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.

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Six Dumb Questions with Weedpecker (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Six Dumb Questions on January 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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Today, Jan. 5, marks the official release date of Polish heavy psych rockers Weedpecker‘s awaited third album, III. Also their debut outing through respected purveyor Stickman Records, its tracks have been floating around the interwebs for the better part of the last several months in one form or another, and the whole thing might well have been on YouTube already, I don’t really know, but if you click play below, you can stream it in full courtesy of the band and label, and whether it’s your first time hearing it or not, it’s one I’m thrilled to be able to feature for the wide-spreading wash it enacts and the inviting warmth with which it greets its audience.

Comprised now of founding brothers/guitarists/vocalists Piotr Wyroslaw “Wyro” Dobry and Bartek “Bando” Dobry, bassist Grzegorz “Mroku” Pawlowski, who joined in time for the release of II (review here) and drummer Pan Falon, the Warsaw-based troupe have held firm to a creatively progressive course since their self-titledweedpecker iii debut (review here) surfaced in 2013, but with III, their approach reaches new levels of patience and fluidity. Across the first two of the five inclusions, “Molecule” and “Embrace,” they employ dream-toned otherworldliness wielded with stonerly fascination and exploratory aplomb. Layers are rich but spread wide, allowing the listener to breathe easy as they make their way through toward the cyclonic churn that, prefaced in the second half of “Molecule,” takes fuller hold with album centerpiece “Liquid Sky” and the early going of the subsequent “From Mars to Mercury,” shades of latter-day Elder‘s lush melodies showing themselves amidst the swirl of fuzz and echo.

The full-length rounds out with the nigh-Beatlesian harmonies of “Lazy Boy and the Temple of Wonders,” a stretch of just under nine minutes that builds in linear fashion to a smoothly-executed apex pulled off with class and confidence alike, first swelling in the midsection before drawing back to highlight the Pawlowski‘s bassline as the Dobry brothers weave lines of guitar and (maybe?) Mellotron together for a serenity that thrusts forward circa 5:45 to begin to provide III with its well-earned final payoff. This, naturally, is no less fluid than anything that’s come before it, and III on the whole reveals itself to be a molten joy of heavy psych that finds Weedpecker more come into their own sonic persona than they’ve ever been.

Accordingly, and with the album out today, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to hit the Dobrys up with a few questions about the making of III and their sense of where Weedpecker are coming from generally and where they might be headed. You’ll find the results of that Q&A after the album player immediately following here.

Please enjoy the following stream and Six Dumb Questions:

Six Dumb Questions with Weedpecker

Tell me about writing III. When did the process start? Was there anything in particular you were looking to accomplish coming off of the last album and going into this one?

Piotr Dobry: We started writing the material for III right after we finished recording II. To be honest, I don’t quiet remember how it went. We were just working hard on upgrading the sound and compositions comparing to II. The experiences we earned from previous records are very precious, we wanted to use them to make the best possible album.

Bartek Dobry: I remember that I was really happy with the sound of II when we left the studio, but later on I started to notice that I don’t like it to be honest. The compositions and the sound. They seemed to be flat and boring. We really wanted not to repeat mistakes we did during the last studio session. I think it turned out okay but still I see lots of things that we can work on in the future.

How do Weedpecker songs take shape? A track like “Embrace” seems to have a lot of interwoven parts – how do they come together for you guys generally? Has this process changed at all over the course of your three albums?

PD: It depends, the whole material is written by me and Bartek, we bring patterns to the rehearsals and then we try to make songs out of them. Sometimes it takes very long for us to finish the song. Like the song is almost done but it needs one or two more patterns which just can’t come to your head, and then you wait even couple of months till you find what you were looking for. After finishing such a song we want to do something spontaneous and just jam something out.

BD: The process definitely changed, we started to put more attention on what patterns are getting in the songs. The selection was really raw. We probably had to give up riffs that could make another LP but they weren’t good enough. Also I’ve never recorded music in home just to register riffs and to work on them, which I did during working on III. It really makes a good work.

What was your time in the studio like for III? How long were you recording? What was the vibe like? Did you have any specific goals for the sound and, if so, what were some of the challenges along the way in making them happen?

PD: We recorded it in freshly built studio of Tides From Nebula fellas. Haldor of Satanic Audio was our recording guy just like on II. We’ve spent very intense week there, we’ve been recording for 12 hours a day and sometimes even more. We’ve smoked literally ton of weed during the session. It was pure pleasure. I love to record and it gives me lots of joy when I hear particular tracks being combined and slowly becoming a song on which we were working for two years. We knew exactly what kind of gear (guitars, amps and the whole rest) we wanted to use on this record. We bought some and some we borrowed from our good friends. On II we didn’t put as much effort.

BD: Special thanks to Cheesy Dude for being our backup sound guy for one night!

How did signing to Stickman come about? The label seems to have such distinctive taste. What does it mean to you to have them backing your record?

PD: It means a lot to us! Personally I love many records published by this label and I was really happy when we got the proposition. Good friend of ours, Nick DiSalvo came to the gig in Berlin, and he said that he’d like to show the material to Rolf [Gustavus], owner of the label. After something about a week we got an official proposition from Stickman.

How do you feel that Weedpecker has grown generally since the first album? Is that something you think about and try to purposefully make happen, or do you just prefer to let the songs take shape as they will and see what comes out? How much of your progression is intentional?

PD: Of course we care about the continuous growth of the band. We want every each album to sound better than the previous one. That means we have to work harder and invest more money each time. Still it gives us lots of pleasure and satisfaction. On each rehearsal we smoke blunts together, play, and talk about stuff.

BD: The progression is partly intentional. As we play more and have more experience with composing and stuff we begin to have more expectations about our music. I want songs to be more complicated and melodic. But still the most important is just to have fun out of playing. If we play the riff and we really feel it during the rehearsal than propably it’s good. Or perhaps it’s shit and we were too high while playing it. You never know.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

PD: Right after releasing III we go on the small tour around the Germany and Poland, and then we will see.

BD: Peace and love brothers and sisters!

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Six Dumb Questions & Track Premiere: Bible Black Tyrant

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on December 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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On Feb. 16, Bible Black Tyrant will release their debut album, Regret Beyond Death, via Argonauta Records, Cheddar Brothers Records and Anima Recordings. The seven-song/43-minute onslaught of sludge extremity is the latest in a line of studio projects conceived and directed by multi-instrumentalist Aaron D.C. Edge, whose pedigree includes the 2013 outing from Lumbar that found him working with Mike Scheidt of YOB and Tad Doyle of Tad and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth — the latter of which also once counted Edge as a member — along with groups like Iamthethorn, Himsa, Dakessian, Hauler, Grievous, Roareth (whose album came out through this site’s one-time in-house label), and countless others. Dude has a long history of hopping from one project to the next.

Indeed, even as he discusses the origins of Bible Black Tyrant here, Edge notes that his next outfit, Ramprasad, is already in motion. That band will reportedly include Bible Black Tyrant collaborator David S. Fylstra, who performs guitar and contributes scathing vocals to go with Edge‘s own throughout Regret Beyond Death, while Tyler Smith roundsbible-black-tyrant-regret-beyond-death out the trio on drums. A process of home/self-recording — plus drum sounds captured by Andy Patterson — has resulted in massive tumults of undulating sludge; riffs like those of “New Verse Inferno” or the lurching “The Standard” constructed for largesse and atmospheric impact alike, while the title-track’s blistering noise and the alternately frenetic and crushing finale “A Terror to the Adversary” make their statement in ambience and abrasion.

Noise, noise, noise. Pummel, pummel, pummel. There’s no denying the vicious nature of the offering itself — Regret Beyond Death is brutal in style and theme and not intended to be otherwise — but as Edge notes in the interview below it was originally executed as a potential sequel to Lumbar‘s 2013 outing, The First and Last Days of Unwelcome (review here), one can hear in cuts like “The Irony” some similar flourish of melody peaking through in the guitar, through even that seems to have been twisted in service to the skin-peeling assault of the finished product of Bible Black Tyrant‘s debut.

Debut and maybe swansong? I ask Edge directly in the discussion that follows whether Bible Black Tyrant is a one-and-done showcase or a continuing band, and you’ll find his answer amid the back and forth about how the group came together, how the album was recorded, his day-to-day health status after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013, and more. In addition to the chat, I’m thrilled to be able to host the premiere of “New Verse Inferno,” which you’ll find on the YouTube player about two lines down. Yup, it’s right there. Go ahead and dig in.

Please enjoy the song and the following Six Dumb Questions:

Bible Black Tyrant, “New Verse Inferno” track premiere

Six Dumb Questions with Bible Black Tyrant

Tell me how Bible Black Tyrant came together. How were David and Tyler brought on board and how did the project begin to take shape?

Well, honestly, at first I wasn’t sure how transparent to be on this recording. I don’t wanna be known as “that guy who only makes studio records, without playing any live shows”… but, since my MS diagnosis (as you well know from being part of my story since it all began back in 2013 with Lumbar), playing live with musicians was not possible. But, and I’ll get to that later in this interview, there has been quite a bit of progress in my dealings with multiple sclerosis.

[Bible Black Tyrant and Lumbar were] made the same way, but this time ‘round, I had the incredible drumming of Tyler (not my own recycled kit) and the multi-talented David onboard. Andy Patterson sent me Tyler’s drum stems and I’d bring those awesome files into a new GarageBand session in my home studio. There were no riffs yet, no songs written at all. I immediately rearranged his drum tracks into new parts, without knowing any riffs, without any plans, other than a general idea of verses, choruses and bridges, but just his percussion, mind you. It’s a totally backwards way to create songs.

Musicians reading this: imagine if one of your favorite drummers gave you full songs of completely prerecorded drums for a full record and you had to cut/paste, add missing pieces of a puzzle as you went along. Bit by bit. It takes a long, long fucking time. And you have to be incredibly patient. But, back in 2015 (when this was started), I had lots of time. I was unable to play guitar for longer than about five minutes. My MS-related hand pain still ruled my life.

Each riff was written on the spot, in the order of how the drumming came together. Obviously, some parts were then repeated again later as the track took shape, for verse/chorus vibes. There were no preconceived riffs. It’s tricky, it’s spontaneous, scary and it’s also very exciting. Not once, on the entire record, did I go back and change a part after laying it down… it is what it is, and forever shall be.

Also, it should be noted that there are no mics used in this recording process (here or on the Lumbar record). No speaker cabs. I play a guitar directly into a Verellen “Skyhammer” tube preamp, and from that directly into my iMac/GarageBand. The pre-amp has 3 12AX7 tubes that give all the tone. And, somehow, the feedback sounds real. It blows my mind. 

I finished writing and forging all the tracks years ago. They sat. I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Fast-forward to the summer of 2017: I had been working with David on numerous projects and also loved his solo material. I asked him to sit down with the project (which then had guitar, bass and my vocals completed), and record his own sensible leads, extra soundscape ideas, thicken up parts and do some backup vocals. He really, really made the whole thing quite special. I love Dave like a brother and trust him to help bring almost everything into a new realm of awesome. 

Was there something in particular you knew you wanted to go for sound-wise and something you knew they could bring to that process?

Originally, I just wanted to have another creative project to work on while in my pain and deep depression. I wasn’t sure what would happen with it. I first asked Mike [Scheidt] and Tad [Doyle] to provide vocals and create another Lumbar record, but since it wasn’t my drumming, it became a totally separate beast. Also, it should go on record that Greg Anderson helped convince me to have it be separate. Greg is always there for a quick back-and-forth texting of ideas. He thought that it was a different entity as well. I trust him, Mike and Tad to be there for me, always. They are my “Wise Men”.

You’ve been involved in so many projects over the years, and so many are one-time-only outings. What have you learned from working with such a wide variety of players? If you found a band that wanted to stick around for multiple releases at this point, would you do it? Is Bible Black Tyrant a one-and-done?

I’ve learned to be humble, or at least I hope. The people that I work with remind me that their collective talents are what make anything that I create/release truly shine. I am honored that these players have dedicated their time, talent and energy to my cause. The heavy rock and metal community really is quite special.

Dave (of The Tyrant) and I have been forging 10 songs for the last year and a half… Because of the proper meds, I’ve been able to actually play guitar live with a drummer. It’s my second chance. Dave is my catalyst for new live offerings. Our band is called Ramprasad, we have an EP coming out very soon, he on drums and myself with guitar and vocal duties. And, we will start playing shows early 2018. This is the first time that I’ve had my pain managed enough to play live since early 2013. I am very enthusiastic and blessed (for lack of a better word) to know David, in so many ways.

It really is amazing to play for a few hours at a time, all the while in pain, but manageable pain. I don’t have the dexterity I used to and my nerve endings can’t tell the difference between strings well anymore. So, I play a lot simpler riffs but Dave truly shines… he’s such a great drummer! I’d say we sound like… fuck, I don’t really know. Haha. Perhaps you can tell me when I send you our record in a few weeks.

What’s the mission of Bible Black Tyrant, as opposed to other projects you’ve done?

Bible Black Tyrant is 100 percent steadfastness to one’s own belief and strength. The lyrics are about surviving toughest of storms, about keeping perspective in the hardest times. And, one doesn’t need to smile for others. What we need is to save that energy for our own perseverance and strength. We shouldn’t waste time on those that keep us from our goals. I should also say that there is a very, very strong underlining opposition to Christianity flowing through the lyrics on this recording, Anton LaVey speaks almost directly through this collection of tracks. Christianity keeps its flock of sheep in chains, and that will never not make me boil inside. Though I call myself a Pantheist, the founding beliefs of The Church of Satan make a lot of sense to me. I had to text Tyler and Dave and make sure they were okay with my lyrics being dark and strong against organized Christianity. They responded quite favorably to my view and stance. We are all holding hands around a burning bible, haha.

It’s been almost five years since you first made your MS diagnosis publicly known. What’s your health status now?

Manageable. I take 17 pills each and every day. That’s annoying and I’m chained to alarms that have me gulping them constantly. BUT, I shouldn’t complain, there are folks with MS that can’t even stand, let alone function, hold a part-time job and play music. Honestly, I consider each day as my last “healthy” one. Every single morning I wake to the assumption that I won’t be able to stand, and though my legs are week, they are still holding me up. Dave and I have discussed that it’s totally possible that I’ll play live in a wheelchair some day… sounds dark, I guess, but I am a realist. If I have to do that, I suppose I will.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I want to thank you, as always, for being my go-to for heavy music knowledge as well as THE first person to send my new recordings and projects to. Thank you JJ. As far as closing words: Do your best. Forget the rest.

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Six Dumb Questions with Rev. Jim Forrester of Foghound & Serpents of Secrecy

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on December 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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This one has been a while in the making. It was a genuine shock this past summer when bassist Rev. Jim Forrester was suddenly beset with a barrage of life-threatening medical issues. Keeping tabs on updates via social media became a tense undertaking. A crowdfunding was set up. Benefit shows were announced and held. Forrester‘s recovery from what he details as being a near-death experience and the worst pain he’s ever felt is ongoing, as one might expect, but there was no question that the East Coast heavy underground and especially that of the Maryland/Chesapeake region rallied to his side when called upon to do so. A scene taking care of one of its own is a beautiful thing.

Forrester cut his teeth in the late 1990s as a member of heavy Southern rockers Sixty Watt Shaman and has been involved in numerous projects across a range of styles ever since. Sixty Watt issued three full-lengths during their time, the last of which was 2002’s Reason to Live, and when they were done, Forrester went on to form Angels of Meth and participate in other bands. His arrival in Foghound re-partners him with ex-Sixty Watt Shaman drummer Chuck Dukehart, and the two also play together in the assembled group Serpents of Secrecy, whose debut single, Uncoiled, was released earlier this year on Salt of the Earth Records ahead of a full-length debut reportedly to come in 2018.

Between life updates, band updates, Sixty Watt Shaman‘s aborted reunion, and so on, there was an awful lot to talk about, so I won’t delay further, except to thank Rev. Jim for being so open and candid about what he went through and is still going through. Anyone who’s ever seen him play on stage can attest to the sense of attack he brings to his instrument, and it’s clear that is an ethic and drive for intensity is something he lives by on multiple levels.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

rev jim photo bob plank

Six Dumb Questions with Rev. Jim Forrester

For anyone who hasn’t kept up on your situation, take us through the medical issues you’ve been dealing with. What the hell happened? How did it all start? Where are you at now? What’s your next step and, most importantly, how are you feeling day-to-day?

During and post illness, my wife Tina and Todd Ingram (King Giant, Serpents of Secrecy) started the #RallyforRev page on FB to keep everyone updated on my progress or lack thereof, as I was in no shape to communicate with the outside world during my hospitalizations and subsequent recovery. When I was able, looking back on things and generally being a very private person outside of “music and art land,” I began to feel uncomfortably overexposed and completely exhausted with explaining the situation, as well as constantly talking about myself. I needed a long break from me. Shortly after I fell ill, some tragedies befell two of the most important people in my life as well, Todd lost his mother after a short illness, and Tina lost her little brother. I felt that it was in no way appropriate to talk about “me” and my bullshit, when two people I loved dearly were experiencing so much personal pain and trauma. 2017 was a motherfucker.

So, what happened? Over Memorial Day weekend, the Sunday to be exact, I awoke from a dead sleep to the most abhorrent abdominal pain I’ve ever experienced. I think I may have a clue as to what being disemboweled feels like now. Tina rushed me to one hospital, and then I was transferred to another. I had a blood clot in my portal vein (liver) that was cutting off blood flow to my liver, pancreas, intestines, and various extremities. Basically I was dying and damn close to going into organ failure. Blood thinners saved my ass, but also caused esophageal varices to burst, resulting in me puking up half my blood supply, intubation, and a three-day medically induced coma in which I almost checked out a few times as well. Around week three, I underwent a “Tips” procedure, a stent placed in my portal vein, and a new blood flow passage was created in my liver to alleviate the blockage (it had been there for years apparently, and was so rock solid; they couldn’t drill the damn thing out). I was released and returned home on a continued blood thinner treatment plan. Three days later I awoke to what I thought was a heart attack. Returned to the hospital to find a pulmonary embolism, and a grouping of blood clots behind my right knee. Another week in the hospital, and back home with increased blood thinners (self administered stomach injections, very metal). Played the Maryland Doomfest III three days later with Serpents of Secrecy. Before any of these events occurred, I had been experiencing some pretty intense weakness and pain in my right hip. I had chalked it up to hard living/performing, and overcompensation for a torn ACL in my right knee. No dice. MRI revealed that the blockages had caused blood flow restriction to my hip joint, so I was walking around and performing on a dead, decrepit hip, still am.

I’ve been jumping through medical specialist hoops ever since to get hip replacement surgery, most likely occurring this February. How this all happened has some solid answers and some mystery still lingering. I had liver issues back in 2012 that I had worked through, I thought pretty successfully, but life and stress (my own issues with depression, the death of a very close friend, the Sixty Watt Shaman debacle I’ll get into at some point in the future, etc.) saw me backslide a bit personally. It’s no secret I previously was a drink and drug enthusiast (no hard drugs for years now I will note) as cliche as it is, and I managed to do some significant damage to myself over the years. At various points I’ve been a bit of a mess, and have a lot of regrets regarding that aspect of my time. That aside, I lived a pretty hard life for an extended spell, pushed myself physically in ways that have consequences, and some of that is a factor as well. There is also a genetic blood clotting disorder that runs in my family, but the jury is still out on that matter (testing), although it would explain a lot.

As things stand today, beyond my continued issue with my hip, I feel pretty damn good. Staying vigilant, and keeping up with my docs. The thinners are getting phased out, no pain killers, and a lot of my enzyme levels, etc. are normalized to livable standards if not 100 percent healthy. I’m six months completely sober, back to throwing down on stage and in the studio with Foghound and Serpents. If any positives can be derived, it all really strengthened my relationships with my wife and step-kids and my bandmates. My family. My passions and obsession with art and music remains and has surpassed full tilt crazy again. It reinvigorated me as far as writing and creating is concerned. I’m overwhelmingly thankful for the love, support, understanding, and solid kick in the ass when I need it, from the beautiful individuals I’ve been so fortunate to have in my life. We only have so much time, know what you’re fighting for.

In light of all that, tell me about getting on stage with Serpents of Secrecy at Maryland Doom Fest this year. What was that experience like for you? How was the response from the room, and how did you feel after the set?

I can’t pretend that I wasn’t a bit nervy. After going through all of that, I really didn’t know if I was going to be able to pull off a whole set, and perform to the level that I set for myself, but I pushed through. I wasn’t going to let my brothers in SoS (they wanted to cancel in light of everything, I refused), the fans that had waited four years to see that beast, or Mark Cruikshank and J.B. Matson down. I honor my commitments. Doomfest is always a big family reunion, with a lot of my favorite people in the world anyway, but it by far is one of my favorite sets. The love and support in the crowd was amazing, and I think at various points most of us got choked up. Afterwards… pure adrenaline and joy. For a brief few hours I felt like myself again.

The Serpents of Secrecy single is a long-time coming for sure. Tell me about the development of that band from its beginnings, where you guys are at now and what the plans are going forward. How has the response been to the first recordings so far?

The Serpents of Secrecy story has more twists and turns than the goddamn Grizzly (King’s Dominion reference), and would take more space to explain fully that I’m sure this article entails. I’ll make it as brief as possible. Back in 2012, Scott Harrington (313 Management, Salt of the Earth Records) and I had developed a really strong friendship. When I was taking a break from the world up in the mountains near Morgantown, WV, he and I were in regular contact. Scott had been a huge Sixty Watt Shaman fan, and was really bummed that I wasn’t actively playing or performing at the time (my last group, Angels of Meth in Cincinnati, had run its course and I was aimlessly floating for a few). If anyone knows Scott, he is a true idea man, and unbeknownst to me, as we were in contact, he was up to some shenanigans.

Long story short, he helped pull together a really interesting cast of characters for a project. Todd Ingram – guitar (King Giant), Chuck Dukehart – drums (Sixty Watt Shaman, The Expotentials, Foghound), Johnny Throckmorton – vocals (Alabama Thunderpussy), Aaron Lewis – guitar (When the Deadbolt Breaks), and myself on bass. We convened in Baltimore and jammed a few times, really hit it off, but as I mentioned previously, I fell ill for awhile. We tried to sustain at least the idea of that lineup for awhile during the following year or so, but due to distance, time, and obligations it ended up not working out. Todd and I continued writing together, and spent the better part of a year trading riffs back and forth, or just writing complete songs and editing together. We also got together to jam independently when time allowed. The chemistry and material was pretty undeniable, so we muscled through and kept the idea alive (with Greg Hudson from D.C.’s Tone on drums briefly, until Chuck returned to the fold).

During this time period, Scott had received some inquiries regarding Sixty Watt Shaman performing at Desertfest. With incredible hesitation, Chuck and I agreed to entertain the idea, and spoke to our former vocalist, moderated by Scott. With a lot of concessions made on our part, and the best of intentions at play, Todd came in on guitar, as our original guitarist Joe Selby apparently wanted nothing to do with the idea. Hence the Sixty Watt Shaman reunion: a kickoff set at Chuck‘s Moving the Earth Fest, appearances at Desertfest London and Berlin, two Feast of Krampus shows with Wino, and my 40th birthday show in Baltimore. Todd, Chuck, and myself also had begun orchestrating a load of new and previous Serpents material, due to sparse SWS rehearsals, and were on a tear creatively so to speak.

I also came on as Foghound‘s bassist in this time period, so Chuck and I were jamming nonstop. We began negotiations with Ripple Music to release a new SWS full-length, a bit hastily as history proved, and that’s where the thread really began unraveling. Taking the high road here, but after a lot of soul searching and hand wringing… Chuck, Todd and myself made what I still consider the best judgement call we could have, considering a lot of circumstances that are best left unsaid, and called an undetermined-in-length hiatus for SWS. After a barrage of legal threats and behavior I can best sum up as unstable from our previous bandmate, that hiatus evolved into us throwing in the towel on any hopes of reconciliation. For all intents and purposes that group is a memory, no matter how voraciously some would cling to glories past.

In turn, Chuck, Todd, and myself immediately entered the studio with J. Robbins at Magpie Cage Studio in Baltimore, and whirlwind recorded the lion’s share of our three years of stockpiled material written up to that point, two songs of which — “Warbird’s Song” and “The Cheat” — appear on the Uncoiled single. Al “Yeti” Bones (The Mighty Nimbus) came on as vocalist for a period of time, but once again due to obligations, time, and distance (Canada) Al had to move on, although we truly appreciate his contributions and the awesome work ethic he brought to the table. Enter Mark Lorenzo (Zekiah). How he came into the story is a tale best left for him and Todd to explain, but I will say he was a breath of fresh air, one of the strongest, most talented vocalists I’ve ever worked with and a goddamn joy of a human being.

Steve Fisher (guitar, Borracho) will tell you we never told him he was in the band, he just kept showing up, lol, but he was the final piece to the puzzle that’s taken years to complete. We’ve already been through a lot together, and as with Foghound, it feels like family. As this band goes, we had hoped to have the full-length out by now, but it looks like we are wrapping up the album Ave Vindicta in Jan./Feb. 2018, and it’s up to Scott Harrington and Salt of the Earth Records to give us a release date. As soon as we know, so will you. The response to the Uncoiled single has been very positive so far. It seems to have accomplished our goal with the idea: Ggve everyone a taste, leave them hopefully wanting more. Apparently they want, lol. We are looking to play out as much as schedules allow, hitting the road some in 2018 and are already booked for the next installment of the Descendants of Crom Fest (Pittsburgh) in September. We’ve also started writing new material (along with the backlog of songs we couldn’t fit on this album) for the eventual follow-up to Ave Vindicta, and some other alchemy at play… but that’s another story.

From Sixty Watt Shaman to Foghound to Serpents of Secrecy, it seems like you and Chuck have a really special respect and relationship as a rhythm section. Tell me about that friendship and how working with him in different bands has changed over the years. What does it mean to you as a bassist to know Chuck’s back there behind the kit pounding away?

Chuck is my best friend in the world. He’s my brother. Damn near every important event that’s ever transpired in my life, he was there. If not personally, in spirit, or he was a call away. We’ve had our ups and downs, but brothers do. We’ve known each other since elementary school, picked up our instruments at the same time, started our first bands together. I suppose you could say our stories are completely entangled. He’s had my back when I never knew he did or I needed him to, that’s real friendship. We made a promise to each other a long time ago, that we weren’t going to let the small town we grew up in swallow us up, we were going to get out and do something with our goddamn lives. I think we held up that promise. At this point, through all the tours (starting in ’97), all the shows, the studios, writing so many songs together, we kind of function together with one brain as a rhythm section, “The Rhythm Section from Hell.” There is a complete feeling of freedom and comfort in the live scenario jamming with Chuck. Opens up some of the fun improv stuff we slip into the mix when we know each other’s arsenal backwards and forwards so well. Fun is the keyword. If it’s not, it’s not worth doing. We learned that one together too.

What’s Foghound up to at this point? Where are you at with the next album? Do you know yet when you’ll record or who will produce?

Foghound is wrapping up the third album right now actually. Last studio session with Frank “The Punisher” Marchand (The Obsessed, Sixty Watt Shaman, etc.) is the first weekend in January, I believe. Frank engineered, we produced. Then it’s mastering, artwork, turned into Ripple Music. No idea on a release date considering the volume of music Todd [Severin] and the label are putting out there, but it will be in 2018. There are some morsels on the horizon beforehand, some hints coming as to what this new material is shaping up to be, but I can’t really reveal any of that yet. I will say, the new tunes are going to surprise anyone with expectations of us putting out The World Unseen Part 2. We’ve already begun booking for next year with appearances at Maryland Doomfest 2018 and New England Stoner and Doom Fest scheduled. Anyone intrigued should stop by, we’ll be adding in a good portion of new material to give everyone a taste.

Of course there’s the crowdfunding campaign going on, but any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I just want to give another huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone for the words of love and support I received when I was ill, to the bands that played the benefit shows, to those that donated their time, hard work or financial assistance. You have no idea how much it meant, how much it’s appreciated, and how much it helped Tina and I get through such a difficult time. The only reason I can continue to do what I do is because of that, and not for a second is any of it taken for granted. I lived a lot of days looking in the mirror thinking I was a tremendous fuckup, and the friends, fans, and family that came to my side during one of the most horrible situations I’ve ever encountered, staring death in the goddamn face, telling me how much the work has meant to them, how much my efforts over the years made a difference, fueled me getting better, and keeps me fighting every day, and for that I am forever grateful. I am a very fortunate man to get to do what I do, surrounded by such amazing people. I love you all. Keep an eye out for new Arcane Recorporations creations, as well as Ave Vindicta by Serpents of Secrecy on Salt of the Earth Records, and the as-yet-untitled new Foghound record on Ripple Music out in 2018. Ave!

Serpents of Secrecy, Uncoiled – The Singles (2017)

Foghound, The World Unseen (2016)

Serpents of Secrecy on Thee Facebooks

Serpents of Secrecy on Bandcamp

Salt of the Earth Records website

Salt of the Earth Records website

Foghound on Thee Facebooks

Foghound on Bandcamp

Foghound website

Ripple Music

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Six Dumb Questions with Eggnogg (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on November 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

EGGNOGG CHARACTERS PROMO

I’ll admit that part of interviewing Eggnogg about their new record, Rituals in Transfigured Time stems from an attempt to increase my own limited understanding of what’s happening with the project. It’s been six years since the Brooklyn three-piece issued their last full-length, Moments in Vacuum (review here), and though they followed it with the Louis EP (review here) in 2012, their “next album” has been in the works pretty much since, given the title You’re all Invited and teased across a variety of graphic-arts images and vague story pieces from guitarist Justin Karol.

Karol, joined in the band by guitarist/vocalist Bill O’Sullivan and drummer Jason Prushko, finally manifests what was You’re all Invited as Rituals in Transfigured Time, a massive conceptual/narrative work based as much around visual art as aural sprawl and storytelling. It is being unveiled one piece at a time — you can hear the latest installment at the bottom of this post, and there’s more to come — as the band weaves through a complex sci-fi plotline toward a yet-unknown resolution, following the tale of a character named Gunther Kilgore, green of skin and forced into a journey both physical and existential (maybe?) by a tophat-wearing skeleton robot. Yeah, the details get a bit fuzzy. So do the guitars though, so it’s all good.

Rituals in Transfigured Time, now in its Entr’acte following the Prologue — a single, 14-minute track called “Overture / Wild Goose Chase” (posted here) — and Acts I & II — comprised of the 22-minute “Death Cap” and the 20-minute “Meshes of the Aftetnoon” (sic) — will go on for I don’t know how long, but is set to serve as the final Eggnogg outing. It’s also, unquestionably, the most ambitious, blending heavy psychedelia, the band’s trademark quirky post-grunge riffmaking and a progressive sprawl marked by a sense of groove that is wholly their own. If indeed Rituals in Transfigured Time is to serve as Eggnogg‘s closing chapter when it comes to new music — one never wants to say never — then they go having made a definitive statement of what their potential could have brought to bear in a multi-sensory engagement with their audience and a sense of individuality that goes beyond their lumbering tones and weirdo cartoons to the very heart of who they are as players and artists.

And even if it does bring about the end of the band, I look forward to seeing how and where Rituals in Transfigured Time ultimately concludes, especially now that Karol has been kind enough to take some time to explain the project, its arc, origins and where it might lead the members of Eggnogg from here.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

Six Dumb Questions with Eggnogg

What’s happening in the story of Rituals in Transfigured Time? Who are the characters? Where are we in the plot? Where is it all leading?

What began as only moments in vacuum turned into six long years adrift in a soundless black void. Our green-skinned protagonist, Gunther Kilgore, had been imprisoned there by mysterious forces in attempt to conceal the secrets of the existence of which Kilgore had been made aware.

Rituals in Transfigured Time is about memories, nostalgia, coincidence, fate, and whether these instances can be manipulated. It centers around a concept I call “Doom Theory,” a quasi-scientific theoretical relationship between heavy or loud sounds or music and unconscious thoughts.

This is the backdrop for Rituals in Transfigured Time, where it is represented by invisible wires or strings that connect all people and things. Kind of like a telephone network, only here the wires connect people’s thoughts and feelings. Each string resonates in waves and can be altered by different sounds or vibrations. They can lay slacked or be wound taut, plucked or strummed to send different moods. But who is pulling the strings?

In the opening Acts, we find the world is ignorant of this, and in bursts of rage and violence, people divide up into cults following the loudest leaders, all connected by a hive-like mentality. Words begin to spread like a disease leading to the final gasp of humanity. If the truth were revealed, the tangled threads could begin to unravel.

Kilgore knows this truth but he is stuck and silenced. He exists neither here nor there, meeting these sort of divine beings who work backstage, revealing how the show is run. His journey seems to take his entire life but he finds that there is no beginning or end to the thread, and the vibrations travel in a loop. He sees that time is cyclical. When he steps out from behind the curtain, he is sent into a time warp.

The next album is called Entr’acte, which means “between acts,” and this ties in musically, visually, and thematically. The time warp leaves us in a far futuristic dystopian city that is inhabited by machines and dictated by pigs. Human population has dropped 99 percent, only the wealthy elite are still around. Pollution has altered the world’s climate so drastically that certain species of animals were forced to speed up their evolution in order to be involved politically and claim their land and resources.

Kilgore arrives here and has to piece together his memory and adjust to the perceived insanity of this new time period. Much of the intentional mystery of the story will be a bit more pronounced this time, with more formal character introductions, such as the divine priestess named Tetra and the skeletal robot with a top hat named Montgomery. Entr’acte will have more of a pulp feel, with parts of the album playing out like a 1930s science fiction radio drama.

How did the idea for such an expansive project come about? What’s the relationship for you between handling the visual art for something like this and writing the songs? Tell me about the songwriting process.

This type of idea had always been in my head, even as early as the formative years of the band when I was around 14, and perhaps even before that. I’ve been drawing and making my own little comic books ever since I was a baby, but I have a distinct memory of when I was around four years old, and my dad showed me the song “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath for the first time. I remember him doing these exaggerated stomps during the opening bass drums and explaining that it was the sound of iron man walking, and when it picks up pace in the second half, that he was running and chasing everyone. The song itself has this story to it, which is a bit different from other popular songs that mostly reflect on feelings.

I started to make this relationship between music and visualizing the scenes from then on with any song I heard. Movies ended up being my true passion because it combines sound and visual so perfectly. So I had been making my own little movies with my friends and timing a lot of scenes to music. Then one weekend I cast a mutual friend in the role of a frightened scientist, and that was Bill O’Sullivan, vocalist and guitarist for Eggnogg. So when we started writing original music, my mind started to go crazy with what kind of stories I could create. Up until then, I had only used other people’s music to accompany the visuals, but creating brand new music opened up many more possibilities.

So even from the earliest days, I was drawing out the potential scenes that went with our songs. Scenes and characters would also influence tones and lyrics. As we went on, certain characters developed and backstories came about, and so this sort of universe began to unfold. Bill and I, and our close friends, talk about the characters and stories often, but no one else has really been made aware of it yet. I was always looking for the right time to start telling this story but never quite knew how to release it and have people try to follow it. Characters and scenes ended up on some album art before, but I felt now was a good time to just go for it. It ties into the idea of the album being the revelation, the truth, the finale, the end all be all.

The material is so expansive. How have these songs come together? Is the complete work recorded and being released piecemeal, or is it still in progress? How much is left to come out and do you have a general timeline for when it will be complete and released?

With Moments in Vacuum, I had sequenced the songs so there was, to me, a clear beginning, middle, and ending. I extended a few pieces in particular to have more musical introductions and interludes so they would sort of flow like scenes. It was a more direct attempt at making a “cinematic” record, as I broke up the songs into a three-act structure. However, it backfired a bit when some friends told me they found the track lengths “too long” or they skipped around and didn’t hear crucial moments that happened further into a track, or listened to the songs out of sequence. Rather than compromise the writing, I wanted to exacerbate the concept even further.

From its conception, the intention was to make a record that consisted of long unbroken takes. This way, you had to follow along from beginning to end. It’s my understanding that this is what an album should be and the song sequencing is a key role. I look at them like scenes in a movie or chapters in a book, and if they are told out of order, you lose the essence of the entire work.

Rituals in Transfigured Time began under the working title of “You’re all Invited,” or my initial pitch, “Mass Suicide: You’re All Invited.” Much of it was recorded six years ago and then scrapped. It was designed as two 20 minute songs, so it would fit exactly on one vinyl record. We tried so frustratingly long to get this version of the album made on vinyl, but just could not secure the funds to do so.

After our fundraiser utterly failed, we tried rereleasing our EPs on physical disc to see what we could generate towards the vinyl but it never added up. By then, our drummer had left the band to go off and star on NBC’s The Voice, and we hunted down Jason Prushko of Mean Little Blanket fame. Jason brought a much meaner style of drumming and so the songs were reworked and expanded upon, hashing out new material as we tested it out live. We took this new version of the album to the studio and laid down the groundwork.

These recordings, however, reflected more of our live set and so the material has been in fine tuning to make it more cohesive. I am tweaking things right up until the release.

Talk about the recording itself. Where and how is Rituals in Transfigured Time coming together as a studio project? How much time has it all taken to make happen and how do you feel about how the results have come out so far?

Right after Moments in Vacuum in 2011, we headed back to our recording space to track demos of the next album, as we had always done every summer since around 2006. Some material would be new, some would be revitalized versions of songs that didn’t make the previous record.

The original version of the album was actually recorded to analog tape. It was an experiment for us but we had heard so many good things. Oh boy, it was a disaster. We could only mic so many drums on this type of machine so we ended up with a very strange and thin sound. The tracks on our Louis EP suffered from a similar fate, as they were recorded right after those sessions.

I was forced to use a digital workflow to help save the drum sound, something on previous records I was against. Moments in Vacuum was done with all full takes and no digital editing of any kind with all of the equalizing and mixing done on a board. So having to go to a computer did not sit well with me at first. I eventually got something workable, but I was never satisfied with it.

Thankfully, we rerecorded everything and more a few years later more professionally, thanks to Steve Schalk of Jupiter 4 Studio, who got us a great clear drum sound. I remember we had it all sort of wrapped up rather quickly and handed it off to other people to mix, which was also new since I usually did the mixing. After many mixes from many sources, something was just not sitting right with me when I listened to it and so I backed away from the project to work on other things.

After about a year of working on films, I returned to the project with a fresh perspective. I really wanted to tie up this loose end and make this thing finally complete. I took the basic recordings we did have and started over conceptually. I outlined the entire thing like I would a film and started building the imagery and tones from there.

So far, the reaction has been positive and so I am quite pleased. There was a lot of worries before release, because I had turned it into this lengthy operatic thing with a story that listeners would not know what to do with it. That may still be partly true, but I am hoping those few fans out there will embrace this different type of album and maybe it will catch on.

I’ve heard rumors this is the final release for Eggnogg. Are you really going to put the band to rest after this? What would you do next? Another band? Focus on graphic art?

For me, this is the final Eggnogg album. Jason Prushko has his own project off in California where he just released an EP titled Sylmar Ave. Bill O’Sullivan is over in Philadelphia working on his acoustic spooky country-western music. He has a whole slew of great material I hope is released soon. And I’m here in New York City twiddling my thumbs. I actually have a lot planned musically but it won’t be released as a band.

Although this will be the final Eggnogg album, there is still a potential of older material being remixed and remastered, and maybe even given the same treatment as Rituals by adding more illustrations. This depends heavily on the fans.

The Rituals project is a blueprint for how I am going to continue post release. I have other stories and scripts that will have a musical accompaniment along with the visual. After the release of Rituals in Transfigured Time, I will be preparing to make a feature-length film. The film happens to be about a struggling doom metal band in Brooklyn and will feature a fairly in-depth original score that those few loyal Eggnogg fans will surely appreciate.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Rituals in Transfigured Time is set of albums that follow a narrative, starting with the Prologue, into Acts I & II, and next up the Entr’acte. Following this will be Acts III & IIII. It’s being released as installments because, well, it’s a lot of material! I encourage those who care to listen to also view the illustrations and lyrics to get the full experience. There are many hidden meanings within the story. It is my hope that at least one person out there will pick up on it and feel illuminated and inspired.

There is something unique to this type of music, in that it gets everyone, the players and the audience, all moving in unison. Simple melodies and primal rhythms, it’s as if we are all connecting through some type of ancient language that the soul remembers even if we don’t. Slowly nodding along as if our minds were all connected by some kind of invisible thread.

Thank you to anyone who stumbled across our music!

Eggnogg on Thee Facebooks

Eggnogg on Twitter

Eggnogg on Instagram

Eggnogg on Bandcamp

Eggnogg website

Justin Karol website

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