea, but that idea is to get lost in it. That’s the interaction Bong are seeking with Thought and Existence. It’s a communion between performers, audience and sound. Take that how you will — and some simply won’t — but it’s a journey one refuses to their own detriment.

Having been fortunate enough to see Bong perform most recently at Oslo’s Høstsabbat in 2016 (review here), I can recall vividly (or, you know, vaguely) the fog-drenched drone they brought to life on that stage, with Terry gurgling out his vocal parts as Vest and fill-in drummer Rich Lewis went exploring by oozing forth in any number of directions at once, taking the room through a massive, voluminous plunge into brain-melting tonal resonance. It was astounding to watch, and in the chants of “The Golden Fields” and the far, far-gone “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius,” Thought and Existence captures the same sensibility and feeling of journey. It’s not just a willful slog in the front-to-back listen — actually, at 36 minutes, it’s a quite-manageable single LP, as was their last one; 2014’s Stoner Rock was their last 2LP, sort of — turn it up and it’s a physical manifestation of a near-opaque ethereality. Their methods well set at this stage in their career, Bong continue to explore places that most bands dare not tread and atmospheres from whence many a lesser act simply would not return.

In the relatively brief interview that follows, the band talks about some of the makings, processes and concepts behind Thought and Existence. Since rhythm and flow play so much of a role in what Bong does, I’ve left the Q&A largely untouched, and you’ll find it below only really changed from how it came in in terms of format, putting titles in italics and that kind of thing. The rest is as it showed up to preserve the integrity of it, and I sincerely hope it does just that.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

bong thought and existence

Six Dumb Questions with Bong

What is the interaction between volume and ritual for Bong at this point? Where does one end and the other begin?

Playing live. To create the great sustain live, everything must be cranked. Everything! This is a major part of the ritual. A forced meditation for the audience. Even when we are in the studio, this rule need to be enforced. Textures and tones are really important and can only be achieved through high volume. Capturing that in the studio is a challenge but can be ultimately rewarding.

Why Thought and Existence? What is the album exploring and what do you feel it says about the title ultimately? Is there a conclusion reached through the material?

Exploring metaphysical inner space, the past is a present memory and the possibility that all time has expired. The inward expansive nature of the mind and our senses. The brain is actually part of the external world, it is only through our senses that we can truly see or feel the mind. The title itself is expansive and cannot be summed up, but can be perceived in many different ways.

Tell me about writing “The Golden Fields” and “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” When did you start putting them together and how did they begin to take shape?

“Tlön” was written over time, we played various different versions of this track over the shows we were at early last year. It formed over time, the main riff was then extended and tightened up at practice sessions before we went into the studio. “Golden Fields” was roughly planned, with certain stages. Lining up the vocals with the tempo, gaps in the percussion. All our tracks are formed over time, the more we play, the clearer the arrangement seems to be.

How malleable are Bong songs over time? If I went to a Bong show three years from now and heard “The Golden Fields,” would it be the same as on the album? How set are the movements of a given piece? How do you know when writing a song that it’s done?

The arrangements, if any, will stay the same.

When changes or intensities begin, they are totally improvised.

Lead or layered octave guitar harmonies will drift in and out of any track live. Wenever play the same track exact, however you can still distinguish between which track is actually being played.

Our songs are never finished, as long as we keep playing the song live it will always change. Tracks on our albums are recorded moments, they have no real set parameters.

Take me through the recording process for Thought and Existence. Of course you know what you want out a studio experience at this point, but how did these tracks come together during the recording? What’s most important for you to capture in a studio recording process?

It’s all about the initial live takes in the studio.

We play all together to set the right tempo, we try to use the second or third take of a track as a final version to keep the feel, playing a track over and over in the studio can bleed it dry. However, using the first take as a reference point it can make it easier to create dynamics, place vocals and possible arrangements. We spent a lot of time playing these tracks, so we knew the arrangements. So we allocated a lot of time for experimentation adding bowed cymbals, more stereo guitars and Harmonium/Melodeon drones.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

Thought and Existence is out on May 4th on Ritual Productions We are currently booking shows for Europe and UK right now, so get in touch with us, we want play more shows this year. We [played] London at the end of June. More are being confirmed.
Also thanks to everyone who has picked up an LP/Tape/CD/t-shirt or just came to one of our shows. Means a lot to us. We never thought we would get this far.

Bong, Thought and Existence (2018)

Bong on Thee Facebooks

Ritual Productions website

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Six Dumb Questions with Hound the Wolves

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on April 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

hound the wolves

Stylistically ranging and definitively of the Pacific Northwest, Camera Obscura is the striking debut album from Portland, Oregon, five-piece Hound the Wolves. It is comprised of just four songs — and one could really argue that two of them are intros feeding into the other two; one flowing work per intended vinyl side — and runs 32 minutes of soundscaped spaciousness and aggressive outbursts manifest in the screams of guitarist Juan Carlos Caceres, and given an underlying sense of Americana through Tim Burke‘s lap steel. With Cory DeCaire of Mane of the Cur on bass, Ryan McPhaill (Sioux) on drums and Nate Wright providing Moog and additional percussion, the band presents a complete ambience in the six-minute “Omnia in Numeris Situ Sunt,” which in turn gives way to the complementary “Everything Lies Veiled in Numbers” at the end of the record.

That last piece, passing the nine-minute mark and putting the capstone on the album as a whole, is obviously a pivotal moment for Hound the Wolves, and they more than live up to the task. An even greater impression, however, might be made on side A in the interplay between four-minute opener “If Lost in Mind” and the subsequent “Masquerade,” which is 13 minutes long and takes hold following the hypnotic chants and echoes an drones of “If Lost in Mind” with a sudden progressive metal turn that, rhythmically, calls to mind Kylesa at their best. Caceres, melodic on the opener, offers a harsher take in the early going, rounding out with the lines “It’s all a masquerade/It’s all in your head/If the illusion was real/We would not exist,” at about three and a half minutes in before Burke‘s lap steel comes to the fore to lead the transition into a quieter space. Backed by the slow build in McPhaill‘s drums, the track oozes through a long middle section stretch of open-feeling atmospherics. Vocals aren’t absent, but echo in semi-spoken proclamations layered with shouts in places, and it isn’t until about 11 minutes in that the payoff hits, with a fuller-toned, undulating riff; some great Cascadian beast lurching to consciousness.

Intensity builds for the next couple minutes before they crash out, and “Omnia in Numeris Situ Sunt” arrives, its ritual bell atop a resonant and semi-foreboding drone, and it may indeed be that some kind of ritual has begun, as “Everything Lies Veiled in Numbers” shows surprising patience in its execution, never really launching into the same kind of payoff as “Masquerade,” but still reveling in ambient heft for the duration. Equal parts earthy and psychedelic, it’s a resounding finish to a record that’s earned nothing less, even if it’s not the loudest moment to be found in the tracklisting.

The process of putting together Camera Obscura was begun in 2015, so it’s safe to say it’s been a while in the making. In the Q&A below, Tim Burke attributes some of that to holdups in the mixing process — which, given the layering at work in these songs, I’m inclined to believe — and of course the ever-present financial concerns. Burke also discusses how the band came together, their recent tour around the album release, their plans going forward, and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

hound the wolves camera obscura

Six Dumb Questions with Hound the Wolves

Tell me about how Hound the Wolves got together? How much of your sound was thought out as a goal beforehand, and how much was just how it worked out when you started playing? What was the impetus behind starting the band in the first place?

The band started because Juan and I had bonded on our love of U.S. Christmas, and how we both thought they were underappreciated. Juan found out I played lap steel, and we got together to jam. We had three songs written within a few hours based on skeletons Juan had already. I don’t know that we really had an idea of the sound in mind, we didn’t even really start out with the idea of starting a band; both Juan and I had other projects at the time. But the things we were coming up with were ear-opening, so to speak. The next time Juan and I got together, we talked about auditioning drummers.

We auditioned several drummers we knew, and Ryan (Salvador, Sioux) was one of them, and we asked him to join the band. We had quite a time finding a bassist however, but eventually Cory (Mane of the Cur), whom I had known for a while, joined on bass. Nate (Tigers on Opium, A//TAR) was the final piece of the puzzle. I had reservations about adding Nate at first, because I didn’t want someone who would come in and play a bunch and overcrowd the sonic space, which in my experience is a problem for a lot of people. But Nate has a great musical sensibility, and added just the right amount of Moog embellishments and percussion additions, and it was the icing on the cake. This was the point where we started thinking about what Hound the Wolves would be as a band.

What was the writing process like for Camera Obscura? The breadth of influences is pretty vast. Does everyone contribute to the songwriting? How does a piece like “Masquerade” come together in the first place?

Organically. I can’t really remember how we wrote “Masquerade.” It was not difficult in the sense that I don’t remember struggling on this song, it was almost as if it came out practically fully formed. There was a skeleton of some of the parts that Juan had originally. But the song just came together, let’s try this, what if I do this, how long should this section be, and the pieces all fell into place without much struggle.

Everyone contributes their own parts. We tend to take rough ideas or outlines, then develop and arrange them as a group. There are other times when we just jam on a riff, and just see where it goes. Sometimes you find gold by panning through some improvisation. One thing I can say is we do not use formulas or rules to write our songs.

Camera Obscura seems to be broken into two sides, with two pairs of tracks related to each other. Can you talk about the flow of the release from front to back and how the songs are meant to interact? Tell me about the relationship – other than linguistic – between “Omnia in Numeris Sita Sunt” and “Everything Lies Veiled in Numbers.”

“If Lost in Mind” is meant to be an intro. It is a stripped-down song that actually materialized late in the recording process, but when we started to talk about putting out an album, we had to decide what songs and in what order. We talked a lot about some different options for songs and orders. After “If Lost in Mind,” “Masquerade” takes a very different direction, going heavy and starting a musical ride that covers a lot of ground. Musically, we are all over the place from heavy to light to drones, etc., and the first two songs really capture the essences of Hound the Wolves music currently. So those two songs are really an introduction to the band.

“Omnia in Numeris Sita Sunt” and “Everything Lies Veiled in Numbers” are linked together, as you may note from the titles, as well as musically. “Omnia” is a song that started an intro to our live sets, a way to ease an audience to what we are doing, and to get the people at our shows into a headspace. The song starts and builds to a crescendo and then you are ready for “ELVIN.” “ELVIN” is a moody, mellower track that also builds in similar fashion, but it doesn’t cover the same kind of ground as “Masquerade,” which makes more sense at the end of the album. The observant may also notice that these song will fit perfectly as pairs on a vinyl release. We hope that we will be able to get Camera Obscura out on vinyl at some point.

How long were you guys in the studio making Camera Obscura and what was that process like?

The initial tracking took place over a weekend in May of 2015. We self-funded the recording process, and there are a lot of choices for recording studios and engineers in Portland. Juan had worked with his friend Jeanot Rolland-Lewis previously, and Jeanot had been taking over more engineering work from Ian Watt (Ape Machine, High Watt Booking) owner of the Magic Closet Studio in Portland. So we set up for two days of tracking at Magic Closet. We got all the drums tracked, as well as bass and Juan’s guitars over that weekend.

Over the next few months, we went in individually with Jeanot at his studio to track slide, Moog, vocals, bells, and the aux percussion. From there we went through a very long process of mixing. It was quite a process, but we do have a lot going on in these recordings, and we are all experienced at recording, so we listen close and want to get all the details just right. This can be difficult when recording on a budget, because sometimes you have to look at what you want, and the cost it would take to achieve that result, and weigh that against how big of a deal the problem part is. I mean, I don’t want to spend $1k to fix a relatively minor issue with the recordings. There were a few compromises we had to make because we are recording on a budget.

We did get a bit bogged down in the mixing process, and not the least of which was how to pay for the recording we were doing. Most of the band members do not have a bunch of extra money after meeting expenses to chip into the band, and we don’t play shows enough (nor make enough from them) to fund recording, though what we do make does help. We also had no merch at that time to help fund the band, so it was all out of pocket.

Eventually, we were able to work things out though, and the final step recording-wise was taking the album to Ryan Foster of Foster Mastering. Ryan is amazing and took the album, and really made it sound awesome no matter what device I listened on. Of course, once the album was done, there was another major question, how to release this album and get people to know it exists? We had the recordings ready to go for a while before we figured out the rest of the parts of the release. In retrospect, we should have started the planning earlier, while we were in the mixing phase. Every time I go through this process, I learn new lessons.

How were the release show and the other regional shows in the PNW? How much touring will you do generally, and how much does the album represent what Hound the Wolves do live? What’s the relationship between the band on stage and the band in the studio for you?

The release tour went fantastically! You never know how things are going to play out when you book a tour. But we played with some amazing bands for our first time playing in Washington. We took a new-to-us van on the road (‘82 Ford Prospector), and while we did have some issues with starting the van a few times, it was fixed on the second day by cleaning the battery terminals. Highlights from the tour would be when we opened for Year of the Cobra at The Funhouse in Seattle. Upwell, a band Jack Endino plays bass for was also on the bill, and Mr. Endino ended up buying a CD from us, which was pretty cool.

Our release show in Portland was fantastic, we played with our friends in Young Hunter (go check them out, they have a new album, Dayhiker, out), and Mammoth Salmon. It turned out that this show was to be Mammoth Salmon’s last show, but that happened after we booked the show. I have been playing shows with Paul [Dudziak] and Mammoth Salmon for over five years, and after seeing them open for Earthless last fall, I felt Mammoth Salmon had really become a force to be reckoned with. It was great to see the community show Mammoth Salmon some love at their last show. All the bands we played with on this tour were fantastic.

After doing this tour, we were wishing it was longer, it felt like we were just hitting our stride. As far as how much touring we plan to do, it depends much on how things go for the band. It is difficult for us all to take time off work financially and go tour, since we are in a startup phase of the band. That being said, we really want to tour more, and we are talking to some people about some West Coast festivals in the fall, we have another album and more videos in the works. I would like to do another longer tour of the West Coast in the fall, built around festival dates, but we will have to see how that comes together. We basically are taking things one step at a time, and figuring out what we can do next.

The stage show is an experience of sight and sound. We intend our shows to be a coming together of people who want to focus on the present. We live in a world of constant distraction and information overload, and we try to make our shows about living in the moment, without distractions, without consideration for the past or future, but just focusing on the now.

In the studio, we simply try to capture our sound, and translate it into a recorded format. I remember having a conversation with Jeanot about a few areas of the mix where we were discussing our options. Jeanot has come to see us live, and he commented that we sounded on the recordings exactly like we did live. Ultimately, that is what we were trying to capture on these recordings, what we sounded like as five people playing music together in a room. We want to hold onto the ability to perform what we record live, and have been talking about how we can add elements and still maintain them during live performance. We want to add more visual elements as well. We have a way that we are confident will work for us.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

We are meeting soon to discuss our next steps and make sure we have alignment with our plans. Currently the general outline would be to release videos for the other tracks on Camera Obscura, and then to figure out the new release targeted for the Fall. We have a number of tracks that we have written and arranged. Optimally we would be doing releases on a six month to one year schedule, with videos coming out regularly. We will see if we can make that happen.

It takes a lot of dedication in the form of time, energy, and money to create music with a band, so if your readers enjoy what we are creating, their support would be greatly appreciated. We are on all the major digital platforms, but we are fans of Bandcamp, and suggest those interested in supporting us shop there first. You can find links to all our social media at houndthewolves.com. There is a newsletter sign up at the bottom of the page that is a great way to keep up with what the band is doing.

Hound the Wolves, Camera Obscura (2018)

Hound the Wolves, “If Lost in Mind” official video

Hound the Wolves website

Hound the Wolves on Bandcamp

Hound the Wolves on Facebooks

Hound the Wolves on Twitter

Hound the Wolves on Instagram

Monochord Records on Thee Facebooks

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Six Dumb Questions with Akula

Posted in audiObelisk, Six Dumb Questions on March 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

akula

Those familiar with the vocal work of Columbus, Ohio-based vocalist Jeff Martin will find his presence recognizable in everything but context when it comes to the newcomer five-piece Akula. Known of course for his work fronting (from behind the drums) the fuzz-laced heavy rocking Lo-Pan, Martin brings his soulful melodicism to Akula as part of a lineup that includes bassist Scott Hyatt, guitarists Sergei Parfenov and Chris Thompson (the latter now also of Lo-Pan) and drummer Ronnie Miller, and the group’s self-titled first full-length incorporates a swath of atmospheric textures derived from progressive metal as ’90s alternative, post-rock and more beyond.

The album, Akula was given a digital self-release by the band in January in somewhat quiet fashion almost testing the ground to gauge an initial reception that, sure enough, came back in a positive response to the sharp chugging turns of 12-minute closer “Predators,” the open-spaced rolling groove of “Force Me Open” (10:07) the weighted ambient pulsations of opener “A Pound of Flesh” (9:19) and the post-doomer crash of “Born of Fire”‘s (9:27) blend of sonic reach and earthen nod. These four extended tracks would be all Akula needed to make that strong first impression, and in terms of both memorable songwriting and a stylistic ambitiousness, the self-titled indeed sounds like only the beginning of where the band might go in terms of ground they explore and just the first demonstration of a nuance of craft set to grow even more across subsequent outings.

Whether Martin‘s voice is the draw or you happen upon Akula through some other means — frankly, the pop in Miller‘s snare, Hyatt‘s tone on the low end and the fluidity with which Thompson and Parfenov lead transitions between claustrophobic riffing and broad-spaced soundscapes all make valid arguments in the 41-minute LP’s favor — the clearly-intended-to-be-two-vinyl-sides offering is immersive from the outset and rich in both sprawl and impact. I would not at all be surprised to find a physical pressing or two in the works for later this year, but in the meantime, Martin was kind enough to take some time to discuss the origins of the band and how the record came together in writing and recording, and whether or not Akula should be considered a side-project. Some of those responses might surprise you.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

akula akula

Six Dumb Questions with Akula

Tell me about Akula getting together. What was the impetus behind starting the band, and how much did you guys know going into the project what you wanted it to sound like?

Akula started when Lo-Pan had some downtime. I was feeling an overabundance of creative energy and I thought jamming with some different people and different styles might be a good way to channel some of that. This was before Chris [Thompson, guitar] joined Lo-Pan. I knew who he was and had seen a few of his previous bands play. I had been listening to a lot of heavier psychedelic stuff in the vein of Yob, Neurosis, and even some Mastodon. I knew Chris could do pretty much anything from seeing him play. I contacted him and asked if he would be interested in getting some people together for a purely fun project. He was all for it. I told him what I was thinking in terms of style and he said he actually already had some part ideas he had been messing around with that might be a fit.

We talked about bass players and drummers and rhythm guitarists and invited some guys to meet up and discuss. It all went pretty smoothly. And stylistically, everyone seemed to understand what we were looking for. A darker, heavier psychedelic sound with melodic vocals. Longer format and prog shifts seemed like a natural thing for everyone. So we got to work.

Talk about that sound for a bit. The album has such a sense of space to it, everything sounds very open and atmospheric, but still heavy. Was there something in particular you were looking to capture in terms of mood on the album?

I think there was a nebulous direction we were all going, but it’s always a mystery how it will actually shake out when you start playing. We all come from various genres of heavy music but also a mix of other types of music as well. Atmospheric was definitely where I wanted it to go. Chris brings that off-time heavy lead mentality to the songs and that was new for me. It was a challenge for me to add vocals to that. I am used to having very standard time signatures which allows me to weave in and out as much as I want to. In that feel, I can really add to the swing of a song. I really love heavy music that swings. But with Akula it took me a bit of effort to learn where the swing was. It’s definitely there. But with the off-time parts, I wanted to make sure that my swing wasn’t too hindered by the guitar parts. It’s not always easy. But I do enjoy the challenge of incorporating my vocal and lyrical style into a heavier format.

How does Akula’s songwriting process work? How does a track like “Force Me Open” come together, and what does each member of the band bring to it? When did you begin writing for the record?

Usually it all starts with a part idea from either Chris or Sergei. Those two will get together and work out a sort of skeleton format for a song. Then Scott and Ronnie will jam with them to build the rest. Adding parts. Changing parts. Removing parts. This will all happen over the course of a few weeks. Maybe even a month or two. “Force Me Open” probably took five months or more to reach a record-ready state.  And some of that is just time delays. Chris joined Lo-Pan about a year after we started Akula. Before we even had a name for Akula, actually. So Lo-Pan’s schedule definitely has an effect on the Akula writing process when it comes to time allocation for myself and for Chris.

Also everyone else in the band has quite a bit going on as well. Scott, our bassist is in a few different bands, mainly Bridesmaid, but also occasionally Horseburner and Siouxplex. He also has a career and a wife. Ronnie, our drummer is in another band (Artillery Breath) and travels quite a bit. Sergei, our rhythm guitarist has a family and runs a business. It all just takes time. We began writing the first record from the very first jam sessions. But I think it took around a year before we had our first two songs completed. All before we even discussed a name for the band.

We didn’t even play a show until around the 18-month mark. That was important for us when we started out. We wanted everything to happen in its own good time. No shows until we felt it was all ready to be played out. No recording until we have an album worth of material we all liked. No rushing whatsoever. It’s done when it’s done. And in the meantime we just have fun playing music and hanging out together. That was the first thing I said to everyone when we first got together. Those were the marching orders. No stress. Just fun.

No hassles. It’s done when it’s done. And we have really seen that through. It really is like that. We don’t fight. We all get along and we have a blast together. We play the shows we want to play. We go the direction we all decide is best.

Tell me about recording. It’s just four tracks, but they’re four pretty significant tracks. Where was the album done, how long were you in the studio and as your first release, how do you feel the outcome represents the band at this stage?

Recording could not have been a better process for us. We recorded this record at Sonic Lounge here in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a really killer studio with some outstanding equipment and it’s all run by Joe Viers. Chris had worked with Joe multiple times in other projects like Sleepers Awake. I worked with Joe on the last Lo-Pan release (In Tensions), and Scott had worked with him in his band Bridesmaid. Joe was our first choice and for me our only choice really. He just gets music and he’s a fantastic collaborator. He becomes like another member of the band. He makes strong suggestions and will hold you accountable when he knows you can play a part better or if you’re out of tune. And even vocally, I have found Joe to be an invaluable resource for ideas on harmonies and execution. I can’t say enough good things about the guy.

We did the entire album and mixing over the course of two weekends at Sonic Lounge. It was a real blast to make this album. I think as a first effort it reflects the entire timeline of the band to this point. You can hear the maturation of the songs. Or at least I can. “Born of Fire” was our first completed song. “Force Me Open” was the second completed song. Even between those two songs, I think you can hear a quantum shift. It’s pretty rewarding to see that growth as a group.

Of course, you’ve done plenty of touring over the years in Lo-Pan, but how much will Akula play out? Will you guys tour to support the album? How much is the band a side-project for you or anyone else involved?

As far as playing out goes, I think Akula takes a very methodical approach to things. We love to play live but we want live shows to be an addition to our experience, and not just a maintaining of status quo. So we are selective about frequency and overall makeup of shows. We are discussing a summer run to support this release.

I would say when we first started out this was definitely a side-project for all of us. And as it’s progressed it has really become an important project for everyone. I don’t know that I would still classify Akula as my side-project. It’s just a different project with a different sound and its own process.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

Akula is currently in talks to sign with an indie label to release our self-titled in physical format including vinyl. More to follow on that. We are also continuing to write new material which we will start road testing soon. Our next show is April 6 at Spacebar in Columbus with Royal Thunder and Pinkish Black.

Akula, Akula (2018)

Akula on Thee Facebooks

Akula on Bandcamp

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Six Dumb Questions with Killer Boogie (Plus Full Album Stream)

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

killer boogie

As I’m sure someone much wiser than myself once said, sometimes you got the boogie in you, you gotta let that boogie out. Such would seem to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque origin story of Roman classic-style heavy rockers Killer Boogie, whose 2015 debut, Detroit (review here), and subsequent participation in a four-way split with The Golden Grass, Wild Eyes and Banquet (review here) has still left them with plenty of dancing demons to exorcise — or at least put to tape, depending on how you want to look at it. The band’s second long-player, Acid Cream, is an 11-track swirl-and-fuzz-o-thon that takes the heavy ’70s crotchal thrust of the first record and pushes it cosmic; an upward trajectory of caked-on reverb and vibe, vibe, vibe that makes songs like “Escape from Reality” and “Atomic Race” as tripped out as they are clued in.

That spacebound progression is a marked difference between Detroit and Acid Cream, and while no rule is absolute — “Am I Daemon” certainly has its earthbound shuffling aspects — the shift could hardly come at a more interesting time. Killer Boogie is comprised of drummer Luigi Costanzo, newcomer bassist Nicola Cosentino and killer boogie acid creamguitarist/vocalist Gabriele Fiori, the latter also the founder of Italian heavy psych forerunners Black Rainbows and the head of Heavy Psych Sounds Records and Booking, whose work promoting the Italian underground and really the wider sphere of boogie rock and heavy psych over the last five years is near-unparalleled. As Fiori brings Black Rainbows down to a more grounded approach with their new album, it somehow makes sense that some of those spacier impulses would show up in Killer Boogie, but there’s still plenty of proto-punk to be had in “Let the Birds Fly,” the odd interlude “Mississippi,” the Sabbath-chugging “The Black Widow” and even the grunge-laced penultimate cut, “The Day of the Melted Ice Cream,” which gives way to the testosterone space-drift of “I Wanna Woman Like You” to close out.

The fact that Killer Boogie have worked at a pretty quick clip isn’t such a surprise — between signing bands to his label, booking tours for himself and others, writing, recording and playing live, Fiori doesn’t seem much the type for stillness — but it’s the fact of the stylistic movement leading to Acid Cream, as well as the integration of Cosentino on bass, that most intrigues when it comes to the band’s second album, where it’s taking them sound-wise and how they might continue to push forward and perhaps outward from here. Do they have interplanetary boogie? Does it exist? We may get there yet.

Acid Cream is out this week on Heavy Psych Sounds. You can stream the album in full on the player below and check out a Q&A with Fiori about making the record after having done Detroit, changes in the band and much more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions and full album stream:

Six Dumb Questions with Killer Boogie

Tell me about writing for Acid Cream? When did you start and what did you want to do differently coming off of Detroit?

Writing for Acid Cream, we had Nicola as a new bass player and we definitely wanted to go to the rehearsal space to have some fun and immediately after the first rehearsal we wrote three or four songs and we had a lot of new material, music, without shape. Rough songs, plus a couple of new songs already written down with our old bass player. So right in the summer last year, we had the drummer, Luigi, he had to go to work in Russia for one year, so we had to record all the songs in the summer or probably the second album of Killer Boogie would never see the light. So we’ve been a long time in the rehearsal, shaping all the songs, writing down the lyrics and stuff, and we just booked in full August, which is pretty calm around here because everything is stopping for the summer break, and we found a nice studio and we recorded pretty fast. In two days. There were a lot of songs. Different from Detroit? Well, Detroit was, I don’t know, maybe more spontaneous? I can’t really say, but also this record is spontaneous. Detroit was the first image of the band, and this is maybe a bit different but not so much. Detroit is very fresh, I can say. This one, to us, pretty nice songs, and we did update the sound of the band. The songwriting is a bit different, but not so much.

Obviously the influences are different, but is your writing process any different between Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie? Do you have preferred way of writing and putting together song ideas? How do tracks like “Atomic Race” and “The Black Widow” come about?

The writing process, maybe yes, with Killer Boogie, there is more improvising. It’s not really jam, because maybe I pop up with a killer riff and say, “let’s play this riff together,” and after that, maybe the process is more in the rehearsal space. Yeah, we jam and we try to write a song at the same time we just pop it up, I just pop it up with a riff. And yes, when we go in the rehearsal space with the Boogie there is definitely no rush, no push. We just go there to have fun. Of course there is always the strength of writing a song, so you need to spend time if you want to make a song with a start and an ending, so we definitely work on the songs, but the first approach is definitely more relaxed, and this less psychedelic, so maybe it’s more, “rock and roll, yeah, let’s do it!” “Atomic Race” and “The Black Widow,” I can say that in Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie, maybe all the songs sound killer, but when we record the voice on it, it doesn’t sound so good, and some other songs, like “Atomic Race,” you say, “Oh yeah, this is like a B-side song; I don’t think this would be so good,” and then you record the lyrics, you pop up with cool vocal melodies, and definitely the song takes another shape. So you never know until the end. Maybe you put some keyboard on it and the song definitely changes, so you never know about it. “Atomic Race” and “The Black Widow” comes out like the other ones, but maybe “The Black Widow” is one of the songs we wrote all together with Nicola, the new bass player, and we recorded it in a while.

Tell me about writing “Mississippi.” Have you ever been to the state? What does the song say about the place and its history?

Mississippi, no. I’ve never been to the state. The song doesn’t even have lyrics and vocals, so it’s just a tribute to the land of the blues. So it’s kind of a blues song. Short one. I think Nicola or Luigi gave the name of the song, because it was kind of a blues song. It was a song we just started to play. This is not some kind of riff that comes out. I just started digging with the guitar and everybody was starting playing, and we just had this interlude, short one, was nice. Maybe the recording is less spontaneous than when we recorded during the rehearsal, but it’s nice. I think it’s a nice song.

What was your time in the studio like for Acid Cream? How long did the recording process take, how was the album put together and what was the vibe like while you were working on it?

As I said before about the story of the recording, was pretty fast. We’re pretty fast in recording. If you’re a decent musician, you need to do a lot of rehearsal and of course if you’re not looking for the best of the sound, and if your ideas are really clear, you just go there and record. So we just built the studio in one day, made the sounds which we liked most, and we recorded I think from 9AM to 2PM, playing the tracklist like three or four times. That’s it. Then we chose the best takes. Mixing was a bit of a pain in the ass, because the guy from the studio, he has this fucking old studio where he has tape recorders we didn’t use, but he was working with software, so fucking old and freaky to use, which we lost a lot of time and we have a lot of bugs during the mixing, but in the end, we were pretty satisfied. It’s rough now.

Name the five best albums released in 1971.

Five best albums released in ’71. Well… Black Sabbath one. I had to see, I can’t recall any right now, all the ’71 records. I can definitely mistake. Caravan, In the Land of the Gray and Pink. Of course Master of Reality, which was the only one I remembered, and there’s Led Zeppelin IV, but I’m not crazy about Zeppelin IV, and yeah. And there is Sticky Fingers from Rolling Stones. I would say this one.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

We don’t have really plans because the drummer is in Russia and I’m pretty busy with the label and Black Rainbows. So for now, this exact moment, we just wanted to release the album and we will come back with some live shows soon but not so close. Probably the end of the year or next year we will try to arrange some kind of tour definitely. We want to go to Germany. We definitely know we have some audience there who want to see us live after we played Desertfest last year.

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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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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!

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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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Six Dumb Questions with Atala

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

atala photo jenifer stratton

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.

Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

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