Six Dumb Questions with Forming the Void

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on April 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

forming the void

We’re at less than a month’s remove from the release date of Forming the Void‘s second album, Relic (review here), and already it’s apparent that the Louisiana four-piece are turning heads in their direction. The follow-up to 2015’s Skyward (review here) is also the first outing for the band to be issued through Italy’s Argonauta Records, and it further solidifies the progressive charge of its predecessor with a crisp delivery and a marked sense of scope across its span. It toys with but is by no means subject to heavy rock genre restrictions, and one finds it no less at home in the aggro-catchiness of “Biolazar” and the post-Torche lumber of “Plumes” than it is in the more tripped-out roll of “Unto the Smoke” or the take on Led Zeppelin‘s “Kashmir” that rounds out.

United by a clean and clearheaded production, Relic freely careens between a swath of influences from the modern sphere: here touching on Baroness-style melody, there on Eastern-scale guitar leads like that in “Endless Road.” And though they don’t shy away from acknowledging the complexity of what they’re doing, neither do the album’s eight tracks come across as inflated. If anything, as asserted below by guitarist/vocalist James Marshall — joined in the band by guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa, bassist Luke Baker and drummer Jordan Boyd — they’ve become stronger in terms of their editorial voice, so that the resulting output is all the more efficient and communicative in its purposes. That’s an ongoing process, of course, but so is creativity as a whole, and Relic sees Forming the Void take pivotal forward steps on a number of levels, establishing them as an act consciously dedicated to their sonic progression.

Below, Marshall talks about the origins of the band, what they learned from Skyward going into Relic, the mysterious figure on the front cover of both their albums to-date, working with Argonauta and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

forming-the-void-relic

Six Dumb Questions with Forming the Void

Tell me about getting Forming the Void together. Did you have a sound in mind first, or did you start playing and then the band’s style began to take shape? 

When I first started looking for people to play in the band, I was just looking to play rock music. When we all got together in a room, each of our strengths just naturally came through in the music. As we’ve grown, we’ve steadily tried to play on those strengths more. The most drastic change is we’ve been steadily getting heavier.

Talk about your writing process, in general and for Relic particularly. What lessons did you learn from Skyward and how were you able to bring them into the new album?

With Relic the ideas were a lot more deliberate rather than the spontaneous jam room ideas that led to Skyward. I think each approach has its merits, but it was nice to be able to sit down and A-B parts to get a better idea of how we wanted something to flow. One lesson I think we took from Skyward was editing and trimming parts down if they didn’t serve a purpose. We have less long music breaks in Relic but I think it’s more well-packaged that way.

How long were you in the studio this time? How did the recording experience compare to when you put together Skyward? It seems like a really quick span between the two records.

We started tracking Relic in mid-July and finished reamping stuff mid-October. It was a very different experience than Skyward, which we tracked in a few days. We recorded drums at my buddy (and mastering engineer) Jai‘s house and tracked the rest at my house. It was a good and a bad thing to have that much time to obsess over it.

Both album covers feature hooded figures and the classic comic style of David Paul Seymour. Does that hooded character on the front of Relic have some special significance to the band? Does he have a name? Is there a story being told about him either through the album or the art?

There’s something nice about having a figure defined by his ambiguity. I think it’s a lot like our music; kind of hard to put a finger on it. There’s definitely a sense of mystery surrounding the artwork, especially the hooded figure, which is intentional. In that vein, I’ve never thought of giving him a name or a backstory. He’s just omnipresent; a veiled servant to a greater purpose.

How did signing to Argonauta Records come about and how has it been releasing the album with them?

Our friend Jason Ogle from Electric Age actually got me in touch Argonauta. It’s been really cool. [Label head] Gero has been incredibly helpful throughout the whole process and Argonauta has been really nice to work with. I couldn’t have asked for anything better from our first signing experience.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

We recently signed a deal with Lonestar Records from Germany to release Relic on vinyl. We’re pretty excited to have that coming. It should be released sometime between June 2nd and 9th. Vinyl has been a goal of mine for a while so we’re pretty stoked to finally have that come to fruition.

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Six Dumb Questions with Ides of Gemini

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

ides of gemini

The arrival of Women, the third full-length from Los Angeles ethereal heavy rockers Ides of Gemini, has been a gradual process. True, their prior outing, Old World New Wave (review here), came out in 2014 and three years is hardly an egregious stretch between albums, but in the case of Ides of Gemini, the last year-plus has involved not only the usual playing out and writing time, but also the switching of labels from Neurot Recordings to Rise Above Records — substantial endorsement, in either case — and the reconstruction of the group itself, which went from a trio to a four-piece in adding the rhythm section of bassist Adam Murray and drummer Scott Batiste (the latter also of Saviours) to the founding duo of guitarist J. Bennett and vocalist Sera Timms (also ZunBlack Mare and formerly Black Math Horseman), the latter of whom gave up her dual role as bassist for the 10-track/43-minute, Sanford Parker-recorded offering.

One might think that with a degree of tumult surrounding its making, Women would be confused or uneven in some way, yet it’s arguable that Ides of Gemini have never sounded so clearheaded. From the early semi-metallized urgings in “The Dancer” to the vast soundscaping in “Heroine’s Descent,” which nods to goth dramas and black metal in like proportion, on through the lumber of “She Has a Secret” and ritualized-feeling closer “Queen of New Orleans,” Women basks in its diverse purposes and unites them through a foundation of performance. Timms, as ever, adds to the atmosphere on vocals, but her melodic command is unmistakable, and whether it’s the sway of “The Rose” or the more straightforward push of “Swan Diver,” Bennett‘s riffing is varied and crisp as backed by Murray‘s bass and Batiste‘s drums; the whole affair only given further reach by Parker‘s production work. In some ways, it is very much a “third album,” as it could easily be seen as a new level of maturity in the band’s approach and benefiting from the lessons of Old World New Wave and 2012’s Constantinople before it.

Women is out April 28 via Rise Above Records and the band have tour plans in the works for later this year. Bennett was kind enough to take part in a short interview about making the album and to discuss the development of Ides of Gemini from their beginnings to this point.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

ides of gemini women

Six Dumb Questions with Ides of Gemini

Tell me about writing Women. It’s been three years since Old World New Wave but the band has been through a lot in that time. When did these songs start to come together?

J. Bennett: I started writing songs for the album that would become Women not long after we recorded Old World New Wave. I usually have the title, concept and many of the songs ready for our next album before the most recent one is even available. At that time, our original drummer Kelly was still in the band and the album had a different working title. After Scott and Adam joined, I ended up abandoning most of the material I had and started writing new stuff that I felt was more suited to the new lineup — and was partly inspired by it. And I changed the title to Women. So almost everything you hear on the new album ended up being written after Adam and Scott joined.

Has bringing new members in changed the dynamic between you and Sera at all? You’re the founders of the band. How involved in making the album were Scott and Adam?

It’s changed the dynamic in the practical sense that she’s not playing bass anymore, which has freed up her vocals considerably. And she doesn’t have any gear to haul around anymore, which I know she loves. I think she and I are also more open to arrangement suggestions than we were in the past.

These songs absolutely would not be what they are without Scott and Adam. Sera and I can build a basic Frankenstein monster on our own, but those guys are the electricity that brings it to life. Scott in particular made some excellent arrangement suggestions that greatly improved the dynamics of the songs.

How was your time in the studio with Sanford Parker? Was there anything specific you wanted to get out of the experience of recording with him?

Our experience with Sanford was fantastic. A few years ago, we had talked with him about the possibility of recording Old World New Wave, but he was still living in Chicago at that time, and the logistics, timing and budget just didn’t work out. When we talked to him about doing Women, it just so happened that he was planning to move to Los Angeles right around the time we wanted to record. I think he had only been living here for two weeks or so when we went into the studio.

In addition to him being a hugely talented producer and engineer, the appeal of working with Sanford came largely from some of those pre-Old World New Wave conversations we’d had with him — he “gets” Ides of Gemini in a way that many people do not. The references he made when talking about our music were to the post-punk, gothic rock, and black metal records that we feel the most affinity with, rather than the doom or “stoner rock” references that most folks seem to make. So I guess you could say he told us what we wanted to hear.

What’s your relationship to heavy metal at this point? Women is definitely heavy, but where is the line for you between something being heavy and it being metal? Is “The Dancer” metal?

Great question. I’ve loved heavy metal since I was a little kid and will do so until the day I die. But as much as I enjoy heavy metal, I have no desire to play genre music in Ides of Gemini. Besides, there are so many bands out there that play straight-up metal better than I’ll ever be capable of. Why try to compete in such a crowded field when you can at least attempt to stand out by doing something different?

Then again, there are obviously elements of heavy metal in what we do. As far as the new album, songs like “Swan Diver” and “Raft of Medusa” are even predominantly metal. Is “The Dancer” metal?  I don’t know. I can see how it could be perceived that way, but in the end it’s not up to me. This question gets to the heart of the weird conundrum we’ve been in since the band’s beginning. I get the sense that we’re often perceived as not heavy enough to play with the metal bands that we’re usually lumped in with, but then we’re considered way too heavy to play with the gothic rock bands that we might feel more affinity with. That can be frustrating at times, but ultimately I think it means we’re doing something right.

Three full albums in, how do you feel the band has grown and how conscious has that growth been? How much of the direction of Women just happened, as opposed to being a purposeful goal of songwriting?

I feel like the band has grown immensely over three albums. Constantinople to Old World New Wave felt like a pretty big improvement, and Old World New Wave to Women feels like a massive one.  Like any band, we’re always striving to get better, but this time we did so in ways that we could never have anticipated because of the lineup changes. The second part of your question is a little tougher to answer. The songs always start with a riff—some of those riffs are written very purposefully, but many definitely just “happen.” So the initial inspiration — that first riff — could go either way. But the direction each song takes after that first spark happens with much more purpose.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

We’re playing a record release show here in Los Angeles on May 6 with our friends Zig Zags and Taarkus. After that, world domination? A girl can dream.

Ides of Gemini, Live in Los Angeles, Jan. 7, 2017

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Six Dumb Questions with The Whims of the Great Magnet (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Six Dumb Questions on March 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the-whims-of-the-great-magnet

[Click play above to hear ‘BVO’tje (1 More 4)’ from The Whims of the Great Magnet’s The Purple and Yellow Album, out April 1.]

Even before the book was closed in 2013 on fuzz rockers Sungrazer, bassist/backing vocalist Sander Haagmans had begun to explore new ground in The Whims of the Great Magnet. The rock was lower-fi, still pulling influence from a ’90s sphere, but rawer in tone and intent alike. Haagmans, alternating between a full-band and completely-solo approach, oversaw the release of several EPs — 2012’s EP being the first, followed the next year by a collection of home recordings, then April Fool in 2015 — and now makes a full-length debut with The Purple and Yellow Album, once more working on his own and in arguably the most intimate incarnation of The Whims of the Great Magnet to-date.

Comprised of 12 self-recorded songs and running a vinyl-ready 37 minutes, The Purple and Yellow Album brings forth an at-times psychedelic vision of grunge folk. Instrumental and vocal layering and arrangement varies as songs like “Falling to Pieces” and the later “Better Stay at Home” might only feature an acoustic guitar while others build further out, whether it’s the howling guitar of “BVO’tje (1 More 4),” the incorporated keys of “As I Felt Alright Before,” the garage psych of “Ow What Have I Done” (which gets an experimentalist reprise at the album’s conclusion), the Mellotron-infused “Debussy” or the six-minute “Slowburner,” which shifts from its solo melancholy into an acoustic/bass/drum progression at the end over a six-minute run that makes it the longest inclusion overall.

Wherever he takes a given track, Haagmans unites the material on The Purple and Yellow Album through his own performance and an overarching sense of honesty in the songwriting. Some songs have a self-aware humor, like “Better Stay at Home” or the preceding “Teen Anger,” but even these are executed with harmonic depth and a resonant emotionalism, and while one can hear shades of Haagmans‘ former outfit in pieces like “As I Felt Alright Before” and “I Could Just Leave it Like That,” that becomes only one context in which his songwriting lives up to the considerable ambition behind the concept of these tracks and the finds balance with the humility with the circumstances of their recording and release, providing a nonetheless rich and engaging front-to-back listening experience.

Below, Haagmans talks about the songs’ making and some of his future plans, threatening a doom record and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

Six Dumb Questions with The Whims of the Great Magnet

Tell me about writing for The Purple and Yellow Album. At what point did you know the material would take a more acoustic direction?

Right from the start. It’s a collection of home recordings. And at home I had mainly acoustic guitars, so… But I just moved to a new house where we’re making a rehearsal room in the back, so my next recording might be a doom record.

Home recording is a very intimate process and you’ve decided to really convey something raw in these tracks in terms of sound. How did that come about? What is it you’re looking to say in these songs?

I just wanted to record some songs, sounds and sketches on my four-track cassette recorder (actually it’s my wife’s; thank you, wife). There’s lots of imperfections and vocals out of tune and all. But I wanted it to be loose and whimsical. So I kept many first ideas and mistakes and just played around. Also I used all of my ideas. So the cheesy songs, the sing-a-longs, the quasi serious songs and the slow boring songs are all in there. It’s a pretty good reflection of what music comes out of me at home. And I didn’t leave things out because it might not be cool enough in some setting or whatever.

Why purple and yellow? Is it just the artwork or is there some further significance to using those colors?

I remember I had a period in my childhood that I would only colour and paint with these two colours. And since I’m feeling more and more nostalgic as I’m getting older I went back to this period for the cover. Wish I could do the same with my music. But I will probably never reach the level I had when I was 12.

Will future The Whims of the Great Magnet recordings take a similar direction, or do you see yourself moving back toward a full-band sound again?

I really don’t know where the path will take me. I will keep doing stuff as The Whims of the Great Magnet for sure and it can go in any direction. Maybe a doom record isn’t such a bad idea. Also I really need to get a band together again but that would probably be with a different name.

Of course we have to mention your past playing in Sungrazer and that band’s ongoing legacy (you recently appeared on Spaceslug’s Time Travel Dilemma, for example). The Purple and Yellow Album has a laid back feel but some grunge to it as well. How do you view it in relation to your past work?

Ah the grunge thing! Anything I did in the past is not what I’m doing now. When we were with Sungrazer, we played as a band. We were in that moment together. Now with this album I’m doing something on my own. That’s a difference. But I’m sure it has some similarities as well which is obvious. But because I’m doing this album alone, it’s more personal and closer to me than anything I have done with a band. Because it’s just me, uncompromised and unfiltered. You could be right when you say that this doesn’t necessarily have to be better for the result. But that’s just the way it is (Bruce Hornsby!). And I’m not only into solo and mellow acoustic stuff. Nooooo, no, no, no, no. The other things still attract me just as much but weren’t around when I hit record.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I would like to thank you and the people so very much who supported my music in the past and especially in the present. Cowabunga dudes!

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Six Dumb Questions with Doctor Cylops (Plus Full Album Stream & Tour Announcement)

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on March 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

doctor cyclops

[Click play above to stream Local Dogs by Doctor Cyclops in its entirety. Album is out March 31 on Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Italian heavy rockers Doctor Cyclops are gearing up to issue Local Dogs, their third full-length and Heavy Psych Sounds debut, on March 31. Recorded by James Atkinson of Gentlemans Pistols and boasting guest appearances from Bill Steer of Firebird (also of Carcass, but it’s the boogie that’s way more relevant in this context), the 10-track/47-minute outing follows 2014’s Oscuropasso (discussed here) and finds the three-piece skirting the line between classic heavy rock and more metallic impulses — songs dipping into NWOBHM stylizations in a way that, even three years ago, might have been out of character. As it stands, they find a basis for nuance in this meld, and with the clarity of production and the push of songs like “Wall of Misery” and the stomping “Druid Samhain,” it feels all the more intentional on their part that one might relate their work as much to Dio and Iron Maiden as to Sabbath and Atomic Rooster.

Of course, speaking stylistically (and literally too), it’s not the first time the ’70s have given way to the ’80s, but what Doctor Cyclops use to draw these elements and influences together is a healthy coating of tonal warmth, plus-grade songcraft and a clear-headedness of performance that makes songs like opener “Lonely Devil,” the acoustic-infused “Epicurious” and the swinging, organ-laced penultimate track “Witch’s Tale” all the more memorable before the finale “Witchfinder General” draws a direct link to the NWOBHM and brings Local Dogs to a galloping and righteous close. Striking throughout is the confidence and the poise with which the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Christian Draghi, bassist Francesco Filippini and drummer Alessandro Dallera pull off playing to one side or the other and the assured feeling that what they’re doing with their sound across Local Dogs‘ span is the right way to go, wherever an individual track may actually be headed. In no small part because of that confidence, they turn out to be 100 percent correct.

Doctor Cyclops have live dates lined up through the Spring — they’re working with Heavy Psych Sounds on booking as well, and in May, they will take part in the label’s Sonic Ritual Fest (info here) alongside Yawning ManEcstatic Vision and others, right after they hit the UK with Cybernetic Witch Cult (info here). One can only assume there are more shows to be announced through the end of 2017 and beyond, so keep an eye out., but here’s where they’ll be over the next couple months:

Doctor Cyclops on tour:
14.04 Pavia(IT) Spaziomusica
15.04 Francavilla (IT) Tikitaka Live Village
22.04 Tortona (IT) Dazibao
2.05 St.Gallen (CH) Rumpeltum w/Farflung
3.05 Ins (CH) Schuxenaus
5.05 Ipswich (UK) The Swan
6.05 Banbury (UK) The Wheatsheaf
7.05 London (UK) The Dev
8.05 Bristol (UK) The Gryphon
9.05 Plymouth (UK) The Junction
11.05 Olten (CH) Coq d’Or
12.05 Erba (IT) Centrale Rock w/Crowbar
20.05 Mezzago (IT) Bloom
07.07 Salzburg (AT) RockHouse “Dome of Rock Fest
08.07 Nandlstadt (DE) FreakinOut Festival

In the meantime, Local Dogs can be ordered now from Heavy Psych Sounds, and Draghi was kind enough to take part in a short interview about making the album.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

doctor cyclops local dogs

Six Dumb Questions with Doctor Cyclops

Tell me about recording Local Dogs. How was it working with James Atkinson from Gentlemans Pistols as producer? What made you choose him to record the album?

Was nice and easy, as James is a super cool and easygoing guy. At the same time he is really professional and into the kind of music we are as well, so it was a relief for us to find someone we were in complete harmony to work with. We chose him as we knew he could have been the right person to help us catching on the record those dirty and honest sound you normally get just by recording on tapes in your rehearsal room. We met because of a common friend, Steve Lloyd. He introduced us to James, we had a talk and then we sent him some rough recordings we did. He understood immediately what we were looking for. He was the right guy at the right time.

What were you going for sound-wise coming off of Oscuropasso?

We decided to go for a simpler approach. We just wanted to capture the sound of the rehearsal room, so once in the studio we played all together in one room take after take, trying to put down every song in the faster and more natural way we could. No click tracks, not that many overdubbings, just straight playing, one song after the other… that’s it, good old ’70s rotten rock way.

Songs like “Stardust” have a lot of classic metal to them as well as ‘70s rock. What is the relation between classic and modern sounds for Doctor Cyclops at this point? Are there specific albums or bands that drove your love of older metal?

I guess some of our songs could sound like the lost connection between the early 70’s sound and the proto-heavy metal era… We are into bands like Captain Beyond, Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore, but also into the early Iron Maiden, Witchfinder General, Budgie. I guess in some songs we cheated on the pure ’70s groove by flirting (or petting) with the heavy metal/hard rock lustful chick.

This is your first full-length for Heavy Psych Sounds. How did working with the label come about and how has it been leading up to the release?

We know Gabriele [Fiori], the HPS master, since years as we played together with his band Black Rainbows somewhere around Europe. We are both in the same scene and country, so we kept in touch easily. Once we had this record done we started spreading it around, Gabriele gave his feedback, he was really happy and offered us to release it. We agreed that HPS is a growing label on the market. The names he is signing in and musicians he is working with prove that. He has very good connections in the scene and – things that is really important for a band – he does booking and follows his bands step by step with a careful promotion planning. He is passionate but also a wise business guy. A good mixture for a label boss.

How did having Bill Steer contribute to Local Dogs come about, and what was it like to work with him?

We’ve known Bill since years. We were great Firebird fans, we attempted many of their shows and we played with them as well in 2009. Since then we kept in touch. Of course we love Bill as a guitar player, but the cool thing is that he appreciated us as well as musicians. We simply asked him if he was into recording a couple of solos on the album and he said ‘yes’. He is also a really generous and humble person, a super cool guy. He overdubbed his solos after we finished our recordings as at the time we were in the studio he was busy with Carcass. But I can tell that we were amused about the work he did from the first listening on! We are proud and thankful he did that.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Now we just have one thing to do…going back on the road and rock as many asses out as we can! Follow us on the web, Facebook or website… touring dates will be announced very soon.

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Six Dumb Questions with Akris

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 7th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

akris (Photo by Tiffany Kaetzel)

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a while since the last time I did a Six Dumb Questions interview. Right around the time Virginia’s Akris released their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), actually, and in fact these questions were sent out back then. Akris at the time were the duo of bassist/vocalist Helena Goldberg and drummer Sam Lohman, but that was soon enough to change.

Last weekend, Akris made a return as the three-piece of Goldberg (who’s also ex-Lord and Aquila and performs solo), guitarist/vocalist Paul Cogle (also Nagato and Black Blizzard) and drummer Tim Otis (also Admiral Browning), bringing together known entities from the MD/VA underground in an unknown form. Their performance at Sludgement Day this past weekend marked a new beginning for the band, and they’ll follow it up with other regional shows before heading out to the West Coast for a run of shows alongside the much-loved Snail in July and August.

With new material in the works, plans to record with Chris Kozlowski at Polar Bear Lair this summer and a later release through Domestic Genocide Records — who seem to have opted for the more acronym-styled DGR — who also put out the first album, Goldberg takes on the following Six Dumb Questions:

Six Dumb Questions: Akris

1. Tell me about writing the self-titled. I know some of those songs were around for a while, but how did everything come together for the album?

One of the most important things about this album is the dedication to Mark Williams and all my friends in Hickory, NC. Mark ran shows out of his house, The Killing Floor, and I have been playing shows there and at other venues in Hickory since my first tour in 2007. Unfortunately, Mark and several other friends of mine that I made over the years in hickory passed away. Because of the unending support, hospitality, and kindness I have experienced in this town, I care very deeply about my friends there and will always be drawn to come back.

The album was recorded between the Fall and Spring of 2012-‘13… We actually decided on having the songs be in chronological order, with the oldest songs being first (“Fighter Pilot,” the first track, was actually written back in 2007) and the most current songs at that point towards the end. “Suffocate” was written specifically for Mark, who passed away in the Spring of 2012. At the time of recording, the last track, “Part of Me,” was the most recently written track, having just been completed in the Fall of 2012. Actually, the current set is comprised in a very similar way to the album. There are a couple older songs written back in 2007/2008, a couple songs from the album, and a few brand new songs.

2. How was it for you recording with Chris Kozlowski? How long were you in the studio and how did the recording process work?

We absolutely loved recording with Chris! We had an amazing time at the polar bear lair; I think the entire process was over the span of a few months. Chris and I hit it off from the first time he did sound for Akris at a Krug’s show years ago in Frederick (I think it might have been a SHoD), and I’m happy to call him a very good friend. When I think of the recording process of this album I remember lots of laughs and various hijinks.

3. You’ve obviously put time into creating your bass tone, and it’s such a huge part of the songs. What gear did you use on the album, and was/is there something in particular you were trying to get out of it sound-wise?

I am a big supporter of Sunn equipment. My rig for the past few years is pretty much all Sunn and Earth, with bass and guitar rigs running simultaneously. We wanted to emulate the live sound as closely as possible, so we used two Sunn Model T’s, one through a 2×15, the other through an 8×10. One was more of a clear booming bass tone, the other was more distorted at a mid to treble range. When combined, the sound was very close to my live show rig.

4. How did bringing Ron “Fez” McGinnis from Admiral Browning in on vocals for “Vomit Within” come about? Tell me about writing that song musically and lyrically.

I usually don’t think about my lyrics too much; I almost feel like I just hear the sounds of the words first and just let them come out. It’s always interesting to actually go back and think about what I wrote! A lot of my lyrics involve death and spirituality, and the beginning of that song definitely references that (“There’s a shadow next to me/Sits beside me while I bleed,” etc.). Later in the song I think I was letting out a lot of anger and frustration in particular with dealing with death (“My brother, you fuck, I loved you too much,” for example). As far as Fez‘s vocal contribution, I trusted his musicianship enough to just let him do whatever he was inspired to do. He had the idea for the spoken word part at the beginning of the song and wrote the part while listening to the track in the studio. I am very excited to have him be a part of it!

5. What happened with Sam and how did you bring Tim and Paul into the band? How has working with them changed Akris? Will it affect your ability to tour?

I absolutely loved playing with Sam between the Spring of 2011 to about the Spring of 2014. Unfortunately, circumstances in his personal life made it impossible for him to continue. Tim Otis is one of my best friends, and I have been a big fan of his drumming since I moved down to the Northern Virginia area in 2008. When it became evident that Sam would not be able to continue playing drums for Akris this past January, Tim officially joined the band. Soon after, the decision was made to have Paul Cogle join on guitar. This was obviously a huge decision because I have been playing in a two-piece band for almost 10 years. However, I have been a fan of Paul‘s music and guitar playing for years, ever since I first heard Nagato. Paul is also a very good mutual friend of Tim’s and mine, and it has been an absolutely amazing, positive experience preparing our new set over these past few months. I am truly honored to call both Paul and Tim bandmates and friends. The three of us have worked out tour plans for the rest of the year, which include three shows in May local to the D.C./VA/MD area, a New Jersey Meatlocker show June 12, a West Coast tour in August with my longtime friends Snail (on Small Stone Records), and a Southern tour in September.

6. Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

We will be recording new material at the Polar Bear Lair again in July to be released on DG Records next year. I cannot express with words the love and gratitude I have for our label. There have been many ups and downs over the past couple years and they have truly stuck with me through thick and thin. To have the support of people who believe so strongly in me is an incredible blessing that I am thankful for every day. My current bandmates and label have helped me to find courage in my darkest times through love and strength, and to continue to push the envelope and the limits of our sound.

Akris, Akris (2013)

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Akris at DGRecords

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Six Dumb Questions with Wasted Theory

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on March 20th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Delaware-based four-piece Wasted Theory will release their second EP, GodSpeed, this coming Saturday at a show in their native state with Weed is Weed, War Injun, Foghound and Screaming Rattler at the Mojo 13 in Wilmington. The new release continues a quick start for Wasted Theory, who formed summer 2012 with riffs in hand and quickly set to work on putting them to use for their debut, the Cinco Dechado De Cancion EP, released last fall.

GodSpeed follows a similar course to the first outing in its overall style, but is more developed, a song like “Mountain King” dripping Southern rock swagger à la Halfway to Gone‘s “Great American Scumbag” while relying on a foundation of riffs strong enough to hold up all that attitude. The dual guitars of Jackson (also vocals) and M. Kramer foster metallic tones, while Jay‘s bass — most prevalent in its intro to “Fuck You and the Horse You Rode in On” before being relegated to a backseat to the guitars in the mix — thickens in heavy rock tradition and Brendan Burns‘ drums punctuate the formidable stomp.

Burns doubles as the honcho of SnakeCharmer Booking, responsible for some righteous shows in the Delaware/Maryland area including the Eye of the Stoned Goat fests — the second of which took place last month (review here) and the third of which is Obelisk-sponsored and coming up July 27 at The Acheron in Brooklyn. So with the release of GodSpeed this week, the upcoming gig, the drummer’s involvement in making the Mid-Atlantic that much heavier, and Wasted Theory‘s slot on Stoner Hands of Doom XIII later this year in Virginia, it seemed like a good opportunity to bug them with Six Dumb Questions, which fortunately they were kind enough to take time out to answer.

You’ll find the results below. Please enjoy:

1. Give me the background on how Wasted Theory got together.

With Delaware being so small, we all knew the same drug dealers, (just kidding)… Wasted Theory was the result of many shitty auditions and failed project attempts. In the summer of 2012 we finally found a good combination of players, and it just clicked. We all came from semi-professional music backgrounds, so for us the main objective was to find musicians with the same goals but with different influences to create a style that spanned several styles within the rock genre.

2. It seems like you guys got Cinco Dechado De Canción out rather quickly after forming. How did the writing process for the material work? How does that compare to the process for GodSpeed? Is there anything in particular you were looking to change going into the new release?

It was definitely a speedy process, because most of what Cinco was made up of was riffs and lyrics that everyone already had and were combined and rewritten to fit the new framework of the band. For Godspeed, we wrote new riffs and gradually took everyone’s input and created the music from the ground up. In many ways Godspeed could be considered our first true collaboration in the respect that it was written from fresh ideas rather than existing ones. As far as changes, we wanted to experiment and start using different guitar tones, time signatures, as well as playing with some different effects. We also used some audio samples to help create a more themed and cohesive album. Also, I believe Mark may have also started purchasing a different grade of marijuana… that helped too.

3. Tell me about recording GodSpeed. Was there anything you wanted to do differently coming off the first EP? Will you guys do a physical pressing for GodSpeed, or is it digital-only at this time?

We definitely were looking to go a little more heavy, but also a little more “C.O.C.-ish” on some tracks. We wanted to add some more ambience, add some different “bluesy” highlights as well, but at the same time show our versatility and basically our ability to play different forms of the same genre. Oh Yes, there are physical copies of Godspeed that can be purchased at our shows or overseas through Ozium, and it will also be available digitally through iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, all those cool places.

4. Brendan put together the Eye of the Stoned Goat fests and you guys and Wizard Eye will be the only bands to have played all three installments so far when the next one takes place in July. Can you talk a bit about the process in putting together this festival and what it is about Wizard Eye that has made them such a regular fixture? Aside from their kicking ass, that is.

In all honesty, I really dug what Rob [Levey] was doing with Stoner Hands of Doom and I really wanted to do something similar for my area. After the ESG2 festival, I was contacted by several venues and promoters about doing the same type of festival in their towns, and I really loved the idea of doing one in New York. So, I teamed up with Pat Harrington from Geezer/the Electric Beard of Doom podcast and landed a spot at The Acheron in Brooklyn for ESG3. He and I worked on locking this show down, and landed some amazing bands for it. One of those bands naturally was Wizard Eye. Not only are they a great band, but great dudes too. Erik [Caplan] has been one of my biggest supporters since the first event, and they just fit each bill so perfectly.

5. You’ll play Stoner Hands of Doom later this year as well. How did that come about? Any chance of an ESG/SHOD collaboration in the future?

We would fucking love to collaborate with Rob and do an ESG/SHoD show, that would be killer. It could definitely happen in the future, who knows! We actually just happened to land a spot on this year’s show by dumb luck. We sent Rob a track from the first EP and he really dug it and asked us to join SHoD XIII. Obviously we told him fuck yeah!

6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

We’ll be heading out to do tons of shows with tons of great bands this year, so please check out our site for all the dates and bands we’ll be teaming up with. Oh, and please buy the record! We are all late on our child support payments… Thank you.

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Wasted Theory on Bandcamp

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Six Dumb Questions with Magic Circle

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on March 15th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

If the questions asked in this Magic Circle interview seem kind of straightforward, that’s only because the doomly Boston-based five-piece have done so well at keeping themselves obscure. The band, whose self-titled debut (review here) is out now on CD/LP through Armageddon Shop, have virtually no online presence, be it social networking or otherwise, and in terms of recording info, pictures, etc., there just isn’t much out there at this point.

Difficult as that might make it to determine who’s who and how Magic Circle, the album, got made, it’s an admirable ethic. Some bands can’t go five minutes before updating their fans on which member’s farts stink the worst, or without posting a picture of one of the members sitting on plastic lawn furniture in somebody’s yard, with or without a beer, like the lamest moment of Bon Scott‘s life. And even those who protest the pervasiveness of digital engagement — i.e. me — still take part. If you’re actually against something, don’t do it.

Now, for a band playing the kind of doom that Magic Circle play — weighted and morose atmospherically, traditional in its follow-the-riff ethic, murky and dark in the sort of new New England sphere acts like Pilgrim are also helping to cast — it’s easy to take something like that as a play at cult appeal, but I think actually it’s much more cut and dry than that, and put in the context of the members of Magic Circle‘s combined decades of experience playing in hardcore bands like The Rival Mob and Mind Eraser — among many others in a variety of styles; drummer Q is also in Doomriders, for example — their opting out makes even more sense. They’re anti-bullshit. Like guitarist Chris “CC” Corry says below, “It feels gratuitous.”

Corry, who is joined in Magic Circle by Q, vocalist Brendan Radigan, guitarist Dan Ducas and bassist Justin DeTore, gives some background on how the band came together and put Magic Circle‘s Magic Circle to tape, their experience playing Chaos in Tejas last year in Austin (they’re doing it again this year), and more in the exchange that follows. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

1. How did Magic Circle first get together? With members also contributing to different bands, were/are there any difficulties in scheduling?

Everyone in the band has known each other for a long time. We all spent our teens and 20s in a whole bunch of hardcore and punk bands that played together on shows. Everyone in the band has always been into old rock and metal records, and myself (CC), Justin, and Brendan had talked about starting a band with a traditional late ‘70s/early ‘80s feel for a long time. Sabbath, Rainbow, Witchfinder General, Pagan Altar, Trouble, Mercyful Fate were kinda the vibe I wanted, maybe not the way the riffs sound but just the feel and atmosphere. I’m not a virtuoso by any means, the guitarists in those bands… I wouldn’t be fit to lick their boots, but I finally just sat down and started writing. I had the skeletons for maybe four tunes we ended up using in spring of 2010.

Justin, Brendan and I have done a lot of bands together over the years, and I’ve helped the record other projects I’m not in, so that was kind of a no-brainer. I played them some rough riffs and they were in. Brendan is really the only guy I know who could do vocals this demanding. I got in touch with Q just knowing he was a real good old style drummer, and Dan had just moved back to Boston after being out in L.A. for a while, he wasn’t doing any music and he’s a good guitar player.

We recorded rehearsals of a few songs, just the basic music, and then Brendan recorded vocals over them and that was it. We had ourselves a band.

Scheduling for us is kind of tough, everyone in the band except Dan has been in several bands at all times for years (and is currently), everyone has a regular job during the week, and other commitments, wives and stuff…  so it can be a chore. Sometimes there’s a month where no one can do anything but we’re not in a hurry.

2. Were you surprised at the initial response “Scream Evil” and “Magic Circle” got when you posted them on YouTube? You guys have been assiduous in keeping info about the band sparse, no website, Facebook, etc. Tell me what went into making that choice?

We weren’t sure how they would go over but at that point the record had been done for six months and we just wanted someone to hear it. Word did get around really fast which was surprising but we liked the songs and so we figured other people would too.

I don’t see the point in shoving ourselves down anyone’s throat. Facebook is a fine way to keep in touch with friends living in other states and countries, but other than that it feels gratuitous. If you like the music you can find it. I don’t see the need to force it on everyone. That’s pretty much always been the way I’ve done music.

3. How does the songwriting process usually work? How do the songs come together and when are the vocals added?
Well for me I always kind of rough out the songs at home, just get some basic riffs into a structured whole, and then try and break it down into segments for the other dudes with instruments, it’s basic stuff and they’re pros so we can usually piece together a song in a couple practice sessions, and they help flesh out the arrangements, and adjust stuff. I record little clips of myself playing guitar and bring it to practice to help me remember. After that we can make a demo and let Brendan marinate on it for a couple weeks. Then he adds some vocals to the demo, and then we can kind of figure out if stuff needs to change, add a couple solos, things like that. Brendan‘s a strong vocalist so the song always changes after he adds to it.

4. Tell me about recording the self-titled. The album is so atmospheric and bleak sounding, what was the mood like at the studio? How long were you recording?

We recorded the album in Justin‘s parent’s basement in spring 2011 and we mostly had to work on weekends or after work so we could keep stuff set up there without moving anything around. Spring in New England is a little bleak to begin with. Everything’s damp, and still kind of dead. A lot of grey. I definitely wanted to have that creaky dark vibe you get on the first Pagan Altar, the first Sabbath, some of the ‘70s Pentagram stuff… I tried to give the songs room to breathe. It’s a lot different than when I record hardcore and punk bands. A lot of recordings now, especially with regard to “doom,” sound too “clear” to me with the kick drum razor sharp and the guitars sounding like a Guitar Center demo, and the vocals are super in-your-face. That’s not what we want. I like when stuff sounds organic and real like you’re there hearing the band in that room.

As for the mood I’d love to tell you something crazy but we were just working hard to get things done. A lot of nights I would come over straight from work and we could record just for a couple hours in the late afternoon. Once we started on vocals, Brendan lives like an hour south of Boston so he would come up and we would try and do a whole song before we had to stop, because like I said, we were operating under the good will of the DeTore family. If anything maybe the tiredness from starting mostly at the end of the day kind of carried into the recording. It took three or four months to get everything tracked, but keep in mind it would be like work for a day or two, then nothing for a week or more. Very start/stop. Not the best way to do something but I didn’t want to rush. Everyone wanted to get it right. I mixed it a couple times over the next several months, it seemed like it was never going to really be done and come out for a while but it did eventually.

5. It’s pretty easy to read the tracklisting as being structured for vinyl sides. How on purpose was it to end each half of the record with two-part songs? Are there any plans for an LP release once the run of CDs is gone?

Well the album is out now on vinyl on the Armageddon Shop label (same as CD), and for that I’m very happy because I like records. I have an iPod for work, and the car, but most of my money goes to records. It was certainly structured to be an LP. There’s another song from the session “Lighting Her Fire,” that we self-released on a single that there just wasn’t room for on the album.

You can’t really cut an LP over 40 minutes, and even that is pushing it a bit. The two-part song thing I didn’t really think about until someone pointed it out. I added those titles really just as a nod to Sabbath using separate names on some of their instrumental sections, but it just seemed like that’s where those songs fit once we were done and needed a sequence. All the classic records I love – rock and roll, heavy metal, punk – they’re all sequenced in two sides for vinyl, you know? CD is a bit of an afterthought for me, honestly.

6. You guys did Chaos in Tejas in 2012. How was that experience for you? Will you do any other touring in 2013? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

A bunch of bands we’ve played in have done shows at Chaos over the years. Timmy who puts the whole thing on is a very good friend and has been really supportive of all the stuff that I’ve done for a long time. It was an honor to be one of the openers on a show with Saint Vitus, Church of Misery and Gates of Slumber. I never would have thought in a million years that would be a possibility. We’re playing again this year on the show Bolt Thrower is headlining which again is totally crazy and a complete honor. We don’t have any tours in the works. We are scheduled for the Wings of Metal show in Montreal though with Satan (w/ Brian Ross singing!), Manilla Road, Midnight, Voor, Blood Ceremony, Megiddo, Cauchemar…. August 30-31… Other than that – a show with Pilgrim in New Bedford March 16, and a show with Nightbitch in Connecticut March 22.

Armageddon Shop

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Six Dumb Questions with Traveling Circle

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on February 14th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Proffering rich, organic tonality with an unpostured flair for the soulful and classically rocking, Brooklyn’s Traveling Circle made enough of an initial impression to be picked up by Germany’s Nasoni Records for the release of their first album. That’s high praise for psychedelia — especially American psychedelia — and the record, 2010’s Handmade House (review here) left little to question of the three-piece’s having earned it, a patient but still motion-minded flow playing out over the course of tight grooves and well-placed flourishes of synth. The follow-up, Escape from Black Cloud (review here), was also issued on LP by Nasoni late last year.

Its pulse is no harder to read in terms of overall accessibility, but Escape from Black Cloud is nonetheless a more developed full-length, two-sided all the way in its blend of classic psych and modern tonality, a steady beat throbbing under unrepentantly shoegazing opener “Higher,” while the high-pitched vocals space out above the sway. Elsewhere, as on side B’s shuffling “Fountain of Time,” they touch the ground, but there’s little interest presented in remaining there, as the sleepy “Newborn Shadow” demonstrates and the more playful “Rock this Feeling” confirms. At rest or in motion, Traveling Circle draw forth an engaging atmosphere akin to but not necessarily biting off anyone else’s work in psych or space rock. The more you let yourself be carried off by Escape from Black Cloud, the more satisfaction the album is like to provide.

Traveling Circle is comprised of guitarist/vocalist Dylan Maiden, bassist/backing vocalist/electric pianist Charlie Freeman and drummer Josh Schultz. All three were kind enough to participate in the following Six Dumb Questions. Please enjoy:

1. Escape from Black Cloud seems to have a more laid back feel than Handmade House in general. Were there things you knew you wanted to do differently coming off of the last record, or is that just how the songs came out of the jams?

Josh: I do think our attitude was a little different for the new record. We kept in a more sort of spacey pulse area for this album. For me, I really tried to keep the drums more pulsing. I tried to be creative in the approach but also keep it simple. I saw a documentary on Krautrock a while ago and Jaki Liebezeit describes a spaced-out audience member approaching him to suggest he should “play more monotonous.” I definitely tried to “play more monotonous.”

Charlie: Simplicity was the general approach all around. I tried not to overthink things but we had a certain sound in mind.

Dylan: Yeah, the goal was to compose a more linear structure throughout and fill it with melodic accents that give you the feeling of moving up and down.

2. How does the Traveling Circle writing process usually work? Am I way off in hearing a soul/funk influence? If I’m not, where does it come from?

Dylan: There may be some influence from those territories. But, to be honest, I draw inspiration in my writing from just about every place conceivable. The subliminal and subconscious are important drivers behind our writing process. There are many elements at work. We usually enter the practice studio and start arranging these elements into the sonic positions we feel are most appropriate for each song’s narrative.

Charlie: I can see what you mean with the soul/funk influence. “Rock this Feeling” has that vibe running throughout. In general, Dylan has a very soulful vocal delivery and Josh and I have an intertwined approach to drums and bass. This album definitely has more groove injected in it.

Josh: Over the two albums we have used a number of different methods in terms of writing. I think this record has some really great songs that Dylan brought in more or less done from a guitar/vocals perspective. Higher is a good example of this, the way I remember it. Some songs started as jams. “Closer” was sort of an unwritten jam at first. We first played that song as a jam at a bar in Brooklyn called Legend and just improvised it. The room was empty at the beginning of the song and began to fill up by the end. It looked like a good idea to polish it up after that. People seemed to relate to it. “Candle Light Sways” was an odd one in that I worked out the entire drum part at home and then brought it in to see if Charlie and Dylan would be up for making something out of it. The structure changed a bit with the group though. Maybe this is too mechanical an answer…

3. Tell me about writing and recording “Newborn Shadow.”

Dylan: This is one of my favorite songs on the album. I wanted to create a nostalgic atmosphere with the guitar sound, which involved very simple strums. Serendipitously, the guitar ended up sounding like a harp. Then I overlaid vocals that sound like they’re coming from a gothic cathedral. I really love Charlie’s bass on this track. It holds everything together and makes me feel like I’m on a teetering boat with a lantern in my hand, trying to make my way through the darkness ahead.

Charlie: This one came together pretty quickly right before we went into the studio. Dylan had a very clear idea of the overall sound he was going for. It has a really nice build to it. It’s a very haunting song.

Josh: The drums were more involved on that song at one point and it was worse for it! In trying out ideas we got around to the current treatment, which is much stronger for the simple drums.

4. The album sounds so natural. How much of Escape from Black Cloud was recorded live? What was your time in the studio like? Has there been any consideration to bringing in a synth player as a full-time member of the band?

Dylan: We’ve been praised for our live performances. Many people have said they prefer hearing us live to our albums. The aim of Escape from Black Cloud was to capture the energy and emotion of our live performance and bring it to the forefront. We brought in friends to help with arrangements such as synthesizer and Theremin, but this by no means compromised the integrity of our sound. Having our brethren by our side helped accentuate the most important bits and crystallize the vision. Nostalgia and dustiness aside, considering how many tracks we recorded live, Escape from Black Cloud came out sounding quite polished as a studio piece, both in its execution and production.

Josh: We did the bass, drums and guitar tracks all at once in a live fashion and then went from there. We recorded at Seaside Lounge with Mitch Rackin. Mitch is the best! His record with Heavy Hands is great. I listen to it pretty regularly. The album is called Smoke Signals. Seaside is a great place to record. They record to tape and have a lot of sweet vintage gear and are great guys! I wish I was at Seaside Lounge right now! As for the mixing, Dylan was in contact with Gordon Raphael and we decided to approach him about trying out some mixes, we really liked what he came up with and so we asked him to mix the album. He was working between Berlin and Texas so we handled the mixes through the mail. It was an unusual way to work for us but I like what we ended up with.

We have talked at times about adding a member but haven’t really done much about it. Charlie handles the keys on “Willow Tree Fair.” He comes up with great parts. Other additional parts include Theremin played by Matt Dallow and some studio magic from Gordon.

Charlie: We keep some pretty odd rehearsal times too. A lot of people don’t want to get up that early on a Sunday morning.

5. Can you give some insight into Erin Klauk’s work on the cover art? Was there some discussion of direction beforehand? How did you wind up working together in the first place?

Josh: Erin has done a lot of posters for us over the years and also the cover to the last LP. She did the posters for Brooklyn Psych Fest as well. I don’t recall much direction. I guess she just riffed on the title. Pretty far-out stuff, right? Alexandra Zorbas-Maiden took the sweet photos, including one on the back and another on the poster insert.

Charlie: Erin had some couch pillows made with the cover art and gave them to us as gifts. That was the first time I saw the art and I was blown away. We’re really lucky to have people as talented as Erin and Alex working with us.

Dylan: I was at an art opening in Chelsea that featured some really cool Himalayan artwork. They were dark depictions of mountains and clouds. Very simple line drawings that almost resembled wood engravings. I was very inspired and thought the tone somehow related to the songs we selected for our second album. Knowing Erin was going to illustrate the cover,
I texted her pictures from this Himalayan artist as inspiration for what would later become Escape from Black Cloud.

The photo on the back cover of Escape from Black Cloud was taken in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, by my wife Alex. The poster insert photo was also taken by her in the Muir Woods.

6. Will there be a CD release? Any shows, plans or other closing words you want to mention?

Josh: Currently there are no plans for a CD but we have been receiving requests. The best way to pick up Escape from Black Cloud is on vinyl at www.nasoni-records.com. They also have both an LP and CD of our first album, Handmade House. If you don’t listen to records, Escape from Black Cloud is on iTunes and Spotify. We are currently planning to hold record listenings in three cities as well, New York, San Francisco, and Sydney. If anyone is interested, keep an eye on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TravelingCircle for more details.

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Nasoni Records

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